Monday, November 30, 2009

zeus the dog park bully

Sadie and I had a pretty good/fairly drama-free Thanksgiving holiday. We hung out with some old friends, ate our share of food (I don't think I stopped eating for three days), Sadie got chased around by my friend's toddler Isabella, I got caught up on new movies and old movies - Footloose (1984) and Willow (1988), remember Val Kilmer as Madmartigan! And to end the weekend I took Sadie to the dog park to play with her friend Kate, another adorable Norwich terrier.

The dog park was quiet when we got there, but after awhile a woman with five dogs - yes, five - arrived and the chaos began. Chaos being a dog named Zeus - a medium-sized, black dog with an attitude problem. The first thing Zeus did upon spotting Sadie and Kate was charge across the dog park at full-speed, stopping directly in front of Sadie, where he barked like his head was gonna spin off. Sadie hardly knew what had hit her before Zeus bolted (sorry, couldn't help it) away to torment some other dogs and people. Everyone was in an uproar. This Zeus dog was like a big bully entering a classroom at art-time and stealing all of the little kids' crayons. But Sadie wasn't having it. So, maybe it was from holding in all of her aggression over the weekend from being chased by Isabella, or maybe she was just determined not to let her perfect Sunday in the dog park go to waste, but the next time Zeus charged and barked, Sadie stood her ground. She put her mouth right up to his and barked even louder, and wouldn't ya’ know it, Zeus ran away and didn't bother us again.

This got me thinking; isn’t it funny what animals can teach us about life? Haven't we all encountered a Zeus or two before, or maybe dozens? I know I’ve certainly met my share, especially when living, working and riding the Subway in New York City. So I'm proud of my little dog for standing up for herself. And I’ll keep this weekend’s dog park episode in the back of my mind for the next time I come face-to-face with a Zeus.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

gobble gobble...gulp!


Eat lots of yummy food, drink lots of yummy drinks, and take a nice cat-nap once the tryptophan kicks in!

(Art by Junzo Terada, Chronicle Books. San Francisco, 2009)

Monday, November 23, 2009

flipside featured artist - quentin blake

Quentin Blake

In lieu of the movie Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is coming out soon and based on the book of the same name by Roald Dahl, this week's ffa is author/illustrator/children's laureate, Quentin Blake (b.1932). Blake illustrated 18 of Dahl’s books including, The BFG (1982), and Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970), among others.

Quentin Blake is one of Britain’s best loved and most successful illustrators and children’s authors”, as stated on his website. He has illustrated over 300 books! Wowzers – that’s a lot! And on top of that, he taught at the Royal College of Art for 8 years and he was appointed the first children’s laureate in 1999 - which is a job to promote children’s literature. He also works as an exhibition curator in galleries in London and Paris – busy, busy man!

Mr. Blake lives in South Kensington, and loves to cook fish. He says he spends his free time reading and will have upwards of 7 books on the nightstand near his bed, some of which he never finishes reading.

Blake started drawing at the age of 5, and did illustrations for the magazine Punch when he was 16. His interest in English, education and drawing, naturally progressed to illustrating children’s books, which he started doing in his 20’s. He worked with author Roald Dahl for 15 years.

On how he decides what to draw, Blake says; “If someone is asleep in bed dreaming, you don’t necessarily want to see them in bed, but you might want to look at the dreams. I try to get as close to what the writer intended as possible...

Blake says that he enjoys both illustrating his own books, Clown (1995), and other authors' books like The BFG by Roald Dahl, because they are both interesting in their own way.

All in all, I think Quentin Blake is pretty darn cool and a great contributor to children’s literature. His illustrations just scream childhood and I love their whimsical and airy feel. What is your favorite Quentin Blake or Roald Dahl book?

(all art work by Quentin Blake)

the burping-clam bed

My sister Amanda says that she and her co-workers at Bank of the West like when I post pictures of Sadie (friendly shout out to you all!).

So, with the leaves turning red and falling to the ground, and the weather getting colder here in Northern California, Sadie was in need of a nice, warm bed. I call this her "burping-clam bed", because after she drinks water really, really, really fast, she climbs in and scoots all the way to the back and then burps, and, well, it looks like a's pretty funny and pretty sad how easily entertained I am...

