Why I Sing in Concerts

This past last choir concert on Sunday was a particularly painful one for me on all levels, physical, emotional, mental.  Now that I’m singing in the first row, I stand on the floor in performance instead of the squeaky risers.  I wear very flat thin-soled shoes instead of my typical 2-inch platforms so that the singers behind me can easily see over my head and catch our conductor’s cues.  So there’s really not a lot protecting my feet from the hard tile floor.  In the past it was mangable to just subtly shift my weight while I sing, but on Sunday that was not good enough. My choir always rehearses before performing in a concert, and during pre-concert rehearsal, I noticed my right foot hurt when I put my weight on it.  Plus, I was feeling lightheaded and a little wobbly-woozy, which made perfect sense after I realized that I had not eaten a thing all day and it was 3:30 PM.  It had been that kind of a busy-packed day.  So in less than 30 minutes, I acquired food, which centered me, and quickly changed into my choir costume.

But my foot was still bothering me, to the point that I seriously considered not singing in the concert.  I didn’t have a vital role like a solo, so why not?

But I knew such last-minute changes might unsettle my friends who sing around me, and the pain wasn’t too bad at the time.  I decided I would just tough it out.  During the first half of the concert, I compensated for the pain in my right foot by shifting most of my weight onto my left foot.  It was bearable and I succeeded in staying in the moment most of the time.  I started to regret my decision to perform during the second half of the concert, when my left calf cramped up and my left foot started prickling because it had fallen asleep. All low-level endurable pain, uncomfortable but not agonizing, not enough to force me to leave the stage.

But I am a trained musician, and I know that in performance one must go on with the show.  So I sang through my pain in my feet.  I immersed myself into the music as best I could, and I sang through my tears that always flow whenever I sing Brian Holmes’ “Let Evening Come” which was the last song of our concert.  And at the end of the concert (one of our best performances and the audience gave us a standing ovation at the end), I managed to walk off, head held high, without limping too much.  I discovered that while I was walking, my feet felt mostly fine.  Standing still was what hurt the most.  So right after the concert, I alternated between resting my feet and walking around taking photos of and with my choir friends.

Then a lovely lady from the audience approached me.  She told me it was her first time listening to my choir.  She said that I had a lovely smile and that my facial expressions and my smile matched the music so well.  She said that she could tell I truly felt the music when I sang.  She said that I needed to keep singing and that she would return to another concert to see me sing.

This unexpected conversation with a complete stranger brought tears to my eyes (and hers as well) and reminded me why I endure the pain, physically and emotionally and mentally, to make music and to make art in general.  I create to make a genuine connection, and if one person, My Audience of One, truly “gets” my art, then my job is done.

I’m grateful for this gift of encouragement from a complete stranger.  I definitely shall keep singing!!

Another Lovely Review of Summoning the Phoenix!

I’m delighted that Crystal Brunelle of Reading Through Life has written a lovely review of Summoning the Phoenix!   Crystal is a children’s librarian and blogger for Rich in Color, a wonderful resource for those interested in diversity in YA.  Thank you, Crystal, for your thoughtful review!

Read Crystal’s review of Summoning the Phoenix!

My author dream is
to reach the readers who need
and enjoy my book.


Summoning the Phoenix is a Bestseller at Borderlands!

Author Emily Jiang with her book Summoning the Phoenix at Borderlands Books, where the staff showed her the Bestselling Hardcover List for April 2014, and Summoning the Phoenix was #1

My picture book Summoning the Phoenix is the #1 Bestselling Hardcover at Borderlands Books in April 2014!   I am blown away that this picture book about racially diverse kids playing Chinese musical instruments is on ANY bestselling list. THANK YOU SO MUCH to all the awesome folks who supported April and me at our first big book party and who bought books directly from Borderlands.


See the full list at the blog for Borderlands Books.

The Pirate Tree Reviews Summoning the Phoenix

I’m honored that Nancy Bo Flood of The Pirate Tree has written a review of Summoning the Phoenix!  She introduces it as “an orchestra of images, poetry, and informative narratives” and also provides some excerpts of my poems from the book.

Read the review of Summoning the Phoenix at The Pirate Tree.

