Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Butterfly in the Sky...

...if you're humming a certain theme song based on my blog title, then we're probably on the same page (ha! See what I did there?).

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a children's book author (true!). I also wanted my book featured on TV as part of Reading Rainbow.

Reading Rainbow was a PBS show hosted by the amazing LeVar Burton. Every episode, he would be walking around, talking in his soothing voice about some sort of theme (for some reason, I particularly remember one where he was in San Francisco). Then there would be two picture books read aloud, usually by a celebrity. The screen would pan across the illustrations (sometimes, I think, they were even slightly animated). Basically, like a visual audio book.

At the very end of the show, there would be three book reviews...given by kids. It was awesome. But then again, you don't have to take my word for it...actually, unless you've seen it, you do. The show's been off the air for a while.

I would get really excited when I owned a book that was featured on the show because this would mean I could play one of my favorite games: read the book aloud as it was done on Reading Rainbow.

I was a huge dork.

When I was in college, the creator of Reading Rainbow, Twila Liggett, came to speak at one of my classes. I kid you not, I was starstruck.

I was a huge dork.

Now that I'm a little older, I wonder what the logistics of getting a book on that show were. Was it done through the publishing house's marketing department? Was it sought out by the producers of Reading Rainbow? If anyone has any idea, I would love to know.

Oh, and this whole blog post was brought about because my friend, Jenny, forwarded me this link: Apparently, this Reading Rainbow flash mob movement would involve singing the Reading Rainbow theme song with LeVar Burton and I think I even read something somewhere about choreography. Um, yes. Sign me up.

I am a huge dork.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Calm

You know those moments where you can--just for a tiny span of time--step outside yourself, look around at what's happening to you, and just feel grateful and content? I had one of those last week.

I'm definitely a worrier and a fretter and a Type-A personality, so those rare moments of serenity really stick out for me. Nothing particularly spectacular or unusual happened last week, but I was just able to see the extraordinary things I'm lucky to have:

- my cover was on Goodreads, and suddenly, it looked like a real book, just like the thousands of other books I've read and admired. (Plus no one has read or reviewed it yet, and I really appreciated not having to worry about clicking on to any 1-star reviews--like I said, fretter!)

- a few of my beta readers had finished my WIP and they loved it. It needs work, of course, but the validation that it wasn't a book only its author could love is always a relief (and doesn't always happen to me, either).

- I love my apartment and I love living in New York--and a very important state law was finally passed that re-affirmed that.

- I got to spend time with some amazing friends. We played board games and we laughed a lot. What more could you ask for?

I'm back in the ebb and flow of everyday life again this week, getting caught up on little things, perhaps more caught up than I should be. But I'm looking forward to my next moment of calm, whenever it may come.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Book's Cover: Thumbnail Sketches and a Giveaway!

We've reached the end of Cover Blitz Week!

To celebrate, first I'm going to share with you something my editor just shared with me this week: the thumbnail sketches. These were the very first pieces of work the illustrator sent over for this project. They were used to figure out composition, before he created the more detailed sketches found here.

As you can probably tell, they went with composition number 4. Emphasis was taken off of the rose, however, so that it didn't look too girly...something I wholeheartedly agree with because I very specifically wanted to write a book, with a female protagonist, that was still gender neutral.

So, there you have it! If you put all 5 of the Cover Blitz posts together, completely out of order (not sure why I did that, but there you are), you should have a basic anatomy of how a cover gets made.

And now for the other part of the celebration: I'm running a Cover Blitz Week Giveaway!

And the prizes are:

Two books of your choosing from the Bloomsbury/Walker catalogue (to celebrate the extraordinary work they do there).

These are just examples of some of my favorite covers. But the winner can choose any two books found at

One copy of this new UK re-edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (the reasoning behind this is trifold: to celebrate the newly-minted Pottermore announcement; because I think it's utterly gorgeous; and because I (not-so-secretly) daydream about Bloomsbury UK publishing my book too. )

One signed copy of The Mapmaker and the Ghost when it's released (because...well because it would be weird for me to sign someone else's book!)

I'll send it out as soon as I have copies which means you will be one of the first on the block to have it.

There are three easy ways to enter:

First, answer this question: If you could meet any famous ghost (or famous person's ghost), who would it be? 

- Leave a comment on this blog with your answer or
- Tweet me your answer or
- Write your answer on my Facebook wall

Everyone can enter once per method (three max).

The contest ends Monday, June 27th, 2011 at 8 PM EST at which point the winner will be chosen at random. One winner will win all four prizes.

Good luck and thanks everyone for indulging me all week!

Update: The contest is now closed. Congratulations to the winner (chosen via[drumroll please] Bryan!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Book's Cover: An Interview with Walker Senior Designer Nicole Gastonguay!

Cover Blitz Week continues!

