Friday, July 31, 2015

Tree Change Dolls

Oh my goodness, how much do I love this? So so so much! Artist Sonia Singh has created Tree Change Dolls by taking horribly sexist tramped-up fashion dolls and transforming them into dolls that look more or less like actual little girls. Genius! The excessive gendering, and even sexualization, of children's products is an enormous bee in my personal bonnet (it's what gave birth to my own Non-Gender-Normative Legos project, as seen here and here) (and just for one of a million examples, I just had to buy Mabel a "girls" backpack--because, what? girls have different backs than boys? but it was that or one with a design of military camouflage made up of sharks eating dinosaurs, or some such). Anyway. This is clearly a huge issue and one I cannot hope to deal with in all its enormity and complexity here today--but it does just make me so very happy when someone takes it upon herself to address some of these matters in a creative way, as Ms Singh has done. Brought to my attention by My Modern Met. Take a peek--

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Next in the Ongoing Series of Poems About the Spring of 2006

June 26, 2006
Today I went out to lunch with a pal

and she needed to stop by
the big fancy bank on the corner
on some sort of an errand that
as such things tend to do
spun into a much longer process
than she’d originally envisioned
Which was okay with me because
I was content to hang around
and admire the big pretty ceiling
and these little counters everywhere
where you were meant to stand
and write out your deposit slips
They have massive stone legs
like gargoyles or dolphins
holding up a writing surface
of chocolate-brown marble
But the best part of all
were these two little figures
on the back corners of each desk
little winged mercuries made of brass
each leaning over a small round hole
which had once clearly held an inkwell

image source is here

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Me Talking Some More

I had the honor of being interviewed by Louise Owens for her book blog Read Me about my book (by which I mean not only a book I edited--which is what I usually mean when I talk about "my" books around here--but one I actually authored, like, my name is on the cover and everything) New York Jackie. It was great fun to do and I feel quite flattered to be in the illustrious company of all the other amazing authors she's interviewed. The photo above, from the piece, is by Craig Wall.

And while we're on the subject of me running around talking about art and photo books, just a friendly reminder that my Publishing for Creatives class is tomorrow night at Makeshift Society here in San Francisco. I've been working feverishly on what, if I do say so myself, has shaped up to be a pretty gorgeous slideshow to go along with the listen-to-me-talk part of the evening (don't worry, there is also a do-fun-interactive-activities part), including taking a bunch of new photos of my books like the one below utilizing the new Chronicle Books "Book Nook." My original post about the class is here. I'm pretty sure a few spaces are still available, so if you'd like to join us register here!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Paris Day 4

On our fourth day in Paris we walked down along the Seine (where we spotted the above gorgeous piece of street art) to the Jardins des Plantes. This entire day is the perfect example of something I would almost certainly never have done without a kid along, but that I am so very glad I did do as it was quite amazing on all fronts. We strolled through the gardens; visited the adorably antiquated zoo (the antiquated-ness of which would surely have disturbed me much more, were not my ethical capacities paralyzed by the ridiculous adorableness, both of the structures and of the absurdly cute, friendly, and curious Red Panda that we all three wanted to sneak home in our luggage as a pet--and we don't even like pets!); hung out in the Grande Galerie de l'Evolution--a natural history museum housed in a huge old open grand hall full of a vast parade of taxidermy animals and with a super-duper modern and cool ever-changing light display integrated within the Victorian wrought iron; and Mabel rode for the first time ever all by herself on a carousel--the carousel of extinct and endangered animals, to be specific. In the afternoon, after rest time back at the apartment, we found ourselves to be tired so we just went out for tea and cake.

Monday, July 27, 2015


We've got one small empty corner in our living room--behind the butterfly chair and in front of the rack that holds all the glasses, it's where we put the Christmas tree when that time of year rolls around. And it turns out one of the main purposes this corner serves--though we could never have anticipated this when we were setting the space up a year or so ago--is as a place to put paintings to dry. Sometimes we like to all three sit at the dining table and paint (or sometimes Mabel and her grandpa paint--as mots beautifully depicted here), and then we lay out all our paintings on the floor, each in our various different styles, to sit quietly out of the way while the paint dries. I usually like to take their picture at this point. And this one time, Mabel sneaked into the frame.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Jen Tong

So, remember how I'm writing a book?  Um, yeah. So that's pretty exciting. And so I've been working lately on a piece of it that has to do with art galleries--how they are this great free source of art to look at, but most people don't go to them because they are really flipping intimidating. And this caused me to remember my own early days, nearly a decade ago, of forcing myself to go to galleys despite the majorly high intimidation factor, and specifically the first time I ever saw an artist's work in a gallery that I just completely adored and how that suddenly made the whole thing seem worth it. That artist was Jen Tong and the show featured these four paintings, among others--but these were the four I fell in love with. I still love them all these years later. It's hard for me to put into words what it is I dig so very much about them--the colors, the humor, the way they say something, or several things, about girlhood--all of those are true cool things I like here, yes. But my visceral reaction to these images goes deeper than that. There is just some sort of special receptor in my brain that these pictures fit perfectly into. And I hope you will enjoy them too.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Another Poem in the Continuing Series About That Long-Ago Summer of 2006

June 23, 2006
This morning when I came in to work

there was a peach
sitting on my desk
with a post-it note
A pal had bought but not eaten it yesterday
and was leaving on vacation so gave it to me
It looks and smells amazing
I am so grateful
Much fuzzier
with an almost white fluff over its mottled skin
than the peaches we had at home this week
The skin is mostly two shades of that classic peachy-pink-orange
one lighter and more orange
one darker and more red
with a large shadow on one side of red so dark as to be almost purple
and a few funny little streaks of yellow like finger smudges
as well as speckles of paler yellow on the light orange and light red parts
The scent is nearly intoxicating and makes you think
of hot sticky orchards and long grass and bees flying slowly and drunkenly
but at the same time seems somehow fresh and bright and almost green
Now I will eat it

Man it was good
Sugar sugar sugar
sweet like candy

image source is here

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ask an Editor

I had the great honor of getting to pen the inaugural Ask and Editor advice column over on the Chronicle Books blog last week. Folks wrote in with questions about book proposals--how best to submit them, how we choose which ones to publish, how to get feedback, and so forth--and it was my privilege to answer their questions (as best I could!). People have said it's a helpful piece, so I thought I'd go ahead and re-post it here in it's entirety. Happy Publishing Wednesday!