I love unlikely
groupings that challenges me to see
the world anew.

The Storybook Makers Art Exhibit in Danville

Last week I met up with April Chu and other wonderful children’s book artists at the opening for The Storybook Makers exhibit at the Village Theater & Art Gallery in Danville, California.

Here’s April with her stunning artwork from Summoning the Phoenix:


April’s art invites
your imagination to
wonder, take flight, soar.


Above is Thatcher Hurd next to a piece of art he made using his iPhone.

Thatcher’s digital
artwork conveys his sense of
boldly fun whimsy.


Above is Jim Averbeck pointing at his gorgeous collage piece.

Using black & white,
Jim collages a world of
magic butterflies.

April had convinced me to go to see The Storybook Makers Art Exhibit with the promise of watching cool animated shorts, so we sat in the theater anticipating wonder.


Here’s the screen:


The movies were so fun!  I had two favorites.  One about a boat that was battered by animals, people, and the weather, then it was gradually rebuilt by the animals and people who originally used it.  So poignantly awesome.  My other favorite was about a relationship between a creature of sand and a creature of snow, and how they communicated and shared stuff via a glass bottle thrown into the ocean.


Lea Lyon was the only artist at the reception I knew, and she was too fast-moving for me to take her photo.  But here’s a funny selfie of me and Jim to substitute for Lea.


There were so many wonderful artworks in this gallery.  Everyone had a great time!

 Above is a friend whose name I’ve forgotten (sorry!), Deborah David, Sharon Levin, Lissa Rovetch (co-curator of the wonderful exhibit).

One more picture where April and I are holding our book underneath her gorgeous art:


Thanks to Toby Black for taking the photo above!

Here’s the complete list of the featured artists:  Jon Agee, Constance Anderson, Jim Averbeck, Alexandra Boiger, Lisa Brown, April Chu, Julie Downing, Carson Ellis, Susan Gal, Christy Hale, Thacher Hurd, Sung Yeon Joh, Shaun Kim, Elisa Klevin, Jim LaMarche, Mary Lundquist, Lea Lyon, Gianna Marino, Amy Martin, Nikki McClure, Brian McMullen, Marissa Moss, Erick Oh, Kathryn Otoshi, Leuyen Pham, Mira Reisberg, Lissa Rovetch, Barney Saltzberg, J. Otto Seilbold, Teri Sloat, Dan San Souci, Karen Stanton, Katherine Tillotson, Maria Van Lieshout, Jane Wattenberg, Ashley Wolff and Michael Wu.

The show runs through June 13, 2014.  It’s definitely worth checking out!

Storybook Makers
create magical artwork,
evoke wondrous worlds.

How To Apply Cake Transfer Design onto a Cake

I had many dreams as a pre-published author.  I’ll list them for a later blog post.  But most of all, I dreamt of cake!  Yes, I knew that I would eat cake decorated with the cover of my book.  It always was a magical experience, to see a cake decorated with a book cover.  Here’s how I managed to acquire one such cake for my last book party at Hicklebee’s.

The most important thing is that you have a high-res version (300 dpi) of your book’s cover.  I got mine from my publisher & then made a smaller version for the web.

The Cover for the Book Summoning the Phoenix

As a new author,
you will want your book’s cover
at your fingertips.

Then you need a cake, ideally with white or very light colored icing so that the transfer colors will stay true.  I’ve been lucky to have wonderfully awesome friends bake a few cakes for a couple of my book parties, and then I’ve had to resort to store-bought for the last one.  Below is a half-sheet cake, which serves about 30-40 people.


You will need to order a cake transfer. What is a cake transfer?  It’s printed with edible inks onto edible paper made of rice or marshmallow.  I recommend ordering it within 24 hours of your event because they are rather delicate.  Here’s mine below:


A cake transfer is
edible art, delicate,
unique, delicious.

The largest cake transfer I could get was about 7 x 10 inches, which almost completely covers a quarter-sheet cake but also looks nice on a half-sheet cake.  I had mine printed at a local Baskin Robbins for $15 and then personally delivered it to my baker friend or the bakery that made my cake.  However, I learned the hard way that several Baskin Robbins DO NOT have these special printers that can make cake transfers.  So double check with local bakeries, too.

