Interview about Music & Poetry at The Ink Splat

Naomi Kinsman, YA author and Regional Advisor of my local SCBWI chapter, has an amazing day job. She runs this wonderful nonprofit called the Society of the Young Inklings, which encourages and nurtures kids in their creative writing.  They also have a monthly newsletter called The Ink Splat that features a Q&A from a children’s author.

For the Ink Splat during the month of April, Ink Splat editor Kalyn Josephson interviewed me about two of my great passions, music and  poetry.  I share the poem I revised the most from Summoning the Phoenix as well as my thoughts about the link between music and literature and some advice on revising.

Read my interview “Making Music” at The Ink Splat!

Music transcends most
cultures, gender, race. If one
can speak, one can sing!


Debtastic Reads Spotlights Summoning the Phoenix!

I’m so delighted that Debbi Michiko Florence has chosen Summoning the Phoenix as her April Spotlight for DEBtastic Reads.  In this interview, I share a little more about how my editor and I came to this hybrid poetry & prose format for Summoning the Phoenix. What I love about her Spotlight series is that Debbi gives away her review copy to a reader who really wants it.  All you have to do is leave a comment at the Spotlight and Debbi will give Summoning the Phoenix to one lucky commenter!

Read the April Spotlight for Summoning the Phoenix on DEBtastic Reads!  Don’t forget to comment!

The best editors
will work with you ’till your words
sparkle, flow, and shine.

Summoning Li Bai: My Guest Blog for National Poetry Month!

My publisher’s wonderful marketing staff connected me with YA author, anthologist, and poet Emily Kristin Anderson, who invited me to participate in her National Poetry Month blog series.  In my article, I start discussing how I translated the first poem I had ever memorized as a child (夜思 or “Night Thoughts” by Li Bai, one of China’s most famous poets who lived during the Tang Dynasty).  Then I transition into how my early love of Chinese poetry influenced me while writing poems for Summoning the Phoenix.

Read Summoning Li Bai & see more of April Chu’s wonderful art!

Thank you, Emily, for including me in your celebration of National Poetry Month!

Childhood poetry
living in my memory
guides my artistry.




Who Are Your People?

I have to prepare for my first book party tomorrow (SUNDAY) at Borderlands Books 2-4 PM in San Francisco’s Mission District. But I need to continue National Poetry Writing Month, so I’m offering yet another Twitter Poem, adding line breaks.  This is my response to a Tweet from Sofia Samatar when she asked in general what is now the title to this poem.

Who Are Your People?

My people are poets
& singers, teachers
& readers, dancers
& dreamers,

& all those
who choose
to fight hate
with hugs.

Poetry Friday – Format Changes in “Magical Melody” from Summoning the Phoenix

Happy Blog Birthday to This Little Ditty, this week’s host for Poetry Friday!  Today I want to address formatting a poem.  When I write prose, fiction or nonfiction, I usually don’t care about what my words look like on the page.  But when I write a poem, I really, really care about how it looks on the page.  Shapes of stanzas matter.  Left justification of a word vs. centering vs. right justification — each time formatting decision is a conscious choice.  Punctuation matters; a comma has a different meaning from a semi-colon or a hyphen or an em-dash.  Line breaks matter.  Where I choose to break a line will change the context and content of the entire poem, even if I don’t change the words.

Earlier this week Mary Robinette Kowal featured my guest post about my picture book Summoning the Phoenix on My Favorite Bit, and in my article, I describe how my poem “Magical Melody” changed format to fit the gorgeous and stunning artwork by April Chu.

Reposting my poem “Magical Melody” in its original format.  It’s a list poem, where the format is key, to evoke the shape of a bird’s wing:



I had worked several revisions for this poem (adding and taking away punctuation, adding and modifying descriptive clauses, different stanza groupings) before paring it down to this list and this shape.

Again, April’s artwork is stunning, and I analyze her art in detail on My Favorite Bit. In the end, there wasn’t enough space in her art to preserve the original format of my poem.

Function should dictate
form, yet sometimes form’s beauty
makes function follow.

