A children's picture book by Marie Chu

Go West

Sun in wintertime, We will do just fine, Where the skies are blue, This is what we’re gonna do! 

Put your hand in my hand, and together, we’ll make our plan. (Together!)

To celebrate the occasion of our move, I made my very first gif! Marmion finds the Malibu sun to be a little toasty.


So the big news is: I now live and work in California. I’m still writing, a little less than before, and still drawing, a little less than before. A lot of personal reflection went into my decision to move and accept a job. There were many reasons for the move, but a substantial reason was the desire to find more balance in my life. Balance in all its forms. The move has felt like such a change. I often feel overwhelmed trying to process it all (hence the reason for the long web silence). But I feel like I’m on the path to finding that balance. And I think a little bit of balance will help me see a clearer way forward. I haven’t given up on or let go of Marmion, but there may be longer periods of time between Marmion updates. Instead, I plan to start writing more posts on my personal page. Hope to see you there. 🙂

My brand: author or person?

What to write? What to write? I feel a little guilty that so much time has passed between blog posts and updates to the site! I’ve sat down to start writing a post several times, but I feel increasingly conscious about writing here. It’s completely unexpected, because it should be the other way around. And I’m sure part of it is a lack of consistency. With consistent practice I would become more comfortable and “better” at writing. But it’s also awareness that every word I put out there is associated with my name, my picture, my book… whatever public perception there is of me. And currently, there are a lot of uncertainties happening in my life, that are at the forefront of my mind when I sit down to write spontaneously. Then I second guess every thing as I write, wondering, is this appropriate for the blog of a children’s book author? The name of this site is of the book, but as the book’s author, does that make the site about me too? Do I set up a different persona or version of my “brand” for each WordPress, tumblr and twitter and identity that I have? I already know the answer. Nothing has been posted on any of my sites because I have too many to maintain and my innate indecisiveness just leaves me paralyzed.  Because thinking of myself as a “brand” of children’s book illustrator/author has started to stifle all forms of self-expression.

As I’ve said before, I didn’t think everything through in the beginning, but I still believe some things you only learn by jumping in and oops-ing about the mistakes in hindsight. I am currently, and have been for awhile, looking for a full-time job. The author of a blog I follow on Tumblr recently revealed her real name as a first step to realizing her ambitions as a professional writer. And it made me rethink everything I’ve done all over again, wondering whether or not I should have used a pseudonym, etc. It’s certainly too late to go back now. Yet it’s only been in the last few months that I’ve been really self-aware of the fact that I now have an online persona (I am open about it in interviews) as the author of a self-published children’s book. Yeah, I know for a lot of people this would have occurred to them right away. But as someone who’s been pretty private her entire life, I don’t always fully understand the intricacies of sharing online at the same time as being private. The great thing is knowing any company or institution that will see my Marmion project as a positive is going to be a better fit for me. The harder thing is contemplating the opposite. That someone thinking to hire me would make less accurate assumptions about me based on that one piece of information.

I read an interesting opinion piece by Mark Zuckerberg’s sister Randi Zuckerberg in Time magazine last week that talks about the meshing of private online selves with our more public, professional personas. It is probably what prompted this blog post. And sure, you may roll your eyes as I did, because of course she is promoting the idea that we must share ourselves more and more (more content! more eyeballs!). But I think she makes some good points about tolerance and rethinking our expectations of people. Maybe the less afraid we are to show all of ourselves, the less quickly we will rush to judge others. Maybe judge isn’t the right word, but less quick to make an assumption of who a person is. Some assumptions that I’ve encountered: because I’m a yoga teacher I must be a vegetarian (no), because I wrote and illustrated a children’s book I have kids or I’m a teacher (no), because I grew up in a small town and live there now I haven’t traveled (I have), because I was a quiet and studious child I only listened to classical music (um, what??), and this list could go on and on. I know it’s convenient to shortcut human connection by placing each other in boxes that are easier to understand, but isn’t it way more interesting to see each other as rich complex beings that are full of surprising discoveries?

