Writing quote

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

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Do you live in Mendocino, Lake or Sonoma County? Do you write for kids and teens? Join me at the first ever Mendocino County Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) "Casual Coffee"!

Sunday, October 25, 2015


Okay, I'm taking the plunge! Yep, the NaNoWriMo plunge. If you haven't heard of NaNoWriMo, it's National Novel Writing Month, in which writers attempt to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I've long wanted to try this challenge, but never attempted it because:

a) 50,000 words is daunting
b) The rule is: start from scratch and write 50,000 words without looking back. When NaNoWriMo rolls around every year, I'm always in the middle of projects and don't have something I can "start from scratch"
c) Not looking back? For someone who often starts off with reading and revising the last thing I wrote, this is like telling me to grow two heads.
d) I have three kids, and my writing time is often interrupted. I have gone from a consistent daily writing routine to writing in spurts. NaNoWriMo will require me to write about 1,666 words a day. I'm lucky some days if I can get 200 words in!
d) 50,000 words is daunting

The reason I decided to take the plunge this year is because:

a) There is NO NaNoWriMo police. If I don't finish 50,000 words, I'm not going to get hauled off to jail—or get sent to a writing work camp in Siberia (although that does sound kind of nice—except for the cold). So, what do I have to lose?
b) If I only make 20,000 words, not 50,000, that's 20,000 words more than I have now
c) I have a novel I have started on, but want to completely re-write from scratch
d) It'll give me an excuse for sitting my butt in a chair and churning out words.
e) There is actually a whole writing support community on the NaNoWriMo website. Yes! A whole writing tribe! Along with writing tips, writing events, write-ins in your local region (physical locations where you can actually write with other writers participating in NaNoWriMo).

Okay, so who's taking the plunge with me? If you do, don't forget to tap me as a NaNoWriMo Writing Buddy.

Friday, September 11, 2015


   In my last post, I talked about the need for diversity in children's literature. Today, I'm going to back up a step — it doesn't matter much if books have diverse content if children cannot read them. Sept. 8 was International Literacy Day and Grammarly.com has a literacy campaign dedicated to supporting literacy around the world and putting books into the hands of children in need. The following infographic from Grammarly.com shows the staggering statistics — 757 million adults around the world can't read or write; 124 million children or adolescents do not attend school. In the U.S. alone, 32 million adults are illiterate.
   Help fight illiteracy: share this infographic on your blog and Grammarly will donate $10 in your name to one of these three literacy-promoting charities of your choice: 

Reading Is Fundamental
First Book

To get the embed code, check out Grammarly's blog post. If you share the infographic, please attribute it to Grammarly with a link to https://www.grammarly.com/plagiarism-checker. Once you've published the graphic on your site, drop Grammarly an email to let them know which charity you've chosen and they'll make the donation on your behalf. 

Literacy Day

   I've joined First Books as an Author in Action. When I receive my personal url from them, I can use it to help promote their cause to get books into the hands of underprivileged children and to help programs and schools serving disadvantaged kids get free books by linking them to First Books.
   The best part of being an author is when I get to read my books to kids and see their faces light up with delight when they hear a story. Every child deserves to experience that.

