Reading’s getting hotter

I was alerted by Shawn over at Everything and Nothing to this article in the New York Times telling us there’s been a reverse in a twenty-five-year decline in the number of people reading for pleasure. Since the publishing industry has been as hard-hit as any other recently–and no one’s offering writers a bailout, the bastards–it’s always good to hear anything encouraging.

I love readers, and related to that…

Linda over at Raven’s Range gave me permission to reprint a photo of her enjoying a book during a sunny break from a blast of snowy weather they had recently.

Linda’s promised to send me a photo of herself reading A Coventry Wedding as soon as she purchases a copy. I am SO LOVING the e-mail I’m getting. I’ve hit a bit of a writing slump. Not writer’s block, just writer’s dormancy. So getting positive feedback on the new novel is sort of a kick in the PJ bottoms. I felt the same upon reading a thoughtful review from Lawrence Schimel in the Lambda Book Report for When You Don’t See Me.

Did I mention that I love readers?

I’ve posted before on here, or maybe on MGH’s LJ, about the first book I remember reading, which was aptly titled Baby’s First Book. The cover illustration gave me my first glimmer of the concept of eternity. It’s a book the termites ate, and my mother later found a used copy to replace it. Little Golden Books, bless them, still publishes it, and I scored a copy for Miss Amelia because the cover baby reminds me so much of her:

And speaking of children reading, my sister wrote a book to give to her granddaughter Morgan at Christmas. Morgan’s aunt (Debby’s daughter Sarah) illustrated it. I don’t have a copy of the illustrated version, but I do have the story itself on my computer now, and I’m looking forward to reading it. You never know with kids if they’ll understand how special something like that is, but when Debby turned away from Morgan after giving her the book, Morgan suddenly hugged it tightly to her chest and closed her eyes. I didn’t get a shot of that, unfortunately, but I did get Morgan in the coolest jeans ever.

There’ll be more beautiful/cool children photos for a while, because I’m so crazy about them. And remember, if you have a photo of yourself reading my books, or ANY books, I’ll be delighted to post them on here as part of the Reading is Hot campaign. Even if the book you’re reading is one by Famous Author Rob Byrnes, although we’re still not sure who he paid off to steal our Lammy back in Aught Seven.

Button Sunday

Do most of the people in your life know you have a blog or online journal? Do they read it? Do they ever worry about what you plan to write about a particular incident? Do they impose a no-photo rule or tell you what’s off limits from their lives? Do you pay attention to any of that; does it affect your content?

The Charm of Raggedy Chan and Camille Picott

Several years ago, some friends and I used to get together periodically to talk about wide-ranging topics. One night a new acquaintance joined us, a Houston public school teacher. The first TJB book had been bought by Kensington, and the teacher offered that she, too, was a writer with a novel–only her tone was apologetic because her book was self-published. My friend Denece, a great champion of women who reach for their dreams, told this writer that she should be PROUD. Not only had she shown the drive to write and finish a full-length novel, but taking a manuscript from its beginning to the rigors of marketing it is an amazing commitment of time, love, and energy.

I thought of that incident recently when mallory_blog talked about a book on her blog, Raggedy Chan by Camille Picott. What I know about children’s books and children’s book publishing you could fit inside a Barbie purse, but the title grabbed me, so I followed the links to Camille’s web site and blog. The more I learned about the book, the more I wanted to read it, so I ordered it from Lulu.

Copyright Camille Picott

I fell completely under the spell of Emma, her Auntie Gracie, and a Chinese princess who must disguise herself as Raggedy Chan and go on a quest to save her homeland. Camille, a fifth-generation Chinese American, says in the postscript to her book that she was “inspired by the trials endured by [her] Chinese family, and shaped by [her] own experience growing up as a half-Chinese girl, [to] put to paper a story over one hundred fifty years in the making.”

Since many of my friends have children and grandchildren who love to read, I thought you might like to get Camille’s book (I’ll include a link at the end of this post). Adults can enjoy the book, too, as I did. In A Coventry Christmas, one of the characters is a writer whose fictional ‘tween girls are used as models for dolls, and Camille is doing that in real life! If you’re interested in her limited edition doll, contact Camille at the address on this page of her web site.

Any of you who are writers, whether self-published or with publishing houses, might enjoy following Camille’s blog to see some of the creative ways she’s finding new readers for Raggedy Chan. I admire her so much.

Camille graciously answered a few questions for me to share with you.

Your bio at the end of Raggedy Chan says you began writing at age twelve. Do you still have any of your earliest stories?

My first novel was typed on an Apple IIe and saved on big floppy disks. It featured a group of runaway orphans who lived on an island, befriended wolves, and thwarted criminals. Unfortunately, that story has been lost.

