Sunday, July 31, 2005

Kind of a quiet Sunday

Sundays for me – particularly since I work a rotating schedule at my full-time gig — are a mixed bag of high pressure work or low key relaxation. Some Sundays I'm off, and can stay at home to enjoy the wondrous chaos of home. For me, low key relaxation means quality time with the wife, my high-spirited son, and my time-stealing computer. But some Sundays I have to work my full-time gig. And today is one of those Sundays. Bummer.

Today I woke up and realized that I only have two weeks to work off my Heineken-thick layer of fat that's hiding my six-pack. Bummer. That means two weeks of long distance running, extra deep-heavy squats and hours of yoga. Ole boy needs to get his body into swim suit condition for our four-day Galveston cruise. I wanna look like I did last year when we went to Antigua, but I’ve come to realize I’ve probably started one too many pecan pies late. First thing this morning, I suggested to wife that she wake up to keep an eye on the son while I go for a run. He's already awake and putting in his orders for full-time attention. "I want my breakfast. I want to watch cartoons. Where's my airplane?" The wife has another suggestion. "Let's ALL go running together!

Ok, I'm not gonna burn off much fat running along side the son on his training wheeled bike. When I go running, I go running. And although I don't do any real distance, I do like to get my heart rate up to a high beats per minute. Well, I didn’t work up much of a sweat, but the son, with his grown-up mouth, and his not-wanting-to-steer-his-bicycle-straight-so-he-fell-off-nine-times self, surely worked up my heart rate. But in the end, the wife said she had a nice time. And she said it with a smile and a little glimmer in her eyes. So foregoing my little self-indulgent pursuit was worth the time spent with those who kinda don’t mind my Heineken paunch. And I had a nice time, too.

Well, once again, I'm off to work, leaving the wife and son at home on a beautifully sunny Austin afternoon, where I'll sit at my computer, pretty much bored, unless something newsworthy (something terrible) happens in this world to give a brotha something to graphically report. Bummer.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Rats Saw God

Over at Devas T. reads kiddie books. This book was not so kiddie, however.

Kid-Lit Thursday: Tagged!

Once these bloggy blog things get started, they make their rounds fairly quickly. I received mine earlier this week over at Revolutions Per Minute. Here’s my results, with a twist:

Twenty years ago: I was working as a publication designer and wanna-be children's illustrator at Perfection Learning Corporation in Des Moines, Iowa. After being warned by my dad, grandfather, college instructors, as well as more than one boss that commercial illustration/design was off limits to blacks, I accepted this job at a very low income. I considered myself lucky. I really don't think anyone meant any harm, and in fact, I know now that in Des Moines, pre 80s, this was sadly true. So, how did I get the job? I put into action that squeaky wheel anecdote, and squeaked and squeaked like a rusty wheel on a Radio Flyer. I drove that man nuts begging him for that job until he finally hired me at a less than standard income. After accepting the job and proving that, yes, I would show up at work, yes, I would be on time, yes, I would work hard, and most importantly, yes, I was just as talented and capable as my white counterparts, I received 5 raises in a 9-month period. "I guess it's probably time that I get you up there with everybody else," I remember my old boss telling me. This illustration was one in a series of posters that taught Spanish words at a time in my life that Mexican people only existed in National Geographic.

Ten years ago:

After working my PFC gig for 7 years, and illustrating numerous products for children, my name started to get around. I hired an agent and more work from other children's publishers started coming my way. But, that presented a conflict of interest. When I started making more money from my freelance business than I was at my full-time job, I acknowledged the clue, quit my job and freelanced full-time. Work came from all over the country from companies such as Busch Gardens in Tampa, Chicago Chamber of Commerce and educational publishers throughout New York. Pictured is a 15-month calendar that I designed for Crayola Crayons and Payless Shoes. I had no idea about pricing at the time. The art director asked me to submit a bid. Mine: $2.000. He paid me $13,000. Within the first two years of my entrepreneurial endeavors, I tripled my salary.

Five years ago:

Tripling your salary also means tripling your debt to Uncle Sam. It soon started raining tax bills that sent a brotha running for full-time- take- the- tax- out- of- my- check cover. I quit my freelance business and took the first job that just happen to come my way: a graphic artist at a newspaper, The Des Moines Register. In retrospect, I should have simply hired a good accountant. But I never gave up on my dream of illustrating a children's trade picture book. I continued to pursue this dream until finally in 1998, I was offered my first contract with Jump at the Sun, and imprint of Hyperion Books for Children. Say Hey! A Song of Willie Mays was my first book and it published early in 2000.

One year ago:

I received a phone call from my illustration agent. I knew that she was also a licensing agent, but I never considered product licensing. "Licensing? Driver's licensing? What's that?" I thought to myself when she asked me if I'd be interested in developing some bedroom and bathroom designs for Lowes Home Improvement Warehouses. Now originally, this idea was sold to me as a multi-million-dollar windfall. I wasn't to make millions, but considering my 60-percent cut with my agent on 5-percent sales, I stood to make a whole lotta money. So when the contracts were signed, and my designs were sent off to China to be hand sculpted and mass produced, I was elated. We're paying off the house. Were sending the daughters to college (fighting and screaming, but on my dime). I'm buying my Hummer! However, I quickly learned the same lesson I should have learned from my experience with children's books: you're not gonna get rich quick. Sales take time.

