Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Temporarily changing gears

My writing — with the exception of blogging — has come to a complete stop as of today. I'm hoping it won't be a long pause. Like cuttin' a rug to a George Clinton tune, stopping dead in my step in the middle of my book might cut off my groove. However, my publishers at August House thought that maybe an illustrated dust cover for the book I recently finished illustrating might add value to the total package. The dust cover is that extra page following the cover, and before the title page in a children's book. Sometimes it's just a blank color that compliments the total look of the book. Sometimes it's an illustrated page. I'll need to create at least one more illustration for this, and since the book deals with food — specifically soul food — I thought I'd create a repeating pattern of black eyed peas, bacon strips, corn bread, knives forks and spoons.

For the past three years, I've donated art to Half Price Books Say Good Night to Literacy program. I've also donated art for their calendars. They called earlier this summer requesting art for next years editions, but I was knee-deep in another deadline, so they extended my deadline until after my vacation. The theme I will be illustrating is mad as a hatter. So many images come to my mind with this theme. I've been doing some 3-d (Toy Story style art) work at my newspaper gig, so I'm thinking of letting that style spill over into this project as well.

The above illustration — The Balloon — appeared in the 9th edition of Say Good Night to Literacy. Now, I'm not exactly asking anybody to rush out to Half Price Books looking for any of my books, I mean a brotha needs royalty-generating sales, but this is a good cause.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

A very hot literary kinda day. Kinda

Today, on this what felt like 100-degree day, the wife and kid and I attended a book signing for Greg Leitich Smith, author of Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown, 2005). I can remember the day my wife and I chatted over lunch with Greg and Cyn at the swankily Austin Bitter End restaurant. Cynthia is always chuck-full of trade news and usually leaves a brotha feeling reinvigorated about the direction of his career in this children's book field. That day, they surprised us with the news that Greg had received a two-book contract with Little Brown. Seeing the final fruits of his labor come to fruition today is pretty darn exciting. Makes me realize that my dreams of having my words published someday are really attainable, although, however, Greg is a highly educated patent attorney in real life. But that's no excuse for me to belittle myself and my abilities. I guess. I think. We'll see.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Varian Johnson, author of Red Polka Dot in a World Full of Plaid (Genesis Press/Black Coral, 2005). I met Varion through the blogosphere, so it's always cool to finally meet someone in the person. Look for an interview of this talented author here on Rants and Raves in the next couple weeks. Also present at the signing — at least while I was there — was children's author/illustrator Frances Hill, her husband YA author Brian Yansky, and a few other's whom I was much too shy to introduce myself to. I don't do to well with these mix and mingle type of things. In fact most of the time, I made myself comfortable far away from the crowd, hanging out in the children's picture book section with K. The wife and I can't visit a Barnes and Noble without breaking our budgets. And, once again we did.

Before this afternoon's book signing, I spent the morning working on the children's book biography I've been busy writing. Yes, that is a total of five manuscripts I have in various stages of progress, but I want to enter Lee & Lows 2005 New Voices contest, and the deadline is October 31. I sat my other manuscripts aside to focus on writing this, and possibly two stories. Author Dianna Hutts Aston provided me with the subject to write about, and although I'm not completely confident in my writing, yet, I'm getting there.

I want to be careful not to reveal my subject. Not a big deal, but I don't want to jinx myself either. Not much is known about the life of the person I'm writing about. I've found a couple of books about this person's work, and I've found several internet biographies, but so far, not much. Thing is, although not much is known about the person, much is known about life and the times the person lived in. This story will be history lesson first, and a biography of my subject second.

Because I tend to be such a visual person, I first started out drawing a timeline of what I learnd about my subject's life. On this timeline, I've marked important dates; when the person was born, when they died and all other pertinent information that I've found in my research. Many of the dates have nothing to do with my subject's life, per se, but more to do with what was going on in the world, and how these events would have affected my subjects life. Not much is known about Jane Doe, but if she was black, lived in the Jim Crow south in the 1920s, I can assume her life was probably not a box of cherries. I'll be making some broad assumptions based upon research, and using a lot of probablys to qualify my statements. I'll cover myself and tie all the pieces together in an authors note at the end. In addition to writing, I've been reading other picture book biographies as homework, at least five books per day, three biographies and two general picture books.