Monday, September 7, 2015


  This summer, my family and I traveled to Malaysia and Singapore to visit my parents. For those of you who have never been in that part of the world, it's an absolute sensory delight. Wherever we went, the aromatic intermingling of ethnic foods permeated the air and tantalized our tastebuds — mouthwatering curries, chicken and beef satays (meat grilled on a stick), sweet and sour crab, Roti Canai (pronounced Cha-nai, an Indian fried pancake). A multitude of languages — Hindi, Malay, Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Tagalog — intertwined their different melodies like an orchestra warming up before a performance— scratchy and disorganized, each instrument in different keys, but enticing our ears to the beautiful harmony to come. Our eyes feasted on the reds, oranges and greens of festive saris, the browns and blacks of shapely batik sarongs, the strangely foreign sights and smells of local fruits like the pungent durian, prickly rambutans, and succulent lai-chees. This was diversity in its truest form—raw and fascinating, a small window to a larger world.
   Diversity (or the lack thereof) has been a big topic in children's literature of late. Just about every writing conference features a panel on diversity or at least, a discussion lamenting its under-representation in publishing. So, what is diversity and why is it important? Diversity is defined in the Webster online dictionary as "the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization." 
   The world is made up of different people with different lifestyles, different cultures, traditions. When you can weave them all into one seamless, harmonious society, it's like creating a beautiful quilt — every panel depicting a different scene, or even a different part of the same scene — but pieced together, they make a fascinating, eye-catching whole. And it's crucial that children see themselves as part of that fabric.
    At Back to School night at my daughter's high school last week, the principal announced that for the first time ever, the high school population has reached 50% people of color (mostly Latinos in our community) and 50% white. So, why is it, according to the Cooperative Children's Book Center's (CCBC) statistics, out of approximately 3,500 books received by the CCBC in 2014 (out of approx. 5,000 children's books published in that year), only 66 books were about Latinos and only 59 books were written by a Latino author; 112 books were about Asians or Asian Americans and only 48 books were written by Asian American authors; 179 books were about African Americans with 69 books written by an African American author? The stats are even lower for Native Americans — 15 Native American authors and 36 books about American Indians. For more on the CCBC's findings on diversity in children's literature and how they collect their statistics, click hereHere are a few more interesting articles on the topic:

Why Diversity in Children's Literature Matters by Jacob Hood.
The World of Children's Books is Still Very White by amy Rothschild.

   Online movements such as WeNeedDiverseBooks and Multicultural Children's Book Day have increased the focus on the need for diversity in children's literature. The Society of Children's Book Writers and illustrators (SCBWI) of which I've been a member since 2000, has now taken up this cry. Executive Director Lin Oliver says, "That we have recognized the need for more diversity is a crucial first step. But it's just a first step. We can't sit back and congratulate ourselves when there is so much to be done to implement our goal." Here are some tips Lin offers to support diverse authors and literature, Diversity: What We Can Do About It. The SCBWI also offers a Multicultural Work-In-Progress grant to support multicultural stories and writers.
   There seems to be an encouraging upward trend for more diverse children's literature as well as for authors of color. However, there is still a lot of ground to be made. Recently, a major publisher rejected my multicultural picture book with the comment that it was "too niche." Okay, so there could be other reasons the book wasn't acquired (didn't meet the publisher's editorial needs, wasn't the editor's cup of tea etc.), but until books about people from different races and cultures aren't classified in separate categories: African-American books, multicultural books, or even — God-forbid — niche books, the diversity disparity will never be overcome. As parents, authors, teachers, librarians, booksellers – and yes, publishers — it's our collective responsibility to ensure that diverse stories are not lost in an archaic cataloging system.
   Children everywhere deserve to recognize themselves in the books they read—and find themselves in the fabric of a beautiful quilt.


   Roxanne Grumbach of Fox Creek Municipal Library in Alberta, Canada, reads "Otto's Rainy Day" and makes a "rainy day" craft.

Friday, May 29, 2015


Wow! Sometimes my intention to take a short hiatus from blogging stretches a lot longer than anticipated. So, just a brief recap of what's happening in my writing world:

1) My picture book story "Lion Dancer" has still not found a publishing home. Grr...It has, however, been revised again for the umpteenth time. It's had one professional edit and has been submitted for another. In the meantime, my agent has submitted it to Charlesbridge Publishing and Scholastic but we have not heard back from either. Publishing can be such an excruciatingly slow process.

2) Speaking of excruciatingly slow processes, a picture book manuscript I wrote about 12 years ago, "The Rock Maiden", has just received an offer from Wisdom Tales Press. It's a re-envisioning of an old Chinese folk tale from Hong Kong, and over the years, I've been told that folk tales are a hard sell, editors are only interested in them for anthologies etc., etc. Sometimes, one has to wait for the right publisher to appear. I found Wisdom Tales Press through the Multicultural Children's Book Day website which I had participated in for the last two years and Wisdom Tales was a sponsor. Exploring their website, I discovered they focused on world cultures and published mainly multicultural stories. It was a perfect fit! They had an online submission process so on a whim, I submitted "The Rock Maiden" and didn't hear back from anyone for almost a year! Imagine my surprise when the President of the publishing house contacted me. The moral of the story is: Never Leave Any Rock (no pun intended) Unturned.

