Monday, July 30, 2007

Boston Rocks!

I just got back from a two-week trip to the East Coast, which included my first visit ever to New England. In my vow to keep my blog related to writing for children (and not bore people with things like what I had for lunch today), I’ll bring up two writing-related incidences—both occurring in Boston (a city which totally rocks, by the way).

First, (and shhh, don’t tell my husband this), I was on a secret mission to find the memorial statue of MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS, one of my favorite classic children’s books. I love the story and the artwork, how the monotone illustrations capture the essence of all that is “duck.” We had barely gotten off “the T” and strolled over to the Boston Common when we found it. I was delighted in watching others approach the ducks and talk about the story. Children climbed onto the Mrs. Mallard’s back and hugged her as their parents snapped off photos. Kids and adults alike talked about the plight of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard of finding the perfect home for their ducklings. It was so wonderful to have that common bond with complete strangers of a favorite children’s book—a young woman half my age, young children, parents, and grandparents. Isn't that what children's literature is all about?

The second kid-lit related incident occurred in a graveyard, of all places. We were leaving The Granary Burying Ground (where we had seen Paul Revere’s grave), when a tour guide’s voice caught my ear. “So there you have the gravesite of Mother Goose.” Huh? I spun around so hard I almost gave myself whiplash. Mother Goose’s gravesite?

While doing research for the brief history of Mother Goose, which I had to write for my MOTHER GOOSE RHYMES series, I had read about Elizabeth Foster Goose, a Bostonian woman who supposedly wrote rhymes for children. However, my research also pointed out in France in the 1600’s, there were references to "Mere L'Oye", the wife of King Robert II, who also was believed to have created stories for children. Not much later, there were British references to Mother Goose.

Interesting how some people interpret history (such as the tour guide who so solidly deemed the woman in this grave as the definitive Mother Goose). Someone once told me that history is 10% facts and 90% interpretation of those facts. Good observation. Even where dear, old Mother Goose is concerned.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tips for Sailing Through the SCBWI Summer Conference

It’s almost that time again—the SCBWI Summer Conference is rapidly approaching. Yippee! An illustrator colleague of mine recently asked me about it, seeing how this will be her first time to attend. Since I’ve been a few times, I thought I’d offer up some tips--in no particular order of importance--just things as they randomly came to mind.

1. Take a sweater or jacket. While the hotel is lovely with the most comfortable hotel beds in the world (they don’t call them “Heavenly” for nothing), the meeting rooms and ballroom can be freezing! Of course, they can be stiflingly warm too. Take a cue from the Boy Scouts. Be prepared.

2. Predetermine your sessions. I like to determine my breakout sessions in advance, highlighting which ones pique my interest, but I also keep my ear out for other people who might have heard the same speakers in other sessions. That way, if I get a sense that the speaker doesn’t offer what I’m looking for I can change plans. I usually have a first and second choice highlighted on my conference flier. I’ve also found that it helps to read the books of the speakers you know you’ll be hearing.

3. Wear comfortable shoes. Even though we’re in the same hotel all day, there are three levels for conferencing, plus the treks to our rooms and dining opportunities. No one wants his or her piggies to be crying at the end of the day.

4. Food: IMHO, there are slim options for eating at the hotel: one nice restaurant—overpriced in my opinion, a poolside cafĂ©, and the lounge/bar. For lunch, usually there’s a sandwich cart in the hotel lobby (sandwich, chips, soda/water), except on Sunday, due to the Golden Kite Luncheon. Oh, and speaking of the Golden Kite Luncheon (or as it’s affectionately called, “the parade of chicken breasts”), the dessert is always to die for! I’ve never been disappointedJ.

For dinners, my pals and I hoof it down the street to the mall (less than ten-minutes) where there is a variety of eateries at the food court. Saturday night we nosh at the poolside gala (a fun munch and mingle kind of thing—live music and a costume contest).
The only eating issue I’ve had is on Sunday night, but what I’ve found is that room service, while a bit spendy, offers large enough portions to share with my roommate. Plus, I usually take some snacks down with me (fruit, granola bars), so there’s enough to tide me over.

I honestly don’t know much about the breakfasts, other than the muffins, etc. that I’ve seen sold at the lounge/bar. I usually bring some homemade muffins so I don’t have to waste my morning time standing in a line. Coffeemakers are provided in the rooms, plus there’s free coffee in the lobby until around 11:00 or so.