Ultimately, I decided that it was better to change the shape of my poem to fit April’s amazing art.  Here’s how the poem changed:



EmilyJiang-XiaospreadIn this case, the art was so worth the effort of changing the format of my poem.

I’m delighted to share that Summoning the Phoenix is now available for purchase online!


Thankful Thursday – Mark Reads Summoning the Phoenix!

Last year at Worldcon in San Antonio, one morning I helped a blind man find an interesting-to-him session.  Then I helped Nancy Kress find the Green Room.  Because I was trying helpful to people I had just met, I was late for a reading, but the reading was good.  After the reading I ran into Sunil Patel, who introduced me to some of his friends, including Mark Oshiro.  Mark and I instantly bonded over our love for all things Tamora Pierce.  So my morning of helping others ended happily in finding new friends!

Mark also known as Mark Does Stuff.  He makes these wonderfully entertaining videos of him reading books for Mark Reads and videos of him reviewing television series for Mark Watches.  Mark is hilariously witty, a great reader, and I love watching his videos.  Usually he reads novels, so I’m absolutely delighted that today he’s reading my picture book Summoning the Phoenix as part of Mark Reads!

Watch and listen to Mark Reads Summoning the Phoenix Part 1

Watch and listen to Mark Reads Summoning the Phoenix Part 2

FYI, Mark is available for commissions for Mark Reads and Mark Watches.  Consider commissioning a video!  At $20 for 30 minutes, it’s worth every penny.

Watching someone read
your words out loud is awesome:
shifts your perception.


Great Display at Kepler’s for Summoning the Phoenix!

My books are arriving at my local bookstores!  When the awesome Angela informed me that my book Summoning the Phoenix had arrived at Kepler’s, I rushed to the bookstore as soon as I could.

I arrived at Kepler’s last night at the end of another event for Starting Up Silicon Valley: How ROLM Became a Cultural Icon and Fortune 500 Company by Katherine Maxfield, author and wife of ROLM co-founder Bob Maxfield.  What I did not know was that Bob and his co-founder friends all attended Rice University!  I’m always excited to meet other Rice alumni.  So of course, I had to buy the book.  Katherine was so kind and wished me luck as she signed it.

I scoured the children’s section and couldn’t find my book, not on the normal shelves nor the displays on the open floor.  So I asked the awesome staff, and they directed me to the window right next to the entrance:

SummoningPhoenixATKEPLERS-closeupWindow I’m beyond delighted that Summoning the Phoenix got its own window display!

SummoningPhoenixATKeplers-AmyTanAnd it’s right next to a picture of Amy Tan!
Or more accurately…a picture of Diana Gabaldon!

These are authors whose first books
majorly shaped me as a young adult reader.

And right behind my book…
a huge display dedicated
to George R.R. Martin:


I feel so incredibly lucky that my book at Kepler’s
is surrounded by so many of my literary influences!

  That lime green box in the window is pretty spiffy.
I also love how the height of my book’s display is PERFECT
for kids’ line-of-sight as they walk in and walk out the store.


Hope people can make it to my book parties!!


New book beckons when
it’s on a shelf in a store,
waiting to be read.




Summoning the Phoenix Featured on Mary Robinette Kowal’s My Favorite Bit!

Today I’m so thankful to Mary Robinette Kowal for featuring my picture book Summoning the Phoenix on her blog series My Favorite Bit!  In this article, I talk about my poem “Magical Melody” (which inspired the book’s title) and how its format was changed because of the amazingly brilliant companion art by April Chu. I promised April that I would write something profound. Well, I’ll let you be the judge.

Picture book writers
need not dictate art ideas
to illustrators.

Read My Favorite Bit about My Book Summoning the Phoenix!


Multicultural Monday – Nikki Grimes’ Talk on Beyond Race: The Universality of Story

Since I’m blogging everyday for National Poetry Writing Month in April, I’m rebooting Multicultural Monday and Thankful Thursday.  Today is a follow up post to my first post about SCBWI Spring Spirit 2014.  I had a wonderful impromptu discussion with Nathalie Mvondo, Kim Zarins, and Amanda Concoran about how we can incorporate more diversity in children’s literature.  I love reconnecting with such kindred spirits.

