Giving Thanks

I am thankful for a great many things today – family, friends, health, ability to be home writing – but I wanted to speak specifically to a single recent experience.

Earlier this week I went on a retreat with a few writer friends and a few writer/artists strangers who are now friends. We gathered at the beach mostly with solitary intentions and yet, it seemed, the magic of where we were and the creative energy of those gathered had other ideas.

We came with no agenda, no speakers, nothing that absolutely had to be done.

Groups of two and three started to form. Individual work turned into freeform group writing fun. Books and art were shared. Gifts were acknowledged, praised. We were validated as professional creatives. Meals stretched for several hours as we lingered over coffee and tea. We sat by the fire and talked long into the night. We laughed (and some of us cried) and took a great many pictures.

Our backgrounds, our journeys to be writers, were of course very different.
Our passion however, was very much the same.

I am so grateful for the time spent with these fabulous and talented women. You have to understand that it isn’t because someone took me aside and said a particular thing to me. It isn’t because of anything we saw or ate or did. I think it might be because of what they didn’t do.

They didn’t say “do this.” They didn’t say “don’t do that.” They just listened. And accepted.

It rocked my world from the inside out.

Happy Thanksgiving to each of you. Thank you for all the times you read my blog. May your bellies and hearts be full of everything you need.

Thursday, November 26, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |13 Comments

Austin trip in people pictures

I am home from Austin where I had a fabulous time. I will update more with words later as it takes some time to distill it all and I have a stack of reading to do for class tonight. But I can give you the short version, in pictures, first. Okay, the super short version without pictures is that I had a fabulous time and learned so much about myself in the process.

The day before I left I made a quick run down to Hicklebees to see David Lubar. David was charming the kids one by one but my favorite was the red-haired boy who came away clutching his book to his chest who said, “I can’t believe I got an actual David Lubar autograph in my own book.” He was going up to everyone in the store telling them about it.

From VCFA Day in Austin

Then it was off to Austin at o-dark-thirty in the morning. I got there Thursday afternoon and Thursday night I went to dinner with author/illustrator Don Tate and illustrator Mary Sullivan. Mary illustrated my picture book, Oliver’s Must-do List. We had a great time chat about all things under the sun on the lovely patio of a restaurant I can’t remember the name of. I wanted to set up a dinner like this for every week! A perfect start to the trip. The only bummer was the bakery that Don and Mary were raving about was closed by the time we were done and now I will never know what a black and white cookie is. Sigh.

From VCFA Day in Austin

The rain held off until I was back in my hotel room but then the thunder and lighting started up. It has been a long time since I lived in a place that had lighting storms like these. I couldn’t get the patio door to open to get a good picture but I was mesmerized. This was one of the small strikes. Most were two or three verticals at once.

From VCFA Day in Austin

In the morning


picked me up and we headed off to Austin for breakfast. We started talking and didn’t stop until it was time for Liz to pass me over for the next stage of my trip. Part of the joy of meeting people you’ve known online for a while is that you know if it is someone you are going to click with, feel comfortable with and then when you meet, it brings a new dimension to the visit.

From VCFA Day in Austin

Liz took me over to BookPeople so I could meet up with my longtime friend Peni Griffin who drove up from San Antonio to see me. Peni and I poked around BookPeople for a while before driving over to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center. We hiked around, looking at plants and birds, on a perfect weather day, the sun staying behind the clouds until we were ready to leave.

From VCFA Day in Austin

After that it was off to the reception for the conference where I finally got to meet in person another long time friend, Cynthia Leitich Smith. We forgot to snap a picture but I did get one with her equally charming husband Greg.

From VCFA Day in Austin
From VCFA Day in Austin

I got to meet LJ buddy

who refused to take no for an answer.

From VCFA Day in Austin

and another LJ buddy whom I didn’t get enough time to chat with.

From VCFA Day in Austin

After all that visiting and hiking, this shrinking violet was exhausted. Alas I had had no sleep the night before because of the cement bed, evidently a hallmark of this particular chain. So I asked for extra pillows and created a new version of the pillow top mattress.

From VCFA Day in Austin

Uma Krishnaswami is another long time online friend that I was so happy to get to meet. I have her beautiful voice imprinted in my brain now which plays back in my head as I read her words on the screen.