I know I, for one, have always been very curious about the mysterious world of book publishing. How does a cover come together? Who picks the title font? Who decides what the words look like in the very beginning of a chapter?

When I got my first pass pages last month, it was the first time they actually looked like a book and not like a printout from Word. And that was owed almost entirely to Nicole Gastonguay, the senior designer at Walker who was responsible for all of the above as well as matching up illustrator Gerald Guerlais to my book's cover.

Here is some insight into her process from the talented (and funny) Nicole Gastonguay herself!

What's your background? How did you become a senior designer at Bloomsbury/Walker?
I went to Ringling College of Art and majored in illustration. Upon graduation, I moved to NYC with delusions of being an artist. After being a cashier/artist, among other things, I got my first “real” job at Walker in 2000. Now I’m a designer/artist which is much cooler sounding. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have my fine art shown in galleries around New York and Los Angeles.

When Nicole's not busy doing awesome design work for books, she's creating these awesome art pieces instead.

Tell us a little bit about your workflow. Do you read the books you're art directing? If so, what are you usually looking for?
I read as much as I can, but with the amount of books I do a year, there just isn’t time to read everything. I do my best to get the flavor of the writing style and then work very closely with the books’ editors and publishers to determine the best vision for the cover.

How did you find Gerald and what made you think he'd be a good match for The Mapmaker and the Ghost?
Gerald is represented by an agent who we work with often. He was the perfect fit because one of the main “characters” in the story is the woods itself, and we really like how Gerald treats his forest and background compositions. He’s also amazing at kids and expressions and this story is definitely overflowing with zany kids.

It it hard jumping around from designing for Picture Books vs. Middle Grade vs. YA?
I’m grateful that I get to work on so many different kinds of projects. It keeps me from getting bored or stale in my design.

What's your favorite part about your job?

And after that, I just love books. I always have. It’s very satisfying after putting so many hours into a project that you have an object that you can hold in your hand. Even better is when you see a kid on the subway reading one of them.

You can find Nicole and more of her fabulous work at her website, which you will be magically beamed to by clicking on the carton of shrimp lo mein found below.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Book's Cover: Early Sketches!

As an unpublished author working for years on different manuscripts, I have to admit that I sometimes spent time daydreaming about what the actual book might look like sitting on a shelf. I imagined what it would be like to walk into a bookstore and see it there. And I definitely wondered what the cover could possibly be.

When I first started taking children's writing classes back in 2007, one of the first things I learned was that the author has very little say in the artwork. Honestly, that's been fine by me. I love art, but I love it enough to know that there are people out there who are very, very good at it and I am not one of them. Knowing that, I didn't have an exact picture in my head of what I wanted the cover to look like at all.

So when I opened an email from my editor in January and scrolled down to the attachments I saw, I basically...grinned. A lot. From ear to ear actually.

These are the initial sketches I saw.

Not too far removed from what the final art turned out to be. Notice that the rose and the map are both around the tree in this one.

The tree itself is a little different from the previous version. I actually really liked the rose emblem on the tree, too.

More swirls near the top and back to the original rose, without the map.

This is pretty much the final art. Glasses were eventually added to one character (to help differentiate him from the others) and take a look at the character near the bottom right...

This is the first color sketch I saw! Notice that the character on the bottom right's appearance has changed. This is because he changed in between my first and second round of edits. The tree also has more foliage now, probably because it made more sense for it to with the title up there.

Final cover art with title font. I did give some notes as to hair color, eye color, and a few other minor colorings that needed to change. I feel like this could be a middle grade version of one of those bar arcade games...or, you know, Highlights magazine. Can you spot all the differences between the last version and this one?

I know I said my children's writing classes told me not to expect to have any say on the artwork, but I do want to point out that I was shown all of these versions along the way and encouraged to share my thoughts. Not that I had much to say because, well, the design team at Walker nailed it.

Speaking of which, tomorrow I will have another interview on the blog, where you will find out the answer to the burning question: what does a (very talented) senior designer at a publishing house do?

Stay tuned!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Book’s Cover: An Interview with Illustrator Gérald Guerlais!

Since I got to reveal my cover on Friday and I'm still SUPER excited about it, I'm declaring this week Cover Blitz Week! First things first: here's a little insight into the man behind the cover art, illustrator extraordinaire Gérald Guerlais.

Sometime in December of 2010, I got an email from my editor with a link to an artist’s work. She wanted to know what I thought of having him do the cover of my book.

The link included work like this:

© 2011 Gerald Guerlais

And this:

© 2011 Gerald Guerlais

So my reaction was something like, ohmygodyesit’samazingpleaselet’sgethim.

Lucky me, Gérald said yes and a few months later, I had an amazing, gorgeous cover that I absolutely love.

Gérald and I had never spoken or met and, yet, I felt like he “got” my book and elevated it 1000% with his whimsical illustration. I wanted to contact him and get the skinny on his process. So, without further ado, here is my e-chat with the amazingly talented Gérald Guerlais (oui, he is French!).

