Tuesday, February 28, 2006

and we're off

And now we are going to the west coast (sorry to all that I didn't get a chance to respond to). Events in San Diego, Tucson and Phoenix await me...and hopefully a nice time too. Robert is coming with me-- in fact we planned these visits just so he could get some warm weather in his bones. He might not want to come back home with me.

Monday, February 27, 2006

bad habits

When the work for Robert's Snow hit full force, I stopped exercizing, declining dessert and showering (okay, I did shower intermittedly). But all and all, I let an unhealthy lifestyle develop and attempting to rein it in post creation is quite difficult.

However, I must. This was brought to the attention by my recent visit to upstate NY where I met up with my mother's friends. No one can make reality sink in the a way that an older Asian women can. When they chattered to me "Oh, you look cute! You gained so much weight," the lenses of my life were suddenly painfully clean.

And to just reinforce this, here is the follow-up conversation with my mother:

"Mrs. Chen said I gained weight!" I mourned to her.
"Oh, she didn't mean it in a bad way," she tells me, "When Chinese people say you're fat, they think it is good."
"Really?" I said, "Wait! So that means she thinks I'm fat?"

Consequently, I am trying to eat less sweets (which Robert thinks is a good idea as he thinks it makes me hyper) and eat more salads. But most of all, I'm trying to start running again.

Yesterday, even though it was only 30 degrees out, I laced up the jogging shoes and went for a run. Well, more like a sprint. A not very fast sprint. Okay, more like a painful meander.

I've lost my endurance and any type of conditioning I had. Hey, this is the girl that won a medal in September! What has happened? Not only was I huffing and puffing, I wimped out and came home in about 10 minutes.

In fact, I took more time in the shower after the run than actually running. But, showering is a habit that is so much easier to get back into.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

where does snow go?

I've been contemplating the future of Robert's Snow for the last couple of days. Since its conclusion it seemed a certain decision that 2005 would be the last year, ever. It was too much work, too much stress, too much responsibility. Updating the website, juggling artist demands, figuring out finances--it was time away from Robert when he needed me and time away from work that paid for our living. It was time away from my life that I couldn't afford.

Yet, it was not a decision that I came to lightly. Was it right to stop what I had begun? To stop the momentum we've achieved? Was it selfish to pursue personal career goals instead? But the crux of it came down to Robert. "I want you to spend time with me," he said, "not trying to find a cure for me."

However, as he continues to battle and other colleagues and friends are stuck by heartbreaking diagnoses, I feel the twinges of guilt and responsibility.

Which leaves me in a dilemma. I cannot run Robert's Snow again; yet I feel it needs to be run. What to do? Where should Robert's Snow go? Buried quietly in the past? Or allowed to become a seasonal storm?

And while I am stuck between a rock and a hard place, Dana-Farber has dropped a rope from the sky. They've offered to take over the event, making it an internal affair. All I have to do is grab on, right?

"I don't think it's a good idea," Robert shakes his head, "I know you. Robert's Snow is your baby. You'll be crushed if they don't do it the way you think is right."

"I know," I said, "But the event shouldn't stop just because I'm a control freak. And even if it's not as successful-- a couple of thousand dollars is still better than zero."

So, I have hesitantly agreed. Dana-Farber will continue Robert's Snow in 2007 with plans to have it run every other year. Though, perhaps they will change their minds after they realize everything that needs to be done for it...like I did.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

78 minutes of wealth

Today, in my faded jeans, blue sneakers and unwashed hair I went to the bank to close the Robert's Snow account.

"I'd like to close my account," I said the the suited man and handed him the account number. He looked at me kindly, but without too much thought. However, as he punched in the number and looked at the balance, I thought his eyes would pop from his head.
"Is there anything we can do to keep your business?" he asked, obviously shocked, "We can help you reinvest, purchase mutual funds..."
"Oh no," I said, "This money is for a charity fundraiser I organized. I have to give the money to them."
"Well," he said, "Could I talk you into organizing a fundraiser for me?"

I declined to tell him that I probably needed a fundraiser for myself more and about 20 minutes later I walked out of the bank with a cashiers check of....$105,254.21!

With this check in my hot hand, I drove like the wind to Dana-Farber and delivered the check. I didn't want to keep it on me a second longer than I had to. Knowing my talents for disorganization and mess, a quick distribution seemed wise. But I was pretty rich for about 78 minutes...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

hometown high

As a rule, I loathe bookstore signings. Usually, I sit next to a pile of books watching the tumbleweeds or awkwardly smiling at passing customers--who, in turn, ask me where the bathroom is. So, when Lisa (the Upstate NY Families with Children from China chapter president) approached me about doing a signing at their local B&N, I hesitated. But, it was my hometown area. I knew my parents would be glad to see us (and they would at least get their friends to come), it fit in Robert's schedule and I could sign a lot of stock that would (hopefully) get sold afterwards, so I agreed.

However, I completely underestimated the power of Lisa. With her wonder powers of marketing, she reminded her group repeatedly and subliminally--getting the signing mentioned on the local radio and newspaper as well as through word of mouth and e-mail.

And whomever said marketing is everything was completely correct (and reaffirms my publicist decision). Families from all over came out. It was quite overwhelming. Lisa and I agreed that an activity would make the event much more appealing, so we advertised a mini-drawing class with my reading; and I taught all the kids how to draw dogs. Which they did, with panache.

And while I was signing, numerous people jokingly asked me if my hand was tired...and it was! But, I'd be willing to take that soreness any day.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

letting someone else drive

So I have made the big decision and have decided to hire a publicist. This conclusion was not made quickly…my internal and external debates have been driving colleagues, friends, web boards and Robert crazy for the past month.

