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My beloved husband, Greg Taylor, passed away on December 25, 2015, Christmas afternoon, around 2:30 pm. I would like to share our love story. We met on Craigslist (yes, Craigslist--they have a dating site). On a Sunday afternoon, September 23, 2007, I answered his personal ad and we exchanged our first emails. His personals posting had the heading as simply "hi" and the post was a list of funny and random things about him, including "I'm taller than you, even if you're tall." I responded with "hi back" and a corresponding list, including "I'm shorter than you, even if you're short. But most people say I don't 'look' short." We met for the first time on a Friday night, September 28, after work in front of the (now gone) Virgin Megastore in Union Square. I arrived first, and was listening to my iPod. As he approached, I removed my headphones, got flustered because he was so handsome, and my earbuds got tangled. I handed them to him to hold for a second, a gesture he for some reason found endearing and would mention for years later. We decided to walk and find a place to eat, and ended up at Yaffa Cafe on St. Mark's Street (also now gone). For many years later, on September 28 we would go back and meet in front of the Virgin Megastore, which eventually was turned into a Duane Reade drugstore (of course). We sat in the back courtyard and talked and talked and talked. He was a fifth-grade teacher, I was a children's book editor, he was studying history in grad school, I was always thirsty to learn more about everything. I liked sushi, he didn't eat raw meat. I had gone skydiving, he preferred his feet on the ground. But we couldn't stop looking into each other's eyes. His eyes were the most beautiful blue-gray. He told me they changed colors in the light, and I later discovered that they were sometimes flecked with green. I had a birthday party to attend later that night in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, and asked him if he wanted to come with me. When he agreed, I knew he liked me. (He had told me earlier that he hated Williamsburg.) He told me later that when I asked him to come with me, he knew I liked him, too. Now here's the "falling in love" montage. Kissing like there was no tomorrow. Going for walks--he showed me his neighborhood in Brooklyn and we walked to the Brooklyn museum and watched a dog frolic in the jumping fountain. It was there that we took our first picture together:
This is also the hat he wore when we first met.
Meeting each other's friends. House and dog sitting out in New Jersey (he LOVED dogs). Teaching me to play golf (he LOVED golf). Drinking a lot of wine (he LOVED wine). Introducing me to opera. Going to parties and weddings together, going to lots and lots of diners. (Later, when we briefly were looking to buy an apartment, it was important to us that the neighborhood have a diner.) Emails, texts, phone calls. Making each other laugh. Holidays. Supporting each other's careers.
Dog sitting Maggie, Roxie, and Caesar
He would share the books I edited with his students, especially Grace Lin's Year of the Dog, and he would proudly tell his students that he was friends with the real-life Melody who was a character in the book. When I attended his school's holiday concert, he introduced me as Melody and I was a celebrity. I later spoke to his school about being a children's book editor. We took a trip out to Iowa together, where he spent his summers as a kid. Showing off, he took us down a backroad where we promptly got stuck in the mud and he had to call his uncle for help--they laughed and said he was a city boy now.
Not a smart thing to do in a rental PT Cruiser
He started flying out to my parents' home in Southern California with me and ended up falling in love with California, and especially my parents' backyard. (He wanted to live there. In my parents' basement.) We played a lot of tennis and golf.
His mother was diagnosed with cancer, and he flew out to stay with her for six months to care for her. I went to visit him while he was there and spent Thanksgiving with his family and stayed in his childhood home. We moved in together into his tiny 5th-floor walk-up apartment in Park Slope. The two of us and his two cats, Venus and Serena, made a nice family. And then in October 2011 he proposed, on the same rock in Central Park where my parents got engaged. We were married less than a year later on July 21, 2012, in my parents backyard.
It was a glorious day, and we were excited to start a life together as husband and wife. And then he was diagnosed with cancer, synovial sarcoma, about six months after our wedding. You can read about that initial journey here. Major surgery, long recover, chemo, and then another long recovery. Just as Greg was starting to regain his strength, we found out that his cancer had recurred in January 2014. We knew that with Greg's type of cancer, once it came back, there was no cure. At first, Greg didn't want any treatment--he didn't want to go through chemo again. We decided to travel--to Rome, and then Paris. Greg left the US for the first time (aside from Mexico) in February 2014 and we went to Rome and had a glorious week. Before he died, Greg wanted to walk where Augustus walked.
On the night before we were to leave for Paris, he was struck by excruciating tumor pain. We stayed in Rome for another week while we stabilized the pain, and then flew back to NY where he agreed to try a pill form of chemo. We were told that if the chemo worked, it would probably only work for 3-4 months. That pill ended up working for 18 months, and although he wasn't feeling great all the time, we were able to still have a relatively stable life. The chemo turned his facial pigmentation and hair snow white. He hated how his face looked and so he covered it with facial hair. Kids especially would stare at him--either thinking he was a pirate, or Santa, or, as we joked, a pirate Santa. Twice, once in our apartment lobby, and once at the Brooklyn Museum, he had a kid point to him and say, "Look! It's a pirate!"
Right before pirate Santa decided to shave his beard off.
We went to the US Open, a few hockey games and baseball games, and took a trip down to Atlantic City to see Bob Dylan perform.