Last week:
I was busy finishing off the finals for THE HIDDEN FEAST which will publish with August House. All twenty paintings are due August 1. I have been granted two extra weeks to finish these paintings. Just in time to take a four-day Mexican cruise. Ahh, life/income at a newspaper ain't so bad afterall.Also, as pictured, I started developing personalities for the My Peepz characters, which will first appear on a 2006 calendar.

Today: I scanned in this image of an African American Santa Claus that I created for a company that produces Christmas window clings.I'm submitting these designs to Houston Tillotson college, and with the help of the wife, will possibly design their 2005 Holiday cards.

That's all. I had to cut this tag with its five more questions of five answers each in half.

Whose the five I'm taggin'?
Mz. Gig, of course. Greg and Spooky Cyn. Ok, they're not gonna like me after this, but maybe they could approach it from the kid-lit standpoint. Varian Johnson, a children's author here in Austin and is new to the blogosphere, and, hmmmm, Jhera. I miss your sex, drugs, suicide and dad-bashing stories.

Unrelated thought for the day: I was recently told that the mother-in-law asked for my blog URL. Oh my gosh, Darwin, we are evolving!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I could have been a plumber

The wife said, "Devas, you can do it." I thought, probably not. "You replaced the faucet the last time it broke," she said, attempting to remind me. But what she didn't know was the last time it broke, I merely snapped the cheap plastic parts back together, and returned the newly bought faucet to Home Depot. This undertaking was going to be big, way over my head. "We'd better call in the professionals," I said, not wanting to be bothered with any faucets, pipes, or anything under the sink. "You can do it, my 'Wonderboy'," she said, pinching my backside. Ooh, just the thing to reactivate a brotha's innate plumbing instincts.

Without further ado, I went to work, emphatically, like a zulu ambush on a pygmie settlement, unless, that is, zulus love pygmies, and in that case, my metaphor is ruined. I stooped down to the floor and after compromising my spinal alignment, balled myself up and climbed in. First things first, looking around I analyzed my surroundings. No spiders.

The deed actually turned out to be rather simple. I turned off the spigot, finagled a clip-on lamp to just the right spot as not to electrocute myself in a puddle of lightening-laced water. My fingers intertwined themselves between plastic pipes, and rusted nuts. Water dripped occasionally, sullying my eyes and several times I jammed my head into the garbage disposal unit. Ouch!

But alas, the deed was finally done in just over an hour. I ran upstairs to collect my reward, not forgetting that little backside pinch. She was sleep. I read.

Mom (Mz. Gig) You would'a been proud.

Hot feet in Austin
Just on a fluke, I decided to leave my big and index toes in charge of keeping my footwear attached to my feet. They held on for dear life to a plastic strap carefully threaded between the four of them. They struggled to hold on as each flap-flap-flap of these floppy shoes slapped the back of my heels in these not-so-comfortable summertime shoes they call flip-flops or thongs. I'll never do this again, never! And I can't even imagine the kind that one wears on their butt.

Just plain hot
The only thing worse than driving a truck, engine profusly smoking from a broken air conditioner, and low oil, on a triple-digit hot day in an Austin traffic jam, is driving that truck with my son, singing a song, and asking questions back to back. "Dad, are we at swimming yet? Dad, are we at swimming, yet? Dad, are we at swimming, yet?"

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Faves and Peeves

Here are all things Devas T.; favored and unfavored:

Things he faves:

High fructose ropes
I'm not sure when this love affair began, probably sometime around his high school freshman year. This mom-and-pop convenience store, a hop-and-a-skip down the block from his school, kept their shelves fully stocked with those oowie-gooie strawberry confections better known as Twizzlers. Longing for something sweet, he never much cared for those black licorice things. Breakfast was shunned, and so was his lunch, in favor of these pull apart twists.

Reading anything Richard Wright
There's something about the way Richard Wright tells a story. When Devas T. opens one of his books, his attention span, normally short, is quickly widened, as he is compelled into a story of fight, flight, oppression, corruption and adventure.

Man supplies
English Leather body wash and a brand-spankin' new package of Fruit of the Looms (The idea that he, too, might look in his skivvies, like the guy on the box is enough inspiration for him to continue crunching his abs, and doing deep squats.) These are the things that a wife can provide that makes a brotha feel loved. Oh, and she mus'nt forget, a brand new tube of tooth paste, blue Listerine, Magic Shave and some Ban. Oh, baby—oh yes!

Toss out the Cold-Eeze
There's something painfully wonderful about running a one-hundred-and-one-degree fever, skin crawling chills, ears so clogged he can't hear a thing. His burning throat, a nose with one nostril blocked, and eyes burning bright red. That's when he sips, ever so slowly, a cup of lemon and honey TheraFlu and shoos away everyone in sight, so he can enjoy his beautiful agony in peace, with a touch of sympathy from the wife. Heaven.

Scale model cars
This brotha will never in his lifetime, on the salary of a children's book artist or a graphics reporter, be able to afford the luxury of a Ferrari, a Hummer, or an Oscar Mayer Weiner Mobile. So Hot Wheels will do. And they do. He's blessed.

Things he peeves

Washa de handsa (As Madonna might say)
There is nothing that offends this brotha more, than standing in front of a men's room stall, and hearing the drip-drip-drip, as the man standing next to him fling-fling-flings, then flushes and exits without washing his hands. Ugg at the thought of washing his own hands then having to touch a urine stained door knob. That's why he always opens public restroom doors, paper towel in hand.