Tell me a little bit about your background. What led you to becoming an illustrator?
I’ve been drawing since an early age. I read many French comics books [as a kid] and the illustrations always had a bigger impact on me. After I graduated high school, I went to an applied arts school in Paris (Ensaama, known as "Olivier de Serres" art school) where I studied visual communication, typography, and advertisements. I naturally focused on illustrations.

Let’s talk about the process you went through to create the cover for The Mapmaker and the Ghost. What happened after you accepted the offer to do it? Did you get a copy of the book to read? Did you get direction from the art director?
I received a summary of the book, describing precisely main characters and atmosphere, and the tones of the story. Then I suggested some compositions and designs to the artistic director. Then we talked; we exchanged ideas through emails. It is a collective process between the illustrator, the art director, and even the marketing team because they have the background in knowing what makes an attractive cover in bookstores. All points of view are welcome. We're on the same boat.

What are you looking for in a story to create a successful illustration for it?
I always try to catch the deep meaning, the spirit behind the words. As soon as you have been caught by a story, visions easily come to your mind. You are inspired.

There are a lot of wonderful elements going on in the cover. Do you have favorite part? Was there one part that was harder to nail than another?
On this cover, the challenge was the large number of characters. You don't want to lose them in the pictures. I also wanted to capture the duality between the groups of kids without Manichean results.

As writers, we go through a pretty extensive editing and revision process with our editors. What is the revision process like for an illustrator?
The chat between art director and illustrator is crucial. We have to make sure we are on the same page, that we are going in the same direction. We use common references. That can be a movie, another book, or pictures. We even sometimes use references just to show a direction we don't want to go in. Depending on the quality of talk, the revision process can be short or long :-)

When an illustrator is selected, he naturally brings his style, visual vocabulary, palettes, tones, etc. So, I would say about 50% of the work has been done when the illustrator has been hired.

But some art directors love to be surprised. There's no predictable recipe.

What are your favorite things to draw?
I would say Nice Monsters. Just because they’re easy for me. You don't have to respect anatomy or specific shapes when you create monsters. I like creating nice monsters with humoristic potential.

© 2011 Gerald Guerlais

What other sort of work do you do besides children’s books illustrations?
I am currently involved in a charity which involves creating an international collective art book with my Japanese friend Daisuke Tsutsumi. We’ve been doing it for about five years and it’s called Sketchtravel. You can have a look at the project by visiting


For more about Gérald, including more of his gorgeous portfolio, check out:

And stay tuned right here all week where I will be showing you early sketches of my cover, talking with amazing Bloomsbury art director Nicole Gastonguay, and even running a little giveaway!

Friday, June 17, 2011

'The Mapmaker and the Ghost' Cover Reveal!!

I have been so excited to share this for a while.

So without further is the official cover for The Mapmaker and the Ghost.

I honestly cannot express in words how happy I am with it.

Next week, I'll have an interview with cover artist Gerald Guerlais on the blog, plus more fun behind-the-scenes cover stuff and a giveaway!

For now, I'm just going to thank the entire team at Bloomsbury/Walker who worked on this. I seriously could not have imagined it to be any more wonderful than it is.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Apropos of Nothing: My Take on 'The Voice', Episode 8

I spent 8 seasons getting sucked into American Idol and finally, finally felt like it was time to let it go this year. It was great. I was getting THREE HOURS of my life back every week (most of which I spent writing, honest).

And then The Voice came along. And I had to watch one episode and BOOM. Sucked in again.

To make me feel a little better about the amount of time that I am now devoting to this show, I think I'm going to use it as blog fodder. Yeah. Cause blogging is writing! Yeah! Uh-huh...(just go with me. Please.)

So today I present, my non-sequitor observations on The Voice, Episode 8.

1. This is probably the best Christina has looked all season. I dug the braids. I did not dig, however, having to constantly ignore my craving for Cheez Doodles. I'm on a diet, X-tina and The Voice spray tanning team. Please have a little respect.

2. Cee Lo's jacket was the article of clothing that kept on giving. First I was like, ooh, sparkles. And then I realized they were multi-colored sparkles. And THEN, I noticed the zipped sleeves with the peekaboo turquoise and teal swatches. I desperately, desperately wanted to see the lining. But, alas, it was not meant to be.

3. Things Nakia probably never thought would happen in his lifetime: appearing on primetime television in a fluffy white bathrobe. While getting an awkward group chair massage. With Cee Lo Green...

4....whose awkward group chair massage ring was the size of his middle finger. Oh to be a celebrity, where you can keep your jewelry on during massages. 'Tis the stuff of dreams, really.