Through it all, Greg handled his illness with courage and grace. It wasn't easy by any means, but I was eternally grateful to him for how he accepted and dealt with his situation. He knew this cancer would probably kill him, and although he was terrified of dying, his goal was to get as many good days out of life as possible. He had always been loving and attentive and romantic, but these past three years, he became even more so. For my 40th birthday last year, because he knew he didn't have the energy to take me out or throw me a party, he threw me a cyber party instead. He got over 100 T-shirts made in our wedding colors (fuchsia and purple) with the Chinese character for "love" on the back, and my last name in Chinese "Ling" on the front, to match the tattoo on my shoulder. He sent them to friends and families all around the US, and asked them to take pictures of themselves in the shirts and email, Tweet, and Facebook the pictures to me on my birthday. Here are just a few:
He told me he needed to make sure to tell me how much he loved me as much as he could in the time he had left. He told me that I should feel comforted in knowing how much I made his life better. He told me how in awe he was that he had met me, that I had responded to that one Craigslist ad so many years ago. He left me love notes around the apartment, on my computer, in my wallet. We had so many silly inside jokes, and I'm mourning the passing of what was known only between us. And of the children we never had (he was SO GREAT with kids, and would have made an amazing father), of our future that has been cut short. But, I'm also so so so grateful for the time we had together. I loved him unconditionally. I loved his all-enveloping hugs, his sweet kisses in the middle of the night. I think we probably laughed even more together in these past three years--it became almost a competition to make the other laugh. We made up funny dances and funny voices. He got more and more into music, especially Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and John Lennon (he admired the great love between John and Yoko), and also discovered a love for Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson, Motown. But, Bob Dylan above all. Gradually, the chemo stopped working, and Greg started having more and more pain. We tried one last chemo, which worked for two months, and we knew that we were running out of options. A few months ago, we found out that Greg had a spot in an immunotherapy trial at Sloan Kettering, and we jumped at the chance. It was a Phase 1 trial, never tested on humans, but we knew if there was someday going to be a cure, it was probably going to be through immunotherapy. But on the dayhe was due to start, they discovered that his liver levels were high, which disqualified him from the trial, and the doctor sent him over to the hospital to see if they could solve the problem so that he could start the trial.
He had a procedure done to help drain the bile from the liver (which they thought was causing the high levels). Unfortunately, his liver levels didn't improve, and other liver levels were starting to get high as well. We knew that he had at least one tumor in the liver, and that once the liver starts to go, it can end quickly. Every night after I left the hospital to go home, he sent me a text. "I love you sweetheart. More than anything. You are such a superhero." His last text to me was, "You are the best thing to ever happen to me." He was the best thing to ever happen to me, too.
Eventually, they started Greg on chemo while in the hospital, and he was released on December 23rd--we were thrilled to have him home for the holidays! This is the last picture we took together, in his hospital room while waiting for our ride home:
As my mother told Greg the last time she saw him, "You're still very handsome!"
After one night at home (Venus was ecstatic to have us both home again!), we ended up calling 911 and going to the ER in an ambulance on Christmas Eve. Greg had been struggling with nausea and ended up vomiting blood and fainting a few times. He was admitted into the ICU for observation, as they suspected internal bleeding. But, he appeared stable after getting fluids, with no symptoms aside from some weakness and dizziness.
But on Friday morning he suddenly started having seizures, and then started bleeding profusely internally. The doctors were able to stabilize him with a breathing tube and blood transfusions, but we knew there wasn't hope for a full recovery, and I knew Greg didn't want any drastic measures taken just to keep him alive. They removed the breathing tube and Greg rested peacefully for a few hours before passing on while I held his hand.
Over the two-week hospital stay, we knew that the end was coming--Greg said he didn't know if he had days, or weeks, or months, so he was going to focus on enjoying each minute with me. I'm going to focus on each minute at a time. And breathing. This last year especially, Greg was struggling, and his bad days were outnumbering his good days. Recently, he said that the pain and complications he was having were making it easier to let go. I know he is at peace now.
Greg did not want to have a funeral, but he will be buried in Iowa where he spent his summers. He wanted his body to rest under open skies.
Greg started his care at Mt. Sinai with Dr. Robert Maki and Nurse Practitioner Linda Ahn (who is now at Sloan Kettering). They made the whole process more comforting for both of us, and even though I wish we had never had to meet them, I'm thankful they were in our lives.
I'm grateful to his many doctors and nurses--at Mt. Sinai, at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and at New York Methodist. They have such a tough, important job, and see suffering and death every day.
I'm also so blessed to have such loving friends and family and colleagues, including the authors and illustrators I work with, who have supported us over the years and are mourning the loss of Greg, too. This isn't a unique journey that we traveled on--what's devastating is that so many people are touched by tragedy. I know Greg didn't want a big deal made of his death. But, for my own healing, I wanted to acknowledge publicly what an extraordinary man he was. He was full of passions--whether it was golf, wine, watches, jewelry, opera, American history, Chinese history, Andy Kaufman, dogs, cats, lacrosse, soccer...or me!--when he loved something, he loved it with all of himself, and learned everything he could. He was supremely moral, had a kind heart, and was sometimes loyal to a fault. He was sardonic, sarcastic, self-deprecating, and silly. He could put kids at ease in seconds. He had a deep voice that got higher and lighter when he was in pain--I knew he was feeling strong when his voice was deep. He was ticklish, and especially hated when I touched his feet. He watched the same movies over and over again, memorized the best lines, and would constantly call me to watch funny scenes. He also loved pointing out continuity errors. When he was in pain, he told me it helped him when I held his hand. His favorite books were The Plague by Albert Camus, and Sophie's Choice by William Styron. His favorite song was "Love Minus Zero" by Bob Dylan. His favorite movie was "Deer Hunter." People loved to tease him--he had the kind of personality that made people feel like he could take it. But he was sometimes sensitive about it. Sometimes he just wanted people to be nice to him. He was ferocious (but nice!) when dealing with customer service, and usually got what he wanted. He hated being told what to do, but I knew he took everything in, even when he was arguing (and when he was arguing, he always sounded angrier than he really was), and was able to keep an open mind. He was always so proud of me and my career, and embarrassed me by boasting about me to everyone he knew. And he was an astonishingly good teacher--so many of his students stayed in touch with him, and I feel lucky to have met so many of them. He made a difference in their lives. He made a difference in the world. Although he was an introvert at heart, he was the mayor of his old block. He knew everyone and they knew him. He was buddies with all of the shop keepers--one of them helped him get up the stairs of his apartment when he came home after his surgery. They always asked me how he was doing after his surgery. He made Brooklyn into a small town. Although his time was cut short, he had a rich, fulfilling life, and so many people who loved him. The day after his death, I remembered that he had wanted to make me a music mix before he died, and I was feeling bereft that he hadn't been able to do it. But I checked my computer just in case, and there it was, a playlist called "For Alvina" and it was like he was giving me a hug and a message from the great beyond. The last two songs on the mix are "Shelter from the Storm" and "Across the Universe." For those of you who have read this far, thank you for bearing with me. My mother is with me now, and I've been surrounded by friends, both virtually and in person. Greg and my dear friends Donna and Daniel were with me at the hospital when he died, and took care of me that night and the next day.