Good service costs?
The last thing this brotha wants, after eating an over-priced dinner at an elegant downtown restaurant, is to pay a gratuity in the form of more money. You mean a thank-you won't do? Maybe he's just growing old and grumpy. Or maybe he's just plain ole cheap. Is it too much to expect, to be served his food, with a sprightly smile, in a timely manner, by a waitress with old fashioned home-taught manners? Probably so. Now, don't get me wrong, yes, the brotha does tip his twenty-percent, 'cause he knows what they say when a black man's waiting to be seated. "You wait that table, 'cause black folk don't tip."

Fashion trends
Is it somehow trendy or fashionable or completely necessary, he thinks to himself, for parents to adopt a child from half way across the world, when a child right here, in their own back yard needs a loving family? Children aren't Chihuahuas, some kind of exotic breed to show off. He wonders to himself if parents in Italy or Romania or China like to adopt black children from Harlem, simply because they are cute, or in vogue? He scratches his head.

What more can reveal a persons retardical ways, than driving a car, a really cheap car, with silvery rims, that spin in reverse.

Hack and spit
If you're jogging along and breathe in a fly, without question, go right ahead: snort him deep into your nose, thoroughly mix in thick salivate, then hack, snort and let her rip. Devas T. won't complain. But to spit on the walkway, or road, for that matter, for the mere pleasure of spitting, come on, please pleasure yourself in other ways.

No speak Spanglish in Texas
After walking into a Taco Cabana and ordering a flauta, which he pronounced floota, the cashier frowns up her face, and corrects him. "Flautas" she says, the words rolling nimbly off the tip of her tongue. She turns her head and jibber-jabbers something he didn't understand, in a language unfamiliar to a transplanted Texan. She and a coworker laughed to themselves, leaving him to wonder, "did I do something wrong?" If something is said, on American ground, why can't it be said, in a language a brotha can understand — ebonics.

Eight is bad luck
This next item relates more to phobe than to peeve, but this phobe happens to peeve a brotha as well. Can you name the thing that is small enough to fit in a jar, that has eight legs, eight eyes and fangs? No, not a monster nor alien goon. But, yes, I speak of no less than a spider. Large as your fist or small as a toe, this brotha proudly professes arachnophillic tendencies. I remember the day one of these eight-legged mongrels took his truck — ratty as it is — hostage for almost an hour. He returned to his truck after eating his lunch, and upon preparing to leave, he sensed something move. That’s when he spied it, hovering on the edge of his seatbelt: a big, black, hairy, jumping and hissing spider. Ok, maybe it didn't hiss, but it may as well, because he damn near broke all ten of his fingers, as well as his seatbelt trying to get out. One hour, four phone calls, three thrown books and alot of sweat was lost before he finally won the battle for his ride, and killed the beast, who had cowardly scuttled off beneath hid seat. But a brotha was not going anyplace with the legend of bigfoot, loose in his truck.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Fishy faux pas

I'll bet you thought you'd heard the end of my ole Snerdly stories. But the show ain't over 'til the fat lady sings — or in this case — the fish decomposes.

Earlier this year, I blogged a few times about Snerdly, my 3-year-old son's beta fish. To make a long story short, Snerdly died a couple months ago. I had planned to use Snerdly's death as an opportunity to teach the son such things about dying and heaven. About how life doesn't last forever, so we must live our lives with integrity and fortitude. How important it is not to tell lies and how continuing to kiss Carter might make his father cry.

I completely flawed my "Father Knows Best" moment.

I took the tank out to my garage. I pushed Snerdly's dead carcass, him floating at the top of his tank, into a corner behind a box used for storing Christmas wrap. My plan was to stop over at a Petco, pick up a new beta before the son discovered him missing. But I forgot.

I recently discovered Snerdly. That's him balled up there on the bottom in a post mortem cluster of white slimy goo.

Of course, I thought it made for a perfect Kodak moment — or better yet — blog moment, so I took this picture and downloaded it to my computer.

While preparing this blog, the son walks up, discovers this photo on my computer monitor and just stares. He doesn't say a word. Gives me this quizzical look and walks away. Nothing more was said

So, now I'm gonna have to change strategies. I'll do what Clinton [president] did concerning gays in the military: He don't ask, I don't tell.

And maybe we'll get a new Snerdly some time in the future.


Unrelated thought for the day: I know, I said that I would no longer bad mouth pit bulls, but dog-gone (literally), somebody finally got it right! And I still cant believe the politicians were able to put their heads together and actually do the right thing — protect human life. And I even heard talk that Austin may consider this very same thing! Yes! *looking in the direction of my pit bull owning next door neighbors*

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The "C" word, part 2

His phone rang endlessly, but his mind, having effectively negated the familiar chimes, had no intention of letting him answering it. He recognized the number on the caller ID. It belonged to his urologist. He listened in anticipation to the numerous messages his doctor had left, however shunning each word.

"Cancer," he thought to himself, hating his urologist for the hideous insinuation. "I haven't smoked a cigarette in almost fourteen years, he reasoned with himself. He had assumed that since giving up this long gone habit, the chance of getting cancer had been rendered null and void.

Having already been punished by one too many humiliating procedures, he was not looking forward to another assault on his psyche — or his body.

The blood tests were negative. A sonogram of his kidneys, served only to reveal, the camouflage print of his fruit of the looms. No kidney stones were found. But an x-ray caused his urologist concern. After several unanswered calls, and ignored phone messages, the doctor finally got through.