5. Seriously, though, even the out-of-focus aerial cutaway shot from the group massage was awkward.

6. The one-third of the 2-hour show that was devoted to Christina's teary ode to her team. Also her shout-out to one of her own music videos during a critique. Well played, Ms. A.

7.  I'm starting to feel like I really know these A-listers. For example, I am now aware that should the opportunity ever arise, I shall be gifting Adam Levine with a dapper sweater to add to his collection.

8. And the million dollar question: Has Carson Daly been replaced by a robot?

And, for no reason at all, here's how I think the eliminations will go next week:
Team Adam
Saved by America: Javier
Saved by Adam: Jeff

Team Cee Lo
Saved by America: Nakia
Saved by Cee Lo: Vicci (who was my fave of the night)

Saved by the Bell: was an awesome show

Monday, June 13, 2011

Let's Play a Game: Writer or Crazy?

Y'know, sometimes I feel like being a writer is just a more socially acceptable way of dealing with my psychoses. Not only do I hear made-up people's voices in my head (schizophrenia) but sometimes I read a chapter I wrote and feel elated and read the same chapter two days later and feel devastated by its crappiness (bi-polar disorder).

Confession: I talk to myself. A lot. Usually, I'm playing out bits of dialogue. But I do it in my apartment, on the sidewalk, in the shower.

I also stare out into space a good amount. Especially if I'm in outline mode or trying to figure out a particularly sticky plot point. Sometimes I think I'm staring out into space but am actually staring directly at someone's face. To those people who have inadvertently come into the crosshairs of my outlining crazy-eyes, I apologize. Profusely.

I smile or sometimes even laugh out loud when I finally hit upon a "eureka" moment in my story. This often happens in public. When I'm by myself.

Sometimes, I feel the need to bust a move in an empty elevator. This actually doesn't have much to do with me being a writer but as long as I'm being all confessional, I thought I'd just put that out there, too.

I also come home from a full-time job to do more voluntary work, at something that can sometimes make me feel more frustrated than anything else I'm doing and that can make me miss out on good TV, life-changing concerts, or just hanging out with friends.

Sometimes, I really relate to lyrics from the movie Flashdance. "Take your passion and make it happen."

Crazy or writer? Probably a little bit of both. But I wouldn't trade in making my passion happen for anything.

What a feeling!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Childhood Magic

One of the most thrilling things about writing for children is that it lets me tap into some of my fondest, most fun memories about being a kid. And--since I write mostly fantasy or fantastical elements--it makes me remember the magic of my childhood. And I don't mean in the nostalgic, wasn't-childhood-magical sense. I mean in the sense that there are places and things for all children that seem like more than they are: the curtain we want to peek behind or the stuffed animal that seems to have changed position in the middle of the night.

Here is one of my places:

The walk home from the bus stop to my house involved going by a tiny, gated area that was a nature preserve. There was a stern 'No Trespassing' sign with a fine threat outside the gate, and inside the gate the trees were so dense that it was impossible to see how far the little wooded area went or what was actually within it.

From elementary school all the way up to high school, I wondered about what could possibly be inside that gated area. I imagined all sorts of things: portals and fantastic creatures or, my favorite, a Secret Garden-esque place I could go and read in where time would stop in the outside world and no one would notice I was missing.

As part of my college entrance portfolio, I was required to write a short story. I wrote about my walk home from the bus stop starring the gated area. In The Mapmaker and the Ghost, my main character, Goldenrod, decides to map the forest by her house. The enchanted and quirky place she enters is an expanded version of my untrespassed woods. And the latest book I'm writing? It's a new middle grade fantasy wherein a small wooded area has made its way into a crucial scene.

As a child, I often wanted to flagrantly disregard that scary sign, open the gate, and solve the mystery of that little area once and for all. I'm glad I never did because now I get to solve that mystery over and over again in the best way that will suit my latest adventure in fiction.

Do you remember the magical places or things from your childhood? Or, conversely, was there a place that a book or movie inspired you to think was magical?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Stop Me If I Make An Unnecessary Prequel In Thirty Years

If The Hangover Part II's box office receipts last weekend taught me anything, it's that sequels make a lot of money everybody loves a sequel! And who am I to not try to make bank deny the public what they want.

Contrary to my declarations oh, about two weeks ago, I decided to give this vlog thing another shot. The good news is that famous painter (it's true because it's certified by the YES Network) Graig Kreindler is in this one, too. And this time he's interviewing me about some of my favorite things.

Rated G for Geeky. Viewer Discretion is Advised.

The Sarvenaz & Graig Show, Episode 2 from Sarvenaz Tash on Vimeo.

Oh, and I apologize for the backward writing. Apparently the MacBook's built-in cam records everything in mirror form because Apple thinks it would be jarring for consumers otherwise (seriously, that was the official explanation in their forums). I've figured out a workaround to this but it'll have to happen in the next episode...that is, if there is a next episode. [twirls imaginary producer mustache]