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Preview: Blue Rose Girls

Blue Rose Girls

In the tradition of the Red Rose Girls, seven children's book professionals discuss their lives in books

Updated: 2018-02-19T23:53:29.934-05:00


Happy World Read Aloud Day!



My message to celebrate World Read Aloud Day!

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  Grace Lin Celebrates #WRAD16 from LB School on Vimeo.

Betting on the right horse



Lately I've been writing book proposals for other people, and when one went out, two publishers responded right away. One offered a decent advance; the other wanted the book, but didn't want to pay for it.

 "I've never sold a book for nothing," the agent wrote.

 The editor was indignant; wanted the book and whined about uncertainty. The agent said that acquiring mss. ought not to be going for certainty (buying mss. that are like other best-selling books etc.) but "betting on the right horse."

 I love that idea! And not just because it reminds me of John Steinbeck saying,

"Publishing makes horse-racing look like a stable, secure business."

Betting on the right horse is a good way to think about my own books, too -- though for me it's like owning a horse as well as betting on one. If you muck out the stalls etc. yourself, owning a horse is a lot of work. And so is writing a book. You have to really love the creature to make all that work worthwhile, whether it wins the race or not.

The Other Meghan McCarthys


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I was trying to explain to Libby what the deal was with the "other Meghans." I figure posting this will explain the whole thing!

Paintings from Chapter two: Emma


Here are a few of my favorite paintings from the second chapter of Sprout Street Neighbors (some chapter one paintings here), featuring a rambunctious squirrel named Emma:








Yes, that is Drew Barrymore -- the picture was taken on the steps of my building in Boston, while they were filming Feverpitch.  The pink hat is mine, but I (wisely, I think) cropped myself out of the picture. Ordinary people rarely come off well when photographed with celebrities -- especially when the celebrities are young, beautiful movie stars.

I asked her to pose with it thinking it might be a good ad for the book -- of course, it wasn't!

That was predictable. But other things about what will grab people's attention aren't predictable at all. Of all the things I ever posted here, the one about my shepherd's hut was read the most (4,000 and something times).

That wasn't even meant to be anything but fun for me to write about and interesting to my friends. And when it comes to other people's posts, there's no pattern either: what people read most and what they didn't seems completely random (and NOT related to even what readers said were their favorites, in the days when we asked).

The most visited posts on this blog were (in this order): Elaine's about Valerie worth's  animal poems, that shepherd's hut post of mine, Grace's moon craft festival post (about how to make a lantern for a moon festival), Alvina's Day in the Life of an Editor, and a sneak peek of Anna's sketch of a girl.

Who would ever have guessed that? I think the lesson when it comes to writing (whether a book or a blog post!)  is to just write what interests YOU.

Paintings from Sprout Street Neighbors



Here are a few of my favorites from the first chapter of Sprout Street Neighbors, the chapter book I've been working on. It's been a lot of fun painting without color, it sort of frees me up to think more about the values, textures, and patterns in a painting. I like spending time in this cozy black and white world.




I'm working on a "how to" and this is the sped up version...

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How to (really) avoid jetlag


