Monday, January 30, 2006

going and going

And I'm off. This time to Portland where the Chinese Garden is having an exhibition of my art and 5 days of activities centered around me and Chinese New Year. Should be great...if I get off the ground. It's suppose to storm tommorrow!

I'm really looking forward to the event, not only as a promotional but as a solitary working environment. I have my new novel all mapped out in my head and the lonely nights in the hotel should be happily filled with pegging at a typewriter. Or with blank stares at the wall. That is a pretty common event when I am trying to write.

But if that happens, I've decided to try go zen and do some yoga. Hence, the bringing of the Babar's Yoga for Elephants. I've realized that my reading level is juvenile that even "how to" books have to be children oriented. If only there was a Babar's Taxes for Elephants. I'd be so well rounded.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

seeds of self-doubt

The limited feedback I have been getting from "Year of the Dog" has made me all a-bloom. The garden of my ego has blossomed to new splendor-- my work might actually be loved, appreciated and respected. Heck, I might even be a successful, well-known author/illustrator.

But, small things, like frost in the night, creep in. A patronizing message on a message board. A tepid review calling my book "comfortable." The disinterest of relatives because it's "kid's things." An innocent e-mail asking where to get my book as it is not stocked anywhere. These small things water the seeds of self-doubt, encouraging them to grow into dominating weeds.

The balance between pride and humbleness is hard to accomplish. As satisfaction fills me and the feeling of self-importance does not seem so unreasonable, the whispers begin. "Who do you think you are?" it scoffs, "You think you're all that? Please don't make me laugh."

For low self-esteem and insecurity has plagued me and pushed me. You'll never get published. You can't make a living on children's books. No one is going to like your books. You're never going to make it. Fear of failure made me want to prove that I could do what was doubted. Yet, the same impetus that pushed me to work harder is the same force that won't allow me to feel peace or pride with my endeavors.

Robert, of course, has been the great equalizer. Whenever the secret demons push me to dejection, he shines a light on them. "When are you going to be as proud of yourself as I am of you?" he says to me and the tears burn in my eyes. And, I realize that the demons are just rabbits sneaking into the garden. I'll probably never get rid of them, but I can't stop trying to grow flowers because they steal a bit of lettuce.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Happy Year of the Dog!

It's the Year of the Dog! Chinese New Year has arrived. Traditionally, a Chinese tray is filled with candy that is eaten on New Year's Eve--the idea being that if the tray is filled with sweet things, the year will also be filled with sweet things.

While I don't have the traditional tray, my New Year's Eve has been quite satisfying. In honor of my starred Booklist review, my editor at Little, Brown sent me some gourmet Chinese New Year-inspired chocolates. These delectable goodies were quite appreciated. (Thanks, Alvina!)

The other sweetie I received is an e-mail from a reader. While it is perhaps not as tasty, it is just as fulfilling:

Our family wishes to send its heartfelt thanks to you
for writing "Year of the Dog." We all loved your
latest book, especially our almost 10-year-old
daughter, Wendy. Wendy and her younger sister,
Sara, 8 yrs., were both born in China and adopted
when they were young. Wendy has already shared the
book with her best friend. I can't truly capture my
daughters' delight in the story -- it has been the
perfect story at a perfect moment in their life.
(Briefly, your book caught us while we were preparing
for the Chinese New Year, completing Science Fair
projects, and discussing life long questions related
to friendship, identity, and transracial adoption

We all remember reading and listening to your Ugly
Vegetable book many times. I hope you can imagine the
delight when my daughters' realized that the book that
Grace wrote in Year of the Dog was this family
favorite. There was much excitement in our family.
"We know that book!!"

Thanks so much. We are looking forward to your future
books and truly love the books that you have written
and illustrated. Sara still loves to look at the
book you illustrated about shapes, especially the last
page with the hong baos on a tree.

Wendy has renewed her enthusiasm to write and draw.
She's a wonderful, creative girl who told me last week
me that "I started as a seed and now I am a seed with
roots waiting to blossom." Your book provided
something special to her. Thanks again, my best
wishes, Mary

I think it's going to be a sweet year!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

vanity, thy name is me

Today, a lovely article about me and the "Year of the Dog" came out in the Somerville Journal. Unfortunately, it was accompanied by a particularly unlovely photo of me. I never thought I was vain, but that photo made me cringe. I should've known it was going to be weird when they were taking pictures of me reading the book. Here is my conversation with Robert about it:

Me: Oh my gosh! Look at that horrible picture of me!
Robert: Gee, why'd they print a picture of you with your mouth open?
Me: I look horrible, that double chin look and everything!
Robert: You are kind of holding your head kind of weird.
Me: Wait a minute, you're suppose to be telling me it's not so bad. That I'm beautiful and all that.
Robert: Well, you're an author, not a fashion model.