My first draft is pretty much free writing. I am using my timeline as a guide, but for now I'm not focusing on perfect spelling, grammar, or structure. I'm not spending much time putting together just the right words, or rhythm. My goal is to vaguely tell my story. And for now, the story is littered with don't forget notes to myself for the purpose of a bibliography. My goal for finishing the first draft is Friday, then I'm going to sit this first draft aside to work revising my already finished first draft on a second entry. Whew, October 31st seems like tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Comfort foods

Macaroni and cheese with ketchup

I don't remember having a particular comfort food as a child. I liked food — period. Macaroni and cheese with ketchup was a recipe my grandparents always made on the sabbath, Friday evenings. This recipe's origins are sort of a mystery, but this peculiar concoction became a family tradition, raved by the Tate boys, the Thomas cousins and by all of their parents as well. But, needless to say, it was panned by everyone else. Grandpa always mixed up a huge batch and grandma served it with fried fish. Now cheese and ketchup mix like oil and acrylic — they just plain don't. So the final result was quite lumpy, clumpy, gooey and chunky. But we loved our grandparents, we loved their fried fish, and we loved their macaroni and cheese — with ketchup.

Government cheese and beenie weenies

After my parents separation, and eventual divorce, my mom had to get a full-time job. Up until that point she was pretty much a stay-at-home mother. Once she started working full-time, us four brothers were on our own, to take care of each other after school until mom returned home. With finances slim and appetites fat, mom had to supplement her income with the help of our government. Our government made sure the Tate boys ate well on a diet of boxed cheese and mom's beenie weenies. Government cheese as it was called, that 30-pound, orange-yellow brick, was not pre-sliced. You sliced government cheese your dog-gone self, with a dull butter knife sometimes slicing a finger or two. Grilled cheese sandwiches became my favorite. A sliver of bacon hidden inside if you were lucky enough and could hide the bacon from Brian who ate almost everything in sight. Cheese and mayonnaise on soft white was a favorite of mom's. Cheese and chips, or just plain cheese was a favorite of mine. Cheese on a mouse trap is not a cliché, it really does work. And mom's beenie weenies, homemade, not canned were truly a comfort.

Grape jelly and barbecue potatoe chip sandwich

Don't ask me how I came to conceive this one. I'm a creative brotha, remember. Grape jelly and chips, the barbecue kind, piled high between white bread. Mmmm, yum delicio-so!

Macaroni and cheese — with ketchup is a version of a story that I wrote and contributed to the book Cookin' ’N Bookin' Texas Style.

Today's post came as a result of Susan Taylor Brown's writing prompts.

Monday, August 22, 2005

I'm back and well rested

I really needed this vacation. With the exception of lugging five, what seemed like 100-pound suitcases through customs at Carnival's airport-like terminal, I didn’t do any work. No painting, no sketching, no writing, no blogging. I did, however, send two emails at the total cost of $15.00, but that was the only means of communication I had with my mom who flew in to Texas to watch my son while we cruised to Cozumel. Carnival cruise ships are just that — fun! Expensive, but fun.

Possibly a published flake! Again!

I've posted maybe 3 poems on this blog since starting it at the first of this year. As I had said in an earlier post, I thought poets were flakes. For that reason I hesitated about posting my own prose here. I figured, it’s probably OK to be a little flaky as long as I keep my flakiness off the internet. I'm glad I came to my senses. Before leaving for vacation, I received an invitation from author Michael Sampson to have one of my poems, first published here on Rants and Raves, included in his up-and-coming children's poetry book (post quickly removed from blog). He's even proposed that I illustrate it. This, of course, is all contingent upon his editor's approval, but still, how cool is that that he asked?

The original poem is written from an adult point of view, so I will need to revise it to fit the target readership. I can't express enough how much Michael's invitation has boosted my confidence in my writing abilities. I've been writing all over the place, from blogs to several manuscripts, but with trepidation a constant underlying factor.