And just to leave this on a note of levity, albeit one that I'm finding profound right now, this is a silly email Greg sent me while I was at work and then out to dinner about a month ago. Venus is our one remaining cat (Serena also passed away from cancer about a year ago). Warning, there is cursing ahead!:
I'm very lonely. Venus is also lonely. The two of us are acting like our worlds have been destroyed. While we cuddled - more like held on to one another as the universe battered us - she said, "Dad?" I said, "What is it, sweetie?" "I miss Alvina." I said, "I do to, Venus. I miss her too." She asked, "Is it always going to be like this? Is it always going to hurt this much?" I explained to her that it will always hurt but that we will get better at dealing with it. Eventually the wound will heal and a scar will grow in its place, making us stronger. She said, "What?" "Ugh," I said. "Right now we hurt because the wound is so new. As time passes the wound will close and a scar will form." She replied, "What are you talking about? I don't have any open wounds. I said I miss Alvina." "It's a metaphor," I said. "We are wounded EMOTIONALLY. We will develop EMOTIONAL scars." She said, "I have no idea what a metaphor is. A metaphor? What the fuck is a metaphor! I'm a fucking cat. Stop treating me like a human being, because I'm not a human being. Also, STOP TOUCHING ME!" Then she swatted at me and jumped off the bed and ran into the other room.
Venus and I both miss Greg. I wait for the wound to close and the scars to form.
The view from my parents' backyard deck. This is also where our wedding ceremony was held.
My two-week+ vacation is coming to an end. I spent it mainly in Southern California at my parents' house. The last time I was there was for Greg and my wedding a year and a half ago. That was also the last time I had seen my family, before the craziness that was 2013 happened. I think the CA sunshine did Greg a lot of good, and he's getting stronger each day. We're settling into our "new normal"--trying to get back to living life, yet with the shadow of the possibility of recurrence hanging over us.
It was wonderfully relaxing to be in CA for so long, and save for the first rainy, cold day, the rest of our time there was greeted with sunshine and 70 and 80-degree days.
My vacation in numbers:
Days I played tennis with my Dad: 11
Sets won: 1 (while playing doubles and partnered with my HS friend who was the star of our championship tennis team) Children played with: 12 Dogs played with: 2
Me and my brother Ben and future sister-in-law Iris's dog Oreo on Christmas Eve.
Books read: 3.001 (read an ARC of Noggin by John Corey Whaley, re-read Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink, re-read final draft of Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor, read the first two chapters of IQ84 by Haruki Murakami) Good Wife episodes watched: 14 (finished up Season 4, caught up on Season 5 so far) Movies watched: 1 (Saving Mr. Banks with my mom) Work emails filed/deleted: 600+ (more to go through today before going back to work tomorrow) Walks taken: 10 Times jogged: 2 All-you-can-eat sushi meals: 2 Ramen meals: 2 In-n-Out Burger meals: 3 Massages: 3 Karaoke nights: 1 Friends' homes visited: 2 High school friends met up with: 6 Books given as gifts: 27 (mostly children's books)
My brother Felix reading MR. TIGER GOES WILD to my nephew
Different types of fruit eaten: 12 (pomelos, oranges, apples, cherimoya, papaya, guava, kumquat, grapes, strawberries, kiwi, pineapple, watermelon)
Cherimoya. Also known as custard apple, sugar apple, and soursop.
New Year's resolutions made: 12
2013 was a tough year--but here's hoping to a better 2014. Happy New Year, all!
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As we've recently moved apartments, while packing and unpacking, I've found myself discovering forgotten things and re-reading old journals, which led me to reread old blog posts, too. I'm thankful for these journals and blogs, because I love remembering who I was and what I've done--and seeing how far I've come (and yet, how I'm still the same person). In one old journal entry, I commented on how my boyfriend at the time called me a "one trick pony" because all I ever did was work, and all I could talk about was work. And in that entry I said that the busy work time was only temporary. Ha! Little did I know...
But I'm thankful that I have a job that I still love, no matter how busy and stressful it gets.
Other things I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving:
-That G is alive and relatively well, that we have this lovely life together -For my health -For health insurance and great doctors -For our new, spacious apartment with a working elevator -For friends and family, there for us in so many different ways -For our cats, even though they've been waking me up in the middle of the night -For good food and drink (especially brunch!) -For leisurely walks -For Zumba -For escapist books, blogs, television shows (I've been especially addicted to The Good Wife this year), and social networking -For my monthly Karaoke club, and music in general -For my brilliant authors, illustrators, and coworkers
-For the little pleasures of life
-For the great pleasures of life!
Now I'm off to make an apple pie. Enjoy your day, all!
I've been a very bad blogger this year, mainly because of this, of course. But G's treatments are now done, and we're working toward getting our life back to our "new normal." But first, we're moving apartments this week and packing is exhausting!