From VCFA Day in Austin

Uma introduced me to her critique partner and poet friend Stephanie Farrow. We chatted about poetry and so much more. It was hard to believe we had only just met.

From VCFA Day in Austin

Donna Bowman Bratton was another friend met on this trip that felt like an old friend from far away.

From VCFA Day in Austin

After the conference a group of us went to dinner at a nearby restaurant. This was our end of the table. Stephanie, Me, Donna, Emma Virjan, and Erin Edwards. We ate and drank. Talked and laughed. Filled up our wells for all sorts of writing.

From VCFA Day in Austin

I had high hopes of Cassie pining away for me while I was gone. This was the image I kept in my mind.

From VCFA Day in Austin

Alas, when I got home, she ignored me, as though she hadn’t even noticed I’d been gone.

There are other pictures circulating out there somewhere that I hope people will send to me. This was a terrific trip, a learning experience on so many levels. I’m so very glad I went. I will post the more introspective version of the trip tomorrow.

Monday, October 5, 2009|Categories: Random|Tags: , |28 Comments

Coming soon! Guest blogger Bonny Becker

I am fortunate enough to be in a critique gorup with the fabulously talented Bonny Becker.

Bonny is the author of the wonderful picture book, A Visitor for Bear, as well as many other books. When Bear recently won the 2009 E.B. White Read-Aloud award (as well as several other awards) I was thinking that this was one of those times it would be fun for her to have a blog so she could talk about the experience.

Since Bonny doesn’t blog I offered her my blog space to put together a post to speak to her fans. She said she would like to talk about writing picture books so if you have any questions for Bonny about writing picture books, please post them here and I’ll pass them on to her.


Thursday, June 4, 2009|Categories: Random|Tags: , |7 Comments

And then all the other life stuff

There was the dog stuff (see last post.)

There was the daughter/grandson stuff (see Wednesday’s post.)

There is health stuff like why my left hand constantly feels like it is just waking up from being asleep and the knuckle in the little finger of the other hand feels like it was hit with a hammer and a bunch of other boring but man my body feels broken stuff.

There is probably son stuff but I’m not going there.

Mostly there is job stuff.

We are now in the final weeks of waiting to see what happens at work. Yesterday my company and the east coast company stockholders all voted on the proposed "merger" and today it was announced it had passed. There will be changes. There will be huge layoffs. There will be pain for those who leave and pain for those who are left to run the company. Eleven days of waiting, more or less, until we know what the next stages are. It can’t come too soon for me.

In the interim I was happy to have the chance to meet Jo Knowles and other local writers at the recent NYMBC event. I’m sure you’ve read about it on Debbi and Becky and Heidi and Jo’s blogs so I will just say that  good time was had by all and boy, did I need that.

Thank goodness for friends.

Friday, August 29, 2008|Categories: Random|Tags: |19 Comments

Jim Averbeck interview!

At last, and with no further ado, here are Jim’s answers to your questions. Some of them had to do with his book, IN A BLUE ROOM, some had to do with his process and some were just plain fun which will really give you some sense of what Jim is like in person. Thank you to everyone who asked such terrific questions!

First off, the winning question that Jim chose as his favorite. 

If all of your art supplies became magically edible, which would you eat, and why? What do you think it would taste like? (come on. we both know you’ve been eyeing the crimson pencil. Raspberry maybe?) 
My Prismacolor pencils are without doubt the most appetizing. Each one would be a different flavor, of course. The creamy titanium-white oil paint would be a delicious vanilla topping for the pastels. Actually, when I was a child of 2 or 3, I drank turpentine. My mom wouldn’t give me any Seven-Up that my older brother and 3 older sisters were drinking, so I mixed my own out of the pretty blue can they were using while doing an art project for school. I was always a self-sufficient child, if not very bright. A stomach-pumping visit to the hospital was the highlight of my mother’s day.    



What were you doing the moment you got the call that you had sold your book, and do you remember the first words out of your mouth?
I was at my house in the country writing. I don’t remember the words, but my feet did a little happy dance.

Did the moon ever follow you on a car trip at night? Where were you going? Tell us a little more.
It was 1969 and I was on the way back from a night of experimentation on the Berkeley campus. The moon not only followed me, it drove me home in a buggy pulled by 32 white rabbits and English vicar in a Richard Nixon mask. We stopped at White Castle’s on the way. 

