Monday, October 24, 2005

preparing for the storm

Will I get it all done? The big Robert's Snow kick-off event is on Nov. 3rd and I feel like I'm racing. Suddenly the checklist is getting divided into things that must be done and things that I thought I'd like done but I probably won't do. Here's the weekend schedule:

Sat: drive to Newburyport and pick up the snowflakes, stop at Haverhill and pick up donations of tablecloths, wine, and glasses (about an hour and a half drive each way). On the way home stop at Target and buy a folding table. Get home and feed Robert. Spend night sorting snowflakes, prepping labels.

Sun: Robert at the hospital in the morning. Pick up signage from Kinkos. Transport goods to gallery in afternoon. Hang snowflakes, which I'm quite stressed out about as the it's only me and Ki-Ki hanging. Return, feed Robert and hope that he hasn't withered away from neglect.

I could keep going with the Mon., Tues, Wed. schedule (post auctions, e-mail rsvps,etc. etc) but I think you get the idea. Suffice to say that there is a lot to do and that planning this event is like planning a wedding only without getting married.

All this is starting to make Robert and I quite cranky. We are glad these are the end days of the project. Just want to make sure it goes off with a big bang...and that I get it all done.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

being beautiful

Taking advantage of the calm before the Robert's Snow storm, my sister Ki-Ki, Robert and I decide to take a quick pleasure trip to Montreal. Robert, wants to see his parents. Ki-ki and I want to be beautiful.

The temptation of beauty is offered by Robert's tres fashionable mother. She takes us to her hairdresser, Dina--a veritable hair artist. As we sit down in the chic Westmount Spa, they offer us cappucino. Hmm, something tells me we aren't at supercuts.

We sign on for a full hair makeover- colored highlights, cut and style. The colorist shows us hair color samples.

"For your hair," she says in her french accent, "You can go caramel or red. Which would you prefer?"
I choose red, but to my dismay so does Ki-Ki.
"Don't choose red," I tell her, "then we'll look exactly alike."
"I don't want caramel," she tells me, "that's the color that all the hoochi-mamas go."
"But no one will be able to tell us apart," I protest.
"You go caramel then," she tells me.
"But then I'll look like a hoochi-mama," I say, "You do it."

Obviously, this is not an effective argument and both of us get red hair. In an attempt for some differentiation, Ki-Ki chooses a color that seems brighter. The colorist brushes on the the dye, wraps us in tin foil, and sets a timer. We are like two hams baking next to eachother.

When the timer rings, we are unwrapped and washed. Suprisingly, our hair is color is quite different. My hair has carroty red streaks and Ki-Ki's hair has more of a plum red overtone. When Robert picks us up he tells us we look great but doesn't see the difference.

"It's good you both got red," he says, "People will think it's natural in your family."
"No, they won't," Ki-Ki scoffs, "It's two completely different shades."
Robert turns to his father, "What color do you think it is?"
"Red," he says, "It looks the same to me."
We try to point out the difference, but neither men are very interested.
"I told you you should've gone caramel," I tell Ki-Ki, "now people will think we're exactly alike."
"Or that we're sisters," she says pointedly.

But I'm happy because my hair is no longer in my eyes. Ki-ki is happy because her hair no longer looks like a mushroom. Robert is happy because he can pretend he has a new wife. So, in the end, we are all quite satisfied.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

going to the ballet

Last weekend, Robert and I went to the ballet. Doesn't that sound so cultured? To be honest, I don't know too much about ballet, but I have a soft spot theater and dance performance (Noel Streatfeild's books are my favorite).

Robert willingly accompanied me to Boston Ballet's "Cinderella." We had gone to a number of theatrical productions in the past and enjoyed it ("Caberet","Rent", etc.) so we both looked forward to a fun evening out. We had 2nd row seats so we could see the exquisite details of the orchestra violins to the beading of the ballerina's dress. Little girls dressed in flouncing dresses bounced around us (painting above is a little girl waiting for the curtain to rise, done in my sketchbook soon after). I was in awe. It was gorgeous--the colors, the floating skirts and glowing pumpkin carriage.

But it was not quite the same for Robert. He shifted around, ate all our junior mints and skittles and stifled a yawn or two. After the first act was over, he looked at me and said wryly, "So...they don't talk in a ballet, do they?"

We get home and before going to bed, Robert surfs a bit on the computer to unwind. I continue to gush about the ballet. "Didn't you love the scene at the ball?" "And when the Prince searched and they made it seem like he was going all over the world?" Did you see how the lighting made it seem like they were outside?" Polite nods and smiles. "Yes," he said, "It was nice." But he seems a bit distracted by the internet.

