Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Congratulations, it's a book

Even though Amazon has it as not yet released, my editor sent me bound and finished copy of "The Year of the Dog" (thanks, Alvina!). Well, as Anne of Green Gables would say, this marks an epoch of my life.

This book is my first novel. So, it is almost as if I am getting a book published for the 1st time. I can no longer sport my jaded "been around the block" attitude. It's like I'm a new mom, again.

Because I imagine creating books is a bit like the birthing process. You have the exciting conception with its ecstasy of inspiration, the long publishing pregnancy (Is something wrong with the book? What do you mean it needs more dialogue?) and then the climatic birth (Congratulations, it's a book!).

And new babies do get attention. I'm a little nervous about the attention my new baby will get. What will people think of it? I love it, Robert loves it, my family loves it. But of course, we are a bit biased.

So, I tremble in fear of the judgment of impartial reviewers. I realize that book reviews are somewhat like sending in your child's college application to Harvard. A few get that starred entrance. Others are politely waitlisted with a tepid response. And then, some are flatly rejected.

However, an Ivy League education is no guarantee of future success...just like a starred review. I have to remember that. I just have to believe that I created my book with the best that I had in me and in the end, that is all I can do.

Still, I hope the reviews don't give my book diaper rash.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

ode to obuchowski

A couple of weeks ago I received and e-mail from my editor of "The Year of the Dog" (my first novel). "We're going to push the release date of your book up," she wrote me, "Instead of February as planned, we're going to release Dec. 20th--so there's time for it to get to the stores before Chinese New Year."

"Great," I thought, "It's coming out sooner." Then I realized, it's coming out sooner.

Quickly, I e-mailed my web genius friend Jon Obuchowski.

"Hey, Jon," I write, "Remember how I wanted my new website to launch with the release of my book? Well the release is Dec. 20th..."

I could hear the screams through cyberspace.

But he did it. The new website (go and see is up and running. Today. With the release of my book. Even after the long nights of the robertssnow website, Jon continued to burn the midnight oil on


Sunday, December 11, 2005

i'm the illustrator

For the past 3 years, Ki-Ki and I have sold my books at a booth at the RISD Alumni sale. It's been fun, lucrative and puzzling.

The puzzling part is because everytime a buyer asked to get a book autographed they always asked Ki-Ki to sign it. Well, not every time--but 8 out of 10 (we counted). People assumed she was Grace Lin. Apparently, she looks more like a children's book illustrator than me.

This was issue we pondered deeply. Why? Was it her demeanor? Did she act more friendly? Younger? Older? What do people think children's book illustrators look like? Do they think they are soft, granny-like ladies with grey hair? Sexy, thin a la Teri Hatcher in Desperate Housewives? Whatever they think, Ki-Ki looks more like it than me.

So, this year we decided to challenge their preconceived notions and labeled ourselves.

This was quite successful. In fact, I think we sold more books because so many people were amused by our shirts.

Friday, December 2, 2005

blah, blah, blog

The other day, I was the guest for the Foundation for Children's Books Conversations With...Author and Illustrator Series. So, it was an open forum conversation with me!

So, I talked a lot. It was quite nice actually. I'm never confident about which rung I am on the ladder of my career but this talk let me look down and see how high I've climbed. Others have climbed (much) higher and faster ( and some people get the elevator), but my view isn't too bad.

We spoke mainly about my books and Robert's Snow, but during the converation we also discussed my blog.

Which brings up the question, why do I blog? Why am I laying bare so many details of my life and soul to a faceless audience?

Perhaps it's therapy. But I also think it's because as an author I am compelled to write down the moments that are important to me. And to share them.

I guess, somehow, it's not enough for me to write and paint things and stick them under my bed. I feel a need to connect to someone no matter how few. I think that is the way it is when you are in the creative field. It's not enough just to write a book, you want it to be published--you want people to read it. The truth is creation is incomplete unless it's shared.

It's like the old philosphical question, if a tree falls in the middle of the forest and no one knows about it, did it really fall? Who knows? The truth is if no one sees it or hears it, no one cares. And in a way, it might as well not exist. I am like a mushroom in that forest. Sometimes I get trampled on, sometimes I grow but I want to feel like I exist. I want to feel like it matters. That I matter.