"There's a suspicious spot on your right hip bone. It might be a bone spur," his doctor muttered with masked agitation. "But, it might be a bone lesion, possibly cancerous."

A second x-ray betrayed his hope. Something, oddly curious, showed up on the film.

A month following the x-ray, and days after visiting his family back home, questioning his grandfather about his bouts with cancer, he would be slid into a coffin-sized capsle. An MRI would render the verdict of an impending ailment. He would soon receive his sentence, punishment for a decade of smoking.

"Do you have cancer?" a technician asked as she prepared him for a full body bone scan.
"No," he eeped out an answer. "Why do you ask?" feigning calmness. His mind was spinning. "This test is usually given to cancer patients. It is useful in determining if an already existing cancer has spread to a patients bones"

She continues her task, injecting him with a radioactive compound. The ingredients of which would cause hot spots, or areas of question on the bone scan. Giddy, she continued in her chitchat, as though serving him breakfast at a late night IHOP. "Maybe," he thought to himself, seeking solace in positive thoughts, "her fatuous demeanor might suggest the insignificance of these tests."

The MRI scan wasn't so bad considering the claustrophobic circumstances of the 45-minute procedure. He lay his hands across his chest, holding a sensor which would alert a technician of his need for release. He breathed air deep into his lungs, letting it out slowly like he had learned through practice of yoga. Headphones were placed over his ears although he couldn’t hear a thing through the thunder coming from the MRI machine.

The bone scan followed. Again, he lay on a bench, prostrate, occasionally sneaking a peek over at an adjacent computer monitor. The monitor, busy painting pictures with a million white dots, sat slightly off to his right, just above his feet. As the contraption scanned his body from toe to crown, a starry image seduced his conscious causing him to drift off into a hypnotic trance. Hallucinations of his spirit buoyed through the heavens, wavering up through a constellation of a million bright stars. His mind conceived each star to represent a life lost, and whose spirits had formed an entire celestial community awaiting his death. His arrival into this unknown world would take him far away from his loved ones. Or possibly closer to them than what he could have ever imagined.

This post continued at a later date.

Part 1 can be read here.

Unrelated thought for the day: More than a few important things about life, love, fathering, grandfathering and being a good husband were revealed to me last night as I drank my beer and read my bible.


Saturday, July 16, 2005

Devas T., children's liarist

Liar—liar—pants on fire! I've never considered myself much of a liar. When it comes to telling a fib, I'm like George Washington and the cherry tree, I just didn't do it. For that reason, it's a rare occasion you'll catch a brotha bearing false witness against his neighbors. But "white lies" are different.
"Honey," I'd lie through my teeth. "That eggplant and greenbean casserole, your ancient and sacred family recipe is absolutely delicious." "White lies" keep a brotha's marriage on solid ground. But a 250-page, book-length lie is quite something different all together. Or is it?

More experienced writers have probably already considered the question, sitting at literary round tables, author panels, critique groups and message boards. But not till last night, as I typed the synopsis of a teen fiction novel, that the question came clear in my mind: Aren't fiction writers actually creators of voluminous fabrications—or real big lies? One lie leads the reader to another lie, which covers the weakness of yet another lie, which offers an explanation of still another lie. These combinations of lies will cause some type of conflict which inevitably will culminate in some type of resolution. Is our culture so accustomed to lying that it has become acceptable when used to entertain or edify?

Here's how defines the word:

fiction: fic·tion

A literary work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact.
feigning or of creating with the imagination

Succinctly put, fiction is a lie. I've met many authors, writers for children and adults, during the tenure of my children's book career. That means I've met probably hundreds of very nice, smart, highly-educated, well paid, good intentioned morally upright, liars. Are smarmy smiles real? Are warm greetings simply fabricateded mirages performed by talented liars? How can you trust someone who makes a career out of telling really big lies? And a used car salesmen has a bad rap. Hmm, ponder that.

How does one walk in integrity, profess their morality, and espouse the virtues of honesty and uprightness, while offering their lies for sale at a price?

So, where am I going with this? Nowhere. I'm busy and don't have time to ponder it any further. I'm just thinking out loud, but if there's one thing I've discovered about myself in my attempts at writing a novel: I am one good liar. And I kind of like it.

Sorry, I gotta get back to developing my outline. The big lie.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Kid-Lit Thursday: random thoughts

I'm with Chris. I, too, have to admit, I have not read one Harry Potter book — shhh. I've opened and read the dustcover flap of "Prisoner of Azkaban". I read the first page of "Goblet of Fire". I'm ashamed to confess the reason for not reading these books — to be honest — Harry Potter is a big hunk-of-book. Besides that, my interest simply don't extend into the arena of witchcraft and sorcery, warlocks and hobbits. Sorry. Maybe if somebody'd write a book staring a black hobbit. A jive-talking, do-rag wearing, baggy-pant sagging hobbit. Not to insinuate that Harry Potter is a hobbit, but, as far as I'm concerned, they all sort of fit into that same category of thanks-but-no-thanks.


Before taking off to Arizona, I visited a local bookstore. This is one of my favorite pastimes, being an illustrator and hopeful future author of children's books. But this time, I noticed a big change. There weren't very many new kids picture books. Publisher's are cutting back their picture book list big-time. Of the few new titles, a good number of those books were written by celebrity authors. Even fewer titles featured African American themes. What does that mean for me? Means the road to getting my writing published is a bit steeper now. Don Tate simply can't compete with the likes of Madonna.