As always happens, while packing I've been finding forgotten things, like this letter Grace had sent me back when we were both seniors in high school. I had brought this with me from my parents' house in California a while back because I wanted to quote some of the letter in a talk I was giving, I think.
In it, we talked about boys, of course. I had asked her to send me a boyfriend, so she sent me this guy:
Cute, huh? She named him Roger.
And here are a few snippets from the letter:
"I'm going to illustrate children's books, y'know. That would be so cool. One day when we're all grown up, you'll see in a book store: Illustrated by Grace P. Lin. That would be excellent."
"I wish I could show you my portfolio. Then you could tell me if you think I'm talented. Or then you could lie to me and tell me you think I'm the bestest artist in the world and of course I will make it into RISD."
I wonder if Grace has the letter I wrote back to her. But I'm sure I said something like:
I think you're talented, Grace! You are the bestest artist in the world, you will make it into RISD, and you will become a famous children's book author and illustrator.
See, I can predict the future!
**edited to add** For those of you who don't know the story of how Grace and I met, you can read more about it here.
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I was shocked to hear the news that my friend James Sing passed away a few weeks ago on September 12.
His "Celebration of Life" was held in San Francisco today, and although I was not able to attend, I wanted to honor him in my way.
James was my best friend for many years, many years ago, in the late 1990s. We met in 1996 while both studying at the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei, Taiwan. We lived nearby, and soon were hanging out all the time. We had an intense, intimate friendship, and although it was never romantic, sometimes we fought like a couple might. But he was the type of friend I could call at any hour of the night, and knew that he wouldn't mind--and vice versa. When I was sad, he'd bend over backwards to make me laugh. I can still hear his laugh echo in my head today. I have so many wonderful memories of our time together in Taiwan--late nights eating xi fan near his apartment, his singing "Yi Qian Ge Xiang Xin de Li You" at Karaoke, dancing at various night clubs, eating guo tie after class, studying at Jamaica Cafe or the student lounge, riding around on his motorcycle or my scooter. During our time there, we traveled together to Bali, Indonesia, and to Hong Kong and Canton. We stayed close after we both returned to the States, and we overlapped living in NYC for a little while, but he moved back to CA a year or so after I arrived there from Boston.
He was probably the smartest person I knew, and because of that, I still remember my delight at schooling him in the difference between nauseous and nauseated. (Of course, correcting him while he was feeling nauseated was probably not the ideal time.)
Most of all, James valued loyalty--he was the truest, most loyal friend.
We'd drifted in recent years, as friends often do, and in the last few years our interactions were limited to random g-chats about skateboarding, and mice for his lizard Opus; and some random Facebook comments about Lin-sanity. His last comment was just a few days before his death.
This is selfish of me, but I take some small comfort knowing that, in the days before his death, I at least crossed his mind in a small way, even if it was for killing a fly. And I hope that he knew that, no matter how we drifted, he was often in my thoughts.
My heart goes out to his family and friends. His loss leaves a huge hole, but I hope they can take some small comfort with how loved James was, and how influential he was to so many people.
Please do take a look at this fund that has been created in James's honor, and if you're able, please make a contribution:
I've been meaning for a while to write this post to let everyone know what's been going on with me (with us)--perhaps some of you have seen on Facebook or Twitter some updates or have heard bits and pieces from me or others, but I thought it would easiest to give an update all at once.
So, here's the deal:
Basically, soon after our wedding, Greg hurt his back and ribs (or so he thought) fairly severely while playing golf. After about two months, when he wasn't getting better, he went to the doctor who took an X-Ray and said that he was fine, that it was a muscle injury, and that he could try physical therapy, which he did for a few more months. Nothing was quite working, and at the end of January a large bruise showed up under his ribs on the left side. He went back to the doctor who ordered a CT scan, and they discovered what they thought at the time was a large kidney mass.
He went through surgery on February 12 to have the mass and a kidney removed. The surgery was successful, although he ended up losing his spleen as well (silver lining--you can live a relatively normal life without a spleen and just one kidney). The mass was extremely large--it was described by the surgeon as being the size of a football. (!!) Another said it was the size of Greg's head, another said it was the size of a small watermelon! No doubt it had been growing without him knowing for many years.
The pathology report came back a few weeks later, and we were told it was a rare form of cancer, a type of sarcoma. His type is diagnosed for just 1-3 people per million each year. Nobody knows what causes it. (I always knew Greg was one in a million!)
Again, the surgery was successful in that as far as we can all tell, they got it all out (thank you Dr. Birns)--so far, there is no sign of remaining cancer cells, nor that it's spread. But sarcomas tend to come back, so he's going through 4-5 months of chemo to try to lower the chances of recurrence. He started his third round today--in fact, I'm posting this from his treatment room.
We've definitely had some complications and set-backs along the way--a long recovery from the initial surgery, plus an ER visit and multiple hospital stays in-between. But we've been staying in overall good spirits, all things considered. Greg has been amazingly strong through this, and we've had wonderful support from friends and family and colleagues.
I don't plan to blog about this much if at all beyond this post, but because everything that's happened has caused such changes and upheaval in our lives, I wanted to post this update. Life has slowly been settling into what we're calling our "new normal"--I'm getting back to a somewhat regular work schedule again after a very erratic few months, although of course I still have a lot of catching up to do and am working from home as needed. Is it really June already?!
I want to thank everyone (both belatedly and in advance) for being understanding about my late or unreturned emails, phone calls, missed deadlines, canceled plans, etc. And I want to give a huge shout-out to my assistant Bethany who has kept all of my projects (and her own) moving forward, at the expense of her work-life balance and emotional well-being! And thanks to everyone who has pitched in to help in any way they could, to friends and family and even acquaintances who have sent gifts, spent time, for good wishes, prayers, and positive thoughts.
