Monday, February 28, 2005

I think I'll start a blog

The first time I heard the word "blog," it alarmed me. Blog. It was a Wired magazine meets Edgar Allan Poe meets Startrek moment. And when used in the same sentence as the internet, it sent a whole mirage of formidable images to my brain.

But not to worry, just a new internet term referring to an online journal. Web-log, blog. Get it? Think I'll give it a try.

Here's how my friends and family reacted:

My wife: Your going to keep a diary?
What she was probably thinking: Oh, please don't make me read your writing.

My aunt: Not me, I'm an author. I get paid to write.
What she was probably thinking: Why can't he leave the writing to us pros and go back to coloring his books?

My daughter: Dad, Ewwww! I don't want to read about you!
What she was probably thinking: Hasn't he figured it out? I want to talk about me. My life. Me, myself, I.

My wife: Why would you want to keep a journal for the world to see, but you wouldn't do a Purpose Filled Life journal with me?
What she was probably thinking: Wonder if this blogging-thing will last as long as the bodybuilding-thing did.

My yahoo group: I've got a blog. I've got one, too. Have you seen mine?
What they were probably thinking: Show off.

My mom: What's a blog?
What she was probably thinking: Blug. Blog. Blue? He's using some new internet word that he's going to be mad at me about if I don't know what in the world he's talking about. Googling, Yahooing, downloading, oh my gosh!

My wife: Oh, I haven't seen it yet.
What she was probably thinking: I cook your stinkin' dinner, I wash your filthy drawers, I clean your dirty dishes. Please, don't ask me to read your freakin' blog. Honey.

My in-laws: (never returned my emails)
What they would think: Blog? When's he going to make some money and buy my daughter some curtains for her naked kitchen windows. Till that time, I don't want to hear about no...what's that word again?

My coworkers: Oh.
What they were probably thinking: I could care less about what you do once you leave here. Or for that matter, when you're here. Could you work for me on Saturday?

My boss: That's cool! How can I start a blog on customizing car engines?
What he was probably thinking: This guy's cool, he deserves a raise.

One of my author friends: Great! I'll blog you on my blog tomorrow!
What she was probably thinking: Great! I'll blog you on my blog tomorrow!

Unrelated thought for the day: Cheers for Jamie Fox and Morgan Freeman

Sunday, February 27, 2005

How do real writers do it?

It's Saturday. I've got all day. My son's soccer game has been cancelled because of rain. I can write. I can sketch. I can blog! The problem: my wife has to work. She never has to work a Saturday, but this day, her company is sponsoring a science fair. So it's me and the Kolb, my 3-year old son together all day. But I'm determined. I can do this. I can care for the child. I can sketch. I can write. I can blog. As soon as I take him to the barber, get him some donuts and slip in his favorite video. No problem.

Time to write. I slip up to the computer. Spew out a few ideas.

"Dad. Dad. Daddy! Daddy!" He's screaming at the top of his lungs.

"I want some juice," he demands.

So, I stop, get him some juice. Cut him a slice of pizza cause I know that's his next demand. Back to work, I organize my thoughts.

"Dad. Dad. DADDY! DADDY! DADDY!" He's screaming again. My hairs stand on end.

"What do you want!" I'm screaming now, too.

"Gotta go to the potty!" He yells back.

"Well, go! You don't need my permission," I sceam. That was easy. Back to work.

"Daddy. DADDY! My hands are sticky, I can't turn on the light," he yells.

Tidy little fart. I give up. We potty. We take a nap together.

I wake up before he does. Great! I'll get in some sketching.

I do some initial blocking in of shapes. I'm working on a spread with the pig character for my next book, and I'm looking forward to further developing this character. I layer a piece of tracing paper over the drawing. I start sketching.

"Dad. Dad! DADDY! DADDY!" He's awake. He's yelling again.

"I want some juice," he's demanding again.

"I already got you some juice!" I'm seething now.

"I want some more," he says softly, with puppy dog eyes. I get him some more. Slip in another video. Maybe I can blog now. I thought.

I start to write. Slap down some ideas. Got a good one. I experience an "ah-ha" moment, the kind writers so often have described to me. I'm excited!

"DAD! DAD! DAD! DAD! DAD! DAD!" He doesn't stop. I'm livid. I'm going to kill him. No, I can't kill him, I love him. I'm going to beat him. No, I can't beat him, I value my freedom. I'm going to scream. I scream.

"WHAT! WHAT DO YOU WANT! DON'T SCREAM AT ME NO MORE. I'M BUSY. LEAVE ME ALONE. WATCH YOUR VIDEO. AND IF YOU WANT ME, BRING YOUR BUTT UPSTAIRS AND TALK TO ME. NO MORE SCREAMING!" I'm screaming like a madman with such force, my vocal cords feel as if they're going to burst. He says nothing.

"Kolb! Kolb?" I'm hollering back with a softer tone now. Still he says nothing, so I go check on him. He's sitting there. He's not crying, but I've hurt him. So I stop working. I tell him I'm sorry. We play a game. We do an exercise video together. Power yoga, so I'm all relaxed and ready for round two with him. It's now 8 p.m.-ish.

But my wife comes home. I can work! I can sketch! I can blog!

"Honey, I'm tired. I'm going to bed," she exclaims matter-of-factly.

Fine, I'm thinking. But it's bedtime for Kolb, too. I feed him. Put on his pajamas and march him to bed. Kiss him good night. "Good night, my man. I love you," I tell him, felling a bit guilty for my earlier actions and for putting him to bed on a Saturday night so early. None the less, he's in bed. I'll blog. "I GET TO BLOG!" my mind soars. I sit down. Open a file. Spew out a few ideas onto a blank page.

"Dad. Dad. Daddy! Daddy!" He's screaming.

"What!" I'm yelling back hoping the wife hears and feels sorry for having left me with the little bugger all day.

"You didn't give me my medicine, yet," he pronounces. Medicine, I think. What kid looks forward to taking medicine? I run some water. Drop in a tablet which takes about 5 minutes to dissolve. Give it to him and put him back to bed. I go back to work. Reorganize my thoughts.

