"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

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Amalia in Brooklyn

A few weeks back, I posted a picture of Alice, reading my book in Moldavia. Today, we have Amalia, in Brooklyn, NY, waiting on her dad's bicycle for the rain to stop, and what better way to do that than by reading Amadi's Snowman?

Thank you, Amalia :)

Monday, August 25, 2008

"Good Enough", by Paula Yoo

One of the features of the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles (and maybe elsewhere, but I wouldn't know it) is the Autograph Party, at the end. We get cupcakes (disgustingly creamy, in my opinion) and can get our copies signed by the authors. Two years ago, I contemplated having the books I'd bought signed, but in the end decided against it. I never feel comfortable in crowds, and this was a BIG crowd, with long lines. This year, I came down with only two copies (the books I wanted to buy had disappeared from the bookstore by the time I got around to buying them) but once I arrived in the ballroom, I almost turned around again. Did I mention I don't like crowds? Or standing in line? That's a French thing, I think. Anyway, I almost left, but then I thought, "Nope, you're going back there and you're going to have these two copies signed, and that's it." I'm getting quite good at this "kicking my own butt thing," aren't I? And I'm so very really glad I did. I got Christopher Cheng to sign his book "Melting Pot" for my daughter. It's the story of a boy who is part Australian, part Chinese, like Chris Cheng himself, set in Sydney, at the beginning of the 20th Century, and written as a diary. I have not finished reading it, yet, but the protagonist, Chek Chee, has a strong voice, and the setting, in the early days of the White Australia policy, is fascinating. Chris Cheng, by the way, gave an informative and very lively presentation about doing research for historical novels.

With my first book signed, I then went to see the lovely Paula Yoo, author of the Young Adult novel "Good Enough." Paula noticed my button with the cover of Amadi's Snowman, and she offered to take my picture to post it on her blog, which she has done. Thanks, Paula.

I started reading "Good Enough" at the conference but was so tired by the time I went to bed that I just couldn't keep my eyes open after a few pages. I then read it during the long flight to New York and really enjoyed it. "Good Enough" is the story of Patti Yoon, a Korean-American whose parents have very high and specific expectations : she must be the best at everything, and particularly the violin in order to get into HARVARDYALEPRINCETON, and of course, dating boys is strictly out of the question. Patti struggles to find her place, understand what SHE really wants - as opposed to what her parents want for her - and make the decisions that may well affect the rest of her life. I totally related to Patti's struggle : music was really big in our family, too. I played the piano, my sister played the violin, and my brother the cello. And when we were not practicing, I would accompany my father as he sang the whole tenor opera repertoire. The pressure to achieve was also high, what with my mother who'd never been to school, and my father who'd had to drop out when he was 15 years old to go and make a living, both of them wanted their children to have what they had not had. Paula Yoo touches these issues - as well as the issue of prejudice - with honesty and an obvious understanding that comes from experience. She also writes with a great deal of humor. Her story is universal and very satisfying to read.

And now, I have two signed copies. Can't wait for next time. I'm hooked.

Friday, August 22, 2008

My belated notes on the SCBWI national conference in Los Angeles

It was fun, fun, fun, fun, fun !
What else?
Well, I got to see old friends, to meet new ones, including one of my critique partners Linda Lodding, an expat like me who lives in Holland. I heard moving, inspiring authors (Bruce Coville comes way up on the list, and Susan Patron, at the end, brought tears to my eyes ), funny editors (Oh, how I envy anyone working with Arthur Levine. Lin Oliver kept saying he's adorable, and she's right, that man is irresistible), and I danced the night away in a red sari.
This was my second time at the conference. I knew my way around, and some people, and so I didn't feel as overwhelmed as the first time. And I managed to sleep at night, so all was well.

Oh, by the way, this year's theme, embedded on the now traditional red band that we received, was : READING IS POWER. How is that for being current?

Here is a personal selection of pictures with a few sporadic and very disorganized notes (some of the pics are dark, but I was never close enough for my little flash.)

Lin Oliver (below) opened the festivities with her usual wit and a few statistics: there were 915 attendants from 44 US states, and 14 countries; 746 were women, 135 were men, and she pointed out that the numbers don't even out to make a total of 915 attendants because there were 96 people whose names did not permit to identify them as belonging to a gender or the other. That drew quite a few laughs, of course. Out of the 915, 402 were published authors. I can't remember whether this was preceded or followed by the traditional parade of the faculty, each person saying a chose word at the mike. 

