Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Couple of Characters

My kids love the snow.

A couple of weeks ago, while the grown-ups were inside watching the NFL Playoffs my kids were in my parents' backyard sledding. We had gotten nine inches of snow. That is a lot for our area and they knew it. They also knew it wouldn't last forever so they made the most of it.

They were out there for the whole AFC game.

We made them come in for supper before the NFC game.

It was dusk to almost dark after supper. They begged Papa to turn the back light on so they could sled some more.

The adults watched the game until halftime and forced them to come in.

My son told his sister that he was glad she was with him or else he wouldn't have had the time of his life.

Those two have the classic two sibling, brother and sister, love, hate relationship.

It is so much nicer when it is love.

p.s. Go Pats!

Ain't Nothin Gonna Break My Stride

I had the strangest dream.

My alarm went off at 6:45am, as usual. I opened my eyes and reached for the alarm clock on the nightstand next to my bed.

Oddly, it was my magic phone going off, on the coffee table by the couch, not my couch but my brother, Mike's couch the one in his New York apartment on the Upper West Side.

I turned the phone alarm off so as not to wake Mike and my sister-in-law, Bricken.

I quickly and quietly got dressed and headed to midtown.

I was in a big rush. I had an inexplicable fear that wherever I was going might run out of bagels before I got there.

Next thing I know I am in a place that looks like the briefing room on the Starship Enterprise.

There are tables and chairs set up before a podium and presentation screen.

The troops file in mostly dressed in black and wearing especially hip eye glasses. The woman next to me introduces herself. She says she is from New Haven but she has a distinct Argentinian accent.

Here come the speakers. Instead of Captain Kirk it is famous, children's book illustrators one after another giving us our instructions in the form of Keynote presentations.

Here are some of the instructions:

Win a Caldecott

Change your name to Mo

Be awesome

Don't be boring

Say, "Yes"

Fist bumps instead of handshakes

There was talk of British Pop stars, red pandas, roller derby, clones.

Everything seemed to have some relation and significance. I was taking notes as fast as I could but when I looked at the paper there were only drawings of pie and the back of the head of the guy in front of me.

In that dreamlike way, it was suddenly nighttime and I was with my brother and sister-in-law on the balcony inside a crowded Manhattan night club. I looked at my phone which was telling me that it was almost 9:00 pm and that I was needed back at the ship.

On my way out of the club I saw Paul Zelinsky and we had a brief awkward conversation. It was like running into someone that you think you went to high school with but you aren't sure if it was summer camp or maybe they work at your bank.

Back on the Starship with my Mike and Bricken in tow, we passed by two giant, white sculptures of heads on our way to a room larger than the one from earlier. It was full of rows and rows of tables which were covered with hundreds of artist portfolios, neatly arranged with stacks of postcards next to each one. The letters, scbwi were glowing on the far wall.

Before we had time to be overwhelmed we were  told to take a portfolio and report back tomorrow.

Now, like the movie, "Groundhog's Day" it is 6:45am and the magic phone is ringing again and I am still in New York on Mike's couch.

Due to the bagel imperative, I get ready quickly. I zip up my cute but slightly painful high-heeled boots and walk four blocks to the subway.

Down the stairs on to the "1" train, up and down several M. C. Escher flights of stairs to the "S" train, yes the "S" train.
This is how I know it is a dream.

I see my husband's sister, Patty working at a bakery in Grand Central. I ask her to pinch me, she hands me a croissant and says, "It's good to see you.".

Things got pretty weird from there.

I've got my bagel and I am in yet another even larger room with the same Starship decor. Instead of hundreds of troops now we have got a couple thousand with a wider variety of eye wear.

The first speaker is Chris Crutcher who launches into one of the saddest stories I've ever heard. Before I can wipe away my tears he is telling one of the funniest stories I've ever heard.

Here come the big guns up to the panel. These are the people who invented the middle grade series and the book fair and published Harry Potter. We are all listening very carefully to what they have to say.

We are all about to go off on our individual missions when, surprise, Henry Winkler is here with a brief motivational speech. The crowd goes wild.

Up and down more stairs to a crowded room where Dr. Seuss' art director is giving us trade secrets and her email. This can't be happening?!