I watched the baker put the transfer onto the cake, and here are some photos.  It literally only took a few minutes to finish.


Remove cake transfer
from its packaging, eyeball
the cake’s center space.


Place it carefully
where it needs to go because
it sticks easily.


Pro Tip: Recommend
decorating cake AFTER
putting on transfer.


Pat transfer onto
icing. The transfer will melt
into the icing.

BookParty-Hicklebees-Cake-8TransferONcakeViola! But I could
still see the transfer’s edges!
Oh no! What to do?


The baker takes blue
icing to pipe a border
hiding all edges.


Piping on edges
only takes a few minutes.
The effect = awesome!

BookParty-Hicklebees-CakeFinalThat’s it for the cake!  A unique touch to your party & really so easy, once you figure out where to get a cake transfer.  Stay tuned for my formal write up on the last Summoning the Phoenix book party at Hicklebee’s!

Cake tastes better when
your book is on the cover.
Author’s dream come true!


Summoning the Phoenix Giveaway in Support of #WeNeedDiverseBooks & #DiversifyYourShelves

BookParty-BooksInc-EmilyAprilBook-FromAaronLumTo support #WeNeedDiverseBooks & #DiversifyYourShelves, I’m pleased to share that April Chu and I are going to sponsor our FIRST giveaway!  The lucky winner will receive a copy of our debut picture book Summoning the Phoenix: Poems & Prose about Chinese Musical Instruments AND a beautiful print of April’s artwork from our book!  To enter, comment below listing your favorite book recommendation in support of #DiversifyYourShelves (note your comments will not appear right away because I receive spam on my blog, so I moderate the comments).

Here are some examples of April’s gorgeous artwork from our book:

xiao suona ruan pipa muyu guzheng

To enter the giveaway, please comment below & include your favorite book recommendation in support of #DiversifyYourShelves.  Again, your comment will not immediately show up because my comments are moderated, since my blog does receive spam comments.

One lucky winner will be drawn sometime after April and I have recovered from our fourth and FINAL book party, which is TODAY (Saturday, May 3rd, 3-5 PM at Hicklebee’s in San Jose).  So I urge you to comment right away!


My Semi-Rant about Writing Other Cultures (and Your Own) on Lisa Yee’s Facebook

It takes a lot for me to even semi-rant.  I have a limited amount of energy and I prefer to try to keep things fun.  However, when semi-rants happen, I let them flow.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks has been a great catalyst to get conversations about diversity flowing.  I supported this movement from the beginning by incorporating statements in my book party last Sunday and collecting statements from my friends throughout the week like this one:  “We need diverse books because we are all readers.  Diversity IS Reality.”


About 20 hours ago, Lisa Yee posted this on Facebook:  “What do you think? Yesterday, more than three, but less than twelve, writers asked me if a person could write about a race/ethnicity they do not belong to. I have an opinion about this, but before I state it, I am interested in yours.”

I like Lisa.  She’s funny and smart.  I usually try to comment on her posts because I find her funny and smart.  Yesterday when I saw her Facebook post, I needed to be at Hicklebee’s to put up posters for my book party (TODAY, Sunday May 3rd from 3-5 PM).  With limited time, I going to write a brief, succinct “Yes. Just do your research.” answer.  But this spilled out (edited & expanded for clarity):

My short answer is YES, everyone should be able to write about any characters or any culture. HOWEVER, AUTHORS, DO YOUR RESEARCH so you can WRITE WELL & WITH RESPECT.

When people learn about my book Summoning the Phoenix: Poems & Prose about Chinese Musical Instruments, many people assume that I can play at least one of the 15 Chinese musical instruments in my book.  I wrote it, after all, and I am of Chinese heritage. Well, I AM a classically trained musician…in Western music…10 years of piano lessons & 20+ years singing in a cappella groups singing American pop songs and choirs that sing predominantly Western choral music. A few years ago, when I decided to write a picture book about Chinese musical instruments, I knew very little about traditional Chinese music, so I researched a ton.  I read several books cover-to-cover in order to write my 3,000 word picture book.