People, and I'm specifically speaking to African American people, I can't encourage you enough to purchase and support those children's books that are published with your child in mind.

Not too long ago, I found myself sitting at a book signing table. This lady, an African American parent walks up to me, excited and smiling to see a brotha representin'. She picks up one of my books, but her smile was soon replaced by a sneer. She goes on to make a comment under her breath about the $16.00 price tag on the book. She walks away. She's probably the first, with her Tommy Hilfiger-wearing ensemble, to purchase her child an X-box, or maybe those $200 Jordans, while considering a book overpriced. She'll be the first one to complain once our books go away.

Publishers, as of late, have been more responsive to our needs. And over the past decade or so, they've been publishing more books featuring African American themes. This has not been an act of good will. This undertapped market had been seen as an boon to fatten their bottom lines by filling a need: our need for books that feature positive images and stories for African American kids. When publisher's lists are cut — believe me — our books will be cut first. Especially if we are viewed as nonbook (children's books) buyers. And sadly, I think we are seen that way.

I was saddened to learn today that my blog had been unlinked from a well respected colleague's website. It was brought to my attention by another children's writer who noticed that Devas T. Rants and Raves was suddenly missing from the list. Upon further investigation, I learned that my writings here weren't quite appropriate, possessing a "PG-13" rating as opposed to a "G" rating. Well, that's true, I can't argue that one. I'm an adult and my blog ain't written for 13-year olds. But neither were many of the others, although noone else seemed to have an aversion to spiders or fat people. So as of this day, I'm cleaning up my act. No more spouting off at the obese. Fat people are my friends. Literally. No more badmouthing pitbulls or Canadian geese.

It was an honor when I discovered my name on the list, so I felt sort of, maybe, dishonored when I was axed. Lesson learned over the past week: I am not going to escape criticism or the ax by jumping ship. Writers, and critics of writers, have axes, too.
On another sad note: You'll all be loath to learn, I've given up my word for the day. *sniff-sniff, I know* But, I've started a new blog over at LiveJournal and I will work on my words over there. In this blog, I will write the children's manuscripts I've been talking so much about. The blog isn't open to the public, at least I hope it ain't, and will be used to develop my stories. "But Devas T., why a blog?" You're asking, scratching your head with a quizzical look. Because blogging is funner<---(there's a word for those uppity literary folks) than Microsoft Word.

I blogged again. Two days in a row. Dang-it!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Newborn eyes

Through your eyes, resplendent with newborn life, no larger than a cat's-eye marble; I foresaw your future; I witnessed your present; I recalled your past.

Through your eyes, I foresaw your future; bright as white, even brighter with prayer. I saw hope, promises fulfilled, and prayers not yet conceived. But don't worry, they've already been granted.

Through your eyes, I witnessed your present; your mother's love; your father's pride

Through your eyes, I recalled your past; I saw those who have passed before you; great- grandmothers and grandfathers, uncles and aunts; cousins. I saw their smiles through your smile, reminding me that their lives never went away, they live through you.

Through your eyes, I saw their souls in the presence of God, and in God's presence, they escorted you into this world with a message for me:

God lives, and he is good.

I know little grandson. I know he is.


Mrs. Devas T., not looking too grandma-ish. But she is a grandma.

I don’t much enjoy reading those professional written blogs by paid newspaper columnist and the likes. I kinda like the not-so-rightness of the everyday stay-at-home bloggers. However, I’ve been reading a blog by American Statesman writer, Chris Garcia and I’m kinda diggin’ his vibe. Not so much for what he’s blogging about—pet rats and phlegm-flam are all relative to a brotha's life, too —but his way with words. He once recommended a book of poetry which I picked up before leaving for Arizona this past weekend. Poetry 180: A turning back to poetry, is an anthology of contemporary poems selected by Billy Collins. Apparently, Mr. Collins is the former Poet Laureate of theUnited States. What Condoleezza Rice is to national security, Collins was to national poetry. Damn, what democrats won’t think up to tax us even more (kidding, I do know what a poet laurea-what-cha-ma-call-it is). Besides all that, I’m enjoying these simple, people-friendly poems inspired by Collin’s poem-a-day program with the Library of Congress. The poems, as well as the website, are for anyone to enjoy, but many of the poems are selected with the high school student in mind. It’s making for great reading as well as homework for my attacks at writing a prose memoir.

With the exception of children's author Jane Yolen, I wasn't familiar with the names of any of the poets, but I plan to fix that bit of ignorance—pronto.

Thanks for everyone's support on my last post, I appreciate the kind words very much. But keep in mind, I'm not going anywhere. I'm just slowing it down a bit.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Kid-lit Thursday: Mailbag on fire

Years ago, I created a book cover with an image of Frederick Douglas standing proudly next to a bay, a ship in the distance. I spent probably 20 hours illustrating the water alone. I carefully sketched out each and every wave, adding just the right amount of white to highlight each and every wave cap. I lightly layered in just the correct amount of cerulean blue. Water met sky, sky enclosed clouds and they all met as one on the distant horizon. I proudly showed my illustration to the art director. He was quiet. He didn’t respond immediately. He twisted his lips around to the side of his face, pondering how he might break the news to me.
    “I love the image of Frederick Douglas," he said. "You have a talent for bringing people alive through your rich use of color.
    "Your composition is right on target, your work has a nice sense of balance," he praised. "The problem is, these finely detailed waves,” he broke the news. My face burned.
     “I drew every detail of those waves. Don't touch the waves,” I quietly defended myself.
     "In order to create the effect of distance, the waves should fade out, there should be less detail as your eyes head farther out to the horizon line, he instructed me” He was right! Objects viewed close up are in perfect focus, but objects that are farther away lose detail.