What are your favorite songs with MOON or BLUE or ROOM in the title (or playing a prominent role in the lyrics)? (I hope you are playing a mix of blue/moon/room songs for your book launch parties starting with Bob Dylan’s version of BLUE MOON, & Billie Holiday’s AM I BLUE? then John Mayall’s ROOM TO MOVE.) What songs might come next? What order would you prefer?

Blue Moon is a favorite song, though I prefer the version by Mel Tormé. And I’d have to include Blues in the Night as sung by Paula West. 

Were you afraid of the dark when you were Alice’s age? What else were you afraid of at age 4? Age 7? Age 10-12 As a teen? Now?” 
Yes. Leeches. Body Snatching Pods from Outer Space. Nuns. Sex. Nothing. 

What is your absolute favorite line from 
IN A BLUE ROOM and how long did it 
take to write/revise/tweak it?

“Alice yawns. Almost gone.” It took me as 
long to write it as it took you to read it. I never 
revised or tweaked it, but I did defend it during 
multiple assaults from folks who thought it 
should be removed. I also like “In a blue room, 
yellow bells on black strings chime softly in 
the window breeze.” 

Now…what’s your favorite line? 


Which of your (picture book) writing tips would also be useful to those of us who are writing books for adult audiences?
If the problem is in the ending, the solution is in the beginning. I talk to a lot of writers who get stuck when they come to the end of the story, and they re-work the ending and re-work it and wonder why they can’t get it right. I usually think the answer is to re-work the beginning of the story. That’s where you need to fix things, change things, add things to make the ending work. 

How do you deal with self doubt, or your inner critic? 
I actually listen to my inner critic. The conversation usually goes something like this:
I.C. “That sentence stinks!”
Me “Really?”
I.C. “Unquestionably.”
Me “Oh yeah? Well, what do you suggest, Mr. Know-It-All?”
At this point the inner critique either offers something worthwhile or remains silent. If it offers something worthwhile, I replace the line. If silent, I change the font to another color, so I can spot the terrible line later on, and keep writing.

Self doubt is different than an inner critic. Self doubt comes from fear. When self doubt shows up, I spank it firmly and send it to bed.

What is the best piece of writing advice someone ever gave you?
Andrea Davis Pinkney says “Carry a notebook at all times.” She’s right. How many brilliant ideas have I lost for lack of something to write with or on?

What is your greatest fear?
I’ve done a great deal of work to bury all my fears, useless things that they are, deep deep down where they will never see the light of day. I think I’d like to leave them there.

When you write, do you think about what it is you want to offer the children in your audience? And what is it? Comfort, empathy, ideas, magic???
You know, I write to please the child inside of me. I don’t believe I think too much about the audience. I think if I did, I’d be paralyzed. I write things that delight, terrify, comfort, prod, excite, calm and move my inner child.

The ultimate pimp-out of a book is to be a selection in Oprah’s book club. Do you want us to start a campaign to get you time on the big O’s show, and if you got to sit with her, what questions would you want to/be willing to answer in front of Oprah on national television?
Oh, yes. If you can get me on Oprah, please feel free to do so. I’d like her to ask me “What does it feel like to be a Newbery-winning, New York Times best-selling, millionaire picture book writer?” I’d be willing to answer any question she can think to ask, but that would be the one I’d want to hear.

Jim with Linda and Dennis, the owners of the fabulous independent bookstore, Linden Tree, in Los Altos.

You are what you eat. How did your dinner last night influence the man you have become today?
Last night was the launch party for my book, In a Blue Room. I had the party catered, so I ate polenta squares with artichoke puree and sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and almond stuffed dates, and chips with roasted garlic and pineapple spread. Then I washed it all down with champagne. This meal required me to spend an hour on the treadmill to become less of the man that I have become today.

What did you seek in the moon as a child? Man in the moon? Bunny? Cheese? Something else?
A bunny! I could never understand how anyone saw anything else. Oddly, when I look up at the moon as an adult I no longer see the bunny. Did they change it when I wasn’t looking?

Describe your sense of humor, what makes you laugh?
I don’t believe in laughing or humor. I maintain a strict policy of seriousness at all times. (And that, I hope, will give you your answer.) 