One huge issue is when people who belong to a population of power (aka white) try to write about people who are marginalized (fill-in-whatever-non-white-peoples-here), there is a large possibility that the writer coming from powerful, “popular” perspective will miss and/or not be able to see/comprehend/understand issues/challenges/obstacles that minority populations have to deal with on a daily/regular basis.

10269546_10152336813925772_3794758690386116354_nFor example, Mike Jung posted on Facebook “#WeNeedDiverseBooks because my daughter was 3 when she first said she hates having brown eyes & hair.”  I totally got it and it also broke my heart.  I understand her issues b/c I grew up in Texas and knew that my appearance is Other in my own home state, in my own country, where I was born and had lived my entire life. At school, I was constantly got teased as “China girl” when I was a kid. I love China, but China is not my country; China is the country of my ancestors. Children figure out quickly in the United States that blonde is beautiful, that blue eyes are beautiful. Therefore, by default, the majority of Asian American kids are NOT beautiful because they have black/brown hair and brown eyes (Yes, there exist a very, very few Asian American kids, usually mixed race, who have blonde hair and/or blue eyes). But not all of Mike’s Facebook friends understood the cultural context behind his daughter’s hatred of her brown hair and brown eyes.  They did not understand the racial implications and self-hatred that results from the fact that American non-white children are bombarded with messages that “You are Other.”

When I was a freshman at Rice University, in Houston, Texas, everyone was marveling how very diverse we were as a class because we were 10% Asian/Asian American, the highest percentage at the time.  But we were not diverse compared to my high school classmates who attended Berkeley, which was nearly 50% Asian/Asian American.  The only places Asian Americans might not see themselves as Other are Hawaii, San Francisco Bay Area, and Los Angeles. That’s because there’s a HUGE population of Asian Americans living in those American places & a lot of them don’t even realize that they are Other until they leave the area and get treated as such.

Plus, I had hope held firmly in my heart that ideals of beauty change, that now the mainstream no longer adhered to the definition of beauty that I knew while growing up (that very narrow and mostly white ideal of the blonde-haired and blue-eyed beauty). I had hope that beauty standards are changing to include more diversity in the United States because the United States is so much more diverse than it was when I was a child.  My heart was full of this hope because I am seeing more and more representations of people of color in movies, on film, in books.  My main #WeNeedDiverseBooks statement is “Diversity IS Reality.”

So when Mike Jung’s biracial daughter, who is growing up in San Francsico Bay Area, one of the most liberal, diverse, and highly Asian American populated areas in the country, when a little half-Asian American girl who is one entire generation younger than me and growing up in a much more diverse environment where there are so many Asian and half-Asian kids running around, when she is STILL facing the same issues of Other-ness that I had encountered as a child…this is when my heart broke.

My heart broke because I realized there is much more work left to be done.  Could we ever reshape the world so that little girls like Mike’s daughter would learn to love themselves just for who they are?

Several people on Lisa Yee’s Facebook answered her question with (and I’m paraphrasing not quoting even though it’s in quotes), “Why not write diverse characters?  Minority races write white characters all the time.”  I understand this attitude because it was my same attitude over five years ago, before I started educating myself about such issues.  Now I can clarify the difference: It’s easier for minorities in the United States to write about majorities because: We all (including minorities) in general understand the majority viewpoint. We are taught the majority history in school, and history of Native American Indians and people of color are at best marginalized in sidebars. We’re exposed to the majority viewpoint in popular culture, media, mainstream narratives, including books.  The majority populations already have numerous narratives about them out and available for everyone to read and consume.  That’s why they’re the majority population.  In contrast, an underrepresented population is that there are not enough stories to truly represent the people.

Finally, year ago when I had first decided I would be serious about getting published, I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to write diverse characters, specifically Asian or Asian American characters. Because I didn’t want to deal with the backlash. Because, even though I look Asian, even though I am of Chinese American descent with my own Chinese American experience, even though I devote a huge amount of my writing time to research, I know I’m going to get it wrong for someone who is also Asian or Asian American. Yes, even we who look like insiders will get backlash for writing about a marginalized culture that is supposed to be our own.