I like critique. It’s how I grow as an artist. But, in my opinion, good critique offers criticism that highlights the positive qualities of a work, while also pointing out the negative qualities.

Here’s are some comments, critique maybe, I received recently from a more experienced writer:

Experienced author: I read your [blog] review. I'm glad I'm out of physical slapping distance. ...In addition to the typos, I also perused the overall quality of the writing; it would not hold up to the standards of a scholarly work.

Devas T.: Actually, a brotha does not mind getting slapped. This knee-deep-freak-of-the-week kinda likes a woman who'll rough him up a bit, sans a whip. I respect your critique. However, for one, this is the blogosphere. In this venu, I'm not writing to win any literary awards, and since this blog ain't making me any money, I won't be hiring any copy editors anytime soon. I do my best to express myself here without taking any extra time to closely edit for grammar and spelling, although I do run it through spell check. Apparently spell check ain't flawless either.

When I am ready to submit my writing to a children's publisher, believe me, I will get a copy editor to look over my work, and spell check will be better enforced. But blogger don't pay my mortgage. Is that enough "ain'ts" and wrongly used "don'ts" for those highfalutin' scholarly-types?

Experienced author: More primary research on your part -- reading many more articles about "Little Black Sambo" -- would have given your piece a more credible foundation.

Devas T.: I'm sure you are right. Copious research never hurt the quality of any writers piece. But again, this is a blog. I'm not trying to make the excuse that because this is a web log, it's ok to be sloppy. That "Little Black Sambo" review was simply my opinion of that particular book. I wasn't trying to create a research project, nor was I concerned about establishing any level of credibility. I've been illustrating for kids for over 20 years. I've illustrated at least 15 books for children if you include educational books. I've presented to thousands of children, teachers, educators and the likes. My experience establishes my credibility wherever I apply it. My opinions may differ from yours.

Experienced author:The ease of placing a draft on the Internet shouldn't relieve us of doing our homework first.

Devas T.: I did my homework. I read the book. My review was based upon that one version of the book. It wasn't mean to highlight past versions, or other retellings. My observations were based upon Bing's version only, although I did mention the version illustrated by Pinkney.

Experienced author:One of the anchors of a reviewer is that one doesn't separate the artwork from the text nor the message when appraising the subject. To praise Bing's art but separate the art from the book is like praising the film "Birth of a Nation" for its technical quality (as whites love to do) from its story -- but it is exactly the technical quality that frames the racist story and brings it to life. In other words, your review reads like you are protecting the artist yet condemning the author. But both go together to make the book.

Devas T.: I don't know how a bona fide reviewer would approach the subject, but I do have to respectfully disagree. I'm one of those Amazon dorks who spend way too much time reading children's book reviews. Publishers Weekly, The Horn Book, Kirkus, School Library Journal, and others have all been known to praise the text in a book while panning the art. I know from experience. Although SLJ and Booklist gave star reviews to my last book, Sure As Sunrise, and had much praise for my art, Publisher's Weekly and The Bulletin trashed my art while proffering generous accolades regarding the text. I can post a whole list of professional book reviews who have done the same.

It is important that the art and text work together, however, in most cases, art is authored by one person, and text is authored by another. It is rare that the author and artist communicate or actually collaborate at all when creating a children's book. So for that reason alone, there's opportunity for art and words not to mesh. That's where editors come in. It's their job to determine when choosing an artist, to choose an artist whose work fits the text, and to oversee the entire process. Still, reviews are subjective. People who write reviews have good days, bad days and sleep-deprived days. Reviewers are people, not machines that are programmed to seek out, good or bad, right or wrong based upon some esoteric computer program. So, yes, it is entirely possible for a person, reviewer or otherwise, to like the words and hate the art, or vice versa.

Experienced author:It's not the name of the character [Black Sambo] that's the problem. It's the wording and the context of the character, so I do wonder why the review stated that the story is appealing to any child. So not only was I concerned about the praise of the art I was also concerned about the tone of the review itself.

Devas T.: Again, subjective. I do believe the story/text is appealing to any child. Sit down with any three year old, read the story aloud without visuals. The story is packed with action, a child hero who outwits the tigers and turns them into butter, which he eats on his pancakes. Context or not, the story in itself is appealing. This story has been around for generations. Good stories like good music or good graphic design are timeless, they don't disappear after a few years. People simply remake, retell, or reuse them. Good storytelling is what kept this book in print for over 100 years. Now, I don't like the names Black Sambo, Black Mumbo and Black Jumbo, even with contemporary art. In my opinion, those old racist images, combined with the derogatory names is what caused so much controversy with some of those past editions.

Experienced author:I was tickled by your declaration that you write when you write and what you write, etc. and was confused by regulations, the writing world, publishers who are looking for manuscripts have something called "writers submission guidelines" which do exactly the same thing as the announcement from the African American Children's Literature Journal. What the journal was looking for is very clear. Publishers have a certain number of words for manuscripts, want the manuscripts formatted in certain ways, have various themes and subject matters that they're looking for. some want fantasy; some do not want talking animals. Some want science fiction; some don't.
That's what it's all about, my brother. Go to any of the publishers who have published books in which your art appears and you will most likely find writers guidelines.