We're hanging in there. It's been a rocky road and certainly not how we expected to spend our first year of marriage, but we'll get through this together (in sickness and in health, right?). Right now, I'm looking forward to August when Greg's last round of chemo (we hope) will be behind us. And may I add, thank goodness we have health insurance?
People have asked how they can help: please make a donation towards sarcoma research at the National Cancer Institute, or make a gift to Mt. Sinai where Greg is being treated.
Well, it's been a long time since I've posted, but here I am.
It's been a busy year, both personally (we got married! We're looking to buy a place!) and professionally (lots of travel, lost of books to edit, lots of managing), and thus we stayed in NYC this holiday season--couldn't bear the thought of getting on a plane and going cross-country again. I need time to unwind and decompress (see my post over at the Blue Rose Girls on Battling Burnout).
I don't remember how old I was, but there were two main incidents that led me to the knowledge that Santa wasn't real.
1) my older brother and I decided to write a letter to Santa with all of our questions. One question involved Rudolph. I can't remember our question, but when a letter from Santa came back (his handwriting suspiciously similar to our father's handwriting), his answer was something to the effect of "Rudolph lived so long ago, I can't remember." Of course, my brother and I were indignant--I assume my brother probably did not believe at that point. For me, it gave me some nagging doubt.
2) one of Santa's gifts to me (a teddy bear) came wrapped in an old shoebox that had been sitting in our basement for a while. I pointed this out to my parents, who replied that Santa probably saw it and decided to use it. I wasn't convinced.
Of course, my brothers and I pretended to believe in Santa long after we learned he wasn't year. We wanted more presents, of course!
I've been MIA again lately--and I apologize, but my posting will be sporadic until August, most likely.
Two weeks ago I was in Singapore for the Asian Festival for Children's Content. I had never been to Singapore, and was excited to go, mainly because I had heard so many incredible things about the food there! I was, of course, also looking forward to the conference, and meeting friends I only knew through blogs and Twitter, like Tarie Sabido, who blogs at Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind, and is a huge fan of Grace Lin's work. Tarie and I arranged to have dinner my first night in Singapore. I had a bit of a hellish trip over--a delayed flight to London resulted in a mixed connection, and I ended up having to hang out at Heathrow for over nine hours. All was not lost, though, as I got a much-needed mani/pedi while I waited, and still made it to Singapore in time to check in, unpack, and meet Tarie for dinner.
I had been told that I HAD to have a dish called "chicken rice" while there, and so Tarie and I walked over to the nearest food centre, Makansutra Glutton's Bay. There are these food centres all over Singapore, and they're basically outdoor food courts with all kinds of food. We found chicken rice, which is basically rice cooked in a special chicken broth with chicken. It's a very simple, tasty dish. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.
Tarie and me
The next morning Tarie and I met to head over to the festival together. Leonard Marcus gave the morning's keynote, and then there were several breakout sessions. I attended one on translation, and one on the Filipino Book Market--I found both to be fascinating.
In the afternoon, Sarah Odedina, Managing Director of Hot Key Books in the UK, and I spoke together about "Making a Bestseller." (But really, don't ask us how to "make" a bestseller. There's no magic formula.) Author Candy Gourlay has a nice wrap-up at her blog, "Notes from the Slushpile." She also has a nice summary of the 1st-page critique I participated in on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Sarah and I once again collaborated, this time on an all-day Master Class. I think the official title was "Editing a Bestseller" but we basically focused on craft in the morning--we talked about character, plot, setting, and dialogue, and in the afternoon we talked about point of view and then did a writing exercise and critiqued each of the 30-something participants' writing, and then ended on a discussion a
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Sorry, I haven't been a very good blogger this year. What have I been up to lately?
Well, in the middle of April I was in London for meetings and the London Book Fair. A colleague from subrights and I visited our UK sister companies, which included Hodder UK (both children's and adult), Orchard, Headline, Orion, and Atom (part of Little, Brown UK). We also squeezed in some sightseeing and went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Modern, and I wandered around the Tower of London and saw the Crown Jewels. We had a dinner with the international publishers of Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers, and I spent a day at the London Book Fair meeting with UK agents and publishers. And I saw some old friends, too--took a trip out to a friend's home in the English countryside (kinda), and had fish and chips at the local pub, and sticky toffee pudding for dessert! Yum! I absolutely love London. I fantasized about living there, of course.
The weekend after I got back, I was off to the "Creating an Authentic Cultural Voice" conference, led by the amazing Donna Jo Napoli and Mitali Perkins, featuring special guest Kathryn Erskine, and editors Stacy Whitman and myself. It was held in the beautiful conference center in the Poconos--I stayed in my own private cabin! It was a beautiful, enlightening, stimulating time. Great, passionate discussions. I would highly recommend attending a conference run by Highlights--the locale itself is inspiring and beautiful (see photos here.) I'll try to post more about this later...
Work has been crazy busy--two weeks ago we had our Focus (sales) meeting for our Spring/Summer 2013 list (editors presented the list to in-house Sales for the first time), and catalog copy and ARC copy was due. All of us editors have been scrambling to get the novels on that list into copyediting, too--lots of deadlines!
Also, I'm off to Singapore at the end of May for the Asian Festival of Children's Content. Grace and I were originally going to go together, but--well, she had something come up! :) I've never been and am excited to see the city. Recommendations welcome, and if you're in Singapore, let me know! Perhaps we can meet up?
And on a personal note, wedding planning is still ongoing (the big day is a little over two months away...), and I had a fun bachelorette party and wedding shower weekend amongst everything else going on--which featured Karaoke, of course!
So, yes--I've been a bit busy this year...apologies for our sporadic posting.