But there’s a reason for this backlash. The readers of underrepresented populations are starving to find characters that not only look like them but also FEEL like them. And because we are individuals, we all feel a little differently, too. For example, while I enjoyed reading Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, I completely did not relate to that book.  I found Amy Tan’s Chinese American culture rather foreign to me at times b/c I grew up in Texas (not San Francisco), my parents are white collar who attended graduate school in the US (not blue collar), and I grew up in the US almost an entire generation after Amy.  We are both Chinese American women with completely different narratives that are both valid, yet the majority population only understands one of our narratives.

And now a quote from my all-time favorite TED Talk, a gorgeously brilliant talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called The Danger of a Single Story.  Adichie says, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.  They make one story become the only story.”

I think it’s important to write more and more and more stories, so that the stories about underrepresented populations are no longer marginalized, so that readers are no longer starving.

And this is why, whenever my heart breaks, I pick up the pieces, fit them together as best as I can, and keep moving on, as best as I can. My story might not matter to the entire world, and that’s okay.  I just need my story to find my ideal reader, My Audience of One.

How do you write diverse characters?  Research as much as you can, until the facts are truly a part of your psyche.  Then write with compassion.  Write with sensitivity.  Find wonderful beta readers who can give you the feedback you need.  And be prepared to get a lot of it wrong during your first, second, third, twentieth attempts, perhaps even after you’ve published.  Just keep working because you’re doing important work, and if you do get it wrong, please do not defend yourself or your work.  Please listen with your mouth closed & treat your critics (not the same as trolls) with respect.  Rewrite your stereotypes to make your characters real individuals.  Because in the end, if you need to tell that story, go and tell it, with a heart full of compassion, love, and hope.

Poetry Friday – Introducing the Pipa, the poet’s favorite Chinese musical instrument

Today is Poetry Friday and thanks to this week’s host Katya Czaja of Write. Sketch. Repeat. for posting about kenning poetry.

But before I get to my poetry post, I’m delighted to announce that I will be reading the Poetry Blast at ALA!  I’ll be reading my poems in the company of some truly amazing poets including Marilyn Singer, Nikki Grimes, Margarita Engle, and Jacqueline Woodson, and many more!  I’m so honored!!

This week I’m talking a little about formatting a poem & sharing a Chinese music performance video from my first book launch party in April.  Video is at the very bottom and features the pipa, also known as the Chinese lute. Here’s an excerpt about the pipa from my picture book Summoning the Phoenix: Poems & Prose about Chinese Musical Instruments:

“The pipa is one of the most popular Chinese instruments and is a favorite for poets to write about and to play….Because it was commonly played for folksongs, the pipa is called the king of Chinese folk music.”

Here’s the original final draft of my poem about the pipa that was sent to my illustrator:

Conquering Stage Fright

My pipa curves
into my lap.
It’s not easy to balance
if I’m wearing a skirt
made of silk
like my concert dress.

But in performance,
I look only at the strings.
Each note must be
perfectly plucked.
Each chord must be
seamlessly strummed.

Sometimes I whisper
encouraging words
to my pipa
so it won’t slip
out of my lap.

Everything is left-justified.  But when the designer of my book centered the lines, I liked it much better:

Conquering Stage Fright

My pipa curves
into my lap.
It’s not easy to balance
if I’m wearing a skirt
made of silk
like my concert dress.

But in performance,
I look only at the strings.
Each note must be
perfectly plucked.
Each chord must be
seamlessly strummed.

Sometimes I whisper
encouraging words
to my pipa
so it won’t slip
out of my lap.

Because I feel like the form of the poem evokes and echoes the curved shape of the pipa.  Here’s April Chu’s beautiful companion artwork for this poem:


Can I say how much I love that this girl is mixed race?  And she’s on a swing above her audience!  Really heightens the tension in the poem.

Finally, I’d like to share a video of Christine playing the pipa at my first book party at Borderlands Books:

Want to hear more awesome Chinese musical instruments?  There’s one more Summoning the Phoenix book party left in the San Francisco Bay Area:

Saturday, May 3rd, 3:00-5:00 PM
Hicklebee’s, 1378 Lincoln Avenue, San Jose, California
***In celebration of California Bookstore Day***
RSVP to Hicklebee’s in San Jose on Facebook