Granola bar for lunch and I am back in the big room. A young adult author (who looks like a young adult herself)  is talking about love triangles which are actually love Vs. They can be between two boys and a girl; two immortals and a non-immortal; three boys; a vampire, a werewolf and a human.

This is when I fell into a dream within a dream.

More secrets from from an art director at Harper Collins.

A session on multiculturalism in a room full of people of color. I was representing light pink.

The magic phone is alerting me that I am late for the cocktail party downstairs in the room with the heads. The word, "cocktail" gets my attention and I head into the party making a beeline for the bar. The bartender hands me the much anticipated glass which is filled with, mashed potatoes.

I drink it down since the granola bar from lunch had left me hungry and I look for a beer.

Beer in hand, I see Roxy Munro. I say, "Hi Roxy!" She is giving me the same quizzical face that Paul Zelinsky had given me the night before.

"On the Internet, you told me to say, "Hi" so this is me saying, "Hi"."

Like a secret agent hearing the correct password she accepts this odd sentence and comes over to talk with me and generously shares her intelligence.

Later, I take a stroll around the room to see what I can see.

I meet two women from the Carolinas who get me laughing so much I wish I hadn't drunk all those potatoes.

The phone is telling me to leave the party and go upstairs to a small room full of illustrators who have had a few potato cocktails themselves. As we are sobering up we have an I.A. (Illustrators Anonymous) meeting with shared stories, applause and not very many tears.

I hand my postcard out to anyone who will hold eye contact with me for more than a few seconds.

A couple of Canadians, one who had a German accent, went with me to the bar down by the big head statues. We sat at a long glowing table, full of illustrators that had come to life from the Internet.

 I had my $12 beer and headed back to the Upper West Side.

6:45am, still in New York.

This time things have changed.

Lemon poppy seed bread instead of bagels.

I am in disguise today. I am wearing my hair up and no one recognizes me, not even Paul Zelinsky.

We are in the big room again.

Awards are given, not to me.

The couple thousand of us sing, "Happy Birthday" to Lin Oliver.

Here come the Bookmakers Dozen. One of the thirteen of them stayed home so that if there was a catastrophe on the dais the order of succession could continue.

Next up, four heavily guarded agents are telling us, in so many words that they are looking for awesome, well written, well executed work.

Last speaker of the day was the adorable, Kathryn Erksine. She gave a powerful talk about keeping our focus. She had a slide show that included nurses, Scottish kilts and bottles of wine. She left us inspired and handed out candles at the end.

The feeling you get of semi-consciousness just before you wake up was starting to flow through me. I knew the real world was just beyond the dream I was still in.

I got some autographed books and post-it notes.

Dan Santat gave me some advice about working in Photoshop, shook my hand and wished me, "Good Luck".

I drove straight home to Cape Cod, without stopping. It was a good thing I was in a dream or I might have fallen asleep.


The distinct sound of the alarm clock, not the magic phone was going off. My daughter came in and gave me a much needed, good morning hug.

I was home and awake.

I am not even going to try and analyze that dream.

All of the characters are safely back in children's book jackets and the Internet where they belong.

I am in the art studio with my butt in chair, where I belong.

Monday, January 23, 2012


OK, no time to write a post with this one today.

I'm off to the printer's before the school bus gets here.

I will offer a link to the song that came on the radio while I was working on this.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ready or Not

January is a month for preparation.

I always start the tax preparation for my husband's business in January and I usually like to have it done by the end of the month.

The other event I am preparing for at the end of the month is the SCBWIWCNY or the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference in New York.

Last year was my first year.

It was a great experience, if not a little overwhelming.

I live within relative driving distance of New York City and my brother's couch is conveniently located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. These facts make the event affordable for me.

I thought I would spend a lot of cash on food and drinks last year, but there is not much time outside of the conference for wining and dining. I rarely go home from New York with cash in my pockets, they are usually filled with gum wrappers and ATM receipts.

The jam packed schedule, also makes visiting with New York friends a little tricky. If your pals are willing to meet you in Midtown there are plenty of places to meet up within arms length of the Grand Hyatt, if not the hotel itself.

If you are going, I can give you a few bits of advice based on my experience last year.

1. Wear layers. 

The temperatures vary from room to room. Chances are it will be pretty damn cold outside but inside some of the rooms will feel like Arizona in July.
The style of your layers is up to you. Sophisticated casual was the norm last year.

