"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I am swamped !

I can't believe it's been 9 days since my last post. What can I say? I work, and work, and work, and it's not even fun work, it's the kind of work that pays a few bills, that makes me feel as if I contribute something to the household budget, and that's it. I was a bad girl and spent lots of quality time with my writing over the past several weeks and totally neglected my translation, and now, I have to meet a fast approaching deadline, and I cannot do anything else but trudge through one page after another. That's how it feels. And I shall now stop my whining, because who wants to listen to that? The good thing ? Only 3 and half more weeks to go. Grrr.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The DUMMY for my picture book is here !

I received the dummy for my coming picture book, Amadi's Snowman.

Oh boy, Oh boy !

I won't say anything more for now. I read somewhere about an editor reminding authors that they read blogs, too. In other words, refrain from disclosing too much.

Still, I can at least share the thrill of opening the envelop and setting eyes on the face of my boy for the first time. Of course, my boy having had to change names, and also to have his face created by another person, means that he's no longer my boy only. Still...

Let me add that the dummy is a bunch of sketches, rather crude drawings. But, it gives me the page breaks, it gives an idea about the artist's vision for my book, and, as mentioned above, it begins to give a face to the characters in the story, to show the settings, the action.

There is much more to come. Colors. The drawings will be refined. Still, it's one step along the publishing process.

It felt weird, surreal, to be leafing through the photocopied, stapled dummy, last night. I'd had it sent to my husband's office address, to make sure it didn't get lost or unnecessarily held up at the post office - our postman delivers mail on a bicycle, and we live all the way up a hill, so who knows on which day he might decide he just doesn't feel up to producing such an effort - so I got it in the evening. My 7-year-old daughter was with me, and she already wants to color it. I think I'll let her.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Right Brain or Left Brain?

Check that link and see whether you are right brain or left brain.

I see her turning clockwise, which means that I tend to use the right part of my brain more.

uses feeling - no kidding
"big picture" oriented - mm, considering how long it's taken me to apply the big picture concept to critique stories, I wonder. That said, I do tend to look far and wide when approaching issues. I think.
imagination rules - but of course!
symbols and images - OK
present and future - no past? Now, this I'm not too sure about.
philosophy & religion - yep, as long as it is religion outside of any type of dogmas. I prefer the word spirituality.
can "get it" (i.e. meaning) - Yeah? OK, that's good I suppose
believes - as in gullible ?
appreciates - as in grateful, or as in appreciates beauty?
spatial perception - not sure about that one
knows object function - huh?
fantasy based - oh, definitely
presents possibilities - I, as a person, or I present possibilities to others?
impetuous - mm, yeah
risk taking - yeah, that too.

But I'm missing "words and language" from the left brain.

I tried focusing to make the dancer rotate the other way, but couldn't. Then, I stopped looking at the image for a few minutes, and when I looked again, she did turn counter-clockwise, but only for a couple of seconds, and then went back to going clockwise and that's how she's still going. I've tried doing something else and going back several times. Definitely clockwise. How about you? Let me know. I'm curious.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ranting about Barbie !

On Sunday afternoon, we went to one of the big department stores that have sprouted all over Hyderabad over the past two years - I'm not kidding, this place is changing FAST.

First, we went to a music store and my 7-year-old ran straight to the DVD display and soon came to me with a Barbie movie in her hand... and a pleading look on her face.

Goodness, but I HATE Barbie! I would like to lit a bonfire and throw if not ALL the Barbies of the world, at least an enormous percentage - how about a good 50 per cent - of the white Barbie dolls in it and watch as all that sickly plastic melts into nothing.