Friday, November 20, 2009

new moon the movie

I'm not gonna lie, I'm excited to see the new Twilight movie!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

a picture book a day for a month

The Picture Book Marathon , created by Jean Reagan and Lora Koehler, is a program dedicated to getting writers to write one picture book a day for a month - allowing for a few rest days in between. I read about this in the Nov/Dec 2009 SCBWI bulletin, and thought it was a great idea! I'm not really a picture-book writer, I've started a few and I have some good ideas ( I think) for others, but I like what Reagan and Koehler have come up with, and I think it's good practice for any writer. I mean, if you think about it, writing a picture book is like writing a really concise, really visual story - 150-800 words max., typically. So that makes for excellent practice for those writers who tend to be "wordy".

If you're interested in joining the picture book marathon, it looks like another one is starting up in February of next year. Visit the website to learn more.

Some of my favorites, below:

You can't really go wrong with Corduroy by Don Freeman (Viking Press, 1968). Being obsessed with teddy bears when I was a kid, I must've read this one a hundred times.

I LOVED this book, Horton Hatches the Egg, by Dr. Suess (Random House, 1940), when I was a kid...and still do. Life lessons are learned here...responsibility, empathy, kindness. I still have this one on my bookshelf.

Ah, and finally, The Story About Ping, by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese (Viking Press, 1933). This could possibly be the book that made me curious to explore the world!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

innovative editing process

My father pointed out this article online in Colorado Country Life, called In the Pages of Crystal Moon. It's about an innovative sci-fi/fantasy writer named Phillip E. Jones, author of Crystal Moon: World of Grayham, who has re-thought the editing and publishing process of his new book. Jones is inviting readers, mainly from high schools, to help him edit and improve his novel. The third edition of Crystal Moon, due out this month, is said to be even better than the first edition, and that is because Jones has been taking the high-schoolers' comments and using them to rewrite his book. Jones self-published the first edition of his book, printing 1,000 copies, and sold them to book stores. With no writing background, he encouraged suggestions, and in the third edition of his book he used approximately 1,400 of the comments he received from readers.

This sounds like a pretty cool process to me, although maybe not for everyone because I'm guessing the printing expenses were quite hefty. But kudos to Mr. Jones for taking a different approach to getting his words out there. The best part is that he seems to be getting young readers excited and involved in the editing process. The article goes on to say that Scott Boshazy, a composition teacher based in Nevada, bought 176 copies of Crystal Moon for his students, whom he named "Jones' editing team". Being editors to Jones' book has made them excited to read book number two and I can imagine, has given them a new appreciation for writers.

I think this is a great idea for all teachers to pick up and utilize - and a new approach for writers not wanting to join a traditional writing group. It must be so cool for those kids to get their feedback taken seriously and to see their suggestions put into print! And a good marketing tool for Mr. Jones as well, because now I'm curious, as I'm sure are others, to read his books!

(to read the whole article visit Colorado Country Life. You can order Jones' books here.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

reluctant readers

There's a great little article in the Oct. 2009 issue of Kiwi magazine , called Tikes 2 Teens, written by Michelle Carlton and Stephanie Hacker, which goes through kids' health and behavior issues from birth to age 18.

Kids ages 6 thru 8 can be reluctant readers, especially boys. So the article mentions ways to get them to read, such as: let your child choose what they want to read - even if it isn't a book that you would choose for them, let them pick it out themselves; go beyond books- read them anything that can be read, including magazines and street signs to help them build reading and comprehension skills; and most importantly, make it fun! Reading shouldn't be a chore.

There are not enough books for boys! This is something that I hear over and over again. Perhaps that's because people know boys are more resistant to read so writers aren't focusing on them, or maybe it's because there are more female writers publishing who feel more comfortable writing for and about girls? I'm not really sure, but I do know that if you have a good idea for a "boy" story, you should write it!

What are some of your favorite books old or new, written for boys? I of course love anything by Roald Dahl; Jerry Spinnelli's Maniac Magee; Louis Sachar's Holes; and Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Desperaux is one of my favorites! I once saw Ms. DiCamillo do a reading at a bookshop in SF, and there were equal part boy and girl readers in attendance. She was brilliant with the audience and so easy-going and friendly! Has anyone read any of Jeff Kinney's books from the series, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid?