2. You don't need your laptop.

I dragged my laptop and messenger bag all over the hotel, the subway and the streets of Manhattan. 
A tablet or a smart phone makes much more sense. A sketchpad (you always carry one of those anyways, right?) is your best bet for taking notes and important doodling.

3. You do need your messenger bag..

...or tote or backpack.

4. Have these five things at the ready in your bag:

a. water bottle 
    drink just enough to stay hydrated, you want to avoid the long bathroom lines if possible
b. granola bar
    break time is limited, it is good to have an emergency snack to keep the blood sugar up
c. promotional card with all of your contact information
    give one to everyone you talk to or sit next to
d. pen and paper
    write down every great idea you hear or think of, there will be too many for dehydrated,     overwhelmed mind to remember
e. tissues
    the dry air of the hotel are enough to give this coastal girl a bloody nose

5. Say, "Hello" to me. I am friendly and I hardly know anyone here either.

See you in New York!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Life Is But a Dream

When I was eleven years old my brother, sisters, two cousins and I went on a trip with our newlywed aunt and uncle. 

They were young and didn't have any children of their own yet. This gave them the courage to take six kids along with another couple of adults (also young and childless) to the woods of Maine for a canoeing and camping trip down the meandering Saco River.

The Saco is a mostly gentle, shallow river that has wide bends with sandy shores that make it great for camping and novice canoers. On our trip there was only one small patch of whitewater.

It was just rough enough that Uncle Jay decided that it would be best to take the canoes out of water and carry them on the riverbank, just past the rough waters.  There was one canoe that was too heavy to carry over land, that was the supply canoe. The supply canoe had all of our food, tents, matches and other essentials.  Uncle Jay manned this canoe by himself for most of the trip.

There was some discussion about unloading the supplies, but Uncle Jay decided that the he could get the canoe through with little or no damage. We made sure the supplies were tucked in tight and arranged to be as waterproof as possible. Then we got the other canoes on to land and moved them downriver past the whitewater. 

Then Uncle Jay went back for the supply canoe and he called me to go with him. He said he needed someone in the front who could see the rocks and keep the bow from crashing down on them.

Before I could say that I didn't think I was up for it, my older brother and cousin protested. 

They were older and stronger and boys. This was why they got to use the axe for firewood after all. I didn't argue against them. In fact I was secretly agreeing with them. I was a sixty five pound girl who had tried the axe and didn't have the strength to cut through a skinny branch.

Uncle Jay, in his even tone (as always) just said, "Moira has the most canoeing experience so she is coming with me".

He just turned from them, signaled for me to get in the canoe and got ready to launch our mission. 

I remember looking to my Auntie Chrissy to see what she thought about the plan. She had her hands clasped over her heart with a big smile on her face, mooning at Uncle Jay imagining their future children.

I knew she wasn't going to get me out of this.

So, I got in. I was a little afraid of capsizing and ruining the trip. I was mostly calm though. My uncle's confidence in me gave me the peace I needed to focus on the task at hand. 

The whitewater wasn't so bad and looks less white when you are in it. In fact it was a lot of fun. And the supplies, the canoe and ourselves all survived, perhaps a little more wet for the wear.

That little moment in my life has always stuck with me.

I can call upon it when I need to give myself a reminder that I am stronger and more prepared than I think I am.

Thank you, Uncle Jay.

Monday, January 2, 2012



I have a few sets of sisters.

There are my actual, biological sisters of course. I consider them all my friends, in that complicated, beautiful way that girls with the same parents can be despite and because of the wild ride of childhood.

Then we've got my sisters-in-law some whom have been in my life for over twenty years and have crossed the threshold into, "sister".

My female first cousins are lieutenant sisters at the ready to fill in for a sister at any time and always willing to wear a bridesmaid's dress.

I don't like to get too cheesy about it but, some of my dearest friends are so ingrained in my life that they hold a sister-like piece of my heart.

My daughter doesn't have a sister.

Sometimes I feel bad about that.*

Then I remember her eleven girl cousins or countless B.F.F's.

Besides, she, like myself has a brother which is just as good as a sister.

He's just less likely to help you color your hair.

*not bad enough to provide one for her