So this post wasn’t directly about Marmion, or my writing or how the book is doing. I do think it’s relevant to any creative person promoting themselves online. I promise there will be stuff about the book coming up this month! But I’m curious what my blog readers think (the few that are out there). Is it interesting to read posts outside the topic of writing and selling children’s books? Would you dislike reading about things that have nothing to do with my creative life, but have to do with just plain ol’ life? I’d like to know if you’d like to comment or send me an email (I will delete any comments I deem abusive, offensive).

brain heart belly -Who to be?

Me and Marmion at the Book Festival and Chalk Fest

Last Saturday, I participated in Williamsburg’s very first Book Festival. I met some nice people, and mostly enjoyed the experience. Here are pictures:

Marmion at Book Festival

photo credit: Beth Tremblay

photo credit: Beth Tremblay

I shared a table with Robert Mandala. I enjoyed meeting him and hearing how he came to participate in the festival, and his work as an artist. His website is: http://whatifsomethinghappens.com.

And yesterday, I participated in the Chalk and Art Festival.

photo credit: Shirley Vermillion

photo credit: Shirley Vermillion

I’ve learned you really have to have the right attitude for participating in these festivals as a vendor. I’ll admit there were moments when I let feeling frustrated and tired take over my mood, but I always knew to take a quick break. Visits from friends who will sit with you and let you vent help a lot! But I am feeling more comfortable in this role as an author and illustrator, and talking to people about the work I’ve done on the book. Progress!

Thoughts about participating in the Book Festival as a self-published author: the Book Festival chose B&N as their sponsor, which I thought would initially exclude CreateSpace authors from participating, seeing as Amazon is their competitor. But they made efforts to include us, I suspect because several local authors were self-published, and more than one of us through CreateSpace. My impression isn’t entirely negative, as I said, I enjoyed myself on the day of, but I’ll think twice about wanting to be included in an event that is sponsored by B&N (if they’d even have me again!).

Went to California, this is what I read

I recently took a trip to California to visit family and spend some time alone. My accommodations had no cable or internet, so I intended to use the situation to my advantage and work on my writing. It was more difficult than I anticipated. I hope I will finish a couple of pieces enough to satisfaction. Maybe I will get to share one or two of the things I worked on with the larger world some day. One thing I’ll share right now is that standard author blog post fare: my vacation reading list. The first two of these books were started before my trip, the rest were bought/brought specifically for the trip.

1. Shine, Shine, Shine, by Lydia Netzer. She lives in Norfolk and I bought her debut novel after attending her panel at a local writer’s conference. I hadn’t gotten around to starting it until a month ago, but I’m glad I finally did.

2. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Josh Foer. Because I am getting old and forgetful.

3. Cheetah Can’t Lose, by Bob Shea. My sister and brother-in-law bought me his book, Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great, and it is pretty great. I couldn’t help buying this one too! Love his illustrations and love his humor.

4. Howl’s Moving Castle, by Dianne Wynn Jones. Saw the movie first, of course, because I am a HUGE Miyazaki fan (TOTORO!!). The novel is similar, the story goes a little differently. Loved it.

5. Divergent, by Veronica Roth. Before the movie arrives! It felt like a mashup of Twilight and the Hunger Games, but not nearly as fun to read as those. Now I’m feeling meh about picking up the second one or even about seeing the movie.

6. Steal like an Artist, by Austin Kleon. Something I could pick up and read a little bit at a time to keep me motivated.

7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. My Gaiman fandom started with Sandman (best.comic.ever.). I’ve really enjoyed his stories for younger audiences, Coraline, Wolves in the Walls, but previously struggled to get into his novels. Because it’s not very long, and told from the point of view of a child, it would be easy to think of this book as another one of his scary tales for kids, like Coraline. When I got to the end, that was my first impression. But scenes from the book have haunted me every day since I finished reading it. The more it lingers, the more I realize how grown-up the tale actually is.

8. Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger. It feels uncomfortable to share this because this book is so personal to me. And I feel even more vulnerable revealing this is the 5th time I’ve read the book! (I am still that teenage girl.)

9. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Yes, I was supposed to read this in high school, but never actually did, and have been trying to make up for it for 20 years now (along with a few other books I skated through). All it took was three days of no TV or wifi to finish it! Finally! And it warn’t bad t’all.