    Several of the Blue Rose Girls have been traveling lately: Grace is in Hong Kong, Alvina was in Italy, I'm in Scotland, and our long-lost Linda was in Israel. So since no one has been posting much lately I am describing the five-step plan for avoiding jetlag.I've heard of various methods: always be exhausted, so you sleep wherever you are -- this was what a work-aholic boss always diddrink a lot -- "Works for me!" a builder/pirate-fighter (really) on the island said cheerfullyfollow the anti jet lag developed by the US Air Force.These are the five steps that worked for me, starting with the Air Force diet.  I slept for 12 hours the first night  and did not have ANY jetlag at all after that, thanks, I am convinced, to this five-step plan developed by trial and error over the years.1. My version of the USAF anti-jet lag dietThe science behind this diet is that your liver plays a big role in setting your body's internal clock -- how and why this is, and how these foods play into that, I don't know. I just know it works.How you do this varies depending upon whether you are going East (it's later at your destination) or West (it's earlier).This is the going East version. Five days before the flight (counting the flight day as day 5), alternately feast and feast.  They said no caffeine, but I had white tea. They said no alcohol, but I had wine with dinner two of the feast nights -- two glasses. They said to start 4 days before the flight, but I started 5....and I drank as much water as I could stomach every day, especially the day of the flight.The details: Day 1, fast -- MY version of fasting is to have liquids (berry smoothies and green drinks) or salad (baby greens with an avocado: no cheese, no meat) and a light supper of cooked vegetables or eggsDay 2, feast -- high protein breakfast AND dinner (avoid carbs both days), lots of waterDay 3 -- fastDay 4 -- feast, and on THIS day, have a dinner that is high in both protein and healthy carbs.Day 5 (the day of the flight) -- fast: smoothie for breakfast, salad or nothing for lunch, salad for dinner (a bit of protein with it if you wish), and as much water as you can drink.2. The day of the flight:Get a massage. It's a nice treat and in my case, I think it really helped.3. On the plane:If it's a red-eye, try to sleep -- and drink as much water as you can. No alcohol on the plane! 4. Wherever you are (on the plane, at your destination) when it's wake-up time at your destination:Have caffeinated tea or coffee. Remember, the destination time zone is the time zone to use for this.Have a high-protein breakfast at that time, too.5. First day at the destination:Stay up until bedtime -- and walk around a lot, outside, in the morning. Morning light helps you adjust to your destination time if you're traveling East.If you are really really tired, take a nap at around 4 (no earlier or all your efforts will have been wasted). Sometimes I take a short nap in the afternoon but this time I did not and I think you adjust much faster if you just stay up. This time, I stayed up until 9.30 -- and slept for 12 hours!!!I admit that one reason I was able to do this is that I got an absolutely hideous haircut and the drama, stress, and sight of it kept the adrenaline flowing. Perhaps you can add a little stress to your first day and let that keep you up.Continue to drink as much water as you can.Is it worth it?To me, definitely.  I'd take the bother of the diet -- which is simpler than it may sound -- over feeling out of it and off for the first two weeks. It's true that I was completely incompetent and out of it the first day -- but when I woke up after having slept soundly for twelve hours that was worth it, too.From then on, I was on local time.What's worked for you? And if you try this, will you report back on how it worked for you?[...]

Sprout Street Jacket


Here is the final painting for the jacket of Sprout Street Neighbors. I began with this sketch. I'll post the jacket design soon!

I get scared



Recently, I read this disturbing post and it made me worry about my privacy online. As authors, we are told  to "be real," to "share" and to "connect" with readers as well as others. And, honestly (when I  have the time) I rather enjoy doing those things. I love sharing real photos of my life, my baby, my studio. I love connecting to readers and hearing how they've read my book. The purpose of being an author/illustrator is that you want your ideas, your images, and (not to be cheesy, but truly) your heart to be shared. Otherwise, why bother to publish--just keep everything in a box under the bed!

But, I get scared. That same baby I love to share photos of--am I risking her safety? Am I risking my own safety, my family's safety by revealing--by "sharing" so much of our lives? I don't want to be afraid, but I don't want to be dumb, either.


Inside Random House: Bringing Our Authors' Books to Life


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I've been off the radar because I have to move... to where I don't know. All of my books are now in boxes--over 35 and counting! Yeah, I have a lot of books. This whole process is just really draining for me. The day I'm supposed to be out of my apartment I have a school visit so I've been working on trying to add some material to it today. I have tons of school visits coming up in the next two months. Something I struggle with is how to explain how a book is created. I found a good video FOR ADULTS. What I'd like to do is create one for kids. But oh, how to find the time...

Dealing with comments



When I first started out in this business, I thought that if an editor told you to change something you had to do what she said.

Now, I think that when an editor makes a comment, you have to do SOMETHING -- you can't just leave it as you had it -- but even good editors aren't always right about WHAT. That's why they're editors, not writers. So when an editor comments on something, I take it as a sign that it's not working, but may come up with an idea that works better as I rewrite.

And I'd always, always like to do the rewriting myself! I've worked with  two publishers who just did it themselves without even consulting me (NOT Little, Brown!) and would never, ever want to work with them again. I think this is highly unusual, though.

What about you? How do you (authors and editors) handle comments and rewrites?  How much rewriting do you, as an author, do in response to comments? How do you, as an editor, expect your authors to respond -- and what do you do if they don't do anything?

Saturday Sketch


Tightening up the jacket sketch for Sprout Street Neighbors, my first chapter book, due out next year. 

keeping your mouth shut



Like many authors, I had a great laugh at these videos of children's authors reading their harsh online reviews. However, a couple days later I was looking up Ellen Oh's book Prophecy on Goodreads and found myself reading this, an example of how online readers show their ire when authors respond to negative reviews.

And honestly, I do understand that, to a point. When a book is published, it no longer belongs to the author. It becomes the reader's book and its their experience which an author has no right to criticize. The big unwritten rule when it comes to reviews when you are an author seems to be KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. Personally, if I can help it, I try just to not read reviews (though I'd be lying if I said I didn't read reviews at all, though).