Devas T.: Duh, my writing friend, I know all about submission guidelines. Although a brotha can be a bit, lets say, dorky at times, "submission guidelines" are not on my list of new writing vocabulary words. What I meant is that, I feel perfectly comfortable when I'm writing here. I can write what I want. I feel comfortable when I'm writing a children's manuscript. Initially, I can write what I want. But it's not until I get to the part about writing or adjusting my work to fit the "submissions guidelines" that I get nervous.

Overheard today: An exchange between my son and a nice lady at the doctor's office this morning:

Lady: Hey, that's a cool toy you have there. What is it?

The son: It's a boat.

Lady: Fabulous!

The son: No, not fabulous. I said, it's a boat!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Celebrating the 4th with the Dorks

Sidenote: Before writing this entry, upon opening a bottle of strawberry flavored sparkling water, the bottle burst all over Mr. Dork as well as all over Mrs. Dork's freshly mopped kitchen floor. A fitting prelude to today's entry.

Fourth of July with the Dorks

1. Before setting off to yesterday's Fourth of July fireworks show, The Dorks stop off at a Super Walmart to pick up a few goodies to eat while watching the fireworks show. There's a fight in the toy aisle. Mr. Dork has found a rare motorcycle Hotwheel to add to his collection. Little Dork also wants that same Hotwheel. Mr. Dork wins the fight because Little Dork, well, is little, and he has no money.

2. Ms. Dork packs plenty of games and goodies for the Forth of July fireworks show. Among other things, she has also packed nacho chips; strawberry twizzlers; peanut butter cookies; cereal bites; a cooler full of salsa; soda pops; and 4 beers for Mr. Dork.

3. After parking their van, Mr. Dork decides he doesn't want to carry around his keys with everything else he already has to carry, so he slips the keys into Mrs. Dorks purse, zipping it back up tightly, but without informing Mrs. Dork of his actions. Mrs. Dork doesn't want to carry around her purse with everything else she already has to carry, so she slips her purse into a little compartment beneath the passengers seat without telling Mr. Dork of her actions. The little compartment didn't know that the keys were in the purse, so the little compartment locked itself without telling the Dorks about its actions.

4. The Dorks have a problem. Besides having no way to get into that little compartment, they are now asking each other questions like, "since when do you ever use that little compartment," and "why didn't you tell me you put the keys in my purse?"

5. Mr. Dork decides to call a lock company while viewing the fireworks show, but no lock company had ever head of someone locking their keys into a little compartment under their seat, so they weren't equipped to help the Dorks.

6. Mr. Dork thought it was time to have one of those beers.

7. The Dorks enjoyed the fireworks show although the restrooms were too crowded. None of the Dorks chose to stand in line.

8. The Dorks decided to take a bus home, and since one was conveniently passing the park, they jumped right on — cooler, three fold-up chairs, a blanket, two plastic sacks filled with snacks in hand.

9. The bus quickly filled up shoulder to shoulder with all sorts of downtown nightlife-looking people. Mr. Dork sat between a punk rocker-looking girly guy and another guy with dyed yellow hair, eye mascara, black fingernail polish and too many body piercings. Mr. Dork held on close to Little Dork.

10. The bus made an unexpected stop. Little Dork who never sits still, loses his balance, and falls to the floor.

11. Mrs. Dork reaches for, and catches Little Dork, but somehow the cooler which was balanced on Mrs. Dorks feet, to make more room for some of the still standing downtown-looking nightlife people, falls completely over as the bus lurches to a stop.

12. The cooler, ice, soda pop, salsa and beers make a loud crash, fall to the floor and roll/slide from the back of the bus, all the way to the front of the bus. Everyone is now looking at this only-out-of-a-TV-sitcom situation.

13. Mr. Dork looks away, pretending he's not with Mrs. and Little Dork.

14. The bus only takes the Dorks part of the way home, so Mr. Dork decides to make the 2-mile walk home, garage door opener in hand, so he can get into the house, and get the other set of keys.

15. In the meantime, Ms. Dork and Little Dork are sitting outside the Walgreens store finally having relieved themselves; eyes full of tears because, well, life's just hard on Dorks.

16. A nice lady in an oversized SUV feels bad for Mrs. and Little Dork, so after learning the whole story offers Mrs. Dork a ride home. Maybe they'll even rescue Mr. Dork who never made it to the restroom, and now, three hours later, has to go REALLY bad.

17. Mr. Dork figures, well, it's 11:30 PM, it's pitch-black outside because there's no streetlights on this 2-mile stretch of road. He figured, there's plenty of bushes, maybe he should just relieve himself of this overdue restroom situation. He could not hold it any longer.

18. While relieving himself in a bush, the lady in the oversized SUV, along with her two kids, Mrs. Dork and Little Dork pull up shining a high beam spot light on Mr. Dork, who, to his horror, now thinks he's just been busted by the police and is quickly zipping up his pants.
(Ok, #18 didn't happen, but it could have considering Mr. Dork really had to go.)

19. The Dorks are returned home, they use their garage door opener to let themselves in, they get Mr. Dork's keys and take his truck back downtown to unlock the keys from the little compartment in Mrs. Dork's van. Then they go home.