But can you blame me? It was a big (and costly) question. But a necessary one. I’m proud of how far I’ve gotten on my own, but I look at the road ahead—one income, expensive medical costs, dreams of starting a family—and I know I need to get to the next rest stop faster.

And, I faced the realization that I'll probably never win the Caldecott or a Newbury airplane ticket (my novel just got lukewarmed by School Library Journal, sigh). So, my best bet for financial security and keeping my books from going out-of-print is cold hard sales. Or at least good sales.

Though, honestly, it's the fear of the out-of-print junkyard that is the true impetus for the move (as increased wealth is actually quite questionable). As my first book just went out of print (rest in peace, Okie-Dokie, Artichokie!) and sales have begun to lag and sputter on my other books, I knew it was time for a tune up.

So then came the question of how? Do I hire an agent or a publicist? Do I get a new car or let someone else drive?

Most authors go with the agent-- equivalent of trading in and getting a red sports car. An agent gets them higher advances, movies deals— shiny, glamorous and oh, so fast! Very tempting. But sports cars can be tricky things—sometimes your fuel’s not right, sometimes you get a lemon.

And sometimes, you just like the car you already own. Which is my case. Comfortable, trustworthy and dependable, I’m quite attached to what I’ve done, the relationships I’ve forged and the projects I’ve already created. And I'm proud of it-- every nut and bolt has been hand fastened for my unique engine. I don't want to write new, glitzy books, I want to keep writing the books I've been doing--books that mean something to me. I just want them to sell better.

And I've realized that I’ve been driving my career without a map, just hoping to run into some destination areas. So a publicist made sense. She’ll know where to take me and maneuver the road bumps with more skill.

Though, that doesn’t mean I don’t eye that new car at all. But right now, I'm just window shopping.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

the power of the pink jacket

I'm a complete sucker for Asian-inspired clothing. I don't like the traditional cheongsam (makes me quite self-conscious) but I love Asian-esque clothes that use Chinese silk or embroidery.

Such was a jacket I got last year. Bright pink, padded, embroidered with brightly colored birds and flowers and more money than I meant to spend, I bought it on impulse.

So, in order to justify my purchase I began to wear the jacket to some of my promotional events. And it is magical. Somehow, it has an invisible influence on my fortune. Whenever I wear it, success is achieved.

Today's event at the Peabody Essex Museum was a prime example. Being a cold day, I put it on as an extra layer of warmth...and the power of the pink jacket performed. The auditorium was full of people and I was able to get through my speech effectively. And most poignant of all was an encounter with a mother, who, with tears in her eyes, told me that her Asian daughter had read Year of the Dog and related to it in ways that moved her.

"She said people had called her a "twinkie" at school just like you in the book," the mother said, "and that when she read that it made her feel a lot better. We had a long talk about it. She had never mentioned it to me before. We never would've discussed it if it weren't for your book."

This conversation and the amazing line for my booksigning just strengthened my belief that my pink jacket has powers beyond normal clothing. I may begin to sleep in it from here on in.

Friday, February 10, 2006

green egg i am

I've stolen some time in between Year of the Dog promotion events and illustration responsibilites to paint an egg for the Open Field Egg auction (www.openfields.org). It's similiar to Robert's Snow with different artists creating works of art to be auctioned off for charity, except it's an egg (not a snowflake) and the money goes to a school (not cancer research).

Even though my time is tight, I really wanted to do this. This year's egg auction is in honor of beloved children's illustrator Trina Schart Hyman (she founded the event). Trina participated in the first Robert's Snow, shortly before her death--ironically from cancer. Her snowflake was probably one of the last pieces of art she created. The least I could do was to paint an egg for her namesake auction.

So what did I paint on my egg? Well,I searched for inspiration during my visit at the Portland Chinese Garden. They had tai chi lessons, brush painting classes, children folk dancing...and rain. And lots of it. The sun only shown on one day of my stay.

But, after spending so much time in the rain, I slowly began it appreciate its beauty. I loved how the colorful umbrellas seemed to look like enormous dancing flowers in the garden and how the raindrops fell from the tiled roofs like strings of pearls. And when the children began to do the traditional Chinese parasol dance in rain, the images seemed to swirl in my head and came out as this little haiku:

When the raindrops fall
The umbrella flowers bloom
And I dance around

This poem I quite enjoyed and wrote down on a scrap piece of paper. Back on the east coast, I recited the poem to Robert. His reaction was not one of awe. "That's very girly," he snickered.

However, even with such fervent encouragement, I used it as inspiration for my egg...and I will just hope for Open Field's sake that others find it more appealing.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

home is where the husband is

After returning from a lovely stay in Portland, where the Portland Chinese Garden hosted me for a series of events (art exhibit, book readings) for 5 days, I returned home tired but triumphant. I made it! No luggage lost, no unhappy hosts (at least not to my knowledge), lots of books sold and cheerful companions made. The beautiful Portland Chinese Garden was inspiring (if you haven't been there, you should go), they ran out of books (and had to reorder), and I even got 4 chapters written on my next novel (Year of the Rat, here I come!). So, all and all, a successful venture.

However, Robert was not so enthused by my adventure. My late night return coincided with his last day of chemo treatment when drug-induced irritations are at full force. And my travel exhaustion left me less patient then I should have been, so I was unfairly exasperated by his complaints about the disorganization of the closet and the amount of mail I receive. Therefore, it was not the lover's reunion one might imagine. But still, underneath all the annoyance, we were both happy to see eachother and it was good to be home.

Note to self: schedule all future trips around chemo cycle