Sometimes I wonder, though, what they expect from us. Once and a while, I'll get an e-mail from an irritated or even angry reader who wants to know what I meant by this or that, and I never know how to respond. Just as the reading experience belongs to them, the writing experience belongs to us.  Every author I know has written their book to the best of their ability and I've always assumed that readers take it on faith that authors are not out to create books to annoy them. But, perhaps, they just want that agreement acknowledged. So, most of the time, I usually respond, "I'm sorry your reading experience was not what I intended." However, sometimes, I think the best course of action is to follow the rule and keep my mouth shut. What do you think?

Wise words from Leo Lionni


"Of all the questions I have been asked as an author of children's books, the most frequent one, without doubt, has been 'How do you get your ideas?' Most people seem to think that getting an idea is both mysterious and simple. Mysterious, because inspiration must come from a particular state of grace with which only the most gifted souls are blessed. Simple, because ideas are expected to drop into one's mind in words and pictures, ready to be transcribed and copied in the form of a book, complete with endpapers and cover. The word get expresses these expectations well. Yet nothing could be further from the truth."It is true that, from time to time, from the endless flow of our mental imagery, there emerges unexpectedly something that, vague though it may be, seems to carry the promise of a form, a meaning, and, more important, an irresistible poetic charge. The sense of instant recognition with which we pull this image into the full light of our consciousness is the initial impulse of all creative acts. But, though it is important, it produces no more than the germ of an idea. Each book, at the birth of its creative history, has such a moment. Some are fortunate enough to have, from the outset, a strongly identified hero, one with an inescapable destiny. Others are blessed with a promising beginning, or perhaps with the vision of an ending (which means working backwards to a surprise opening). Others stem from a clearly articulated conflict situation. Sometimes, I must admit, the motivations of a book may be found in a sudden, unreasonable urge to draw a certain kind of crocodile. And it may even happen that in the dark of our minds there appears, out of nowhere, a constellation of words that has the bright, arrogant solidity of a title. Only last night I was jolted out of a near-slumber by the words the mouse that didn't exist. I am sure that, temporarily tucked away in my memory, they will eventually become the title of a story for which as yet I have no idea."To shape and sharpen the logic of a story, to tighten the flow of events, ultimately to define the idea in its totality, is much like a game of chess. In the light of overall strategy, each move is the result of doubts, proposals, and rejections, which inevitably bring to mind the successes or failures of previous experiences."Inspirational raptures may happen, but most books are shaped through hard, disciplined work. Creative work, to be sure, because its ingredients come from the sphere of the imaginary. But the manipulation of these ingredients requires much more than mere inclination or talent. It is an intricate process in which the idea slowly takes form, by trial and error, through detours and side roads, which, were it not for the guidance of professional rigor, would lead the author into an inextricable labyrinth of alternatives."And so, to the question 'How do you get your ideas?' I am tempted to answer, unromantic though it may sound, 'Hard work.' "-Leo Lionni[...]

Looking back, looking forward


          As I mentioned in an earlier post, while packing, moving, and unpacking, I've unearthed some forgotten things. Another thing I found was my cover letter when I applied for the editorial assistant position at Little, Brown, and also the thank you letter I sent after my interview. Here's a draft of my thank-you letter:As the CBC Diversity Committee has been such a significant part of my life the past few years, I especially appreciated my comment about Megan's commitment to publishing diverse books. That still holds true. By the way, the two spaces between sentences drives me crazy now.Also, note the "Time Warner Trade Publishing"--back then, Little, Brown was part of Time Warner, and the children's division was still based in Boston. Soon thereafter, it became part of "AOL Time Warner"--I also found this:Now, of course, we are Hachette Book Group, and the children's division is based in New York. The company has been through at least four name changes in the 14+ years I've been here.And finally, I found this fun note. Grace (Pacy) Lin and I were roommates back then, and she left me this fun little note before leaving for vacation:Ah, memories.***I did a quick wrap-up of my vacation on my personal blog. I'm really looking forward to putting 2013 behind me, and am looking forward to and hoping for a better, less tumultuous 2014.As always, I love making new year's resolutions. Here are a few of mine for 2014:- No internet shopping unless it's a gift, a necessity, or for work. (I successfully kept this resolution from last year, and will try to keep it for at least one more year)-write in my journal and/or blog at least twice a month-go on a vacation to Europe with Greg-achieve a maximum of work inbox 100 at the end of each weekHappy 2014, all![...]

Writing and going online



I take New Years Resolutions very seriously:  think about them and talk about them and write them down --and, I admit, sometimes forget about them completely after all that.

But not always.