Hmm, the more I think about this conversation, the less comforted I feel.

to agent or not to agent, that is the question

So after returning from my trip from Seattle, I have been mulling over my unagented status. During my trip, I met up with an up-and-coming novelist whose agent got her an advance that left me floored. Other friends of mine are pursuing agents or signing with the idea that the agents will procure movie deals, foreign rights and higher advances.

Which leaves me pondering my options. As the sole bread-bringer of the household, it would be quite beneficial to increase my income and make strides in my career. Maybe, maybe the only way for me to get to the next rung of the ladder is to get an agent to pursue improved opportunities for me.

Part of me thinks that an agent couldn't get me much more than what I've gotten myself. That, in fact, I'll get less because they'll end up taking a cut. Other authors have told me stories about getting huge advances and then the subsequent stalling of their careers because they were unable to sell out their enormous forestallment. The truth is I feel that my books are in a niche market, one with limitations. And that it isn't necessary to carry an agent with me to the ceiling.

However, is that a self-defeating prophecy? Am I selling my work short, already believing in its confines? Perhaps that is all the more reason to get an agent, to break the invisible barriers I have made.

And there is a bit of status in having an agent as well. All author/illustrators whom have “made it” seem to be agented. The image of success is usually incomplete without an agent dealing with the filthy lucre, leaving the artist able to be the creative genius that he/she is.

But agents are not magicians with hypnotic powers. Or are they? When I think over my friend’s amazing advance, I have to wonder.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

and on i go

I have returned. For a week. And then I’m off to Portland, Oregon to continue my attempt at a “Year of the Dog” tour.

And how has it been? Well, as a “Year of the Dog” promotional tour, I’d have to say it leaning towards the failure end. And oddly, not for lack of interest or fans. The schools I visited had ordered their books months ago and since “Year of the Dog” was not scheduled for release until Feb., didn’t order any. And the bookseller at the Chinese New Year event had never had an author come before, so conservatively brought only 25 copies of the book to sell. They were gone in a flash. I was a tiny bit annoyed as I had traveled a LONG way for the event and the attendance was 700+ people. A lot more books could’ve been sold. But the book people knew that and were very nice, so I gave myself a mental slap for being a snot (on the inside). It would've been horrible if none or only some of the books had sold, so even if I wasn’t quite satisfied, best to be grateful.

However, as an exercise in ego gratification, the tour is already phenomenal success. Nothing is more touching or rewarding then seeing hundreds of the cutest Asian girls looking at you with stars in their eyes. And having their parents say, “She LOVES your books. She sleeps with “The Ugly Vegetables” at night and we’ve read “Dim Sum For Everyone!” so many times that the binding is worn out.” And to hear it not once, but a number of times. It’s a heady experience, one that is uplifting and humbling at the same time.

I have grumbled and griped about my lack of success, judging it on coveted awards, promotional budgets and envy of peers. But, in the presence of my youngest devotees, those complaints are disgraceful. Yes, of course this is a business, of course I need to make money. But that’s not the reason I became a children’s book creator. The ability to connect with children is.

So, with those thoughts soothing my irritated soul, the tour will continue…and perhaps (if I am lucky) I’ll get to sell some book on the way!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

surprise success

On the morning of my exhibit opening, both Robert and I had a difficult time getting out of bed. Robert, because of his treatment and me, because of my dread of a tumbleweed opening. But, up we got, though a bit later than planned, and on we went (and arrived late-sorry!).

But what had been giving me cold chills turned out to be one of my most heartwarming experiences. People came. A lot of them. The word had gotten out through the school, libraries and newspaper and had alerted some of my core fans, who came out in packs. The museum (obviously surprised) ran out of books immediately. Good friends, Luke & Ranida, drove from Arlington and brought "Year of the Dog" cookies to take the place of the ones I din't have time to make.

And Robert was disgusted with me. "If you ever put down one of your events ahead of time like you did this one," he said, "I'm going to shake you. You disrespect your venue, your fans, and your work when you do that."

It's true, of course. Confidence in your failure is an insult to those who believe in you. Yet, self-assurance is hard to achieve simply out of good manners.

Friday, January 13, 2006

the motion of promotion

Today, I finally received my author copies of Year of the Dog. Hooray! Now what to do with them...

While I am planning to just give my books away to friends, family,and charitable causes, my new marketing book says, "Resist the temptation to send books to your friends and family. Send to book reviewers, some producers and key bookstore buyers, instead." Hmm, I'm drawing a blank here. I don't know any reviewers, producers or key bookstore buyers. Well, I know some, but I'm uncomfortable thrusting my book upon them in a such an obvious "make people buy my book" way.

And I guess that is my issue with promotion and marketing. The naive part of me wants to believe that if my book is good enough, it'll find its audience and sell well on its own. But the reality is that no one will buy your book if they don't hear about it and it's not the best books that do well, it's the ones that "yell" the loudest. And I care too much about my books to let them slip into the out-of-print graveyard without a good war-cry.