It was such a luxury to read so much in such a short time! Back to reality now.

Huck leaves the island

Huck leaves the island

Finding inspiration, staying motivated

What have I been doing all this time instead of writing? Besides bugging people about t-shirts? I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here or on Facebook. I’ve been trying to get out of a creative rut. Or a motivational rut. Are they the same thing? Sometimes. Usually for me, I have to first find the motivation to get out of the rut. Then get myself out of the creative one. I’ll admit that I don’t always do I good job of pushing/pulling myself out of rut after rut after rut. I succumb to the motivation killers of TV and internet really often.

But I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing lately to motivate myself and stay inspired. I won’t attempt to give advice on how to be more creative, find inspiration and increase productivity. There are A LOT of lists out there by creative people more well-known and smarter than me that will give you the top 10 or 15 or 22 ways to just do it already (creatively, I mean). I’ll just write and show you what I did to feel inspired.

1. I hung out with my friends’ kids. I squeezed 7 month old calves and poked little dimpled feet. I spent time with friends whose kids love Marmion, and listened to them tell me how their kids still love to read it again and again. And who get so excited to have a t-shirt. So excited they point at me when I come to visit wearing my own Marmion shirt, like I’ve committed a crime, and say, “You have a Marmion shirt!” And are so happy to be getting their own shirt, they won’t let me get through lunch without asking every 5 minutes, “When are you going to finish your lunch? Are you finished eating now? Now are you finished? When will you get the t-shirts from your car? Are you going to get them now? Can I help you get the t-shirts from the car? Please????” Just to be clear, I wasn’t annoyed at all. I LOVED IT! Interacting with kids reminds me why I want to keep writing children’s books!

2. I drew pictures of food. Just for fun. Without making it a project. Without any forethought. Without thinking about showing anyone. Just listening to music and grabbing scrap paper and playing around. (One might even be a teaser for the next Marmion story!) Couple more drawings here.

lollipop swirl

sandwich pastel

cookie for you cookie for me

3. I colored. When I started to run out of inspiration to draw food, I stumbled across the Rap Coloring Book on my Tumblr feed. Because it’s not really Marmion or children’s picture book related, I’ll link to the pages I colored here. It’s perfectly safe to view, no profanities or anything, but for now, I’m keeping my identity as a children’s illustrator separate. Is that weird? (Feel free to let me know.) But these were so fun to do, and a nice way to loosen up the technique muscles, without facing outcome anxiety every 5 seconds (or every time I set a pencil or pastel down onto paper). And the best thing with these is you can color by hand or by computer. I did both.

What’s great, I’ve thought of new projects and new ideas to explore beyond the character of Marmion. What is less great, now I have to do all of them! The process of staying motivated starts again.

Timidity and why I wrote Marmion

People have asked me how the Arts Festival experience went, and I would say, it was ok. I didn’t sell as much as I wanted, 7 books and 2 t-shirts, about half the amount I was hoping for. But I didn’t see it as bad experience at all, just disappointing. It was hard seeing the faces people made as they walked by. The cringing like they were embarrassed for me faces. Or the slightly confused gradually replaced with “good luck with that, sucker” faces. Faces that I’ve made before! So, I don’t blame anyone. And I’ve worked in retail, so I know how it can be. All of which made it easier for me to brush it off, because how did I really know what they were thinking? Or I thought it was easy for me to brush off.  Until I was completely exhausted by the anxiety of the whole experience right after. And until I noticed how small and embarrassed I constantly felt later in the week.

I was teaching yoga and noticed how quiet my voice had gotten. And it kept getting quieter the longer I talked. In my head I was telling myself, speak louder, project from the belly and diaphragm. But my belly was a quaking nervous wreck. So I turned down the music and kept going as best I could. The next morning in my next class, it happened again. I was staring at myself in the mirror, demonstrating a pose, watching that quiet voice leave my mouth, and finding it physically impossible to speak louder.