One I'm thinking of for this year is not to do ANYTHING online --even look at email -- until after I've done my morning writing.

In Scotland, I usually started the day by making a fire and heating water -- I had an electric kettle, but if wanted hot water, I had to heat it myself so the day ALWAYS started with that even if it wasn't cold enough for a fire. During that I would just sort of naturally think about what I was going to write and when I was washed, I'd start writing. 

Here, I often begin the day by checking email.....and I got so much more written in Scotland!

Just that little pause to make the fire and boil the water is enough to start the day in a focused way. Going online first means jumping into emails and other distractions -- and I'm easily distracted.  On a bad day, my whole morning can vanish online! That is not good.

So this year I resolve to only go online later in the day, AFTER I've done my writing -- or (on days when I won't be writing, and there will be some), yoga and meditating.

name this tune!



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At the hotel in Taiwan, a violinist serenaded us during breakfast. It was Rain Dragon's first experience with a violin and she was fascinated--so much so that she watches this video over and over again. Because of this, the Sasquatch and I find ourselves humming and singing this tune all the time and it is driving us a bit mad that we don't know what song it is.  Do you know it?  If you do, please tell us as then we could start the new year without losing our minds!

Christmas at Grace's (with update)*



Grace put the finishing touches on her gingerbread house, we took a picture,

and then Grace presented the house to her daughter...

*edited to add a link to for the continuation!

NY Merry Christmas



In NY now the Salvation Army people are all young and they don't just ring bells -- they DANCE. I was lucky enough to see two guys dancing to that old carol, "YMCA."

 They were joined by a large group of young teenagers -- the sight of them all line-dancing on 5th Avenue was quite something! -- and then by a middle-aged matron

I absolutely can not imagine that happening where I live in CT and I loved it.

Merry Christmas, wherever you are!




Ugh. I haven't been posting because I have a bookdeadline and I have so much art to do! Help!

Anyway, my pal Marc Tyler Nobleman came up with an idea: to have writers read one of their bad Amazon customer reviews and he'd put them all together. Obviously we're not to be negative about them or anything like that. After I did mine I found out that we were supposed to make the videos only 10-15 sec long. I guess Marc had gotten so many responses that he had to limit the video responses. So... this is my long video response. If he uses mine it'll be one fraction of this:

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POETRY FRIDAY: Things to Do If You Are a Book


I’ve been away from blogging at Wild Rose Reader and Blue Rose Girls for so long that I thought I might forget how to post. It has been an eventful year for me. We finally moved into our new home in June. It was—at first—difficult saying goodbye to my home of thirty-seven years…and even more difficult boxing up and moving all the “stuff” we had collected in nearly four decades. The heaviest things to tote to our new place were the thousands of children’s books that I owned and cherished—books that I’ve been sharing with my granddaughter Julia. We had a number of bookcases built for our in-law apartment so I could keep my books on display…and easily accessible. NOTE: For Mother's Day, my daughter gave me a lovely drawing of our old home.  We’re fortunate that our apartment is more spacious than most in-law suites. Still, it’s much smaller than our old place. At my age, it has been good to “downsize.” My apartment is much easier to clean than my other home. It’s the perfect size for two old fogeys! It’s so wonderful living next door to my daughter and son-in-law. I get to see Julia every day. It’s such fun watching her change and grow…reading books with her…helping her make puzzles…listening to her vocabulary grow.Lots and Lots of Book Shelves! THINGS TO DO IF YOU ARE A BOOKBy Elaine MagliaroBe filled with words that tell a taleof a little mouse and a giant whaleof a runty pig and his spider friendwho was true and loyal to the endof a badger who loved eating bread and jamof a funky guy, green eggs, and hamof a spunky girl named Ramona Q.of a boy and the Jabberwock he slew.Be filled with words and tell a talethat will let my imagination sail.Be a mysteryor a fantasyor sing with sounds of poetry.Between your coverslet there bea story that’s just right for me.Over at Wild Rose Reader, I’ve posted an original poem for the holiday season titled Under the Tree.[...]