Friday, November 13, 2009

the stephen king of children's books

Being that today is Friday the 13th, I'd like to dedicate this notorious day to thriller writer, R. L. Stine (Robert Lawrence Stine) - the "Stephen King of children's books". Stine was born in Columbus, Ohio, and started to write when he found a typewriter in his attic at age nine. He got mostly B's in school and was pretty terrible in math (I can relate) and hated gym. In 1965 he moved to New York City to become a writer (ah, the city of dreams). Stine has sold over 300 million books and written many series including; Mostly Ghostly, Rotten School, Goosebumps, Fear Street, and The Nightmare Room. If you haven't read any of his books then you'd better get on it. And if you have kids or know kids who like to feel their hearts racing, this is your author. Actually, Stine has also written books for adults including; Superstitious, The Sitter, and Eye Candy. I've felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end from reading his books - granted, I do get scared easily - but there's no doubt, this man has a natural gift.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

a change of things and cognisance

I love writing magical-realism and sci-fi/fantasy. Magical-realism, if I'm explaining it correctly, is a story based in our world but with magical elements, and sci-fi/fantasy, is well, for simplicity's sake, Harry Potter... You're probably wondering where I'm going with this? Let me tell you...

In my head, are dozens of ideas brewing for stories written in the magical-realism genre, but today I came to the realization that I think I would like my next book to be based on something more ordinary. I don't mean ordinary as in boring, because really what is ordinary? But as I was trying to explain to a friend's mother-in-law the other day, I write mainly magical-realism only because I find it easier for my mind to go to a far out place, rather than regurgitate stories from my childhood. She didn't quite know where I was coming from and thought it was odd that it would be easier for me to create a story from the twisted depths of my mind, rather than what happened to me in 2nd grade. But my response was precisely that, it's not easy to grab a story from youth and turn it into something that will keep readers turning the page. So, maybe it's because I didn't have an ordinary childhood, or maybe because I like to see the quirks in people, but I've decided that my next novel may just have to be a "simple" book based off of my childhood. My mother remarried when I was seven and I had a rough time with it, especially because her new husband (my step-dad) made my sister and I eat jumbo-sized salads for dinner every night instead of the mac-and-cheese we were used to - sounds silly now, but wasn't then. And also because we had to move back and forth between northern and southern California because of his job. These are the events that may seem ordinary in the long run, but when you're 11 or 12 they can almost break know what I mean?

Sorry if I'm rambling, and thanks to you who managed to make it through my midnight scribble, but if I have made a point, it's just that the ordinary is never that. Each of us must go through specific, sometimes trying events in life which get us to where we are today. And it's exactly those events which make us who we are.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

we're off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of OZ!

L. Frank Baum (b.1856-1919) was the legendary author of the Oz Series, the most famous of those books being The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the first of the series and originally published in 1900. Baum went on to write 13 sequels as well as other various works. The L in L. Frank Baum, stands for Lyman, a family name that Baum disliked and so preferred to go by his middle name, Frank, instead.

Glinda of Oz was the final Oz book and was published a year after Baum's death in 1920. But the Oz series was continued long after his death by other various authors who wrote an additional 19 books.

Baum had many interests, including a fascination with theatre, and wrote plays as well as performed under the stage names, Louis F. Baum, and George Brooks. Once, when Baum was touring with a theatre in Richburg, NY, it caught fire and destroyed not only the theatre, but the only known copies of many of Baum's scripts, including, ironically, Matches, the title of the parlor-drama playing there.

I love these black and white illustrations from a 1956 series of the Oz books, published by The Reilly & Lee Co., in Chicago. For The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum worked with illustrator, W.W. Denslow. When the book came out in 1900, it was the best-selling children's book for two years after its initial publication. After 1904, and for the remainder of the Oz series, Baum worked primarily with illustrator, John R. Neill.

Baum declared that he had written his last Oz book several times during the development of the series, however, by popular demand and insistent letters from children, he was persuaded to return to it time and time again.

These are some of the illustrations from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Dorothy Gale looks quite different how she was originally imagined, compared to that of performer Judy Garland in MGM's 1939 movie.

Dorothy confronting the Wizard of Oz, and in a dreadful mess with the cowardly lion and the flying monkeys.

The book Ozma of Oz was mentioned by one of the editors at the conference I was at recently and it inspired me to go back and read some of the books from the Oz series. I remember the evil Wheelers from that book and how they scared me as a kid, and also the lunch boxes hanging from trees which Dorothy picked and ate.
What is your favorite Oz book?