"Dad! Dad! DADDY! DADDY, I have to go to the potty." Ahhhh! I'm burning. But we do the potty. Back to bed. Back to my blog.

Ring...ring...ring. The phone. It's my daughter calling from Phoenix.

"Hi dad, I've been trying to get you all day, she says." We talk for a short time. But her call wakes the wife who now want to catch up on all that's happened while she was out that day. Sigh.

I give up. Grab a beer, maybe 3, And I listen.

Tell me again. How do you real writers do it?

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Oscar Sunday

In a recent interview, Chris Rock called the Academy Awards "idiotic" for giving out honors for the arts. Rock was quoted as saying, "What straight black man sits there and watches the Oscars?"

So, will I watch on Sunday? Hell yea! Will I care about the fashions? Hell yea! I guess you forgot about that green, low-cut, practically-frontless number that Jennifer Lopez wore some time ago to the Oscars. Or maybe it was the Grammys, but who's counting. Rock is a comedian. And a talented, savy one at that. He knows what he's doing. Getting attention. That's what they hired him for. So, the more controversial and outlandish his comments, the more of us will tune in to watch what's being described as a slow Oscar year. I mean if they wanted boring and uncontroversial they'd have hired Paul McCartney, as the Super Bowl did.

My father-in-law is the manliest of men. Afterall, he's a Super Bowl watcher even without Janet Jackson to spruce things up. But he'll be watching the Oscars, too. For the last month, he and his wife have been in hot pursuit to see all the nominated movies. They have the winners made up in their own minds. They'll rejoice. They'll lament. But whatever happens, they'll be tuned in.

I'm on deadline. My first set of sketches is due to the publisher next week. So, I'll be busy working. But I'll have one eye on my drawings and the other on Hilary Swank.

Fashion show? Sure it is. But so's the typical black baptist congregation on any given Sunday. Full of men in their Sunday best. And they'll be watching and cheering, along with their wives and girlfriends, for Jamie Foxx or Don Cheadle to walk away as the Best Actor in a Leading Role. And so will I.

Unrelated thought for the day: Um, Jennifer Lopez in that green, low-cut, practically-frontless number

Friday, February 25, 2005

It's been a good week when...

...i receive an advance and signed contract for a new children's book.

...someone notices one of my blog entries and suggest I try to get it published in the newspaper.

...i receive a contract in the mail for a new licensing deal.

...i receive a royalty from Disney. Lunch money, but none the less who can say Mickey Mouse treated them to lunch at Hula Hut.

...when my teen-aged daughter who never gets out of bed before noon unless theres an earthquake or natural disaster quickly wakes up to return my call upon discovering it was me who text messaged her.

...neither of our cars break down although my truck is smoking profusely. son screams an enthusiastic "HI DADDY, MOMMY IT'S MY DADDY" when I call home to be sure they're still up and waiting for me when I get off of work.

...i receive an unexpected royalty from my bed and bath collection. Lunch money for the next two years. publisher mails the art specifications for my book which should have been sent five months ago. Hey, better late than never and if I miss the deadline, I have one helluvan excuse. out-of-the-question, $45.00 shirt is on sale for $3.50 and I actually can afford to buy 8 of 'em, giving me a reason to actually like shopping when I normally can't stand it.

...a child support check is returned to me because my teen-aged daughter is now of age and I no longer have to support my ex-wife's now defunct weekly shopping sprees.

...i can finally afford to pay a lawn service to cut my overgrown, weedy and fireant infested grass.

...when my mom sends me a nice personal email message complementing my fathering skills instead of forwarding me more spam, internet urban legends, or virus alerts.

...the cashier IDs me for a beer and she's seriously shocked to discover that I'm old enough to be her dad. 23-year old out-and-gone daughter sends a text message to remind me that "Ur still my daddy." (she must need some money)

... my wife does the laundry and neatly folds up my underwear just like I like, even though she thinks underwear-folding is ridiculously unnecessary and balls hers up in a pile.

Indeed, it's been a good week.

Unrelated thought for the day: An African Pope? A black African Pope? That's the chatter! I could have alot of fun with this. But I won't. Not yet anyway.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

What's the deal with Michael Jackson?

The jury for the Michael Jackson child molestation case has been selected. My first concern was that there were no black jurors selected. Four men, eight women, seven white, four Hispanic and one Asian. The brotha is in trouble, I first thought. But after taking notice of his recent picture I realized that there is noting black about Michael Jackson except the color of his hair and eyeliner.

Anybody who knows me from back in the day can attest to the fact that I was Michael Jacksons biggest fan. That was back when it was cool to profess your love of Michael. But what happened to the guy with the big fro that my female cousins wanted to marry and my male cousins wanted to emulate? What happened to the guy who looked like me? The guy with dark skin, a fat nose and full lips. The guy who made you feel proud at the mere mention of his name.

Twenty years ago he was a nice-looking, young black man. He has evolved into a fairly grotesque-looking white woman.

I do believe his claim of having the rare skin disorder vitiligo which robs its victims of skin pigment. My grandmother had the same disorder and I myself suffer from Alopecia Areata, a genetic cousin of vitiligo. But my grandmother's pigment was spotty. Half of her face as well as her arms and hands were spotted with porcelain-white patches. Did Michael do something to completely bleach his skin? I don't know. I don't believe a product like this even exists. Believe me, with so many confused black folk running around claiming to be anything but black, drug companies would triple their profits if white came in pill form.

Back in the day, folks in the black community dressed up to go out. And on one occasion, I was dressed to the hilt looking my Michael Jackson best. And my jeri-curl was laid with a long curly swoop of hair locs dangling down just above one eye. I was cool, so I thought. But that was until some guy in the mens restroom who was fond of my Michael Jackson hairstyle and duds invited me home to, as he said, "get to know him better." I quickly visited the barber opting for the more macho and conservative high-top fade. But I kept the little swoop. I still thought that to be cool.

I knew something wasn't right, hanging out with little boys. They started showing up in his videos. Singing parts on his songs. On his arm at awards ceremonies.