Of course there were a lot of other things that happened last year: trips taken; movies watched; books read, acquired, edited, and published; food eaten; Karaoke sung; and more! But work did tend to dominate my life, even more than usual. Let's see if I can adjust that balance a bit this year.
-Don't buy any new clothes for myself (excluding accessories and necessities, for example: underwear, socks, jewelry, shoes, etc.)
I did end up buying three items of clothing--two dresses (one was for the Nation Book Awards) and one T-shirt (bought at the US Open). But overall, I did pretty well here!
-Maintain current weight (or lose)
I think I gained a few pounds...
-Save an average of XX a month (I'm keeping the actual amount private)
-Read average of 1.5 published books per month. Read at least three adult books this year.
Yes! I read a lot this year, including quite a few adult books, including: Just Kids by Patti Smith, A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Bossypants by Tina Fey, The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemison, and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling.
-Do more cultural activities (shows, concerts, museums)--at least 10 a year
Also, he's done a great series for the Etsy blog about picture books. I adore etsy.com (most of my jewelry comes from etsy). And I adore picture books. And I adore Peter Brown. This is the perfect combination! Check it out here.
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Halloween. For the pastfewyears, we've had work celebrations, and it's become tradition to come dressed as characters from the books we publish. This year was no exception.
I've been meaning to update this post about my editing process for a while, as it's changed a bit in the last five years, mainly having to do with technology. Of course, in many ways my process has also remained the same, so I'm following the same general format/text of the original post. So, here goes:
The author will think I'm a horrible editor. They'll think the changes I'm asking for are absolutely stupid and unnecessary.
I get the same anxiety when I send off an editorial letter to an author as I've heard an author gets when he/she sends off their manuscript to an editor or reader. (Okay, well, maybe not "the same" but similar.) I don't want to hurt authors' feelings or anger them. I don't want them to think I'm incompetent, disrespectful of their work, or crazy. I have the highest level of respect for the creative people I work with, because I could never do what they do. I know they're putting their trust in me, trusting me to understand their work and help them make it better. And that's a lot of responsibility!
This anxiety is lessened significantly after I've worked with an author or illustrator for a while, because by then mutual trust has been established, but I do get that same anxiety when working with someone for the first time. I will say that overall, the anxiety has lessened the more experience I have. Although I do always think, "Just because an author has never called me up crying or screaming after receiving my edits, doesn't mean there can't be a first time!"
I hope that my editorial letters have the right balance of praise and constructive criticism. I know that it can be intimidating to receive an in-depth edit, which may include requests to overhaul the manuscript significantly, and to also make lots of annoying nit-picky changes. But I hope my authors know that I love their writing, love their work, and know that we're on the same team.
The task of writing an editorial letter to me is daunting, and I certainly had no idea how to go about doing it when I edited my first novel (sorry, Libby!). But I learned as time went on; I learned from my mentors, and I learned from reading the correspondence files that circulate in my department: each week, everyone in editorial (when we remember) places copies of our editorial letters and other outside business correspondences into a centralized folder which is then circulated throughout the editorial department so that we can be aware of other editors' projects, problems that other editors are having that may be similar to our own, and also so the junior staff can read many different editorial letters to start to understand how to write them. I found this to be a crucial learning tool when I was first starting out as an editorial assistant.
I think every editor develops his or her own editing style, and I've certainly honed my own throughout the years. My process is always changing slightly and is adjusted for specific books and authors, but here's my general process:
1) First, I read through the manuscript (this is my favorite part of the process!). I generally do this on my eReader, and therefore I make very few notes--I'm just reading for the experience. On occasion I'll jot down things I notice--usually broad, over-arching things--but I'm really looking to get a fresh read, and am reading for the overall experience as a final reader would. Is it enjoyable? Am I pulled into the book right away? Is the pacing off? Do I care about the characters? Does the plot make sense? Is the ending satisfying?
2) Then, if I can, I'll let it sit for a few days. Sometimes, right after the first read I think, "there's nothing I could do to improve that novel!" But inevitably things will
Re-posted from last Monday from the Blue Rose Girls blog.
As Grace mentioned, we're in Fresno together for the IBBY regional conference. They asked us to speak together about Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.To prepare, we dug up all of the old drafts of the novel, and also my editorial letters/edits (to my horror, I discovered that although I had saved the different drafts with my edits in Track Changes, I had neglected to save any of my editorial letters, as they had been in emails and not saved as separate documents. Luckily, Grace was able to find them in an old email account. Whew!)
Some of the fascinating (at least to us!) things we found: The 1st draft was 22,859 words; the final draft was 42,840 words, almost twice as long! The 1st draft had 26 chapters, and the final book had 48 chapters. The green tiger was not in the original draft. In the original draft, the parents didn't try to follow/find Minli. In the original proposal, Minli was named "Cai" (and then "Kai"). The first working title was God of the West. The next title was Never-Ending Mountain.
I also read a portion of my first editorial letter for the book. As I mentioned at the panel, my letters with Grace tend to be a little more casual than to some other authors who I don't know as well. With Grace, I cut to the chase quickly--but I always start with praise! Here's a sampling:
So, I thought I'd get down in writing some of the things we discussed over the phone. But just to reiterate, I loved it. I think overall, it's extremely well crafted with a wonderful story arc. The novel is moving, magical, and engaging. I think this is in really great shape! I have a few main comments, most of which we've discussed:
1) The novel feels a little slight right now, and things overall feel a little too easy for Minli. I'd like to add at least one more big challenge for her, and also make a few of the existing challenges a little more difficult/drawn out. For example, she seems to find the King in The City of Bright Moonlight too quickly--she should struggle with this more. I like the idea you mentioned, of having her spend one night with the boy and the buffalo.
