Book Salad


boxofbooksSo I published a book last week. It’s called Brain Changer: A Mother’s Guide to Cognitive ScienceI formatted the text and created a cover out of a free-use photograph and an open source knock-off of Photoshop. I collected blurbs and wrote about myself in the third person: “Janine Kovac is the recipient of the Glushko Prize for distinguished research in cognitive science and an Elizabeth George Foundation Fellowship from Hedgebrook.” I updated my Amazon author profile and my Goodreads profile. I put a picture of the cover on Facebook.

I always imagined publishing a book like birthing a kid. You know—there’s the anticipation, the list of names, the birth announcements. And to fit with the analogy, perhaps self-publishing was like a home birth where I called all the shots.

But this was more like rummaging through the fridge looking for salad items to throw together for a potluck. Since my goal was to build a backlist with a little ebook, I wasn’t looking to write a magnum opus; I was looking for 10,000 words that more or less fit together.

I came across a collection of blog posts I’d written for a website called Raising Happiness. The posts paired a tip for raising kids with its practical application as Matt and I navigated a risky twin pregnancy that resulted in micro preemie twins born three months before they were due—but viewed through the lens of cognitive science.

Originally, the NICU/cognitive science motif had been the premise of a memoir, but as I learned how to build scenes, transitions, and tension, the narrative arc of the micro preemie story leaned away from cognitive science and toward—of all things—the unexpected end of my ballet career. That book is still looking to make its way into the world.

But here were ten posts, already written, that could be thrown together and sold for $4.99 as an ebook. Perfect ingredients for my self-publishing “salad.” Unfortunately, the pieces were obviously written for online. There were references to other websites and as a serial, each post had one or two lines to catch the audience up to speed. The essays had to be cleaned up if I wanted to put them together as a book.

I didn’t worry about the narrative arc or the hero’s journey and I didn’t follow the self-help template. I just focused on how to make the pieces sound like a coherent whole.

It wasn’t until after I submitted my files for printing and ordered 25 copies of my book that I realized what I’d done. I’d written the book I’d intended to write seven years ago—a memoir of our time in the NICU and how cognitive science helped us through a very challenging time.

And it happens to make a perfect stocking stuffer. You can get the ebook through iTunes or Amazon and you can get a hard copy of the book here.

THE BOOK OF KID: the origin story


BookOfKidCoverI didn’t write THE BOOK OF KID. My daughter’s third-grade class did. I just published it. Their teacher, Ms Diamond, asked her students to give their parents some child-rearing advice. And it turns out they have a lot to tell you (spoiler alert: they want you to get off Facebook and play with them.)

It started as the classroom project for the school auction. I thought I’d get involved. After all, I like books. And I had a printer. Match made in Heaven.

The kids made a list of stuff they wanted their parents to know. For example, my daughter wanted me to know that “Just because we are little versions of you, doesn’t mean we act like you.” Which is interesting, because we look nothing alike.

From their list, each child picked one snippet of advice as the caption to a picture they drew. The picture was then traced onto foam, which became the cut for a color print. Then each 8.5″ x 11″ page was bound accordion-fashion into a book. The winning bid for the book was $800.

Since the class made two copies of their print, I had a complete set which was then scanned and put into a book-book with the rest of the students’ advice. I have to say, it’s really heartbreaking, and if I had a little more editorial control, I might have sat them down and said, “So let’s start with all the stuff your parents do that you really like.” Because it’s not so pleasant to realize how much your kids notice. Like, how often we’re on our phones or how often we complain about someone else.

Because the impetus for the book was a fundraiser, it only seemed right that the royalties from the sale of the book would be donated. We discussed it, and the students were given three options: 1) the money would go to their school; 2) the money would be donated to the middle school that many of them will attend in sixth grade; or 3) the children would donate the money to another elementary school in Oakland Unified School District.

To make the decision, Ms. Diamond didn’t just ask for a show of hands; she made them write opinion pieces. What were the pros and cons of donating money to the neighborhood middle school? The kids had to address tough questions that accompany any gift. What would the school spend it on? What if the kids wanted the money to be spent on computers but it went to something more boring, like school supplies?

After a month of discussion, each child wrote an essay and read it to the class. A blind vote was taken. The winner? Another elementary school in Oakland. Stay tuned to figure out which school will receive the royalties generated by the book sales.

The book is available on Amazon and Create Space as well as Diesel Books and Pegasus Books.

OH, and here’s what some superstar grownups had to say about THE BOOK OF KID:

“A great reminder for parents of kids of all ages: Kids are taking notes every time we swear, check our phones compulsively, or say something negative about someone else. This book is an inspiration to be the best role models that we can be. Moreover, this advice from children to parents mirrors what research shows is best for them; sometimes kids really do know best!”
Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents 

“The Book of Kid is evidence that kids hear and see and know more than we sometimes give them credit for. This book is chocked full of sound advice from kids to parents, advice that will help us be our best selves and also the parents our kids need. Read this book and then go play, listen, hug and challenge your kids. They’re begging for it!”
Kate Hopper, founder of Motherhood & Words & author of Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers

“This little book has the potential to transform lives – if parents follow the sage advice in these pages, relationships can improve, children will thrive, and the benefits will radiate out into the world with positive repercussions for generations to come. I highly recommend this book for parents of young children everywhere.”
–Nina Lesowitz, co-author of the bestselling titles Living Life as a Thank YouWhat Would You Do if You Knew You Could Not Fail?; and The Grateful Life.