Bruce Coville gave the first talk titled "The Art of the Heart. Writing True for the Child." He mentioned that kids need heroes, role models provided by children's books. He then listed the Seven Deadly Sins of Bruce Coville (Dullness, Repetition, Cliche "dead and lead on the page, but so easy," Sloth or the necessity to exceed expectations, Inattention, Perfectionism "the enemy of achievement," and Clumsiness.) Then came his personal catalogue of Virtues (Passion, Sensuousness, Wisdom, Guile or the art of distracting your reader to better surprise him or her, Humor, Courage, and Joy.)

He also gave a workshop on "Plotting : The Architecture of Story" during which he climbed and lied down on chairs and all. It was fun as well as instructive. Here he is:

Arthur Levine (above) set out to prove that "Picture Books Live", with a little story and a number of graphs that he obviously enjoyed showing to all these literary people. His talk was really funny and as far as I'm concerned, he gave the conference its "jingle" with his series of "Oh Nooooooo" cried in a high-pitched voice. My friends and I repeated that "Oh Nooooooo" every chance we got even after the conference had closed, to the obvious perplexity of friends and family who wondered what was so funny about crying "Oh Noooooo", and then laughing and giggling like a bunch of schoolgirls. I now do that in my mind from time to time, because it's just not as funny when your friends are no longer around to share the laugh, but I still like to remember the good time we had being so silly. Thank you, Arthur Levine, for maintaining that "there is still a large audience for Picture Books." A number of editors didn't share your point of view, but I like yours, so that's what I choose to remember.

The Pro Talk allowed published authors (still can't believe I belong to that distinguished club) to display and sell one book published during the year. I got there quite early, but as I approached the table and kind of hovered around for a few minutes, I panicked when I realized that people were not climbing over one another in order to get to my book, and... I ran away. It was sheer torture to be there. I came back much later, and the first person I saw when I entered the room was carrying my book. Boy, oh boy, I literally jumped at him and would have kissed him if I hadn't been loaded with notebooks, books, AND my Macbook (I had spent my hiding-away time using the free wireless internet connexion in the lobby to check emails). Still, I thanked him profusely.

Saturday night was Party time! This year, the theme was "Paint the Town Red, and we certainly did, as you can see below.

And here I am in my red sari, with my dear friend Rilla, acting silly - something we like to do immensely.
One of the beauties of going to a SCBWI conference is that you get to meet lots of like-minded people, read women and men obsessed with writing and/or illustrating books for children. I'm so glad I met Lea Lyon (below), who has illustrated two books for Tilbury House. Her work with watercolors is truly lovely. 

But good things always have an end, and SCBWI conference are not exception. Here is the last picture with my favorite conference pals: Rilla Jaggia seating next to me, who's been my dear friend ever since we met, oh, so serendipitously, at that same conference, two years ago, the very, very talented illustrator, Stephanie Roth Sisson, who was Picture Book page winner of the portfolio showcase (if you were at the luncheon and heard a lot of shouting when her name was mentioned, it was us, at the back of the ballroom) and Stephanie Jefferson, my new friend and super roommate.

These notes are anything but exhaustive. I didn't mention the extraordinary Leonard Marcus, who regaled us with quotes from Ursula Nordstrom (made me want to reread Dear Genius, have to get it out), Rachel Cohn, who talked about "Embracing (and Resisting the Urge to Throttle) Your Inner Teen, and reminded us how self-absorbed teenagers are. "Think how an adult would think or act and do the total opposite", she advised. She was funny, and very touching. Etc, etc...

It was all over too soon. Must now follow the number one rule for all writers : Butt In Chair. And write, write, write... Until next time.

Review on Booklist

Amadi's Snowman got a great review in the July issue of Booklist!

Booklist, 7/1/08, American Library Association
Amadi, an Igbo boy in sun-drenched Nigeria, sees no point in learning 
to read, until he sees a picture of a snowman in a book and is curious 
to find out more. He wants to learn about the far-off country where 
frozen rain falls from the sky - a world so different from his own - 
and the chance to read about it fills him with joy. Children will enjoy 
reading about Amadi's life in the village, depicted in the earth-toned, 
intimate scenes. It's a nice reversal that young children will be able 
to grasp - what looks exotic and faraway to one person is a place where 
someone else lives.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I'm back in Hyderabad...

... after an exhausting, but truly exhilarating summer spent continent and time zone hopping. It's good to be home, in spite of the strange smell floating around the house (it's very humid right now, in Hyderabad, after a monsoon that saw practically no rain). The highlights of the whole trip were definitely the readings in New York and going to the SCBWI national conference in Los Angeles, but I also loved walking around Jacmel, in Haiti, and going back to Spain, in the same apartment where I used to spend most of my summers as a kid, and taking my daughters to the Feria in Malaga, all dressed up as gitanas. I'll post pictures tomorrow. Have to get those suitcases out of the way, now...

Saturday, August 2, 2008