Process (and yes, this is a rewrite - and an example of step#5 too)


    I sent my novel off to my agent last week -- electronically, but towards the end I can read it more objectively on paper, pencil in hand to make comments.Now I'm using the time and energy I would normally be spending  on my book to sort through my possessions; donate, sell, and throw out throw out a lot (thank you for going through my shoes with me, Alvina!); and find a new place to live.I'm going to blog about that (not here, on my personal blog), both as a way to get other people's ideas and remember what I saw.But first: I want to write down what I learned about my process from this, mainly so I won't forget but if it's interesting to anyone else, excellent.1. Love the idea myself, and test it before I start writing  -- Raold Dahl did that, sometimes for a YEAR. By test it, he meant: think about it, attack it from every angle, to see if there's enough there to make a novel and if it will WORK. Disappointing as it is to realize that an idea I'm really excited about just won't make an exciting, interesting book, better to figure that out before rather than after spending a year or more writing it!2. Get to know the characters -- at least the main character. More may emerge as the story develops, but I think it's a mistake to start writing until the main characters are as clear to me as, say, the characters in THE LITTLE HOUSE books (who have always seemed like real people to me, people I actually knew)....both Noel Streatfield and Dianna Wynne Jones said they spent at least 6 months getting to know the characters before writing.3. For me, first drafts are the hardest and most painful parts of writing. I flipflop between things just coming and being very excited; and times when NOTHING comes, or what does seems so bad that I think I'm wasting my time, this doesn't even make any sense, no one is going to read it ever....blah blah.That second feeling is hideous and painful, but it just goes with the territory-- and I need to accept it. It doesn't mean I'm doing anything wrong -- every writer I know has it.I also need to just accept that in the first draft I really don't know what I'm doing (that comes later). Writing a book is like jumping off a cliff without a parachute -- you just have to have faith that one will blow by and you will grab it.Also, when something just COMES, even if it doesn't seem to make sense or fit in at all with the story as I then know it: trust it. If it comes with energy and conviction, it belongs in the book and I'll figure out why and how later. The worst thing I can do is give in to those feelings of hopelessness; the best -- work on the book every day -- even if "working" means just sitting with it, clueless about what happens next; trust what just comes; and resist the urge to chatter when I don't know. WAIT.4. The real book emerges in the second draft. Again, once I start it -- don't stop. If I keep at it, all the baffling blanks in the first draft will get filled in. And I do mean "get filled in," if I write every day, and get into that state of thinking about the book all the time, I see what should be happening in all the scenes that WERE boring.5. Wait to polish until the third draft--polishing done before then (except for the first scene which I do think is really important: it sets the tone and the voice)  is  a waste of time. If I've polished something, it's harder to take it out-- and by the third draft, a lot that's in needs to go. [...]

RISD Alumni Holiday Art Sale


I'll be selling books and prints once again at the RISD Alumni Holiday Art Sale (as will Grace!), this Saturday at the Rhode Island Convention Center. As always, the sale is a great place to do your holiday shopping- I love to stroll the aisles and pick out handmade goodies for my xmas list. Come join us! The sale is from 10:00-5:00.

Learning more from the bad than the good?



I am housesitting for Grace, and one of the many fun things about being here is reading the books! She owns complete sets of many of my favorite series -- and when I was reaching for a book I hadn't read in awhile (I own every book in that series EXCEPT the one I was reaching for, which belonged to my brother), I saw that someone else had written an addition to it --  NOT within the last ten years, earlier.

So I read that. There are some continuations, prequels, additions that are better than the originals. This one was well-written -- but curiously flat and dead. Even when big things happened, I didn't feel anything about them, I didn't feel what the characters felt. But I couldn't put my finger on why. The only obvious things the newauthor did differently than the original author had were:

  • describing things in general, rather than telling of an incident on a specific day -- there was a lot of they would do this, they would do that
  • including far less dialog
  • leaving out all the little details of what people did and said that convey character--she described processes, but not people

When I finished it, I immediately started the book from the original series. What a difference! Each description was part of an incident and directly related to the child experiencing it. The POV child reacted emotionally to them all -- even when his feelings weren't told (sometimes they were, sometimes they weren't), you knew what they were: because of the selective use of detail.

And maybe this is the biggest difference of all: every incident was INTERESTING. The original author didn't just tell about the times they were walking to  -- oh dear, I can't be specific you might guess the book and it is no mission of this blog to trash other writers (it's hard enough being an author!). He described one specific morning, from the point of view of one child -- and a small detail/action that conveyed him. When then when they got there, you really wanted to know what was going to happen because there was an ongoing drama, tension, that was concluded in a satisfactory manner a few chapters later.

Earlier that afternoon, BRG friend Alissa (another really fun thing about being here is all the good talks with people about writing children's books -- our own and other people's) had described reading a novel that wasn't very good. She said you learn more about writing from the bad than the good. I agree!

Rarely is it possible to compare two authors who are using the same material, and if anyone wants to name titles from authors who are dead and whose feelings can't be hurt, please tell us who you found or thought of.

I can't think of any children's book authors, only Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald -- you can also see his edits to her novel in some collections. But children's books, that's harder.