My affection for Michael had started to wane. But I was still proud when he performed the moonwalk across the stage on the Motown 25 anniversary special. Many folks thought he invented that step. But those of us from back in the day who were Jackson fans before MTV and Thriller made him popular with whites knew he was just demonstrating steps from the streets, steps first debuting on Soul Train by the break-dance group called the Lockers.

I hung in there with him as long as I could, even purchasing his last album Invincible, although I did wait til the aisle was clear of other people, slipped the CD under the diaper bag and quickly made my way to the check out. Wasn't worth it.

I don't know what's going to happen with Michael now. I think he's in trouble. But I just wish that someday, he'd let us all in on the joke and that it would make perfect sense in retrospect. And he'll go back to making great music, and making us proud once again.

Unrelated thought for the day: Why's fat people always the first in line at the office food alter?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Meet Illustrator Kurt Cyrus

Like you to meet my new best friend, author/illustrator Kurt Cyrus. Kurt is the illustrator of the newly published book Buddy : The Story of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster, 2005) written by Anne Bustard. Although I was already familiar with his work, I just made his cyber-acquaintance this past weekend. How'd he reach such high regard in such a short time? He sent an email and praised my artwork. What "wow!" does for the ego.

Anywho, Kurt is the talented illustrator of 11 children's books, several of which he authored. Three of his recently illustrated books are Sixteen Cows (Harcourt Children's Books, 2002), The Mousery (Gulliver Books, 2000) and Oddhopper Opera: A Bug's Garden of Verses (Harcourt Children's Books, 2001).

As he puts it, "I'm more a drawer than painter," however I beg to differ, he handles watercolor, oil paints and color pencil with skill. And what this guy does with cows! Just check out a few of his book covers.

Through several email exchanges we discussed the book business and soon the amateur journalist in me took over. Here's what he had to say:

Devas T.: I started this blog a couple months ago. But I'm an illustrator, an art guy like you. I have no idea what I'm writing about tomorrow. Can you help a brotha out? Share with me your story behind the story of Buddy Holly.

Kurt: When the editor sent me Anne's manuscript, she said she thought we should view it as simply the story of a boy discovering his passion for music. The boy turns out to be Buddy Holly, but it wasn't to be treated as a biography. SO, that's how I approached it. I tried not to blatantly screw up the historical record, but I didn't get anal about it either.

As the months went by and I worked on the pictures, the text continued to be revised, with more historical details being added, I assume at the editor's urging. By the time I finished the illustrations, the emphasis of the text had shifted somewhat away from the "story of a boy" to something more documentary. The art director even deleted a puppy from one of my finished pieces because someone discovered that Buddy hadn't yet got his puppy at that time.

That's a long way of saying that we never fully settled on how we were going to approach this book. We might have had a smoother operation if we'd taken more time and published it a year later. But I loved reading about Buddy Holly, and soon found myself even more fascinated with the characters around him than I was with Buddy himself. It was fun to go online and find out what became of some of his early pals. I also enjoyed fitting together pieces of the puzzle from different reference materials... what kind of car the band drove to their early gigs, with the bass fiddle strapped to the roof.

I just hope Anne is happy with how the book turned out. She worked very hard on it.

Devas T.: You have a way with animals and a keen eye for anatomy. I love how the humor and personality of the cows shines through on the cover of SIXTEEN COWS. I would assume you raise cows, you've captured them so well. How did you approach the subject?

Kurt: For drawing animals, I start out in my thumbnails sketching the animal from my imagination, in the position that works for the story. Then I look for reference photos. They never seem to match the angle that I'm drawing, so I gather as many photos and diagrams as I can find, and study the animal's anatomy so I can rotate it around to the angle I want. That's all. I don't go to the zoo and climb in the cages, or raise mice. I'm pretty lazy about it.

Devas T.: I work mostly in oils, working 3 to 5 paintings at once. Any more than that overwhelms me. I need to see that after a couple days I've made some progress. What process do you follow for producing multiple illustrations?

Kurt: One whole wall of my small studio is rigged for hanging my works in progress. I have 3 wires stretched across the wall, with small clothes pins strung on the wires, so I can hang three rows of paintings to dry, or just to keep them safe and out of my way. So, basically the whole book is hanging on that wall. That way I can jump from one painting to another as the mood strikes me, or if I have a certain color mixed and want to use it up. So there's never a logjam. But I don't soak and stretch my watercolor paper. I just use it loose. That makes a difference.

For oils, I have a home made drying box, with a 75 watt light bulb for heat, and 4 wooden dowels with clothes pins for hanging pictures to dry. It amazes me how quickly oils will dry in that box. And when I need to trace something, I remove the wooden lid, slap on a piece of plexiglass, turn on the light bulb, and it becomes a light box.

Devas T.: Thanks Kurt. I enjoyed this exchange. Keep up your great work!

Kurt and Anne Bustard will be signing their book Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly at Book People, 603 North Lamar Blvd. in Austin on April 9th.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Soccer dads

I had forgiven my dad for his nonexistance in the lives of me and my three brothers. I figured, I'm grown now, water under the bridge, so I accepted his absence. That was until 3 years ago when I had my own son. I love him dearly, and I can't imagine not being a part of his every day, in some regard.

My 3-year old son had his third soccer game this past weekend. I watched and cheered him on from the sidelines. And he was watching me. He ran fast as his legs could move him. He kicked at the ball although missing most times. He jumped out the way barley missing a knockdown. Finally, he was knocked down. But whatever happened, he looked back at me. His eyes met mine and he'd fight back a grin of renewed confidence. He didn't want it to show. But it showed. The other boys did the same. Kick a goal, look for dad. Make a recover, look for dad. And each time I could tell by the expression on their faces, their eyes had found him. Not to dis mom, she's important, of course. He needs her encouragment, of course. He desires her approval, of course. But moms a girl, dad's a boy and instinctively he sees himself through his dad.

I know, because that's who I was looking for. And my eyes rarely found his.

So no matter what kind of deadline I have looming I'll be at Kolby's game. And every one following. Because my eyes meeting his does the same for my soul, as it does for him.