Back to the music store: I tried to distract my daughter, to show her other movies - Hey, The Jungle Book is finally here! Remember the Jungle Book? Mowglie, Bagheera, the bare necessities of life? "This is for babies", she said with a look of disdain on her face. Shame on me, but I sent her to see her father, knowing he'd probably buy it. My husband, the black guy in this family, doesn't have, nor understands all my hang-ups about Barbie. And yeah, he bought it. And now, I hate myself. Let me add that we barely ever visit department stores. So, it's not like this scene would happen every week, or even every month. And since we don't receive any TV channel in our house - it's a choice - the kids can only watch videos and DVDs carefully chosen... usually. Later, I did tell my daughter why I don't like Barbie - in case she'd forgotten since my last rant on the subject - but even as I spoke, I tried to imagine what she might be thinking. "What is wrong with Mom? Why does she hate Barbie so much because she's blond and has blue eyes? Mom is blond and she's got blues eyes too. OK, her figure is not quite as shapely as Barbie's, and she's definitely older, but hey, Mom could be Barbie's mom, maybe!" Oh, dear!

Then, we went to the areas where they have all the toys, and the nightmare continued. There were about eight shelves of toys, one for Fisher Price toys for babies, one for craft toys, play-doh, beads, etc, and the rest, all the other shelves that represented the whole toy display for the department store, had guess what ? Barbies!!! And guess some more ? Not ONE brown Barbie. There was one white Barbie with brown hair and brown eyes - WOW ! - and all the rest were the usual sickly display of blond, blue-wide-eyed Barbies being a teacher, to a blond child of course, being a veterinarian, etc. Even the dogs are blond, for Pete's sake! And then Polly Pockets : same. All blond. We live in INDIA ! Where people have raven black hair, brown skin in all possible shades of brown, from very light to just as dark as any black person - some women and men, especially in the south where we live, have darker skins than my husband. What message does that send to all the children who look at these dolls and get them as presents, or they wouldn't be there, right ? Even the Indian Barbies are basically as light as the white Barbie, only they wear saris.

Maybe we should just avoid department stores. I'm only hoping my daughters - the little one who is 3 has started to become interested in Barbie dolls, as well - will not ask one for Christmas. Or maybe I should order a brown one for each of them right now and have them sent to me. That way, I won't be stuck, if/when the letter to Santa comes and it's too late to order brown ones and have them delivered all the way to India.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Brown Bookshelf

I found out recently about this wonderful new initiative : The Brown Bookshelf

"The Brown Bookshelf is a group of 5 authors and illustrators, brought together for the collective goal of showcasing the best and brightest voices in African-American Children’s Literature, with a special emphasis on new authors and books that are “flying under the radar.”"

And they are not wasting any time either. They've already launched the "28 Days Later" campaign. During the twenty-eight days of Black History Month, they’ll be profiling a different children’s or young adult author. They are taking nominations until December 1. So, if you know a book written by an African-American author, old or new, well-known or not, that you've loved and would like to add to their growing list, visit The Brown Bookshelf website

It just happens that I met one of the five authors Kelly Starling Lyons at the last workshop conducted by Uma so it's really great to see her being a part of this. From the few works in progress she shared with us during the class, I could see that she has a strong voice, a style that is lyric, poetic, and her stories are full of heart.

I've also been a silent lurker on Don Tate's blog for a little while, now. I like his voice, too - only the blogger's voice, so far, but I know we'll be reading his author's voice soon. There is a no-nonsense quality to it, not to mention humor and obvious sensitivity. Well, he's an artist, right?

I've nominated "SHOW WAY" by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Hudson Talbott. Jackie Woodson is not really an author "flying under the radar," but that book, and the author's voice telling the text at the LA SCBWI conference, in 2006 - couldn't make it in 2007, sniff - have never left me, since that day. I also added NEW BOY by Julian Houston. Christopher Paul Curtis had already been mentioned. But this is great, because, as I scanned the list of books nominated, I saw quite a few, and authors' names, too, that I'd never heard of.