“If you don’t want to wait until your child grows up to find out how you could have been a better parent, read this book of heartfelt and surprising third grade wisdom. These children know better than many adults what is really important. Their beautifully illustrated jewel of a book has a prominent place in the waiting room of my child psychology practice.”
–Lucinda Cummings, PhD, Licensed Psychologist

“Listen to your children, Put down your phone, swear less, don’t bad mouth family–easily the best parenting advice I’ve ever read, and straight out of the mouths of funny, honest, wise kids.”
Ann Imig, founder of the national live storytelling series, video-sharing company, and acclaimed book LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER

They Said It Couldn’t Be Done


The Goal: Wear the quinceñeary-est quinceñeara dress to Litquake’s opening night party next Friday without spending any money to acquire said dress.

The Solution: Find someone who happens to have an old wedding dress which she uses to play dress up with kids and sit around until she gives it to you.



But get your frowny face emoticons ready.

All the directions that describe how to dye great big dresses claim that you cannot dye it if it’s 100% polyester. Cannot dye because it does not work or cannot dye because it does not work well? That’s what I had to find out.

It took approximately 16 hours of scouring the Internet (or 20 minutes if you take out interruptions) and skimming through DIY dye blogs where industrious young people sent their cute, 100% polyester off-white formals to Florida to be professionally dyed for undisclosed amounts of time and money, before I found what I was after. Back in 2003 on some costume forum, GitaGurl23 asked: “I want to dye my wedding dress for Halloween. It doesn’t have to look great. Can I do it?”

And the answer posted six years later in 2009: “Yes. And here’s how.”

The solution involved using isopropyl alcohol with water at a ratio of 7:1 (something about it evaporating faster), an iron to bind the color with heat (polyester is essentially plastic fibers, that’s why the color doesn’t hold), and a third thing that I read but subsequently ignored.

“I don’t have time to do this,” I thought. And immediately drove to Target and bought a 34-gallon bin, 3 bottles of RIT fuchsia dye, 2.5 gallons of isopropyl alcohol, and—because I fell under the spell that is Target—a jacket (so cute! and cheap! and the right size!), a pair of shoes (wrong size, oops) and ant traps. (We don’t have ants but I always like to be prepared).

The prospect of making white things pink was an exciting one, inspiring Michael to throw in a pair of underwear along with the dress.


before (dress and underpants)



materials to dye dress according to some random Internet forum

“I hope we don’t get some kind of chemical burn from these fumes,” I thought, as the children emptied bottles of rubbing alcohol into the bin.

Now, I’m not much for following directions, but here’s what I did and didn’t do.

1) 7:1 ratio of alcohol to water.

Nope. I added the 2.5 gallons as pictured above and perhaps another ten gallons of hot water.

2) Hot water (140 degrees).

Nope. I added some boiling water and a bunch of water from the hose outside. It was warm but not super hot.

3) Clean garment first.

Nah. I washed the bottom of the dress and the train in the tub because that was the dirtiest part of the dress. But I’m too impatient to wait for a dress that weighs more than my firstborn child to drip dry in my shower. And I’m way too cheap to dry clean it.

4) One bottle of dye for every two pounds of fabric.

I just grabbed three bottles and decided that should be enough.


pink things in a bucket

This photo was supposed to be informative. You know, the way they do in the DIY blogs. But really it just looks like pink tulle in a bucket. Or maybe it looks like flamingo carcasses. I don’t know. This is my first DIY blog post.


5) Use rubber gloves. 

This is the one thing I should have done. Because the vinyl gloves I used were very thin. My left hand was bright pink for about 10 hours after dyeing.

6) Leave in dye for 30 – 60 minutes stirring constantly.

Seriously? I have things to do! I think I did about 25 minutes and then we hung the behemoth to drip dry in the backyard over an old shower curtain. (Which meant I didn’t iron it dry, either.)


In short, I didn’t follow any of the special directions and it still looks fantastic, right?

A couple of caveats: turns out I can’t rinse the dress because most of the dye will rinse out. Also, the color isn’t totally even. The bottom is a little darker than the rest of the dress. And maybe I should have spent more time cleaning it because there are parts near the neckline that are dark pink (presumably something oil-based–makeup?) that absorbed a lot of dye. OH–and for several hours after dyeing, the whole thing reeked of alcohol. And not the good-party kind. The hospital kind. (It eventually wore off.)

In short, the professionals are right. You shouldn’t dye a polyester dress if you want the color to be uniform and permanent. But if you don’t mind the funky, dye away!

P.S. The tightie-whitey Hanes underwear is a beautiful bright fuchsia, much to Michael’s delight.







(Michael, if, like GitaGurl23’s forum question, this post survives on the Internet for another ten years, I want you to know that you really loved this underwear.)