Dad, you missed out.


Unrelated thought for the day: Ok Mike, no more games. Let's get this over with.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Copyrights, trademarks, patents and headaches

Just finished a conversation with an attorney who specializes in copyrights, trademark registrations, patents and such. My agent referred me to him concerning a 2006 calendar I am developing for Shades of Color. I have developed two creative properties (fancy term referring to my cartoons) to be used on the calendar. Do I need copyrights, trademark registrations, patents or what? This is a little different than books where my publisher handles copyright registration. Lawyers — thank GOD, we need 'em — but they make my head spin.

My agent says that we probably won't make much money on these calendars as compared to the bed and bath collection. It'll be an avenue for getting the designs high public visibility. Who knows where this will lead, but I'm betting on a cartoon TV series. While the copyright procedure is simple, about $25.00 per design, getting each trademark registered with the government is going to cost more than I will likely make in profits, $850.00 per trademark. I have two trademarks to register. I won't be going this route.

I did learn the importance of including a copyright on the images I create. I almost never do this. I assumed that once the company received the art, and the product itself was copyrighted with my name printed on it, I'd be covered. Possibly, but it's safer, according to this lawyer, to include this information as part of the art, particularly if the art is speculative and you are attempting to sell a design that hasn't be used yet.

Also learned that while the name of my bed and bath collection (enter your zip code)is Kidz, it would have better served me to give the collection a name like Don Tate's Kidz Collection or Tate'z Kidz.

Legal stuff, BLECH!


Unrelated thought for the day: How come some days Flash just plain won't work like the directions say?

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Saturday Night live

NBCs "Saturday Night Live" will celebrate it's 30th-year anniversary on Sunday, with a focus on the first five years. They'll feature interviews with some of the shows original stars, including Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Laraine Newman and Garrett Morris.

I'll watch out of a sense of nostalgia, after all its "Saturday Night." But, I never much cared for this show. I never found it very funny. I usually ended up forcing my laughs around water cooler discussions the Monday following the show.

What I remember most about it was the opening music. Didn't like that either. The show aired at 10:30 p.m. and that music only meant that I was still home, had no date and my friends were already out for the evening.

Those years of sneaking a listen to Redd Foxx , Richard Pryor and Moms Mabley albums kinda spoiled my sense of humor for the likes of John Belushi and Bill Murray. Maybe it was a cultural thing, but compared to Richard Pryor, Belushi was simply fat, clumsy, obnoxious and loud. To me, comics like Redd Foxx mastered the art of storytelling. I laughed till I cried listening to them tell a funny story, and they didn't need to fall down, scream, spit or wear a funny costume to crack me up.

All wasn't stale, in fact every sixth or seventh sketch was gut-busting hysterical. But it didn't get funny for me until years later when Eddie Murphy joined the cast. Staying home to have a good laugh with Buckwheat, Mr. Robinson's neighborhood or his impersonations of James Brown were worth a night at home.

Unrelated thought for the day: Am I stupid, but how come I can't post pictures here?

A purple-ish, blue-state read

Writing off topic this weekend, kinda. I finished reading the Color Purple by Alice Walker. I'm twenty years late, the movie and book with all it's hype originally debuted in the early 80s. But I'm just getting past my phase of reading books by black male authors. So I spread my wings. But Alice is sending me back to the brothas.

I didn't like this book. Felt like I needed a good shower after reading it.

There were no heroes in The Color Purple. I remember this fact from the movie. No one to feel good about. No one to be proud of. Everybody was screwed up. I guess we were meant to feel good about Celie. Afterall, she somehow overcame all the oppresive black men in her life. The men who rapped her. Stole her babies. Men who beat her. Frogs as she so-called them, however I think the term referred to men in general. The men were all portrayed as weak cowards except for maybe Samuel the missionary and Adam, her son.

Lesbians, adultry, rape and domestic violence. A bit too blue-state for my taste. Nothing against lesbians, I've got some in my family, too. But Walker presented Celie and Shug's relationship as though nobody noticed they were two girls. I don't know about your family, but if my sister (if I had one) were sleeping with her husbands girlfriend, we'd all be gossipin.' But in this family it was matter-and-a-fact, so what. Everybody slept with everybody, so I guess it was no big deal that Celie and Shug were pushing each others buttons, as Walker put it. More attention was given to the fact that Ceilie was ugly.

In addition Ms. Walker signed off the book with, "I thank everybody in this book for coming. - A.W. author and medium." What is she, some kind of witch?

What I can say positive. I liked the writing style. This epistolary, first-person, novel was easy to follow and written in such that I could get through a few chapters each night. I found her accounts of Africa and African people very interesting. It surly won the Pulitzer on it's narritive qualities and not on the story itself.

But, I think I'll follow up this book with some red-state reading. Possibly that man of faith, George Bush book we heard so much about before the elections. But, that may be a bit too red for my taste.

Other recent reads:

The Road South: A Memoir
by Nathan Hale Turner, Shelley Stewart
I love a rags-to-riches read.

The Harris Men
by RM Johnson
Very enjoyable!

The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother
by James McBride
Interesting. His mother half Jewish(white) and black, so it was intersesting reading how McBride grew in his two cultures

Next read:
The Search For Significance: Seeing Your True Worth Through God's Eyes
by Robert S. McGee


Unrelated thought for the day: Think I'll pass on the meatballs.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Addendum - better yet correction

Ok, I'm still learning the writing side of this business. But thankfully I have great folks to learn from. In my posting, Can you help me get published?, I mentioned that writers might want to seek out agents and that some of those agents charge a small fee. Author Cynthia Leitich Smith reminded me that writers should never use agents who charge fees. They tend to be unscrupulous, so instead find critique groups through writers' organizations like SCBWI or Writers League of Texas.

If you'd like to pay for a professional critique, you might try authors like Bonnie Becker, Esther Hershenhorn or Writersinkville.

Whew. Thanks Cyn!

Can you help me get published?

