Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Journey of Little Thief! Chota Chor!

I'm so excited to share my newest picture book with you all. It's Little Thief! or Chota Chor! in Hindi. Based on a real experience when I was a child in India, I wrote about it 18 years ago for my ICL Assignment 3, a description of a place we remember using all five senses. More on this later. 

So I wrote about the time I awoke in the middle of the night to my mother screaming, "Chor! Chor!" The door to our home was thrown wide open; we were terrified. The thief got away with a few things--my mother's watch, money, and a box of river rocks that my sister and I had collected. The thief also dragged a suitcase of our clothes outside and we were most worried he might've taken our American panties. Priorities! We had returned to India just a few months prior after living in the US for a year and loved our ultra-thin, ultra-comfortable, elasticized American underwear. My sister and I laughed in relief to find our precious panties, then laughed about those rocks; we imagined the thief opening the cardboard box and getting mad. Serves him right, we thought. 

Fast forward to 2017. There was a call for diverse stories on the SCBWI Blueboard from Benchmark Education. They were starting a trade imprint, Reycraft Books, with a focus on #ownvoices stories. I sent them a couple. No cigar. So I revised this memory with an outcome I've always dreamed of...and it was accepted! We went through several rounds of revision. One day I hope to do a revision workshop with Eileen Robinson, my editor. She is phenomenal. If she's ever teaching near you, sign up. You will learn so much. She asks the best questions and of course, it is in the answering that one finds the better path. My new Charleston critique partners gave me valuable suggestions too--Andrew Barton, Muffet Frische, Rebecca Ivester, and Mo Morris. Thank you! I hope we can meet soon. I miss you.

I received e-galleys earlier this year and was I blown away by the art! The colors are so vibrant. Although the story takes place at night, it's not a dark book. It's filled with light and shadows--and just look at those shadows--how menacing they can be! Now my husband finally understands why I still sleep-walk and talk. I love how the artist Nayantara Surendranath, captured the imagination of my child-self.

So about that ICL assignment 3: Memories are great but I discovered that adapting this to the present moment is a very easy way to work yourself out of writer's block, if it happens. Focus on the concrete without any judgments. Allow the words to flow and in a little while, you'll make connections with other things swirling in your head. I find that my blocks almost always occur because I have too many things on my mind and if I can tease out one thread, I can be very focused. I know that every writer is different but it's something to try. 

And now, I just have to share my wonderful instructor's response: I must confess that I was quite dazzled by this piece of work--which is more a description of an event than a place, but I'm certainly not about to quibble about that. What makes this piece especially fine is the quality and quantity of specific, concrete sensory impressions that you've woven into it; pots aren't merely stacked in a corner, they are "nested inside each other"; cockroaches aren't simply big, but are "the size of baby mice" (eeek!); Mother's purse isn't soft, but "soft as a moss growing on tree bark"--all of which provoke images in a reader's mind that stick there. 

She went on to make minor suggestions with big impact--word choice--with instructions for the next assignment, and ended with: Marvelous! I loved every word...  Such wonderful encouragement. I have learned to teach writing from one of the BEST. Pat Calvert, thank you! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

A Month of Birthdays

September is such a beautiful month--we have a lot of family birthdays on both sides and when we lived in WA it was lovely to gather and celebrate. This first picture was taken 17-18 years ago. Dagny is just a baby in Grandma's arms. I miss those monthly get-togethers, but what a treat to thumb through old photos. And this summer, Michael and the kids went to WA to spend time with family. They took in all their favorite sights and more. Max made a beautiful photobook so I wanted to share some of the beauty here as well. It was picture perfect. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Writing an Outline

I encourage writers to get their foot into the door via the query letter. Some publishers require you submit an outline with it and I often get requests to see how I write them. I originally wrote one for Lady Mary but couldn't share the finished pieces so I'm posting the one I wrote for A Shot in the Arm because it's short and it illustrates the point well. This turned into a sidebar (~400 words) for the main article on The Science of Smallpox. You can read both articles here. Note that my bibliography is solid. I know some editors look at it first to see if the sources the writer plans to consult are good.

Outlining works for me because the jumbled images that come to my mind can be organized where I can see them. They often suggests a story and now I can see if all the elements are in a logical order. Note that my outline is a combination of sentences as well as short phrases. Many people balk at writing outlines. Fear not. You can write a rough draft and create an outline from it. Happy reading, writing and outlining.


1.      Introduction

·         Ouch!  Shots hurt.  But they prevent you from getting sick.