Here I was, timid again. I remember one time when I heard that word used to describe me, from a friend a few years ago. She had introduced me to a group of her friends, and she told me later, one (or some) of them had found me “timid.” I was furious and shocked. Sure, I’m shy, quiet, reserved. All those words seem acceptable for an introvert like me, but timid? After a few weeks of self-righteous anger, I realized I was timid. Because I remembered why I was timid. I was a pretty unpopular kid growing up. By my sophomore/junior year of high school, I had managed to gain a few friends who knew me well, but I was also well into my coping strategy of pretending to be invisible. Of shrinking to make myself small and unnoticeable. To be as unremarkable as possible. Better to attract no attention, than the negative kind I was used to. When I’m feeling insecure in my life, personally and professionally, I revert to this small, scared self.

But this time I wasn’t just insecure about myself and how people were perceiving me, I was embarrassed and insecure about Marmion. I thought about trying again to brush it off (yes, I hear Jay-Z every time I use this phrase), and stop being so insecure (which is so easy let me tell you), and then I remembered why I wrote Marmion. Because I was tired of letting fear turn me into someone else. Marmion is scared and he keeps trying to become something he’s not, putting on all these protective masks. And I was doing it again, by trying to force myself into the happy, bubbly, funny, and tough-as-nails children’s book author I thought I was supposed to be.

Two quotes happened to pop up on my Tumblr dashboard in the last month that perfectly capture the reason I wrote Marmion, and the motivation for writing it. (And we all love quotes nowadays, right? I apologize for not giving these a cool font and photoshopping them onto some gauzily filtered landscape.)

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” — L.R. Knost, author of children’s and parenting books

“The best way to complain is to make things.” — James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem

So I let myself feel soft and sensitive and bruised. I let myself feel a little scared, but I had to choose not to be embarrassed about Marmion. By the weekend, I was still feeling too timid to wear my Marmion shirt. The shirt would identify me as the girl with the embarrassing booth at the Arts Festival! But then I knew, the shirt would identify me as the girl who loved writing a book about a marshmallow. So though I was still scared, I made the choice to wear the shirt all day. Did I feel self-conscious sometimes? Yes. Did I sometimes think people were looking at me funny? Yes, sometimes. But I love my book. And I love Marmion, which is what the t-shirt literally says, so what was I hiding, or really, what version of me was I hiding?

Marmion LOVE T-shirt

Marmion LOVE T-shirt

And I got my teacher voice back. For now. Not just because I wore the shirt, but because I softened into the idea that I was scared, that I had reverted into feeling timid again. I remembered why it was so easy for me to feel that way, and also remembered that I’m not there anymore. I’m still me, but I’m a little older (wiser?), and I don’t spend most of my waking hours in an environment that resembles high school anymore.

In my next yoga class, I projected my voice, was able to speak with authority, and I even went bold and did a crazy variation of goddess pose, inspired by a girl in my kids yoga workshop. And I made everyone sit in goddess while I told the story of how I was inspired to create this crazy arm flow for the pose (their quads are thanking me now). I stuttered, I mumbled an aside of how “you all might hate this next pose..,” but I still did it. Hopefully, I will do it another time without all the verbal crutches and “sorry, sorry, sorries.” I’m still trying to learn Marmion’s lesson about fear. Thanks for your patience while I get there.

Take this marshmallow and stuff it

Look what my mom and I made yesterday! I want to eat him up!

Marmion the Marshmallow toy

photo: Marie Chu

We struggled some with the construction which is why it looks like he has a buzz hair cut. But considering my mom and I have no experience making stuffed animals (though my mom is very good with sewing clothes), this prototype didn’t turn out as badly as I thought it would. He’s pretty cute! I have no sewing experience, so I ended up making a bad choice with the white fabric (upon further research I think fleece would’ve been a better and sturdier choice). We will try again with some major changes. I’m thinking no arms and legs next time, just a marshmallow with eyes? As you can see, we didn’t attempt the hands and feet because of how difficult that white fabric was to work with.

I wanted to make a Marmion doll because many children’s authors advise having a prop for school readings. For many reasons I won’t get into, we weren’t able to make one in time for my readings at AUCP and James River Elementary. Judging from the comments and questions I got from the first graders at James River, I think a Marmion doll would be a big hit! (They also asked if there’s a Marmion video game… any freelance app developers interested in contacting me about that??)

“Hi there!! I am ready for HUGS!!”