What was your going to bed ritual when you were a kid?
I’d brush my teeth, then try valiantly to delay bedtime through the usual tactics: glasses of water, demands for stories, closet inspections, etc. My younger brother and I shared a room, so I’d torment him for a bit by telling ghost stories and rigging up scary props around the room that would be revealed when I pulled a string next to my headboard. My bed was next to the wall, and I remember that I would always push the mattress over a little so I could sleep in the crack between it and the wall. Hopefully, there are no child psychologists out there reading this. I’m sure there’s something diagnosable in there.

Alice and her mom obviously have a bedtime ritual that works for Alice. In your own life, what are your own must-do rituals?
The room must be 68 degrees or cooler. I crawl under my 750# fill down comforter, which I use year-round as I live in San Francisco, place all the pillows just so, and then read until the book falls out of my hands, at which time I turn out the light and go to sleep.

Do you dream in black and white or color–and if your dreams are colorful, what kind of palette do you remember on waking?
Definitely in color, but in the dreamworld, as in life, the palette chosen depends on the story unfolding.

What haven’t I asked that I should have asked?
That depends on what you want to know. Just don’t ask about my dog.

Sunday, June 15, 2008|Categories: Random|Tags: , , |28 Comments

Kerry Madden, Debbi Michiko Florence, and the importance of a good meal

I don’t have my picture uploaded yet to prove it but last night I did get to meet the fabulous and charming and ever-so-real Kerry Madden, aka mountainmist I was already an adoring fan before meeting her and even more so now. That voice you read on her blog? That’s the real Kerry.

But before I got the chance to meet Kerry and her darling sister, I met up with d-michiko-f. Debbi picked a place to eat in Menlo Park. Because I am a picky eater I looked at the menu online before we went. They had a Monte Cristo sandwich, one of my favorites. Oh man, I couldn’t tell you the last time I had one of those. Alas, I was to be denied because when we got to the restaurant, they were closed. This wouldn’t have been a big deal except, well, not too long ago Debbi tried to take me to the same restaurant, with the same results! LOL. Luckily Debbi remembered a casual coffee shop chain not far away. Perfect for us to eat and gab and wait for Kerry. As we drove to the new place we passed a great many other restaurants that looked inviting and most of which were actually open to serve us. We kept commenting as the restaurants zipped by us. “We could go there. Or there. Or even there.” It was like the Universe was tossing little bread crumbs our way and we just left them for the pigeons to eat.

You know, all those restaurants we passed were probably a sign and we ignored it.

We arrived at the place which will not be named, both starving. Even though I wasn’t going to get my Monte Cristo sandwich, it was okay. I could give in to my other craving – a hamburger. Mmmm. I love hamburgers. I love red meat. A lot.

First backstep a bit. We have a cafeteria at work that is, for lack of a better description, ONE OF THE WORST PLACES TO EAT EVER! Really. I go there to connect with the few friends that are still at work and almost always have a grilled cheese sandwich which doesn’t taste like a real grilled cheese sandwich but is, for the most part, edible. Every single time I stray from it, I am disappointed and often sick to my stomach. And we are not talking a cheap cafeteria either!

Now a sidestep. My husband and I like to eat out. We don’t do it as much as we used to but still. We reward good service. I always ask to speak to the manager and compliment them for excellent service. We tip very well.

The flip side of this is that sometimes we get clunkers.

Back to the story of last night’s meal.

The menus arrived. Debbi’s coffee and coffee cake arrived. And then we waited to order. And waited. And waited some more until I stood up and waved my hand to get someone’s attention. Then we waited for our burgers. And waited. And waited some more.

And when they arrived I wished we could go on waiting. I tried a couple of bites and had to stop. I don’t know how Debbi managed to stomach a couple more. They were the most appalling excuses for burgers that I have ever been served and that INCLUDES burgers in my crummy cafeteria at work.

So I did something I very rarely do. I made a bit of a scene. (hulabunny , you would have been so proud of me. )

Actually I am getting ahead of myself. We moved the plates to the other side of the table and watched the busboy clear tables all around us. Reset the tables. Look at us and our plates pushed to the side and IGNORE US until I told waved to get his attention and told him he could come take this horrible food away.

And then I made a scene. And Debbi tried very hard to melt under the table and pretend she didn’t know me. And I could tell she was starting to wonder why she invited me to eat with her but I couldn’t stop. I was SO frustrated with the lack of attention to us and the horrible food and the fact that we were still starving and we had Kerry coming at any minute.