5. Bring a book bag and money--especially you book addicts. Of course, there will be books sold and after hearing all of the fabulous authors, you’ll want to buy their books. Here’s a hot tip: the “cash” line is always shorter than the “credit card” line, so if you’re comfortable with it, bring some spare cash with you (hotel rooms do have safes for locking up your valuables).
Additionally, there are usually freebies (catalogs, posters, writing guidelines from various publishers, promotional materials from authors/illustrators). Now, I have to say that “freebies” doesn’t mean taking an author’s book from the display table. Eh-hem...yes, one year I took a copy of my new joke book to proudly display and by the end of the first day, someone had stolen it. Yep, stolen it! Can you believe that? I like to imagine a child somewhere is enjoying that book, and doesn’t know that how it came to land in his hands.

6. Take care of yourself. This is a personal one, because we’re all different, but I’ve learned to allow some “down time” for myself because four days of listening, learning, schmoozing and just plain hanging out with my writer and illustrator pals is fantastically exhausting. I bring a swimsuit for the Jacuzzi. Some folks participate in the yoga class. If you read my post on getting a good night’s sleep while traveling, you know that I bring a headset with quiet music. In essence, take care of yourself! It’s so very easy to overdo it.

7. Step out of your shell (if you have one). I know this is tough for a lot of people. The second conference I attended I didn’t know a single person. It was quite intimidating. I roomed with complete strangers who also didn’t know another soul in attendance. But I immediately discovered that children’s writers are some of the friendliest people on the planet. Some of those people I met way back then have come to be my closest writing friends.
One way to break the ice with people is to notice where they’re from (it’s on the nametags they give us) and strike up a conversation about that. If you’re waiting for a session to begin, chat with the person next to you. Ask them what kind of writing they do, if they’re published. Heck, you could even ask if they’ve read any good books lately! Remember, we all have a common bond of writing/illustrating for children, so there are a many interesting things to talk about.

8. Parking: If you carpool with a friend, drop the friend and all the luggage off at the hotel front then park the car. It’s a bit of a haul to lug all your bags from the hotel to the parking structure in the back.

9. Etiquette: Please don’t shove your manuscript under a restroom stall at an editor. It makes us all look bad. Manners, manners, manners! And I’m serious.

10. Expectations. Don’t expect to come home with a book contract in hand. That just doesn’t happen. What you will come home with is 1) newfound knowledge and skills, 2) new friends/colleagues, 3) editorial hope. By this, I mean that you will have heard editor’s speak and have the hope that because you better understand their needs, your work might find a place with them. However, this takes time—time for you to go home and re-evaluate your work (now that you have this newfound knowledge), time to further polish it (newfound skills), time to compose a well-thought out cover letter, and time for the editor to read it. That’s your hope ;-)

BTW, I know that other conference vets will be addressing this same topic, so please check them all out to insure that you’ll have a great time. Gregory P. mentioned that he‘d be posting something, and Shrinking Violets Promotions has already posted Conference Survival Tips on their site (June 24, ’07).

Enjoy and happy conferencing!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


This morning I was doing some marketing research and surfed to the Picture Window Books website. To my delight, right there on their home page was my recent book series, MOTHER GOOSE RHYMES.

Why the honor of being featured on their homepage when they published over 200 books on their spring list? Well, it seems that the series was not only a finalist in the Association of Educational Publishers Golden Lamp Award, but it also named a 2007 Winner of the Distinguised Achievement Award (by their definition, "The Distinguished Achievement Awards honor the top products within the categories of Curriculum, Periodicals, and Professional Development. The finalists are evaluated on traits such as efficacy, usability, and educational value.").

What an unexpected surprise--time for a little Snoopy dancing!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

TRAVEL TIPS Part 2: Staying Safe When You Venture Out to Play

Part 2: The Nitty Gritty of Staying Safe


12. Your best weapon is YOU! Listen to your “inner-voice” (not your inner-editor who is always nagging you about word choice and plot structure), but that “inner-voice” that senses danger. This voice is important. Listen to it, whether it’s whispering, “Uh-oh” or screaming, “Run!”

One year I attended the SCBWI Summer conference in Los Angeles. It was Monday afternoon and I was exhausted. My head was effervescing with information and ideas as I made my way to my car. I stepped onto the parking lot elevator, hit the button, all while jostling a suitcase, my water pillow and two over-stuffed book bags. The door was inching shut when a hand shot through to stop it. A young man dressed in scruffy clothes slid inside.