Dear Devas T,

I am a children's writer in need of an illustrator for one of several children's picture books I have written. It's been my life-long dream to have my stories published as a children's book. I love your work and I need to hire an illustrator to help get my manuscript noticed by a publisher.

My story features Titi the Tiger and Lulu the Ladybug. And it rhymes! It is written for a Pre-Kindergarten child, but I can adapt it to appeal a to a high school or even sophomore college student.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a publisher. Would you be willing to read my manuscript? I've attached it to this email just in case you would be so kind. It's only 50 pages and 2000 words but I can beef up the plot per your suggestions. I've also attached a family portrait. My youngest daughter(bottom left) is the inspiration for the main character. You might consider using her image when developing the Titi character should you decide to illustrate my book. I have a very small budget to work with, but I'd be willing to increase it to as much as $1000.00 to cover fifty paintings. I like your work that much. I would need to own all the copyrights.

Thanks in advance!

Yours truly,

Eager author

If you're reading this page, you've probably visited my website and sent me an email question. If I remember accurately, you asked me how to get your work published, or something along that line. I referred you here in an attempt to help. Of course, the above mail isn't real, but a montage of some I have received. I used to respond to each one. But I'm starting to get quite a few, I'm assuming as a response to my website.

I've been there, so feel bad that I can't simply point you in the direction of some editor who would immediately acquire your manuscript upon my referral. I know what it's like to want your work published but not know where to start.

It wasn't until award-winning artists Brian Pinkney and Floyd Cooper responded to one of my letters that things began to change for me. So I understand the importance of leading people in the right direction. But I'm not a word person. I not the person to evaluate the your manuscript. And I'd never tell an aspiring author/artist that their work was anything but good anyway.

But here's my best attempt to answer a few questions:

I'm a writer, would you read my manuscript and give me some feedback?

I'm an illustrator and wanna-be writer myself. I don't feel comfortable or qualified to review picture book manuscripts. There are agents however who do review manuscripts. Some will review for free and some will charge a small fee. You might try The Association of Authors' Representatives. Writers Net also offers a directory of literary agents. offers an agent search and evaluation tool for finding the right agent for you. Also, get a copy of the Writer's & Illustrator's Guide to Children's Book Publishers and Agents or Children's Writers & Illustrator's Market. Last I purchased one, they listed agents and their fees for reviewing manuscripts.

I've written a book. I don't have a publisher, but will try to get one once I get an illustrator. Would you be interested in illustrating my manuscript?

Congratulations on finishing your manuscript. I think you should focus on revising and polishing your words. They will need to stand alone without any illustrations. Once your manuscript is acquired, your publisher will want to choose an illustrator. At that time I'd much appreciate your passing along my name and website to your editors.

I'm going to self-publish my book. Would you be interested in illustrating it and how much would you charge?

If you are going the self publishing route, be sure to do your homework. There are ways to self publish and ways not to. If, for whatever reason, you have decided against the more traditional route of having your work acquired by a publishing house, self publishing is a great way to get your work printed, bound and ready for distribution. Distribution, however, is the drawback for me. Less opportunity for national distribution equals less sales. Less sales opportunities equals less royalty/advance you can pay for the art.

Not saying I wouldn't work in a self-publishing situation. I have a mortgage and money is money. But I have a literary agent who would be the better person to discuss the particulars. Shoot me an email and I'll give you her contact info.

I am an illustrator. I would like to illustrate a children's book. Would you take a look at my artwork and give me some feedback about my artwork?

Sure! I enjoy reviewing artwork. I'd prefer to look at your online portfolio, so please don't mail art samples or postcards. Save those for the art directors. I may not be able to get to it right away, but when I get a second I will take a look and shoot you an mail.

I am an illustrator. Do I need an agent to get published?

Not necessarily. It's more a personal decision you'll have to make. Most illustration art agents will charge a 25% to 35% commission. Some literary agents do work with illustrators, and the good thing is that they only charge about 12%-15% commission. If you know where to find work on your own, do it yourself and keep the commission. But if you're like me, I need someone who knows where to find work on my behalf. For me, it's worth it to pay an agent who already has personal relationships with editors and art directors. My art agent has found work for me that I would probably never found on my own. Now, my literary agent hasn't found a darn thing for me. But she does negotiate the contract I get on my own and she knows what should and should not be in there. I sure don't. Try this link for a listing of agents who represent artist. Digital directory also has a listing.

I am an author/illustrator. How can I get published?

Good question. When you find out, shoot me an mail. I ask myself that question almost everyday. Luckily, I've been able to find my way with the help of so many great people and some good information. The great people you'll have to find on your own, but here's some information that may help.
See the national SCBWI (Society of Children's Books Writer's and Illustrator's) website. Also, do a Google for a local chapter of SCBWI and join a critique group.

See Harold Underdown's website on Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing Children's Books. Visit Aaron Shepard’s Kidwriting Page for free resources on writing and publishing children's books. Purchase a copy of Children's Writers & Illustrator's Market.

Where can I get more information on getting published?

That question is too big to answer here. But there's lots of info out there. For children's book junkies like myself, I get my daily hit from Cynsations .


Unrelated thought for the day: No, Negroponte is not a black man.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Google, Blogger and Amazon. The Anti-Christ?

Children's books supplement my salary. News and information pays my bills. So when my boss shared with me this little, well not so little 8-minute flash movie, it kinda scared me. Course, the spooky music didn't help.

Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson, who wrote the film while working at the Poynter Institute offer an intriguing, almost frightening perspective of the future history of the media entitled 2014 Museum of Media History. And according to these folks, us bloggers are early contributors to the demise of the press and information as we know it today. Check it out. If anything, you'll find yourself pondering the possibilities they offer.

iMEDIA CONNECTION discusses the theroy this film offers.

Better get back to my children's book because according to these folks, the future sure ain't at the newspaper. But who ever said mine was anyway.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Out of the closet

Here I am. It's me. The real me. The Donald. No, not that Donald, the other Donald.