3) I am teaching a basic Scrivener workshop on June 6 for the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) at the Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA. from 1 - 3 pm. The workshop has sold out! I love this program so am looking forward to introducing other writers to it. Even if you're not registered for the workshop but want to come by for a chat or get a book signed, I'll be hanging out on the patio outside of the cafe from 3 - 4 pm.

4)  I attended the SCBWI Novel Intensive on May 16. Very informative and enjoyed the sessions on dialogue and voice, although I found the dialogue session with author Bill Konigsberg more helpful and better structured with participant involvement. In addition to learning about the craft of writing, these workshops also give me the opportunity to study other writers' presentation styles and consider what works well and what doesn't so I can incorporate new approaches to my own presentations and workshops.

If you're a writer of children's books and haven't joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, do so now! You will get support, resources, craft-based workshops, retreats, not to mention camaraderie with your fellow writers. Check out some of their upcoming events in your area here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


   It's always such a lovely surprise to stumble upon someone else reading my book. Here is Roxanne Grumbach, the librarian at Fox Creek Municipal Library in Alberta, Canada, reading Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas. She follows the story with a easy-to-make firecracker craft.

Saturday, March 7, 2015


    Two writing retreats in a row! That's what I call bliss. Much as I love my family, it can be a real challenge finding writing time with a day job and three kids (4 if you count my husband). So, it's important to feed your muse once in awhile. 

    Last week, I was at a SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) writing retreat at Green Gulch Farm in Muir Beach, California. It's a lovely Zen Buddhist meditation and conference center surrounded by groves of Eucalyptus trees. The rooms are basic (bed, chair, desk, lamp) but very clean and comfortable with floor to ceiling glass sliders that open out onto the lush grounds. Once in awhile, a deer might wander by. The Green Gulch Farm retreats occur about twice a year and ever since I discovered it 5 or 6 years ago, I've been coming  to every one. It's a magical environment for writing and delicious vegetarian food, much of it grown on site, is prepared and served in a community dining room. It's a great place to write and commiserate with fellow writers. In the evenings, we can share our writing in informal critique groups if we wish.

The octagonal-shaped guest house
at Green Gulch Farm

The atrium/living room with wood
fireplace where writers gather
for social exchanges (and a break
from writing)
The writing desk

Writing area in bedroom with glass sliders
that provide ample light and open out
onto the lush grounds

Simple but comfortable

   This week, a few writing friends and I have rented a small cabin in Gualala on the beautiful Mendocino County coast, right on the bluff of the Pacific Ocean. If this view doesn't inspire one to write, I don't know what will!

The deck of Serenisea, Cabin 5, our little writing cabin
   At Green Gulch, I was able to dive into revisions on a picture book project and plug away at my middle grade novel. This weekend, I hope to make more progress on the same.
   Here are five reasons why every writer should go on the occasional writing retreat:

1) It's amazing how a chunk of uninterrupted time can spur your productiveness
2) Only other writers truly understand what you're going through (Truly. The angst, the self-doubts, the disheartening rejections, the feeling of beating your head against a metaphorical brick wall), so it's nice to have like-minded souls to commiserate with.
3) Most writing retreats offer informal critique groups or, at the very least, an opportunity to get feedback on your work from fellow writers, whether in a group setting or merely exchanging comments and notes with another writer with whom you've connected.
4) Writers, in general, tend to be a very supportive, encouraging group. Unless you're very lucky, we've all started at zero, submitting, facing rejections, re-submitting and hoping that our little manuscript will claw its way out of the rubble and find the light of publication. I was almost ready to give up on my middle-grade novel, or at least abandon it temporarily, but with the encouragement of my fellow writers at Green Gulch, I got re-inspired and have broken through the writer's block and begun to work on this novel again (at least for the time being.)
5) Sometimes, there's nothing like being in a different surrounding to inspire your muse, especially if that surrounding is as serene as Green Gulch or as bucolic as the Pacific Ocean.

  Here are a few good places to look for writing retreats:
1) Retreats for Writers
2) The Writer's Retreat
3) The Elizabeth Ayers' Center for Creative Writing
4) The 12 Best Writing Fellowships and Retreats in the US
5) Green Gulch retreat for children's writers - check back here in July for registration for the September Green Gulch retreat.