20. Mr. Dork finishes off those unused beers.

Inside note: **RPM** you may want to reconsider your offer.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Writing opportunity

Just received a note from my Aunt, author Eleanora E. Tate, whose book, by the way, was just selected for inclusion on a recommended list of multicultural and multi-racial literature that use humor. The list was prepared by the EMIERT Children’s Services Committee, and you can find the entire list with links over at Cynsations.

Anyway, getting back to the note, here is a writing opportunity for African American writers of children's literature. The Journal of African American Children's literature is seeking manuscripts for publication in the Fall, 2005 issue. I know, that's kinda soon, but I just found out.

They are looking for manuscripts that examine and explore the works of African American illustrators and writers of children's books that have celebrated and continue to celebrate African American families via their work.

The problem is: I don't know what the above paragraph means! See, I'm just a newbie writer. I write what I want, when I want to and about whomever I please. So, put a bunch of rules, regulations, word counts, guidelines and deadlines on it and I get kinda freaked out. I find myself crawling back into my comfort zone cave: my studio with my drawing board, paint brushes and canvases. Thing is, after studying the website, it looks right up my alley. I want to write, but I'm terrified of writing professionally. We'll see where this goes. I think I could do it. I don't know.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Racist cartoon or successful art form?

I haven't been in much of a mood for blogging lately, as you may have noticed. While listening to some old-school, radio blogs over at ej flavors, all sorts of long gone memories came gushing back. For that reason, I put my blogging aside for a few days while I poured those memories and emotions into the YA manuscript I've been working on, but had temporarily set aside.

A visitor over at my sister site, Devas T. reads kiddie books, brought the following issue to my attention. Apparently, the Mexican government has issued a stamp featuring Memin Pinguin, a cartoon character that many see as derogatory. This came just weeks after Mexican President Vicente Fox made some controversial comments about American blacks. Statements that I, too, found sort of...well, Ok, offending.

TroyN. asked me what I thought about the stamp issue.

Well, until he asked the question, I had never heard of Memin Pinguin. My initial response to this character was laughter. I'm an artist, and I sometimes do caricatures. A caricature is an art form whereby the artist exaggerates or distorts the features of a person to create a humorous sort of cartoon. If you are fat, chinless and have a big nose, a caricaturist would have a good 'ole time drawing pictures of you, expanding upon your special features to create a humorous drawing. That's what caricaturist do. To that end, in my opinion, artist Sixto Valencia Burgos' caricature is a success. I laughed. I mean, come on my African American blog reader, let's be honest. Memin's characteristics feature bright eyes, big lips, dark skin, and short kinky hair. He probably looks just like your nephew (don't get mad, you know which nephew I'm speaking of), cousin or maybe even your son. And what about the other character, Memin's mother, a fat dark-skinned lady with the rag tied around her head? Looks just like your auntie or cousin. Possibly your momma. That's why I laughed. The artist hit upon something I could relate to: traditionally African characteristics — like it or not. Only those who harbor self hate would be offended. Ok, I know, black people come in all shades of color — from marshmallow caramel to jet-blue, blue-black. And there probably isn't really a true African/black person any longer. Still, generally speaking, these are the characteristics of a person of African descent: dark skin, full nose, full lips, tight curly hair. I'm not ashamed of that. That's me. That's my people, and if I were ashamed, I might be embarrassed, maybe even offended by the caricature of Memin. But I'm not. That was the point I was trying to make to children's book editors and agents who told me I had to illustrate African Americans in a certain way. They told me not to exaggerate facial features, not to distort, not to draw black people in cartoon. And my question was: why not? Visit the children's section of any book store and you'll see white characters portrayed in all types of styles, from exaggerated cartoons to realistic portraiture.

Well, Mr. Uncle Tom Devas T, you're not bothered by the Memin Pinquin character. You probably approve of those racist Jim Crow cartoons of the 1940s that perpetuated stereotypes of African Americans and truly did display hatred by their creators, huh?

I didn't necessarily say I was unfazed by the character. I said, I initially thought he was funny. Then I felt uncomfortable given the fact that so many cartoons created in the United States had racist overtones. Now, that being said, I don't know the history of Memin Pinguin. I have no idea of the origins of the cartoon series or if the artist truly had racist attitudes when he conceived Memin. That's what I'd be more concerned about. Let the Mexican government sell the stamps. If you don't like the stamps, don't buy 'em. I don't like ducks. I won't buy duck stamps.

So, how's that for straddling the fence?

The following is an excerpt from the Washington Post which gives some background:

...Memin Pinguin is a 1940s creation of artist Sixto Valencia Burgos. Mischievous and bumbling, he gets into trouble and is spanked by his mother, also a caricature that some civil rights activists find offensive.

Mexico abolished slavery decades before the United States and never enacted Jim Crow-style laws. But Memin Pinguin resembles hundreds of characters created during legal segregation in the United States, animated and real, including the Amos and Andy minstrels who joked in racist overtones about their ethnicity to the delight of whites-only audiences.

Black historians say that caricatures depicting black people as noble savages paved the way for their dehumanization and, ultimately, mass lynchings. The caricatures' place in history may help explain the strong reaction on this side of the border. ...

Unrelated thought for the day:While listening to a local morning radio talk show, a caller posed this question concerning kidnappings and missing people:

Why does it seem that law enforcement only focuses on locating young, beautiful women kidnap victims?

Retired police officer Sgt. Sam Cox's answer: because nobody kidnaps big 'ole fat ugly people.