Overall, don't be afraid to put your characters in peril! I don't think I worried once about whether Minli would succeed in her quest, or feared for her safety or her life. This made for a comforting, pleasant read, but I think more conflict overall would go a long way toward making this more rewarding.
3) It's not believable that her parents would just wait around for her at home for her to come back--have one or both of them go after her? Or have them send someone else after her? If they do stay behind, you need a convincing reason why, and also her reunion with them at the end needs to be more dramatic. Wouldn't they cry? And what did they do while she was gone? Did they set up a shrine to her? Pray for her every day? Maybe they sent the old man selling the fish after her, or maybe a man from the village, or a kind traveler passing through?
It was interesting looking back at the publication history of this very special book--and we had fun telling the story, too. We should be on more panels together, don't you think?
A week ago, on a warm Sunday afternoon in October, Greg proposed to me on a rock in Central Park.
Now, some of you might remember this blog post from over five years ago. In it, I talked about how my parents met, and how they got engaged on a rock in Central Park. Well, Greg remembered that story well, and crafted a plan.
I was busy with work all weekend (I had three novels to edit), but Greg asked me to come out to a fundraiser with him on Sunday afternoon. He said it was for a charter school his friends Pat and Frank supported. I actually had a ton of work and was a bit distressed and said, "I really don't think I can go." He asked if I could go "for just a few hours"--he said I could meet them later if I didn't have time to go to the whole thing, so I agreed to do that. "But I reserve the right to leave early" I said. At around 1 pm, after dressing in a jacket and tie (he had me pick his tie after presenting me with a few options), Greg left the apartment, and I told him I'd meet him around 4:15. He told me to take the Q train to 57th and 7th, and then to call/text him to find out where they were, and if I couldn't reach him, to text Pat.
When I got there, I tried calling Greg but he didn't pick up, and then texted both him and Pat. Pat texted back right way, and it turned out that she and Frank were at the station to pick me up. She said Greg had gone ahead, and we would just walk about 10 minutes in the park to get there.
It was around then that I was suspecting something might be up, but didn't want to assume/hope too much.
Pat and I chatted on the way (she told me ALL about the fundraiser), and then a few minutes later Pat pulled me aside. She pulled a piece of paper out of her bag. "I'm supposed to give you this" she said. On the paper was the picture of my parents on the rock that I had posted in that blog post:
My parents, Fall 2006
Of course, then I was pretty sure I knew what was about to happen.
"And now I'm supposed to give you this," Pat said, and handed me a homemade card with photos of me on the front. Inside were song lyrics for this song (with a few of the details crossed out to match how we met-- "LondonNew York," for example.):
And then Pat said, "Here, listen to this," handing me her iPod and headphones, playing the song for me to hear.
Wednesday night I went to the premier of the movie Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life based on the book by Wendy Mass. Wendy had been working with another editor at Little, Brown (hi Amy!), and when Amy left the company, I became Wendy's new editor, but Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life was the transition book--Amy freelance-edited the book from her new home in Maryland, and I was the in-house editor. I love this book--it's still one of my all-time favorite Wendy Mass books, and believe me, there's a lot of competition. But it's a great example of the type of book I love most--it's sweet, funny, and challenges the reader think about life. In this case, the literal meaning of life, of course. And the movie did the same for me. It's been quite a while since I've read the book, so it was wonderful to relive it on the big screen. It made me laugh, and it made me cry. There were a few differences from the book, of course, the most obvious being that Jeremy's mutant candy collection isn't in the movie--oh well.
The movie isn't going to be released in the theaters, but is currently available as an exclusive at Walmart, and then will be released more widely next Spring. See more info on Wendy's blog here. Also, I love that almost all of the commentors on Wendy's blog seem to be children. And they're so enthusiastic and insightful. I especially loved this comment from Ingrid H:
Awesome! The trailer was really cool! I’m kind of glad that it’s not coming to every theater, since it’s sort of an off-beat book, and that would make it more main stream. Congrats Wendy!
Most of the stars of the movie, including Mira Sorvino, were in attendance. Mira's children and father (actor Paul Sorvino) were also there. The event ended quite late (almost 10 pm), and Mira's young son was crying that he needed to go "to his house" because "it's so dark outside"--of course, this was right outside the theater under bright lights--I guess this was his way of saying that it was late and he was tired. Poor kid
We did a media tie-in edition cover to coincide with the movie. We pretty much used the movie poster design, but decided to focus on just the kids:
I've decided to start cross-posting from the Blue Rose Girls blog again. Otherwise, this poor blog will remain neglected.
I'm in the throes of editing hell...actually, I'll rephrase that--I'm in editing HEAVEN! Just a whole lot of it at once, is all. But the books are SO GOOD, and this is the meaty part of my job that I love the most. Speaking of, I've been meaning to update my "How I Edit" post from almost exactly five years ago, as technology has changed my process somewhat. Perhaps that will be for next week.
What I was working on this past weekend specifically was finishing up an editorial letter for the first book in Libba Bray's new four-book series, The Diviners. It's a YA historical paranormal with hints of horror (okay, more than just hints) set in New York City in the 1920s. Flappers, Ziegfeld's Follies, speakeasies, political protests, secret government experiments, cults, ghosts, supernatural powers, and oh yes, a serial killer. It's magnificent, and coming out next Fall.
This past weekend I've also been working on Chris Colfer's middle grade novel The Land of Stories, coming out next August. It's a fantastical adventure to a fairytale land, and it's a page-turner, with unexpected twists and turns, a lot of heart, and best of all it's funny. I was reading it on the subway and found myself chuckling out loud at the dialogue. I'm excited for the world to see that this kid can write as well as he can sing. And boy, do I love his voice (I can listen to his version of Blackbird all day).