I've been sort of hiding all this time. Hiding behind my high school pen name, Devas T in an attempt to maintain at least partial anonymity . Wasn't sure if I'd really have the time or desire to actually maintain a weblog. And I wasn't confident enough in my writing/grammar/punctuation /editing skills to completely reveal my true identity. A or an? Conjugating a verb? Colon, semicolon or comma? Scary stuff. I might have to learn some multi-syllable words. But after doing this now for almost two months, I've come to realize -- who cares? It's just a blog. It's free. If the writing is unacceptable, the mortgage still gets paid.

As far as I know, there may not be anyone reading it anyway, except me. Maybe my mom. So time to come out. Added my picture and finished my profile. And I'm still living. But keeping my pen name.

So, let me reintroduce myself. My name is Don Tate. I illustrate for children.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Crunchtime: the race is on!

Only two weeks left before my sketches and dummy book for THE HIDDEN FEAST are due to the editors at August House. Had a productive weekend, though. Went dancing with the wife. Took the Kolb, my 3-year old son to his soccer game. He refused to play, it was a humiliating experience but I'll save that story for another day. Spent both days running family errands. Went to church. Ate out three times. Finished reading the book The Color Purple. Only one thing missing. I didn't get any farther on the sketches for my dummy book. Productive father. Productive husband. Unproductive artist.

I love this dad thing and after surviving the teen years with my two daughters, now 17 and 23, I'm just now getting good at it. But getting good at being dad and maintaining the relationship with the wife means compromising my children's publishing career. The kids, the wife and the career require time. And time is limited since I work a full time gig at the newspaper.

I do fairly well with managing my time at the paper. I receive my assignments. Access the timeframe in which to complete the work. Think through the steps at accomplishing the tasks at hand. In most cases, excluding breaking news, the day is predictable and I complete my work undistracted.

Now, the son is unpredictable and distracting. He wakes up from a nap afraid of the dark. He's scared and wants me to read him a book. Serve him his goldfish crackers. Get him a drink of water. Start his Veggi Tales Video. Change the video to Winnie the Pooh. Get a band aid for his "owie." Make him a sandwich. Play barnyard bingo. Take him to the park. Ride his motorcycle (yes, he's three and has a motorcycle). Get him a treat for using the pottie. Change his clothes because he's pee'd on himself. It's his bedtime, I'm exhausted. No sketching.

Have a beer, go to bed and try again tomorrow. I'm not one of those all-night artist types.

But with a deadline looming, I'd better learn.


Site worth checkin out: Author/illustrator Trevor Romain. I discovered his interesting and inspirational blog through a blog on illustrator Roz Fulcher's site. Roz is another talented Texas illustrator. Both are worth a visit. Check out Trevor's website too. Too cool! Reminds me that I need to redo my site. Ah, more work, I'm on overload.

Monday, February 14, 2005


Just want to take a second to express some gratitude to my sweet wife. Tammy was up most of the night putting together valentines packages. These packages include candy, toys, books, pajamas and all sorts of goodies. She made these for our son's daycare class, for his grown-up sisters, for his cousins in Dallas, for his other cousins in Minnesota and for his family and friends back home in Des Moines, Iowa. She'll repeat this routine again at Easter, Halloween and Christmas. But that's not all. They get birthday cards and well wishes throughout the year.

And no one will say thank you. That always blows me away.

The thing is, she doesn't do these nice things for a thank you. She does them because in her heart it's the right thing to do. To show a gesture of kindness because she believes that's what GOD would want her to do.

So I say, THANK YOU TAMMY! I appreciate all you do.

(even though you think blogs are stupid)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

A literary event - a crossroads

So, I'm doing this literary event at a small-town, rural library. I am one of three author/artist invited and we are having a "celebrity" dinner at the home of a librarian who helped to organize the event. She and her husband are so excited to to host this dinner, everything laid out with fancy flower-print china and silver. The table is set, the guest are all seated, the food is served. I load up my spoon with mashed potatoes. The librarian is looking at me in anticipation of my reaction to her home-cooked meal. I run my tongue across my teeth and notice a loose tooth in the front of my mouth. I put the spoon down, and give it a wiggle. It comes out right there in front of everyone. I quickly slip it away into my napkin as though no one has seen. Just in time to notice another tooth has come loose. I fidget my tongue around the now two holes inside my mouth. I soon have a mouthful of teeth laying on my tongue that I'm too embarrassed to remove. The librarian who has never taken her eyes off me seems quite irritated. "Could you please excuse yourself?" she asks. I go to the restroom and I spit out the remaining teeth. I smile a toothless grin at myself in the mirror although nothing is funny.

This is the dream, or maybe nightmare I had last night. I can remember it vividly. What does it mean? Does it have to mean anything? Maybe it was just a silly, meaningless dream like I have every night.

I'm a person of faith, so I don't believe in fortunetellers or things of such, but I decide to see if there are any teeth falling out explanations on the internet. I found several and there seemed to be some commonality in them. I'm either getting old, and afraid of losing my teeth or It's a warning sign to "pay attention," you're facing a major milestone, a new phase in life. Oh my gosh.

What new phase might I be facing? My teeth are fine, I hope. No baby on the horizon, I hope. All my 2000 parts are in good working order, I know. And there's no career changes planned, unfortunately. But I do seem to have this writing bug.

This blog proves that I am untrained. I am no William Shakespeare, but I look forward to writing something everyday. This blog gives me a reason to write something. And that's a start. Some author friends have planted some big ideas in my head. Is this the crossroads that has my teeth falling out? I mean, this dream did have a literary slant and I was happy in the end.

Pie in the sky, wouldn't it be wild if that literary award came as a book I had written, not illustrated!

Think I like this dream, I'm going back to sleep.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Pre Valentine's Day heebie-jeevies

There's something about Valentine's Day that gives me the creeps. Don't get me wrong, I am one of those husbands who always gets the wife a card. I buy the flowers and I get the candy. But floral shops, candy stores and the Hallmark section of any grocery store gives me the willies.

Valentines Day lost it's magic sometime after elementary school when giving Valentines was no longer a classroom event. Even then, there was something creepy about receiving "Be Mine" heart candy from a guy named Kenny who normally liked dishing out punches in exchange for lunch money.