·         Teach body how to fight germs

2.      B cells

·         Trillions of B cells

·         Each B cell recognizes a bit of something that is NOT part of yourself

·         Specificity – germs match up with their B cells

·         B cell becomes active – clones itself and makes antibodies

·         Antibodies bind germ and destroy them

3.      Time frame of infection

·         Germs multiply fast – 1 can turn into a million in a few hours

·         B cells take about 1-2 weeks to catch up in antibody production

·         Height of battle – you start feeling better

4.      After the infection

·         Body is the same except that it knows how to fight against germ

·         Memory B cells – sometimes they live for your entire life

·         Basis of vaccination – vaccines contain dead/weakened germs without making you sick

·         Armed and ready to fight

·         Time frame of second infection – less than a week and you probably won’t even feel sick

5.      Edward Jenner

·         Cowpox protects against smallpox

     ·         Vaccines – magic bullets


1.      Helena Curtis.  1983.  Biology (Fourth Edition).  Worth Publishers.

2.      Bernard D. Davis et. al.  1980.  Microbiology (Third Edition).  Harper & Row Publishers.

3.      Edward Jenner.  1938.   Scientific papers: physiology, medicine, surgery and geology.  Harvard Classics Vol. 38.  P. F. Collier & Son, edited by Charles W. Eliot.

4.      Paul deKruif.  1926.  Microbe Hunters.  Harcourt Brace & Co.

5.      Louise E. Robbins.  2001.  Louis Pasteur and the Hidden World of Microbes.  Oxford University Press.

6.      Ivan Roitt et. al.  1985.  Immunology.  C.V. Mosby Co. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

My First Picture Book

This is the first picture book that I ever wrote and sent out. The story itself stands up to scrutiny after nearly two decades but not my cover letter. I can use this as a teaching tool. Let's spot all the ways how one ought not to write a cover: 

Dear ____

The tender friendship between my cat and son from birth through two years is documented in candid photographs.  I am sending a manuscript (180 words) and a rough dummy for a 32-page picture book titled, Kali and Baby Max based upon it. [In another letter I offer to let the illustrator use my pictures as inspiration for art.]

Kali and Baby Max is targeted for the youngest readers (age 1-5).  It shows the joy of having a pet.  Although there are many books on the market with this theme, I have not found a picture book that is as realistic as mine.  And it is the reality of the antics that Kali and Max do together that is so fresh and appealing. [Any more adjectives?]

My professional background is in the sciences (B.Sc. Microbiology; Ph.D. Biochemistry) and I have published in scientific journals.  I write stories and poems for my children and take writing courses and believe that I will succeed in this new venture. [Brimming with confidence! What relevance does a PhD have for a book for with babies and toddlers, I have no idea.]

I am submitting Kali and Baby Max to other publishing houses but I will promptly notify you if I hear from the others.  I appreciate your time and consideration and look forward to your reply. 


I received lovely rejection letters with compliments for having a cute baby and cat. They all encouraged me to continue writing. I'm so grateful my silly submission was rejected because Midnight and Baby Max is way better! My homemade books (I wrote several) were a favorite with my kids along with books by Eve Bunting, Eric Carle and Leo Lionni. But as the children grew, they went on to read other books. And I went on to writing magazine stories and other books for the school and library market. They were fun to write and taught me so much. I didn't pull this baby out again until I started compiling some short stories for my EZ book, Max and Dagny. And the story holds up. So, after a few tweaks to the text, I published it myself. I learned so much, not just about story, but choosing trim size so as to make it affordable. Color printing is expensive. I don't know how people will find this book in the sea of books but I do hope parents find it and read it to their children, delighting in their delight. I love the flexibility of self-publishing especially for highly self-indulgent projects like these. Please note that my pictures are not even close to being professional. Perhaps I should take my own advice that I wrote to a few editors. Alas, I'm no artist so the photos remain as they are, untouched. 

I know many writers will not look back on their old work, but I'm discovering that many of my early works, though not polished, have tremendous heart and soul. I'm always chasing the next new idea but I think it's good to return to old stories when they bring themselves to the forefront and give them a spit-shine. I've actually sold many old stories, simply because it was the right timing. I saw a call for a certain type of story and voila! 

Let's talk about old stories. What do you do with yours?  

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Lamp: a new literary magazine

The inaugural print issue of The Lamp: a Catholic Journal of Literature, Science, the Fine Arts, etc.  has been a great delight. Max told me about them about a year ago and I read a few free articles. I love that he bought a subscription for all of us to enjoy. The articles are all well written, witty, and I had to look up a few things as well, like what in the heck is Feuilleton and without even knowing I figured it out--tidbits. It had a bedtime story for children called The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids. I wonder how many parents read such stories to their kids. Everything is so nice nowadays.

The magazine has an elegant look with just the two tones and spot art. My three favorite pieces: JD Vance's conversion story for the truth of it, Urban Hannon's article on How to be a Radical--by going to the root of things, and Matthew Walther's Kale-Flavored Smoke, a review of Jules Verne's Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Seas. I laughed so hard it made me want to pick it up again. It's great to see another Catholic literary magazine. Dappled Things is the other I know of.

And lookie, the second issue, Assumption 2020 arrived. Note the pretty blue. And Max just told us that his first academic paper has been published here:  I'm so proud of him. Maybe he'll write something for the Lamp. Deo gratias!