I was at first surprised then charmed by the appearance of Paul Bunyan and Babe in Raggedy Chan. What made you blend that particular myth into Raggedy Chan’s story?

Paul Bunyan was actually a very late addition to the story. Before Paul Bunyan came along, I felt Raggedy Chan lacked an emotional connection to America. I was also concerned that much of what was “American” in the book was negative.

I wanted my book to have a character who represented everything that is wonderful about America. I also wanted to integrate American mythology/folklore into the story, to counter-balance my use of Chinese myth
and folklore. Paul Bunyan is an icon that embodies American landscape, American culture, and American myth. He allowed Raggedy Chan to develop a positive relationship with America.

Who do you see as the ideal audience for Raggedy Chan?

From a technical perspective, I believe Raggedy Chan is what is classified as an “early reader chapter book,” ideal for grades 4 to 6. Because the book features Asian characters and Asian myths, it also has appeal to Asians. (I never had books as a child that starred Asian characters.) But I have sold the book to people of all ages, from very young children to grandparents, and to people of all ethnicities. The immigration experience is something most Americans can relate to, even if that experience was endured by previous generations.

Joey Manfre’s illustrations are wonderful. Can you describe your collaborative process?

I was very fortunate to be very involved with the entire illustration process. Joey and I met through his wife, who tended bar in a restaurant where we both worked. Joey and I did a small project together about two years ago: I hired him to illustrate Nanobytes, my collection of flash fiction. (It’s available for free on my web site,

I really enjoyed working with him. When I decided to have Raggedy Chan illustrated, there was no question that he was the artist I wanted to work with. We met once a week for the first few months, then two to three times a week as we got closer to our deadline. I went through the story and marked the areas where I wanted illustrations, along with one-sentence blurbs outlining the concept I thought I wanted to see, though this changed as Joey and I worked together and traded ideas. Joey got out his sketch book and drew preliminary character concepts. Every step of the illustration process was a true collaboration. Every week Joey showed me a few pictures he’d worked on. We’d discuss what we liked and what changes might make the picture better.

We never stopped working on a picture until we were both happy with it, even if that meant dozens of revisions. Sometimes Joey had to tweak his pictures to better fit the descriptions in my book. An example is Winged Dragon, who Joey originally made green. It was really important to me that Winged Dragon embody the “ice blue” description in the book, so he changed the picture. There were also times when I changed my text because I loved the way his picture looked. Winged Dragon originally had white eyes; but after Joey drew him with red eyes, and I saw how wonderful the illustration looked, I knew I had to change my text.

Do you plan to write more tales of Raggedy Chan, Emma, and Auntie Gracie?

I don’t know if I have any more Raggedy Chan stories to tell, but there are definitely more Emma and Auntie Gracie stories.

Copyright Camille Picott
Author Camille Picott with Raggedy Chan dolls.

You can find Camille’s book for purchase on her Lulu page.

Saturday, getting ready to write (or not)

I could do ten posts right now, I have so much going on in my head. Hopefully, I can remember them during the coming week for those times that I stare at the monitor with a duh look.

I have a new crush. Sometimes links to other blogs show up in my sidebar because I get these crushes, but they’re not ordinary crushes. I get crushes on people’s dogs (and occasionally, their cats). However, Jeffrey Ricker‘s name has been on the list for a while because he’s Jeffrey Ricker and I like him, then because he’s a writer (and a contributor to MOONLIGHT AND ROSES), and then because of his dog Dakota. Here’s Dakota, who I think is a pretty great dog–I’ve been his fan for quite a while.

Recently, the Ricker household got a new addition which is when I got my new crush. Here’s Anya.

I want to scoop her up and give her a million kisses. Jeffrey says Anya and Dakota are getting along fine, although so far, the cats are reserving judgment and can’t be enticed by her to play chase. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before she wins them over. (Note: If you notice the damage to the drywall in Anya’s photo, you can read how it happened here on Jeffrey’s blog. Which reminds me that October is the month when we should do this.)

For those of you who didn’t get Paws and Reflect: Exploring the Bond Between Gay Men and Their Dogs when it came out last November, you can pre-order the paperback now from or your favorite bookseller and read essays, including Jeffrey’s, about the many gifts dogs bring to our lives.

What’ll it be?

Will Famous Author Rob Byrnes force me to wax rhapsodic about the virtues of Irish oatmeal, of which I just had my first bowl ever, compared to the plain old oatmeal I grew up eating?

I’ll be reading…

(Readers may remember that Kieran made Irish oatmeal for Phillip for their first breakfast in THREE FORTUNES IN ONE COOKIE.)

Which reminds me, Gary in KY, did you ever see that I said yes, emphatically YES, to more “Reading is HOT!” photos?