"What are you looking at?" I ask.
"Oh," he said, "I'm just downloading the movie trailer for 'Doom.'"

I think a bloody movie is in my future.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

i'm a runner!

Sometime last spring, I lamented to my sister about being out of shape, not wanting to pay for a gym, etc. and she said, "Well, why don't we start running?"
"Okay!" I said, "Let's do it. Every other day, we'll go running."
Robert, who listened to this conversation, was quite amused. "You're not going to go running," he said, "I can't even get you to run to the store and pick me up a sandwich."
"No, I'm going to do it," I insisted, "I'm going to be a lean, mean running machine. Why are you laughing?"
"You're just not a runner," Robert laughs.

Just to be contrary, I try it. And huff and puff for 8 minutes. And then walk for 15. And then run the last minute home, so it looks like I ran the whole way.

"See, I ran!" I say triumphantly. Robert is not fooled.
"Gee, you're not very sweaty from running that long."
"Okay, I walked most of it," I admit.
"See, you're just not a runner," he says teasingly.

So to prove him wrong and because I am ashamed of my inability to run longer than 8 minutes, I keep at it. I don't run every other day, but am able to do it 1-3 times a week. I get better. So much so that Ki-ki and I decide to run a 5K race.

"How long is a 5K?" Robert asks.
"A little over 3 miles," I tell him.
"Can you run that far?" he asks.
"Of course!" I say, though I have my doubts. I don't tell him that I think this will be the longest distance I've run and I'm not sure if I can finish.

So, on Sunday morning we run the Shape Up Somerville 5K and... I win a medal!!!

I win 3rd place in my age group (females age 30-40). Of course, there were only about 33 people in my category (there were 120+ people in the under 30 category, which is why Ki-Ki got nothing! Ha-ha! But then maybe people lied about their ages and said they were under 30 when they weren't, I know I almost did) and I was more on the 30 side while the others were on the 40 side...but my goal was really just to finish, so it was a hilarious bonus.

I finish off the morning running home to Robert with my medal.
"Look," I tell him, "I AM a runner."
He just grins.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

little things

It's the little things that make you feel smart. And in this case, the little thing is my ipod. In an unusual display of technical savvines, I updated my school visit set up. Instead of lugging around a computer, portfolio, and books, I now have a small (3 pound) projector and a photo ipod. All my images--book pages, photos, the whole works-- are on the ipod, hook it into my projector and, Voila! My speech! Everything fits in the size of a lunchbox and I might have to start worrying that my arms will grow flabby without the constant lifting of heavy equipment.

I decided to test this set up for the first time at a college guest lecture--one of the tougher crowds. The students come from all facets-some interested in publishing, some teaching...many of them not interested in children's books specifically. Getting through layers of disdain and making them respect the genre is a challenge. So it was a lecture that I had to be "on" and would particularly benefit from a lack of technical difficulties.

Coming into the room with my small bag, I had slight misgivings. Perhaps this wasn't the wisest time to test this system out after all. What if the projector suddenly blasted my sappy song playlist instead? But it worked like magic, flawlessly and effortlessly. For once, I could give my speech without equipment disasters or worries. Freed from mundane concerns, I spoke passionately and with feeling. After my words, I asked for questions. Hands raised. I knew I had reached them...

And the first question was, "Is that an ipod?"

Monday, October 10, 2005

first snow

It was a dark and stormy night ... which is how all important events in my life go. My birthday, my wedding and now the first Robert's Snow event of 2005. After months of planning and an exhausting day of hanging last minute snowflakes, putting together goodies bags (really nice ones, I must add), prepping food, and organizing rained. And it rained hard. The wind howled and the temperature sank...just like our expectations. Who would come out on a night like this?

But they came. Amazingly. And a lot of them. All of them were dripping, some of them blown in by the wind with their umbrellas reversed. One artist had driven 2 hours to come. An enthusiastic couple came from CT and had made hotel reservations just for it. One friend came on a bus from NYC that morning. Another brought chocolate pastries. All for the snowflakes.

This project has been a rollercoaster for me. Most people who start fundraisers are people who already have money, people who have families close by, people who have already beaten the disease, or celebrities. They are not unknown newly-wed wives that rack up credit card debts and let their husband go to chemo treatments alone.

But we, Robert and I, believed so strongly in this project that we pursued it. When a doctor says , "no cure" to you, it makes you a little crazy. Crazy enough to attempt something like this. But it's not without regrets. The project has become so close to me that any criticsm flicks me in the raw. Instead of making me have a thicker skin, this project has skinned me.