Good luck to you all, at The Brown Bookshelf!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cesar Takes a Break ! by my friend and critique partner Sue Collins Thoms

I'm so excited as I type these words. My friend and critique partner Sue Thoms's first picture book Cesar Takes a Break can now be found and pre-ordered at amazon.com.
I remember quite well the first time that Sue submitted Cesar's story to our online critique group. Cesar had it all: a mischievous personality with just a spark of diva quality to him, and lots of humor. He was irresistible, and we all loved him. Eventually, Meredith Wasinger, from Sterling, decided that she loved him too. They found a wonderful illustrator: Rogé, from Quebec, and now, the book will be released on March 4, 2008.

Just run to get your copy. I promise that you won't be disappointed. And do watch out for Sue Collins Thoms in the future, because that lady is incredibly talented. And I said this long before she was published, right, Sue? So that makes me double proud ! I'll post an interview of Sue in this blog, soon. In the meantime, look at Cesar chilling out. Didn't I tell you he's irresistible? Wait until you read about his adventures in the elementary school where he's taken up permanent residence, and you'll love him even more.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Workshop with Uma Krishnaswami

Those who know me, especially my writers friends, know that Uma Krishnaswami is waaayy up there on my list of favorite people in the whole wide world. Any writer who comes into contact with her is taken by her unique, in-depth teaching style, her warmth, her wisdom and humour, and most of all, her great patience and generosity.

I don't quite remember how I came to know about Uma. Most likely, I was searching the Internet for multicultural books and resources. Anyway, I read Chachaji's Cup and loved it. And I checked her website, and saw that she was available to critique manuscripts. The fact that she is originally from India, where I'd come to live, seemed like the last sign I needed to get in touch with her.

I sent her Ifeanyi - my independent boy who now also goes by the name of Amadi - and that was truly a new beginning for me. I was blown away by the depth of her critique! I'd had that same story critiqued before, but no one had gone through such great lengths to actually help me understand the structure of story, the importance of finding its heart, of focusing on a theme, and on the character, too. I mean, we can all read about story arc a million times, but if you are kind of slow, like me, it will take you ages to actually grasp the concept, or you might grasp that concept, but still struggle to translate it into your own writing.

Uma recommended that I take her online advanced workshop for children's writers, and I did. The format is perfect for people like me: we all post one work in progress every two weeks, and the other participants in the workshop critique it. Then, Uma comes in and wraps up with her own critique, usually drawing on what's been said by the others and developing it further.

One of Uma's great tools, in my opinion, is the way she approaches the critique process. She insists that we step back from the text to look at the big picture. No line editing, no comments on the structure of a sentence, on the choice of a word, as these are things that may not even be found in the manuscript, in the end. That distance forces us to think in terms of story theme, story arc, voice, character. I've found it particularly enlightening, even though I still struggle sometimes to think along those big picture lines. It is so much easier to comment on word choice, on the flow and rhythm of a sentence.

So we are to focus on what works, and to say why. And this is preceded by a + sign.
+ I loved the way you show us your character's trepidation by describing her sweaty hands.

And we are to focus on what raises questions, and this is preceded by a ?
? I didn't understand why your character suddenly starts jumping around the bush. Was she bitten by a bee? Is she allergic, maybe? You might want to give us some hint beforehand.

And we are to focus on what needs fixing, what gets in the way of the story, and these comments will be preceded by a * sign.
* You switch POV at the end of the chapter. As your POV character leaves the scene, in pain and in shock, she cannot possibly know that the bee is still hiding in the bush, snickering happily because she finally managed to sting her.

No - sign used, as Uma says that what appears to be a minus to someone might actually be the seed of an idea which can be developed into something else. By using the - sign, we can give the writer the feeling that he's better off forgetting about this idea all together, when in fact, said idea might still be used, transformed, and in the end help push the story forward.

Finally, we are to give our overall impression. What is this work really about?

I'm currently participating in my third online workshop led by Uma, and once again, I'm learning something practically every day. Plus, it forces me to write. So, for those who love the process and want to learn from the best - Uma has since joined the faculty of the M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College - I highly recommend her classes and workshops.