When the manager came over he wanted to know why we didn’t tell him something was wrong. Hello? Maybe because no one ever came by to check on us? Sheesh.

The funniest part of the whole thing though was when Kerry and her sister arrived (and Debbi quietly explained what had happened to us) suddenly the waiters were falling all over themselves to give good service, even displaying the bottled waters as though they were bottles of fine wine.


After visiting with Kerry and her sister Debbi and I hightailed to In-and-Out burger for a real meal! You can read Debbi’s version of the story here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008|Categories: Random|Tags: |15 Comments

Yeah for Bonny Becker & A Visitor for Bear

I cannot tell you how excited and happy I am for fellow crit group member Bonny Becker and her new picture book, A Visitor for Bear.

Fuse #8 does a lovely job of capturing all the wonderfulness that is in this book in her review

And best of all, there are more Bear adventures coming in the future!

Congratulations, Bonny!

Monday, April 7, 2008|Categories: Random|Tags: , |2 Comments

Here there be friends

I haven’t been blogging much yet this year, mostly because, well because things are overwhelming lately. Not the ohmygoodnesslifeistoohardtohandle kind of thing but just lots of stuff (like more layoffs at work) and not really any of it about writing which is supposed to be the focus of this blog. But, keeping in mind my theme for the year is Reach Out With Joy, I have just a few things to share.

First, we (as in local here in San Jose) were lucky enough to have coppervale come to town this week. You might also know him as James A. Owen, the talented author (and illustrator) of Here There Be Dragons, which is the first book in the Chronicles of Imaginarium Geographica series. (Read more about the books on his website.) James was a gracious and entertaining speaker. He shows us how to draw a dragon (mine is very lopsided) and we were treated to some glimpes of original art from his books including an upcoming cover!

I took my brand-new digital camera to the event (some of you may remember how I didn’t fall instantly in love with that darn thing) and well, there were a few technical glitches, such as when I thought I was taking pictures of James when he was drawing and talking to the kids I was actually taking movies which didn’t clip so well. Never mind. I did get one picture with James.

More connections. Last week I connected with d_michiko_f , I get to spend Saturday with beckylevine and next week I get to see Jen of For someone who is usually a homebody and a loner, I think I’m doing pretty good.

Next up is to find some online friends who like to talk on the phone and set up some phone dates so I can reach out and get to know even more of my friends. If you’re interested, drop me an email so we can set something up.

In other non-writing news I picked up my new glasses, progressives. So far, I am not impressed and am rather frustrated with the whole experience. I’m already thinking about having them put back to single vision but I promise to work with them for a few more weeks before I make up my mind.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008|Categories: Random|Tags: , |15 Comments

Linda Urban, Jen Robinson & the great Hicklebee's Meet-up

Some days are the kind of days that just warm you inside and out. That was yesterday afternoon for me.

First I met  Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson’s Book page at a local Starbucks for a first time meet-up. This is surprising because we live very close to one another. It was great to finally put the real face with the voice I know and love from reading her blog. She is just as wonderful in person too! Then we wandered next door to Hicklebee’s where Linda Urban

was signing and reading from her wonderful new Cybil’s nominated book A Crooked Kind of Perfect.


Linda was a mesmerizing reader (my first thought was that she needs to do the audio for her own book) and I fell in love with Zoe all over again. Monica Holmes and Valerie Lewis, the Queens of Hicklebee’s, joined us for meaty, funny, fabulous conversations of books and blogs and the life of a children’s author. We tried, not sure how successfully, to convince Valerie that she needs to start a Hicklebee’s blog. (Until she does, make sure to get on her mailing list. Lots of great information even if you don’t live in the area – and if you do live close enough – Hicklebee’s has a continual assortment of author events worth attending.)

Linda and I were talking about the difficulties of writing the second novel. She recommended I read Writer’s Workshop in a Book: The Squaw Valley Community of Writers on the Art of Fiction. I’m looking forward to reading it. I think I could have talked shop for hours and hours. It was just what I needed. I’ve been feeling really disconnected from my writing, from the writing and blogging community, and most of all from my creative self. But yesterday I could myself coming back to life.

Thank you Jen & Linda and Monica & Valerie.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , , |6 Comments