Perhaps the session I was most looking forward to at SCBWI Spring Spirit was Nikki Grimes’ early morning talk on Beyond Race: The Universality of Story.  I know she had planned this talk way before the recent media coverage of the lack of diverse characters in children’s literature.  So I was interested in hearing what she had to say.  What she said was so beautifully grounded in poetry that it left me without words, only pure emotion.  She inspired me to dedicate an entire blog post to her session.  Pretty much everything Nikki said was a brilliant gem, better shared as quotes than summary, and here are some that stuck with me the most:

“Lyric, rap, call it what you will, poetry is as natural to most teens as breathing.  Celebrate it, incorporate it, use it as a jumping space to read and to write.”

“I move through the universe on a day that does not belong on your clock.”

“When an author dares to share a work of one race or culture with readers of another race or culture….what is learned is that even though we look different on the outside, we are pretty much the same on the inside.”

“To say or even think that books by or about African Americans should only be read by African Americans is equivalent to saying that Charlotte’s Web should only be read by whites, that The Diary of Anne Frank should only be written by Jews, that 1001 Arabian Nights should only be read by Arabs.”

Nikki explained that ALL kinds of kids connect to her stories, and she read excerpts of fan letters from kids who are white, Chinese, Vietnamese, Native American, and African American.  My favorite quote from one of her readers:  “Ms. Grimes, I learned that poems can have feelings in them.”

“The most common denominator is The Heart.  Our job as authors is to create stories with Heart.”

“The audience for our stories is only limited by those who are the gatekeepers.  Booksellers, librarians, teachers.  The stories we write are human stories intended for human audiences….We rely on the gatekeepers to take our books and share them with the young people that they serve.”

Nikki often gets correspondence from teachers and librarians who love her books but are concerned that their white students won’t connect with black protagonists.  Nikki’s advice is to let go of these concerns and share all books with all children, and “Let the stories speak for themselves.”

“Our worlds are not homogenous, so why should our books be?”

“There is nothing that is more powerful for a young reader than seeing him or herself within the pages of a book….We need these stories in every genre….”

“Who will write these stories, if not you?  When will they be written, if not now?”

If you ever have a chance to hear Nikki Grimes speak, GO FOR IT!  And write the stories only you can write!

Though we look different
on the outside, we all love
well-crafted stories.



Write Up – SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference 2014

It’s been a while since I had attended SCBWI Spring Spirit.  I think the last time was when Tekla White, now retired, was in charge.  But this year I signed up because my Lee & Low editor Louise May was a main speaker.  Here’s pictorial proof:



Yes, that’s me, Louise May, and April Chu all proudly holding Summoning the Phoenix, the book that we have brought into this world.  A rare photo op!  It’s funny when you meet someone in person for the first time after working virtually with them.  I’m always a little surprised when my mental image (sometimes I don’t even realize I have one) of someone collides with the reality.  When first I met April, I was surprised at how tall she is.  When I met Louise, I was surprised at how petite she is.  And I love her East Coast accent.  Thankfully, she’s a hugger, like me.  So exciting!

For the the conference scavenger hunt, the first item on the list was the autograph of a published author.  So I signed Item 1 for April Chu, Cynthia Mun, and Jenny Pessereau.  It’s still a bit of an outer-body “Is this really happening?” experience for me to give my author signature.  What a creative way to get to know people!

Beyond Race: The Universality of Story
My day started listening to Nikki Grimes sharing her philosophy on storytelling & reading her powerful poetry.  Can I just say that starting your day listening to fabulous poetry is one of the best things ever?  I’m devoting an entire blog post to this session tomorrow.

KEYNOTE: How to Sell a Book in Twelve Years…Or Less
Jay Asher is a New York Times Best Selling Author with his first book Thirteen Reasons Why.  Many consider him an overnight success, but he disproves that misconception with his excellent talk, so wonderfully illustrated with slides depicting pop culture icons of the 1980s.  Pretty awesome.

Revising Dialogue
My Lee & Low editor Louise May and Deirdre Jones of Little, Brown gave an informative talk chock-full of good examples of bad dialogue techniques.  Then they encouraged all of us to write bad dialogue.  Here’s my example of truly bad dialogue, overpopulated with adverbs and run-on sentence, and info dump:

“Hello little girl,” the wolf said seductively.  “Where are you off to?”