Ask an Art Book Editor

You’re a creative person and you’re sitting on a pretty great book idea. So how do you get it out of your head and into the world? Editor Bridget Watson Payne has been helping authors do just that for over 10 years, and now she wants to help you. Email your toughest editorial questions to and they could be answered in the next column.

A lot of people who are already well-known seem to get book deals. Do you have to be famous to pitch something to Chronicle?
Absolutely not. For certain kinds of projects, of course, having a “platform” (which basically means being well-known enough to have fans and followers you already connect with, and who will be interested in your book) is a huge plus. But there are plenty of other kinds of books where it really is all about the distinctiveness and awesomeness of the content—AKA your work. Humor and pop culture books are one great example of that; art, illustration, and curation can be as well. If what you’re doing is super witty, or clever, or drop-dead gorgeous, or just makes me say “yes! exactly! of course this should be a book!” then I am not going to get hung up on your level of fame or lack thereof. There are all different kinds of projects—some are author platform-driven, some are content-driven—and there’s no better or worse about that, they’re just different.

How much does your personal taste factor into which books you choose to develop?
This is a tricky one. I’ve been doing this for over a decade and some days I’m still working it out. It took me a long time to really internalize the fact that just because I love something personally, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a fit for Chronicle’s list. I don’t have to make every single project I personally like into a book because we can only make so many things, and also I (like everyone) have some weird pockets to my own taste—things I might be super into but that maybe not very many other people would dig, or where perhaps it’s for an audience that may indeed be out there but we’re not sure how to reach them. If I took on those projects, knowing on some level we weren’t the right home for them, I would be doing everyone, especially the authors, a disservice. However, there is also something to be said for honing an awareness of when I myself am indeed the ideal consumer for a particular project—if I love something, and I can envision us reaching lots of other people like me who will also love it, then that’s when my own personal taste can be really useful. So it really just becomes a question of having gradually learned over time to distinguish the parts of my taste that are super weird and niche from the parts that are more readily applicable to a wider audience.

What’s the weirdest proposal you’ve received that’s actually become a book or product?
That would probably be The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie. It’s a design book about the lingerie industry in Syria, which included undergarments that lit up, played music, and were adorned with all kinds of amazing decorations. It was one of the very first books I acquired way back when I started doing the editorial gig, almost ten years ago, and I just fell in love with the project—how strange and amazingly creative this kind of fashion design was. In retrospect I’d say this was definitely before I learned to do the thing I was just talking about—separating the very weird part of my own taste from the more widely applicable part. But in that case, hey, it worked out!

I’ve submitted a few times to Chronicle Books but nothing has worked out yet. How can I get truthful feedback about what would make my proposal stronger?
There are actually a few different questions to consider here. The first thing to think about is that not every project we do, not every author/publisher relationship we have, was an instant hit the very first time we were pitched something. I have a number of authors—both big-name ones and lesser known rising-stars—who sent in as many as half a dozen ideas that didn’t quite work for us before nailing the one that totally did. So to a certain extent the answer is just grit and persistence. One idea doesn’t work? Come up with another idea, and another. The great thing about being a creative person is that (barring creative blocks—and we have a book to help overcome those!) there is always more where that came from. Just keep going!

The second part, of course, is the question of how to make a book proposal stronger. I’ve got another blog post over here full of tips and tricks that might help with that. But the third aspect of your question is perhaps the most interesting of all—the part about getting truthful feedback.
As editors we try to be as truthful as possible when writing decline letters to folks about the reasons a particular project isn’t going to work for us. But we do get a ton of proposals and we don’t always have the time to give the level of detailed feedback people might like. When you’re in the situation of feeling really confident you have a great book idea, but suspecting it’s your pitch or proposal that could use some serious reworking, I would recommend talking to a literary agent or creative consultant. This is someone who can really take the time to do a deep dive with you into the pros and cons of your proposal—what’s working and what could be improved. Here are a few Chronicle alumni who could help you out:

What’s the one piece of advice that you think could most help those who dream of being published?
Don’t be discouraged by rejection, and don’t take it personally. Nearly every person with a great success story, if she’s being honest, also has dozens of rejection stories. I might almost go so far as to say that the only sure way to be told “yes” about anything (not just book proposals!) is first to be told “no” a whole bunch of times. I decline great projects all the time—not because they don’t merit publication, but simply because they are not a good fit for what Chronicle does. And I always really hope that those people will take my decline letter, not as a roadblock or a major disappointment, but as motivation—either to research more publishers and find the perfect homes for their ideas, or to cook up new ideas to send back to me. I hope they think “I’ll show her!” and then I hope they do! Grit, tenacity, and the awareness that although, yes, you probably have poured your heart and soul into your project, it is not your heart or soul that is being rejected. A decline is simply a business decision and not a reflection on the intrinsic worth of either your project or your self. A consciousness of that is invaluable.

Get more personalized guidance from Bridget on July 30th at her Makeshift Society SF workshop: Publishing for Creatives.