My inner voice said, Uh-oh! Not a good situation. I thought about my first preventive step: projection. I looked him directly in the eye, puffed up with an “attitude” and said, “How’s it going?” in my strongest "tough girl" voice. I then shifted my keys (remember—I always take them out in the lobby) to a position where they became a weapon. The man smiled, nodded and took a quick glance at my keys. Of course, chances are he had no ill intentions, but at that moment, all I wanted was to project an attitude of “Don’t mess with me!” I didn’t care if I came off as slightly paranoid or even if I offended him a bit. When it comes to my safety, social graces go out the door (in this case, the elevator door).

13. Keys. Holding your keys with the sharp end turned out will transform them into a weapon (just make sure you don't slip your fingers through the key ring). A gouge to the face or eye could buy you the opportunity to get away.

14. Shoes. Shoes are a great weapon, especially if used by surprise. If someone grabbed you from behind, scrape the outside edge of your soul down the attacker’s shin or use your heel to stomp on his foot--HARD.

15. Your knees. It almost seems redundant to say this, but we all know the power of the knee. One strong thrust to the groan could save your life.


16. What if you still find yourself in the grasp of an assailant who's pulling you into an isolated area? Resist and yell “Fire!” (not “Help!” Sadly, people are not as likely to respond). This grabs people’s attention and that’s the last thing a predator wants. The more you resist, the higher your chances of survival.

17. Do whatever it takes to prevent an attacker from taking you to a secondary location. Secondary locations are where the worst case scenarios occur. Even if you're thrown in a car trunk, kick out a tailight panel and try to signal for help.

Writing and illustrating is a solitary profession, but we do get to come out and play occasionally. And just like on the schoolyard playground, not everyone plays nice all the time. So whether you’re attending a conference, doing a book tour or school visits, always remember to play it safe when traveling alone.

Bon voyage!

TRAVEL TIPS: Staying Safe When You Venture Out to Play

To keep things managable, this is the first to a two-part article that I wrote on keeping yourself self. As a former black belt who assisted with women's self-defense seminars, I thought this might be of interest to anyone who attends conferences, retreats, weekend workshops, etc.

Part 1: Staying Safe

Writing is a solitary profession, but there are those occasional times when I clap with excitement, kick off my bunny slippers, don a nice dress and attend a conference.

I love conferences—I schmooze, swap ideas, listen and learn. Attending conferences is like chicken soup for my career, but venturing out does one thing that I’m not accustomed to— traveling alone.

While others are heading off to their daily jobs in the “real world”, I (like many other writers) am heating up the coffee and settling into my writing chair. It’s easy for me to forget basic safety rules that others take for granted, so here are some tips I think we should all keep in mind whenever we venture out to play:


1. How do you project yourself? Men who prey on women are predators and will scope out their victims in search of someone who appears to be an easy target. Do you walk tall, make direct eye contact with people and keep aware of your surroundings? Or do you appear timid, look at the ground and have your mind elsewhere?


2. Carpool, if possible.

3. If renting a car, request either a car near the rental building or ask a security guard to escort you to your vehicle.

4. Park in a well-lit location where people are present.

5. Have your cell phone readily available.

6. Have your keys ready before you approach your car. I always take my keys out while I’m in the hotel lobby to 1) avoid fumbling around in my purse for them while at my vehicle, and 2) having them ready for use as a possible weapon (more on that later).


7. Never accept an isolated room.

8. Always use the security door locks and brace the door, if necessary. One year I roomed with a writer who shared with me that the night before, when she stayed in the room alone, she braced the door with a desk. Smart lady!

9. Just like Mom taught you, only answer the door if you know who’s there.

10. Bring a flashlight and keep it on your nightstand.

11. If you stay out late to schmooze or do a critique session, stick with your writer companions, but if you do happen to end up alone in the hotel lounge or restaurant, wait for others to leave so you can walk out with them.

(Part 2 will be posted later this week)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Pacific Northwest: Back from Vacation!

Ahh, Oregon. My home away from home. I just returned from an extensive stay in the Evergreen State. It’s beautiful, it’s down-to-earth and it’s the birthplace of Blackberry Banquet . Blackberry bushes are everywhere in the Pacific Northwest. They’re actually a highly invasive plant, seen as an annoyance by many, but in a few weeks, the delicate white flowers will have all disappeared and made way for the plump, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth sweet sensation that only comes from a blackberry fresh off the bush. Ahh, Oregon!

I took my camera for photographing pictures for future inspiration. I took many walks and bike rides to do “that ruminating thing” that writers must do for their creative spirit (that was how Blackberry Banquet came about, after all). Going to Oregon is like dipping my writing spirit into the well of creativity. Perhaps because I spent part of my childhood in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps because it’s so very different from my desert home. Or perhaps there’s a magic in The Pacific Northwest that lends itself to folks like us. Ah, Oregon!