So, while I keep editing, I wanted to share with you two trailers that were released recently. The first is for Peter Brown's hilarious new picture book You Will Be My Friend!, starring Lucille Beatrice Bear, who some of you might remember from his last book, Children Make Terrible Pets. You Will Be My Friend launched earlier this month, and on Saturday I attended his book launch party at Powerhouse Studio in DUMBO. And as Lucy would say, OH! MY! GOSH! This is the cutest trailer EVER!
This second trailer is for Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bonewhich officially pubs tomorrow! Happy early book birthday! There's been an incredible amount of excitement and buzz for this book, and the love, especially from bloggers, has been tremendous (and well-deserved, although I may be biased...).
Another year is almost gone, another year I've neglected this blog. Sad. Good thing New Year's is around the corner and I can resolve to post more again! In the meantime, in case you missed it, you can see my last two posts on the Blue Rose Girls here and here. I wrote about first pages and what else--New Year's resolutions!
My friend and former colleague Jill has just set off on a solo, around-the-world trip. Thirteen countries in about nine months. I am both in awe and insanely jealous, even though in my old age I've realized that two-week trips are about the right length of time for me. I'd love to "live" in another country again for about a month, though. So glad I at least experienced that in the year and a half after college (when I lived in Taiwan and traveled around Asia).
Jill also ran the NYC marathon this year. Read about her experience here, and follow her travels on her blog, "A Journey of One Inch"! She's in New Zealand now:
Speaking of traveling, I'm a fan of The Amazing Race. Anyone catch the finale on Sunday? The team I was rooting for won! Hurray! That's one reality show I'd love to be on. I just have to find the right partner...
As for me, my next trip is back to Southern California next week--I'll be in CA for almost three weeks (!) as I'll be staying through the ALA (American Library Association) Midwinter conference in San Diego. It will be nice to get away from the grind and unwind.
Next May I'll be heading to Australia! Woo-hoo! I'll be there for the Visiting International Publishers (VIP) program at the Sydney Writer's Festival. My plan is to go out a week early and spend some time in Melbourne with friends. I was in Australia nine years ago for a wedding in Byron Bay, and also visited Fraser Island and spent just one night in Sydney. I loved it, and am excited to be back to see more of the country, and spend more time in Sydney.
It's hard to believe that another year has come and gone. It's been a good year overall, although one dominated by work--good thing work has been rewarding! But it hasn't been all work and no play. Here are a few highlights from my 2010:
work: -Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, won a Newbery Honor -Peter Brown won the Children's Choice Illustrator of the Year -The Curious Garden won the E.B. White Read-aloud Award -Karen Healey's Guardian of the Dead was named a Morris Award finalist -Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Shark vs Train, and Children Make Terrible Pets were all NY Times bestsellers -I attended two ALA conferences, NCTE, and three SCBWI conferences (FL, SC, and NY) -I was able to promote my assistant, and now have a new editorial assistant -I hired two fabulous editorial interns who have gone on to great editorial assistant positions -I was promoted to executive editor
Life: -I moved to Brooklyn! -I became the step-mother of two cats -I took a vacation to the SF Bay Area, and then to Lake Tahoe for a family reunion -I took a two-week vacation: CA for a week, then CO for another week -I played golf, tennis, pool, and softball, went bowling, and jogged regularly in Prospect Park -I biked over 50 miles in the MS Ride, and raised over $1,000 -I sang a ton of Karaoke, learned the harmony to the Jason Mraz/Colbie Caillat song Lucky -I took a bunch of trips to CT to hang out with the Blue Rose Girls -I went to the NATWA conference in Toronto with my mother, and we took a train to Montreal to visit friends -I went to the beach three times and to Disney World once -I learned how to shuck oysters, and make chocolate fondue, ravioli from scratch, and icing chrysanthemum flowers -I attended three weddings, four baby showers, two wedding showers, and one bachelorette party -I saw Lady Gaga and Bob Dylan in concert -I saw President Obama speak in person -I saw a bunch of plays and musicals, including West Side Story and Time Stands Still Display Comments
Over on the Blue Rose Girls blog, I posted my work-related New Year's resolutions. Every year, for as long as I can remember, I've made New Year's resolutions. And in some cases, they've really helped me change my behavior for the better. For example, one year I resolved to floss more (I think I said at least four nights a week), and now I floss every night. There was my resolution to get out of debt and start saving. And, of course, there's my "no candy" resolution. Basically, I use resolutions as a way to curb bad behaviors, create better habits, and encourage myself to do fun/different things!
Here are my resolutions for 2011:
-Don't buy any new clothes for myself (excluding accessories and necessities, for example: underwear, socks, jewelry, shoes, etc.)
-Maintain current weight (or lose)
-Save an average of XX a month (I'm keeping the actual amount private)
-Read average of 1.5 published books per month. Read at least three adult books this year.
-Do more cultural activities (shows, concerts, museums)--at least 10 a year
-Eat candy no more than once a month, on average
-Get 4,000 followers on Twitter
-Post on bloomabilities at least once a month (I resolve to do this every year. I'm really going to do it this year!)
-Clean my apt. at least a little bit once a week
-De-clutter and fully set-up the apt (there are still unresolved corners left over from my move in June)
-Go horseback riding
1 Comments on Belated New Year's Resolutions, 2011 edition, last added: 1/17/2011
Two weekends ago I flew up to New Hampshire for Felix (my older brother) and Adrian's wedding. It was a very intimate, casual, and beautiful ceremony and lunch (yummy, too!) in the small town of Sandwich, New Hampshire where Adrian grew up. There were about 15 friends and family in total in attendance. After a lovely exchanging of the vows in front of the fireplace, and a champagne toast, we sat down for lunch. With three tables, Felix and Adrian were able to rotate after each course.
Here's an animoto video of the day:
The bride and groom were practically beaming in happiness the whole time.
Best wishes for a wonderful life together, Felix and Adrian!