So while I have not exactly embraced marketing, I have decided that we must at least hold hands. With the help (and prodding)of my sister, I've contacted groups and set up events in Seattle, Portland, and possibly San Diego and Arizona to try to push "Year of the Dog." I've sent out some postcards to friends and colleagues (and key bookstore buyers as suggested). I've written an article on why I wrote the book and offered it to publications. To me, this is marketing at full force--going full throttle into battle.

But, a brief perusal through marketing resources show me that my attack is not even a mere fistfight. It seems like if you really want to wrestle, you have to promote with every breath, view every conversation as an opportunity to sell. One resource sites an example of a woman who sold her book to every passenger on her airplane flight. The author wrote this in tones of admiration, but I was horrified. How obnoxious is it to have goods forced upon you when you can't even leave?

I want my books to do well, I want to promote them so they get the attention I feel they deserve. But I don't want to transform the labor of my work to boorish behavior. It's literature, not rock music.

But perhaps that's what my problem is and why I am not as successful as I could be. And really, I have no right to be condescending. Because, even though there is line between being a rat in the rat race and a mouse trying to find your way through the maze, you're still a rodent through and through.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

judging my judgement

So, today I was sent a gentle reminder that I have to send in my short list for the Golden Kite Awards. I think agreeing to be a judge was not one of my better decisions. Not only are we tripping over boxes of books, I am starting to feel uncomfortable in my position as judge. I've never won a big award, so I am well used to the envious, self-doubting feeling of the unchosen. That feeling of, "Gee, I wish my book was good enough to get chosen" mixed with, "They chose that?" Then, the panic of "If that book is so amazing and I didn't like it, maybe there is something wrong with me. I'm getting out of touch, I don't know what makes a good book anymore..."

So, after going through these annual feelings, it is strange to be on the other end. Now I am one of those cruel, unfeeling judges that just didn't see the genius.

During my school visits, I impress upon the students that every single one of the books in their library and classrooms has taken at least one year to make. So I do consider the fact that each book I judge is the culmination of a fellow artist's journey to publication. Each book, whether I like it or not, is someone's dream. Having been on the other side, I know the crushing, discouraging feeling of being cast aside. It's hard to realize that I may now be doing that to others.

And because of this, a part of me doesn't want to shortlist books that have already won awards and acclaim. I want to discover the unknown gems that I know are out there, that have not yet been shone in the light. But then, that seems like I am punishing those books that have won accolades. Ah, the conundrum!

Perhaps others don't care as much as all this and, as well as doing some over-dramatic projection, I am simply over-analyzing. It's the Golden Kite, not the Caldecott. But isn't it better to err on the side of hyperbole, if only to soothe my personal doubts?

I'll just pick the books I like. It's quite easy, if I didn't make it so difficult.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

a new normal

The two or three days before Robert gets a scan done are the hardest. Every headache he gets, every sore muscle or pimple on his nose is scrutinized.
"It's nothing," he'll say, "It's not the cancer."
"I know, I know," I say with a laugh, "It wouldn't show up like that anyway."

But it's a nervous laugh, one that hides the anxiety. Robert has been on this new chemo regiment since September. It's working, we know it's working...but everytime he goes in to get a scan there are the silent whispers. What if it's not working anymore? What if his cancer cells have built a resistance? What if...

Because we have been lulled into the chemo life of existence. And in many ways, it is wonderful. On the good days, we get to go grocery shopping, talk about home renovations and book events. We forget the invisible chains of of his illness.

But on other days, the limitations are frustrating. Aside from the strict schedule and physical discomforts, Robert has had to bury his ambitions, suppress his talents and change the foundation of his identity. The path before us is so different than what we planned. Sometimes, we don't even see a path.

Yet, whenever the bitterness burns our rooted feet, I stop and try to be grateful that we are still standing. It has been two years since Robert's relapse, already a year longer than one (misinformed) doctor even gave him to live. It is more than I had hoped for at one point.

So, after we get the good news that Robert's treatment is still working and that he will be continuing on with this treatment indefinitely, we are trying to accept that this is our new normal. That the map we drew is not the road that we will be building now. That we are going to become different people than we planned. That this is our lives and it's up to us to live it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

exploring the art of me

My cold went from bad to wretched and now is staged at better. While my improved health was not in time for yesterday's school visit (ah, speaking to first graders in a frog voice--and I was being previewed for other schools...I am sure I was very appealing), the renewed energy is helpful as I try to get my work framed in time for my solo exhibit, titled "Exploring the Art of Grace Lin" at the Danforth Museum this weekend (Sat. 3pm).

Originally, I had planned this exhibit opening as my big "Year of the Dog" kick off. I was going to make red envelope invitations, send press releases, invite friends and family and make dog-shaped cookies. Then, germs attacked me.