Seems like a desire worth blogging for.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

good fortune

Some time ago a couple of friends and I made a list of the ten things we wanted accomplish in our lifetime. In an attempt to free ourselves from guilt, we nixed goals such as "fight cancer" and made the list be a personal achievement list. In other words, we were writing down our most personal and most ego-gratifying wishes.

One of the things that I listed was "have one of my books made into a theatrical performance." Well, since then I have had that privilege happen to me not once, but twice. The first time was in Portland, Maine when a group put on the play performance of The Ugly Vegetables. And the second time is most recently in Philadelphia where a dance preformance of Fortune Cookie Fortunes was produced.

The Union of Hearts and Cultures is an annual event put on by the FCC-DV. It's an event that promotes diversity, mixed heritages and races. The performance of Fortune Cookie Fortunes was going to be the highlight event and I the guest of honor. I couldn't wait to see what they created.

And it was wonderful. Truly gratifying. Yes, the performers were kids and teenagers, but they danced and held themselves like professional adults. In front of a packed auditorium, waiters danced and tossed trays and fortunes came to life. The ending joyful dance was completed with the cast throwing fortune cookies out to the crowd. I could see the hours of work behind the dancing, the costumes, and the sets which emulated my work so much that there were swirls in the sky. It really was delightful and I was honored they performed my book.

Sometimes when you get things that you want, they fall hollow or the satisfaction is fleeting. It seems like it's human nature to move onto the next wish, the next goal. As I cross "have one of my books made into a theatrical performance" off my list, I catch myself doing that. Almost immediately, my next thought was to look over the other unfulfilled wishes...and I stop myself. It's so easy to lose the good stuff, so easy to lose the pride and self confidence. And it's even easier to take it for granted. So, maybe, instead of rushing onto the the next ambition, I'll just savor my good fortune and try to hold onto it for a while.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

where am i?

I am now scheduled for books up to Spring 2008. 6 years ago, I would have thought this was too wonderful to be true. Now,it just seems overwhelming with vague nightmarish qualities. How is this possible?

Besides the actual scheduling and overworking problems that I'll get into at another time, it is the horrible, fearful, overhanging shadow of being overpublished that is haunting me recently. What is this overpublished problem you ask? Well, recently my colleague and friend Tim Basil Ering (who illustrated the Newbury winner "Tale of Desperaux", by the way) related this story to me:

"I told my editor that I was illustrating a book with another publisher," he told me, "and the expressions on his face was like his dog had died."
"Really? Why?" I asked.
"Well, he told me that publishing houses don't like you to published with too many places," Tim said, "he told me, 'Ideally, you should publish with one house. Two houses, is acceptable. But more than that...well, you're a publishing whore."

I have 5 publishing houses.

This is a hard thing to fess up to, but I think I am a publishing whore. I publish with whomever will pay me. I feel bad, a sell-out, less literary and pure. Someone disloyal who has dirtied their art.

But another part of me bristles at it. Hey, I don't get company benefits, a salary, a possiblity of promotion or even a nominal Christmas bonus. I have to pay my own health insurance, look after my own retirement (which I probably never will do anyway) as well as pay the bills. I need to survive, I need to support. It's impossible (at least for me, probably not for JK Rowling) to just stick with one publisher and (at most) one book a year. Why must loyalty be proven with bankruptcy?

But it's these small decisions that haunt me. I worry about their long lasting repercussions. Am I eating today to starve tommorrow? Am I ruining the quality of my work for filthy lucre? I don't think I am, but am I the correct judge? Van Gogh or Disney? Do you really get to make the choice? Or is that choice made by the small decisions on the way?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

i like shiny things

I am a small mushroom in the forest of children's books, but every once and a while I get a nice ray of sun. The other day it was when my editor and friend sent me the cover for my new book. The Year of the Dog, my first middle grade novel is going to feature gold foil on the cover! This is a quite a landmark in my publishing career. To non-children's book types this is but a piddling accomplishment, but to one who has toiled the achievement of a shiny, additional cost cover is no small feat.

It is so pretty and gold that when Robert saw it he said, "Hey, it looks really good. They should give you that gold sticker award and it'll match."
"Uh, you mean the Newbury Award?" I said.
"Yeah," he said, "it would go perfectly."
Somehow I doubt aesthetic reasons are in their judging criteria.