Friday, November 6, 2009

original gossip girls

The original Gossip Girls return, as an article in this week's New York magazine says of Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy books. Born in 1892, Lovelace wrote 10 novels following turn-of-the-century best friends, Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly from age 5 to adulthood. "Think Serena and Blair of Gossip Girl with lower hemlines and smaller budgets."

HarperCollins is reissuing three of the books with forwards written by author Meg Cabot, columnist Anna Quindlen, and crime writer Laura Lippman. Meg Cabot (think Princess Diaries), said in the NY Mag article, "In an age when teenagers openly discuss blow jobs, she found Betsy's concerns about, say, holding hands with boys oddly empowering. Plenty of girls today are freaked out about sex...these books allow them to slip back into a world where it wasn't expected."

I admit, I've yet to read these, I was more into Sweet Valley Twins when I was in junior high and high school, but I especially like any books about young women that are "female empowerment books", as Anne Quindlen says.

Maybe it's a testament to getting older, but I find taking a step back to when things seemed simpler...refreshing. If you ask me, there are too many examples, be it with t.v. shows or current books, in which teens are having sex and drinking. Yes I watch the new 90210 sometimes, and even The Vampire Diaries, which I blogged about recently, but although I find them at times to be entertaining, it bothers me that they show kids hanging out at bars and drinking like they're adults - where is the innocence! When I lived in New York City a couple of years ago, I went to dinner with some friends one night on the Upper East Side, where very obviously underage kids (15, 16) were being served liquor. The waiters were happily bringing pitcher after pitcher of Sangria over to their table, and when my friends and I confronted our waiter about it, he simply turned around and walked away - we didn't get such great service after that...

So yeah, what you see in Gossip Girl obviously really does exist.

As Quindlen points out, "...the mores of the two girls (in Lovelace's books) may be antediluvian, but their goals are modern." The article goes on to say that the Betsy-Tacy books are currently quite popular, but I'm curious to know if the readers are older, nostalgic women who were fans when they were kids, or if actual teens-of-today are reading them? I predict that my two teenage nieces are about to get a package from Amazon...

(Pick up the Nov. 9th, 2009 issue of New York Magazine to read more. "Original Gossip Girls- The Return of Maud Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy Books", written by Alexandra Lange).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

sesame street celebrates 40


ffa - flipside featured artist

This week's flipside featured artist is the very talented and inspiring Keith Thompson (go to his website here, you won't be disappointed).

I came across this artist by way of reading Publisher's Weekly, the Fall 2009 children's books edition, where there was an author profile on sci-fi/fantasy writer, Scott Westerfeld. His new book Leviathan, released in October, is the first of a planned four book series imagining a WWI fought with "hybrid creatures, living products of Charles Darwin's 19th Century discoveries about DNA and bioengineering."

Westerfeld discovered artist/illustrator Keith Thompson when he was surfing the web for inspiration and for artists specializing in Steampunk. Steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy that denotes works set in a world where steam power is still widely used, usually the 19th century and Victorian England. It's also something I've been researching for my next book which I'll write more about in a future post.

Doesn't this just make your mind spin!? This is a giant bio-engineered whale kept afloat by microscopic hydrogen breathers, also featured in the book Leviathan.

I can't help but be inspired by these dark, otherworldly illustrations. In the PW profile, Westerfeld says "that the back-and-forth process of collaborating with an artist has invigorated his writing, allowing him to build on Thompson's equally inventive imagination."

This one is called The Prophet. "Pilgrims listen in rapt attention to one of the many prophets imprisoned along this road..."

And finally...does this look familiar to anyone!? I almost died when I saw this! It's so similar to the balloon in my new book, Trevelyn's Shimmer! See my previous posts; leave it to vote, from August; and process of creation, from October. The balloon I've imagined in my book is a little different; the one here looks like some kind of plant attached to the earth still - but same general idea with the seat and cables and all. It was actually kind of cool coming across this though and seeing the perspective in the background. It makes me excited to think about the characters in my book come alive one day.
(All artwork by Keith Thompson).
(Read more of the author profile on Scott Westerfeld in Publisher's Weekly, or purchase the July 20, 2009 PW Issue - Fall 2009 Children's Books edition).