In Jr. High it was Sweetheart Day. That's when you preordered your sweetheart a carnation and it was delivered sometime during the first period class on Valentine's Day. You were considered some kind of dweeb if you weren't sporting a carnation that day. So many of the wanna-be hip types resorted to prepurchasing themselves carnations so they wouldn't have to walk down the hallway feeling naked without a carnation which symbolized your coolness. I usually got myself a white one.

High school was the worse. I can't stand Sadie Hawkin's Dances!

But now I'm a grown man. I've got a wife. Valentines Day should be a breeze. It might otherwise be, but my wife wants to do a semiformal church sweetheart dance. So I gotta dress up and I gotta dance - with church people. Now doesn't that sound fun? In case you haven't visited a black baptist church lately, jumping around, clapping and hollering is no big deal - for them. Big deal for me.

So, Mr. romantic. What's your idea of a fun Valentines Day? I don't know, my first marriage took place on Valentine's Day, so using goats meat to lightly slap around your woman, an ancient Valentine's Day custom that I read in an AP story sounds kind of interesting.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Excuse me while I check my email

There's an article in today's New York Times Circuit section that fits me to a T. The story is about how us busy folk are so easily distracted by all the new-age digital gimmickry found on our computers. Email, itunes, instant messaging, Googling, and so on. I'm guilty.

Used to be, I'd sit down and sketch for hours distracted only when nature called, or when it was time to flip over the tape in my boom box. Now I sketch only after checking my email accounts. I must first delete all the spam. Then I need to check my spam folder to see what the spam filter caught.

Mom sends me an e-card. It plays a cool Flash movie. That leads me to a how-to tutorial Flash site. Discover some music loops which must be downloaded for future use. I bookmark the site.

Then its back to sketching. But first I must Google an image to use as reference to draw from. I find my reference but another more intriguing image catches my eye. I click which leads to a to a website that any decent, respectful man wouldn't be looking at anyway. I look. Pop-up ads. I look some more.
A Michael Jackson news headline catches my attention. I read the story which leads me to a new car ad. I need a new car, so I click.

Back to sketching, but first I must check my blog. I know what it says, but I just like reading it. That leads me to Cynthia's blog which leads me to Greg's blog. Then they lead me to even more blogs. Time for me to blog.

I return to sketching. I soon need to play my itunes. My email is flashing, and I'm distracted again. Sigh. Great article though.

Wash your ash yesterday?

I'm working.

Two reporters are having a discussion near my desk. One has a large, black smudge-mark on his forehead. I do a double-take. The other didn't seem to notice. Or care.

Do I dare tell him that he might want to wipe his forehead, that there's some dirt up there? I don't know him very well, I might offend him. Should my first communication with this reporter be to warn him about dirt on his forehead? But in the same situation, I'd want somebody to tell me. I say nothing.

A copyeditor walks by. She's got dirt on her forehead, too. I do a double-take. Hers isn't so pronounced. It's lightly dusted. Could be a bad make-up day. My first instinct is to tell her. I didn't.

Coincidence? I feel the urge to wash my face. I make a trip to the restroom. I pass two more people. Two more dirt smudges.

Then I remembered. It's ash! Today is Ash Wednesday. The smudges are intentional. Desired. Last year I had this same dirt-smudge disconcertion that a quick Googling straightend out. But I forgot. Threw me for a loop once again.

Glad I didn't warn anyone to wash their face.

Back to work.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Analyzing Amazon

I have this obsession with watching the rankings of my books on Amazon. I visit the site daily to check out where my books fare in comparison to the previous day. It's like watching my Helen of Troy(HELE) stock climb to its high of 37.26 only to watch it fall to its yearly low of 23.40. Only difference is the stock usually pays returns over the long haul.

On most days my books rank in the 600,000 to 800,000 range. With Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ranked today at #1, and Koi's python, an early trade book I illustrated at #2,380,706, that gives you an idea of the range.

Don't ask me how these rankings work or how they determine what book gets what rank. I don't even think Amazon offers an explanation.

THE LEGEND OF THE VALENTINE, a CBA best-seller, is sitting at 13,111 today, down from a 293,000 low this year. Unlike stocks, a drop like this is good. And as we get closer to Valentines Day, I expect as it usually does it will drop to a low ranking of around 5,000 or so.

Ain't I crazy? Or vain.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Back to reality

Nothing like working the newspaper to humble your ego and bring you back to reality.

Had a nice car for the day. Spent the night in a swank hotel. Had a beautiful escort. Was mobbed by 100 autograph-seeking 8-year olds. Shared the stage with Ms. Texas. Was interviewed by the press, my segment ran on the 10:00 p.m. news. Was paid a generous honorarium.

Yesterday, a celebrity.

Today, Don Tate who?

Monday, February 07, 2005

Earning by Learning at Dallas Chocolates

This past weekend, I traveled to Dallas where I participated in the 2nd Annual Earning by Learning Celebrity Guest Read. At the many literary events I've been a part of, I don't think I've met anyone who truly cares more about encouraging children to read than Ms. Thelma Morris-Lindsey. She gave from her heart and showed those kids a good time.

Ms. Morris-Lindsey is the founder of Earning by Learning of Dallas an incentive-based program that encourages children to read. This years event was hosted by/at Dallas Chocolates.

What struck me most about this Earning by Learning founder was the genuine love and care she showed each and every child who walked through the door of that chocolate store. She greeted every child, at least 60-70 of 'em, personally with a smile and a warm "hello." I never did figure out if she was meeting these kids for the first time, or if they were long-time old friends. She truly loved these children which I would think to be a challenge for most people.

These invited guest came mostly from Dallas' inner city. Children from Shared-Housing, a domestic violence shelter, Circle of Support and the Salvation Army were just a few of the guest who were treated to lunch, free books, and autographed photographs of Ms. Texas, 2004.