But seeing people come to the show in the midst of flood warnings, downed trees and telephone lines is like being wrapped in a warm hug. Suddenly, things are starting to focus and I'm realizing the work that I am doing does matter. And I'm not in it alone. Friends have become family and strangers have become friends. People care...and they care a lot. Robert's Snow is going to do something. And it's going to be worth it.

"Snow is like kindness. It beautifies everything it covers." -Anonymous

Thursday, October 06, 2005

buried in books

Even though I didn't need more things to do, I agreed to be a judge for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Golden Kite Award. Yes, I am years behind on my work. Yes, Robert's Snow has sucked up the free time in my life. When Iwas asked, my first reaction was, "No way, I have no time!" but then the nice asking person said the one thing that made me do a 180 degree turn. "Of course," she said, "You'll get to keep all the books."

What? Free books? Sign me up!

Since money has gotten a bit tighter, I'd been forced to ration my book buying. One or two a month. Paperbacks, not hardcovers now. And it just had not been the same. Now someone was offering me free books. Lots of them. Good ones, she promised. The temptation was just too great. It was like offering a chocoholic Willy Wonka's golden ticket.

So now I am in books up to my ears. And there's a problem. I'm a picture book text judge. Do you know how hard it is for an illustrator not to be influenced by the pictures?

"Stop looking at the illustrations!" my sister (who acts part time as my manager) chided me, "You're suppose to be judging on the STORY."
"I can't help it," I complained.
"You should just have the stories typed out on white paper without the pictures," she said, "That's the only way for you to be impartial."
"You can type them!" I said, looking at the enormous stack.
"NO," she said, "But, maybe you can ask the SCBWI to do it. Maybe they can send everything to you in manuscript format."

And she's right. Reading manuscripts would be more fair. Perhaps I should ask SCBWI about it. But I don't. Because they might actually do it. And then I wouldn't get any more free books...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

where am i?

I am now scheduled for books up to Spring 2008. 6 years ago, I would have thought this was too wonderful to be true. Now,it just seems overwhelming with vague nightmarish qualities. How is this possible?

Besides the actual scheduling and overworking problems that I'll get into at another time, it is the horrible, fearful, overhanging shadow of being overpublished that is haunting me recently. What is this overpublished problem you ask? Well, recently my colleague and friend Tim Basil Ering (who illustrated the Newbury winner "Tale of Desperaux", by the way) related this story to me:

"I told my editor that I was illustrating a book with another publisher," he told me, "and the expressions on his face was like his dog had died."
"Really? Why?" I asked.
"Well, he told me that publishing houses don't like you to published with too many places," Tim said, "he told me, 'Ideally, you should publish with one house. Two houses, is acceptable. But more than that...well, you're a publishing whore."

I have 5 publishing houses.

This is a hard thing to fess up to, but I think I am a publishing whore. I publish with whomever will pay me. I feel bad, a sell-out, less literary and pure. Someone disloyal who has dirtied their art.

But another part of me bristles at it. Hey, I don't get company benefits, a salary, a possiblity of promotion or even a nominal Christmas bonus. I have to pay my own health insurance (and Robert's), look after my own retirement (which I probably never will do anyway) as well as pay the bills. I need to survive, I need to support. It's impossible (at least for me, probably not for JK Rowling) to just stick with one publisher and (at most) one book a year. Why must loyalty be proven with bankruptcy?

But it's these small decisions that haunt me. I worry about their long lasting repercussions. Am I eating today to starve tommorrow? Am I ruining the quality of my work for filthy lucre? I don't think I am, but am I the correct judge? Van Gogh or Disney? Do you really get to make the choice? Or is that choice made by the small decisions on the way?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

too much snow

Robert's Snow
What does it take to make it snow? Well, for the first half of my twenty-four hour day: it takes a meeting past midnight, an early morning radio interview (7AM), and a booksigning (hour drive). For the 2nd half of my day: scanning snowflakes, posting snowflakes, typing artist bios, checking for typos in artist bios (lots and lots), designing invitations, responding to gallery owners & PR people, printing out info and images for gallery owners and PR people, going to the post office to mail the printouts, putting together packages of flyers for conferences, artists, and groups and then going to the post office to mail the packages, uploading and reviewing info and files for the website (look at our new movie at, scheduling get the idea.

In the middle of this, Robert gets a little testy. "Hey," he says, "isn't this project suppose to be for ME? Then how come you can't spend any time with ME?"

And it's true. Somewhere along the way this project got too big. Wonderful in many ways, but overwhelming. Too many artists to please, too many responsibilities that I took to heart. Too much. We have to pay the bills, I need to get paying work done and Robert feels neglected. So I add to my to-do list: Cancel some events. Decline some appearances. Ignore some e-mails. Spend more time with my husband. Work on things that will make me happy. Sleep.

Hope I get to those.