“I’m supposed to stay on this path and never stray and never go away from what is supposed to be the right thing to do, according to my mom and my grandma, who I am visiting right now and I hope that she’s home because if I don’t see her, I will be extremely pissed off for carrying this heavy basket all the way through the woods.”

She took a breath, and during that breath the wolf noticed the luscious curves revealed underneath her red cloak.  She was not so little after all.

“I know a short cut,” he said smoothly, “Why don’t you join me?”

Trade vs. School & Library: how to Target Your Book for Each Market
Deirdre Jones & Tricia Lawrence discussed the differences between trade and school & library markets.  Basically the publishers own copyright for school & library writing while the authors own copyright for trade books.

It was so wonderful to catch up in person with author Mike Jung, whose funny Tweets often make me laugh out loud, and it was especially hilarious to Tweet at each other in the same room, sometimes sitting right next to each other.  Like, I asked him if he wanted a piece of chocolate on Twitter instead of in person.  Oh, how the internet has affected social interactions.  Mike and I were some of the last people to arrive in the main room for lunch, and we wandered the entire room, bouncing from table to table, as if we were back in middle school, until we found one that actually had two free seats.  It was a table near the front with the always warm and friendly Linda Joy Singleton, Dana Smith, and Linda Whelan.  Also seated at the table was another familiar face Jeannette, whom I had met at SCBWI Golden Gate, and she asked me to sign her copy of Summoning the Phoenix!  Luckily I had my chop with me in my car, so I had an informal impromptu signing during lunch.  Thanks to Mike Jung for the photo:



Another unexpectedly joyous lunch-time experience occurred when I bumped into Nathalie Mvondo, Kim Zarins, and Amanda Conran and we had a wonderful discussion how to improve diversity in children’s literature.

The Dating Game
Cheri Williams was an emcee for The Dating Game, where agent Tricia Lawrence interviewed three editors Louise, Deirdre, Chad.  I took these photos mostly because of the fabulous decorations.

SCBWISpringSpirit-Cherie-Tricia SCBWISpringSpirit-DatingGame-Editors


Creating Characters Readers Want to Read About
Louise May shared great examples from several picture books and emphasized the importance of language.

Structure and Plot
Deirdre Jones outlined the structure and plot of one of her first and favorite books that she edited: What We Found in the Sofa and How It Changed the World by Henry Clark.

KEYNOTE: The Poetry of Patience
Nikki Grimes recited more of her amazing poetry and shared her story of getting published.  One of my biggest take-aways is that her editor “tricked” her into writing a novel, one section at a time, and one of her novels was sparked by a poem.  So cool.  She shared her own struggles with writing novels, which was reassuring that she felt the same insecurities as I often do.  But what brought me to tears was her ending:

“Give yourself permission to take the time to write it well.  Don’t be in such a rush when you settle for good when your story has a capacity to be great.  Great books are what young readers deserve.  Great books are what we should strive to give them.  And a primary key to doing that is patience.”

When writing a book,
the difference between good and
great is patience.

Spring Spirit was such an information-dense day, and because it was sold-out there were so many people to meet and reconnect, like Mike and my own Region’s leaders Naomi Kinsman & Lea Lyon, as well as the amazing Kathy Shepler.  It was nice also to meet new-to-me attendees like Mira Reisberg and Stacy Heather Lee.  The only down-side to such a packed day was that I didn’t have the opportunity to truly catch up with everyone, and I wish I could have spent more time conversing with authors like Erin Dealey, Bitsy Kemper, Deborah Davis, Annemarie O’Brien, Cassandra Whetstone, Linda Boyden, Tekla White, and many, many more. Some of them I hadn’t really spoken to in years, and I was sad to have missed them.  Well, it’s a good excuse to return to Spring Spirit next year.

Thank you, Patricia Newman, Catherine Meyer, Cheri Williams.  You did an outstanding job in creating a welcoming, inspiring, fun-filled day!

Spring Spirit renews
my creative energy,
inspires stories.