Many of the children I met that morning had personalities I found kinda hardened. I could see the anger, hurt, and distrust in many of their eyes. Many of them couldn't even look me straight in the eye, exchange a smile or give me a handshake. Some were just plain mean. Shame on the adults responsible for creating such pain in the lives of children. But Ms. Morris-Lindsey was loving and patient often referring to them as "my little angels." And before long those hardened little faces were all smiles. Ok, mostly smiles.

I also met some avid readers that morning. I had the honor of sharing breakfast with 8-year Mariah, an articulate speaker and voracious reader. When giving presentations to large groups, I often try to make eye contact with a friendly face, it settles the nerves and allows me to continue with confidence. Mariah was my friendly face.

I was treated with great hospitality from a small army of youth and adult volunteers, community supporters and none other than Ms. Zel Nealy, owner of Dallas chocolates who, after I inquired about chocolate-covered Oreos for my wife, gave me a bag to take home.

Ms. Thelma Morris-Lindsey is a gem. Besides that, she's got cool hair. If you have some money to give and your looking for a worthy cause, she can be contacted at Earning by Learning of Dallas.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Lunch money

Got an interesting phone call today. Went something like this:

Devas T.: Hello.

Hyperion Books for Children: Hello, Don Tate please.

Devas T.: This is he.

HBC: This is Dan with HBC, did you receive the W9 tax forms we mailed to you about two months ago?

Devas T.: Sorry, no.

HBC: You have royalties coming. There was an oversight and we didn't get your last statement out to you. But we can't send a check until we have the signed W9 form.

Devas T: !!!!!

HBC: I'm going to drop another form in the...

Devas T. interrupts: If the form is available as a pdf, please email that instead. It will be faster. How much money?

HBC: I don't know the amount, I don't have access to that information. I just know royalties are due to you.

Devas T.: Ok, thanks. Bye.

So I get off the phone. Plow through old royalty statements. I figure maybe I can estimate an amount based upon past royalty statements.

Five years to earn back a 5k advance, four pages of W9 and I'll earn about $19.00 in additional royalty.

I've resolved not to curse. At least not here.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Bedrooms and books

On the subject of children's bedroom decor and children's books, here's the perfect goto link: The popular children’s book “Guess How Much I Love You,” by Sam McBratney as bedding and accessories!

Where the Wild Things...sleep?

Sent to bed without his supper, Max of the famed children's book WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, ventures off into the night where he parties with the wild things. While he's been out, I've redecorated his room.

Licensing art for children's bedrooms is all the rage, so in addition to using my art in children's books, I've been trying my hands at children's bedroom decor.

My first licensing deal was with Border's Unlimited who licensed my Kidz design as wallpaper, light switch plates, wall stickers, furniture knobs and sculpted wall art. The Kidz bed and bath collection is now available nationally at Lowes Home Improvement Warehouses.

The next project will be a children's bedroom safari theme. My agent hired a company to take my designs and mock up a product. Now, don't judge the company by their website. They do fantastic work! They took my designs and using a 3d program incorporated them into a virtual bedroom complete with pillow cases, bed sheets, comforters and bed skirts. Pretty convincing.

Now we can use this virtual bedroom as a selling tool to hopefully get our product into the door of a major department store chain. So Walmart, JCPenney and Target, we'll be knockin'.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


My daughter has been here in Austin for the past two weeks. She lives back home in Des Moines and is visiting as she has graduated high school a semester early. She's a beautiful young lady, smart, confident and preparing to go into nursing school. She's suffering, however, from what I will call senior-itis. A condition that young people get during that period between becoming a senior and getting smacked in the face by real life as a college freshman. During this time, the whole world revolves around them. Their needs, their wants, their looks, their music, their thoughts and opinions. No one else matters and they're not very nice.

She was nice to me yesterday. She didn't mean to be, so I won't tell her. She might take it back.

We were at the bookstore. I'm buying a copy of Hewitt Anderson's Great Big Life, illustrated by kadir Nelson.

"Dad, why you buying that kids book?", she asks me. Like I don't always by kids books.

"I like the illustrations," I tell her.

"What's so special about the illustrations," she asks.

"Their done by artist Kadir Nelson. I love his work, his use of color, his figurative style. He's a national award winner. I always buy books by artist who inspire me. He's one of the best. I'd like to be like that someday," I tell her.

She flips through the book. Frowns. "His work is ok, but no better than yours," she says. She looks at the price. Cuts her eyes at me. Walks away.

Not realizing how much her words meant to me.

Read author Greg Leitich Smith's musings on teens and their brains today in his blog.

Going to be a grandp...

I'm going to be a grandp...

I'm going to be a grandfath...

I'm going to be a grandda...

I'm going to have a grandson. Arriving in June.

No, not my senior. The other one.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Loosening up

I'm not having fun with this book and until today, I wasn't sure why. The story is fun. The author's have provided plenty of ammunition for me to create a humorous tale. Should have been having a ball. But I wasn't.

At first I thought it was the issue of the contract. Took six months to get the contract negotiated and I still don't have a signed agreement or an advance. But I've had pleny of work, so that's not it.

I developed the characters. Got 'em approved. Created a dummy book made up of thumbnail sketches. Got 'em approved. Sketched the first two spreads. Bored.

On the third spread as an experiment, I cut loose. The style I have developed and used on my last couple of books have bound my hands. I've probably relied too much on on trying to develop a gimmiky style. So, I put the straight edge away and tossed out all photo references of the animals. I've discovered that drawing from memory allows for a certain loose spontanaety that is lost when relying so heavily on photos. You can always go back and correct the sketches if, say, later you realize that cows have hooves, not fingers like you remember. By loosening up my pencil strokes and letting the line communicate mood, I think the end result will have a much lighter, expressive feel. Lastly, I worked in some of my own humor. THAT'S IT!

On my last few books, I sort of created my own style. Sort of a forced combination of neo-cubism, naive, folk, cartoon, trying-to-be-like-Mark-Buehner, realistism. I guess that would be like a musician mixing the sounds of soul, techno, rock-in-roll, country and classical, with a touch of Michael Jackson. Sound kinda cool, but wouldn't it be easier to just be myself?

So thats what I'm doing. NOW I'M HAVING FUN! And hopefully that will show through in the final product.