   Happy Writing, everyone!

Monday, March 2, 2015


Congratulations to Karen Mikusak of Detroit, Michigan for winning the Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas Chinese New Year Goodreads giveaway! Your book will be on its way to you soon.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


   For Chinese New Year, I made pot stickers, turnip cakes, fried noodles with Chinese sausages and rice. Yum!
Turnip cake batter ready for steaming

After steaming, the turnip cakes are sliced into squares and fried up nice and crunchy

Fried noodles with chinese sausages

These homemade turnip cakes are so much more flavorful than the ones in restaurants or the store-bought variety. If you'd like to try making these yourselves and have a copy of Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas on hand, there is a recipe at the back of the book. If you don't, I originally got his recipe from Kirk at this website, who graciously gave me permission to modify it and use it in my book.

Chinese New Year is a 15-day celebration, so it's not too late to try making these at home and welcoming in the new year. Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Friday, February 20, 2015


  Kung Hei Fat Choi! Happy Chinese New Year! It's the Year of the Goat (or you may hear it referred to as the Year of the Ram or the Year of the Sheep). If you were born in this year, you are "creative, intelligent, dependable, and calm. You're comfortable being alone. Goats enjoy being part of a group, but prefer the sidelines rather than the center. Their nurturing personalities make Goats excellent care-givers. They're quiet and reserved because they spend much time absorbed in their thoughts. For more information on a Goat's personalty, click here.  
   I was thrilled to discover that Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas is featured on Reading Rainbow and read by LaVar Burton. Check it out!

   I am also participating in Skype in the Classroom's literacy campaign and World Read Aloud Day. So, If you are a teacher and are interested in a free Skype visit, please visit Skype in the Classroom for more information on requesting guest speakers for your classroom.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


   My copies of Faces magazine came in this week with my article, "The Boat Dwellers of Aberdeen Harbor". It's about the boat-dwelling Tanka people in Hong Kong, whose once thriving community of close to 200,000 people on Aberdeen Harbor have dwindled. 

   Apart from the thrill of seeing your byline attached to an article in a print magazine, here are 5 reasons why you should consider writing for children's magazines:

1) They're published more frequently so there's a...
2) Need for more content
3) Nonfiction exercises a different part of your brain than fiction, and it's a great mental  workout, kind of like stretching or weight-training before a big race, plus...
4) You learn A LOT of interesting stuff. Nonfiction research takes you down paths you might not have meandered down if you weren't looking specifically for information related to your topic.
5) You get to see your work in print a lot faster than with books (generally. My article for Highlights for Children took 5 years to appear in the magazine—but that's another story).

   In addition to Highlights, my articles have appeared in Appleseeds ("Horses Helping Others", May 2011); and Faces ("The Elephant Queen", January 2012,  a Letter of Merit recipient in the 2013 SCBWI Magazine Merit awards; "The Boat Dwellers of Aberdeen Harbor", February 2015). These magazines are part of the Cobblestone Publishing group which also publishes the magazines Cricket, LadyBug, Cobblestone, Spider, Dig, among others. There are many other children's magazines looking for content, and you can find them in a great resource called Magazine Markets for Children's Writers. The Cobblestone group of magazines publish fiction too, but I enjoy the nonfiction ones because they're themed, and I can always find themes that arouse my curiosity and interest. 
 Even though the recent Faces issue about Hong Kong inspired me because I lived in Hong Kong as a teen and have some personal connection to the country, you don't need to have experience and knowledge to query a topic. And you never know where your research will lead. For Faces' Thailand issue, I thought I might write an article about the mahout (elephant trainers) training camps where one can learn to be a mahout. They even have brief camps for tourists to learn how to handle an elephant! But during the course of that research, I stumbled upon the story of Lek Chailert who, along with her husband, established Elephant Nature Park an elephant sanctuary to rescue injured and abused Asian elephants and return them to the wild. That article became "The Elephant Queen". I had no prior knowledge of this topic but loved learning about Lek's background and how she came to fall in love with elephants, her tireless conservation efforts, and the horrors behind what elephants have gone through to be "trained" as beasts of burden.
   If you're interested in querying for these magazines, here are some tips I've learned along the way:

1) Specific angles will probably be more successful than general ones. For example, a magazine had an issue on Explorers of the West including Lewis and Clark. I queried about writing an article of Sacajawea's life and her presence on Lewis' and Clark's journey. I did not get the assignment even though I wrote Sacajawea of the Shoshone, a children's biography of Sacajawea. Looking back, I thought my query might have been too broad. I might have had better luck if I had queried on the two versions of Sacajawea's death.
2) If you get an assignment, the turnaround time can be pretty tight (most often a month). That means you have to get your research, any needed subject interviews, and the writing and revising done by then. Sometimes, problems can arise in the research or the writing that might impact your ability to get your article in by the deadline. This happened to me while writing "The Elephant Queen". I could not reach my subject Lek Chailert for an interview because she was out in the jungle saving elephants! The important thing here is keep in touch with your editor. I wrote to let my editor know that I was having a hard time connecting with Lek and asked if I could have an extension of my deadline and if I could not get a personal interview, if I could use quotes from other interviews she had given. The editor was very willing to work with me. I got the okay on both, but in the end, was able to interview Lek via email (due to the time difference) and get my article in by the original deadline. Editors are very flexible people and since you are supplying content for their magazine, they're invested in making sure that happens, but they don't like nasty surprises, and they have a deadline to meet too, so communicate any snafus you run into.
3) If you don't get an assignment, don't take it personally. Just try again. Magazines may publish more content because they have several issues a year, but they only publish a limited number of articles in each issue, and they probably get hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions. And somebody else may have submitted a query that is more appropriate for the theme, or more interesting, or unique.I had several queries that were not successful between the Faces 2012 and the Faces 2015 articles. 
3) Be professional. Publishing can be a surprisingly small world. Editors move to different houses or magazines so if your query or article isn't free of grammatical and spelling errors, or you miss your deadline or misspell the editor's name (yes, I've been told this matters) or write rude letters when you don't get your assignment, you'll earn a black mark against your name. And getting published is hard enough even with an impeccable record.

If you've written for other children's magazines, I'd love to know what these are and what your experience is, and any tips and advice you have for submitting to that market.

Happy Writing! I hope the next article I read in a children's magazine is yours!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


    Carly Seifert of the Africa to America blog wrote a lovely review of Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas for Multicultural Book Day. Check out what Carly had to say about the book, and her brilliant book-related crafts here


It's Multicultural Picture Book Day! Check out blogger Sue Ready's review of Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas and her Chinese New Year craft idea:
Kindergarten student absorbed in reading
the book

Blogger Sue Ready reading Goldy Luck and the
Three Pandas to a kindergarten class

Ever Ready: Multicultural Children's Book Day: Introduction to Multicultural Children's Day-January 27. 2015  The mission of this event is to not only raise awareness for childr...

Sunday, January 25, 2015


   We all love good reviews — but there is no better review than the ones that come from kids -- the target audience of children's authors. Here are two adorable reviews I received from students of my friend and fellow writer Carolyn Grigsby who's a teacher in Hayward, CA.

Friday, January 23, 2015


   Want to know what makes a writer's day? Getting Tweets like this: 
   My daughter is an avid reader, and I tell her this all the time, "If you like the book, go to the writer's website and tell him/her how much you loved the book. The writer will truly appreciate it."

Authors/writers love to know their stories have made an impact on their target audience. So, go on...Make a writer's day!

Sunday, January 18, 2015


   The thing I love about the New Year is that, as far as writing goes, it presents another year of possibilities. The possibility that the writing we submit will find a home - somewhere. The slate is clean. No rejection letters have begun to pile up. Yes, HOPE--it's what keep us writers going. That, and passion for our craft. So, keep writing, producing, promoting, commiserating fellow writers. And may 2015 bring you success!

   Speaking of beginning a new year, I'd like to mention a few upcoming literary events:

Jan. 27 — Multicultural Children's Book Day. Check out the website for reviews, reading recommendations, and activity ideas for multicultural literature. http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/


Feb. 8 - Join me for a Chinese New Year celebration with a reading of Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas and a Chinese New Year craft at the Book Passage in Corte Madera, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA., 1:00 pm.