So,I've moved to Plan B (really Plan C, but that's a long story) with 20+ pieces of art from an assortment of books framed all in red (to get that Chinese New Year feeling!) and a half-hearted effort to invite parents from a local school. And maybe (if I can stop coughing) some dog-shaped cookies. It's afar cry from my intial plans of a big bash.

As a result, I'm a bit apprehensive on the exhibit turnout. I've heard through the grapevine that past exhibits were not well attended. I have a bad feeling that "Exploring the Art of Grace Lin" will turn out to be an expedition of one lone explorer and a lot of germs.

Friday, January 06, 2006

seeing stars

With the trials and tribulations of my life, I find myself embracing more the "new age-y" things I one scoffed at. Empowerment cards (given to me as a gift) are now occasionally read (My future is glorious! Today I am led to fulfillment!). Even horoscopes are glanced at for possible guidance. While I am looking for some kind of planetary pattern, a grand scheme that explains away misfortunes...I realize that this is how home shopping psychics make money. Poor, wandering fools like me are searching the stars for answers.

But can you blame us? Stars mark some of the best things in life. For Robert, that is the premiere of Battlestar Galactica, his favorite show on the SciFi Channel. After the season's cliff hanger finale, he has been waiting with bated breath to see what happens. During the opening sequence, he definitely gets stars in his eyes. (I'm not joking--despite the Italian suaveness my husband is closet sci-fi geek! Ha Ha! Now the world knows!)

For me, the star that marks my Year of the Dog review in Booklist makes me glassy-eyed. Yippeee! "Lin does a remarkable job capturing the soul and the spirit of books like those of Hayward or Maud Hart Lovelace, reimagining them through the lens of her own story, and transforming their special qualities into something new for today’s young readers." Yes, yes, thank you, thank you... I better not get too full of myself or else I might start seeing stars because someone wacks me one.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

first review

We return from Montreal with a haircut, food and a bad cold. My perfume of cough drops is almost as unattractive as the reddish tinge they give my teeth and my constantly running nose is not an enhancement either.

However, my present condition was temporarily forgotten as I discovered my first review of "The Year of the Dog" (Amazon now says it's available, yippee!). It's from Publisher's Weekly, a journal that doesn't usually treat me favorably.

And it's GOOD. Not starred, but definitely positive. I'm just grateful that it isn't trashed. I know that I shouldn't be influenced by reviews, that one's work should be created by their own standards. But, this novel has been a project of professional insecurity for a while--sometimes you just need that pat on the back. Right or wrong, with this positive review I feel a sense of relief and reinforcement that the direction I am heading with my books and writing is not crazy.

But most of all, I am delighted by the fact that Publisher's Weekly thinks I am charming. This is something that Robert would disagree with as I sit in my pajamas, with a flaming raw nose and a pile of used kleenex.

Publisher's Weekly: Lin, best known for her picture books, here offers up a charming first novel, an autobiographical tale of an Asian-American girl's sweet and funny insights on family, identity and friendship. When her family celebrates Chinese New Year, ringing in the Year of the Dog, Pacy (Grace is her American name) wonders what the coming months will bring. Her relatives explain that the Year of the Dog is traditionally the year when people "find themselves," discovering their values and what they want to do with their lives. With big expectations and lots of questions, the narrator moves through the next 12 months trying to figure out what makes her unique and how she fits in with her family, friends and classmates. Pacy experiences some good luck along the way, too, winning a contest that will inspire her career (Lin's fans will recognize the prize submission, The Ugly Vegetables, as her debut children's book). Lin creates an endearing protagonist, realistically dealing with universal emotions and situations. The well-structured story, divided into 29 brief chapters, introduces traditional customs (e.g., Hong Bao are special red envelopes with money in them, given as New Year's presents), culture and cuisine, and includes several apropos "flashback" anecdotes, mainly from Pacy's mother. The book's inviting design suggests a journal, and features childlike spot illustrations and a typeface with a hand- lettered quality. Girls everywhere, but especially those in the Asian-American community, will find much to embrace here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

oh, elusive balance!

No sooner do I resolve for balance in my life do things falter. While visiting Montreal for the New Year's, Robert's father loses his balance and falls, cracking his rib. The Canadian health care system causes us to wait 6 hours in the emergency room which in turns throws his strict Diabetes and Parkinson medication schedule off kilter. An overworked mother and an emotional Italian grandmother add to Robert's already strained emotional psyche and the landscape seems to shake with instability.

Ah, to balance the ingrained reaction of hiding until the storm is over and the neccessary responsibility to be a part of the emotional roller coaster. Finding the balance to be sensitive enough to support yet tough enough to be take the emotional punching. My non-confrontational self has yet to be find the perfect equilibrium. Perhaps next year.