Michael Sampson is the author of children's best-seller, and my son's favorite Chicka, Chicka 1, 2, 3, as well as many other well known children's books. I first met Michael Sampson about three years ago at a children's book festival in Corpus Christi, Texas. We were both featured authors/illustrators and I was amazed at how he dazzled the kids with his very lively readings of his books. Since then, we've crossed paths a couple more times at various other literary events. I know this might sound a bit voodoo-fantastic, but earlier this summer as I sat in the back seat of Michaels SUV at the Pathways to Literacy conference in Tampa, I listened to him speak about his by-chance meeting and subsequent career-long colaborations with the late author Bill Martin Jr. As I listened to him speak, I sort of sensed — or something — that our crossing paths might result in something beyond the conference. Don't ask me why, maybe I was just wishful thinking. But since I really don't believe in luck-of-the-draw fate, maybe I experienced something divine that day.

Thanks Michael!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bon Voyage and aidos

I tend to dillydally over the most mundane things, and jump spontaneously, head first, into those things that really do require further thought. This blog, and the direction I should take it has been in flux practically since the day I started it. I've finally figured out what I need to do. I've started a new blog, and I'm announcing that change today.

For many reasons, I will be writing this blog anonymously. There I will freely express myself with less worry. One of the reason's I joined the blogosphere was for self promotion of my children's book business. Rants and Raves was meant to work along my professional site, offering insight into me, the artist behind the children's book paintings. I also started this in hopes of networking, communicating and linking up with others of like interest. In this business, image is almost as important as talent and luck. It's difficult to remain relevant within those circles if your image scares everybody away. So, like my mom used to say, "when in Rome, do what the Romans do." From this day forward, it will be a kinder and gentler Rants and Raves serving only as a site of interest to children's writers, illustrators, librarians, editors, art directors, or anyone else who has an interest in my work. I'm going to leave up the links to other children's writers, but move all the other links to the new site. I'll probably, at least here on Rants and Raves, omit the commenting ability for a short time.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Funny. Most days, he presented a false face. He smiled when he wanted to frown. He laughed when he really wanted to lash out. Laughing was better accepted by others than lashing out. He folded up his words, tucking them away, hidden, like an erotic photograph that shouldn't be seen by just any ole' body.

When he was a child, words seemed to get a little brotha into trouble. Expressing his thoughts were dangerous. "Children speak when spoken to," G------ always said. Speaking the wrong words might have earned him a smack straight in the mouth. Bad words, "talkin' back", even defending your honor (yes, 5-year-old boys do have honor to defend), might have earned him not only a smack, but the knife. A six-inch wide butcher's knife, and a cutting board were the chosen tools to scare a boy into using just the right words. G------ would pull out that knife in no less than a New York minute. "Come here, boy, I'm cutting off your tongue," G------ would say, brandish her weapon like Luke Skywalker challenging the forces of evil. Now, don't misunderstand, he loved G------ then. He cherishes her memory today. She meant well. The best of intentions were behind her old school tactics. But she tamed him. Tamed that little boy when little boys don't need to be tamed. They need to be trained. Trained in love.

So, why is he so shy? they always asked. Why is he quiet? Why doesn't he express himself the way other people do? Because tame is how they wanted him to be. Tame was accectable. And since he yearned for acceptance, he succumbed. He learn to express himself though. He had to or he might burst. He expressed himself safely through art.

Now he is grown, and still has difficulty expressing himself with words. As a public figure, an illustrator of children's books, words again seem to get him in trouble. So, he's back to old business. Using art to express himself, and smiling on que when he's expected to smile. But on a separate blog, he could remain anomymous, and express himself how he dog-on pleases. He'll be pondering that further while on vacation.

Very related thought for the day: No, G------ is not Mz. Gig.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Freelance writer, Susan Taylor Brown has moved her blog over to LJ, however her existing blog offers writing exercises which I'll use on those days when the ideas aren't quite flowing. Her most recent prompt: connections — what did your mother or grandmother always have in their purse?


My mom always carried the bargain basement type of purse — cheap and raggedy. They were usually very big. Large enough to carry an over ripe water melon, and just about as heavy. They had to be big because off all the important stuff she carried in there. Letters. Grocery store receipts. Phone numbers scrawled on loose sheets of paper torn from the corner of an over due electric bill. Aspirin for those long days raising four sons alone with no father. Loose change gathered at the bottom making that jingle noise as she rummaged through it in search of her car keys.
"Dern-it, dern-it, I can't find them!" she'd say, in a high-pitched cry, frustrated and biting the palm of her hand. She did that when she got really upset about something. The strap of her purse would be torn around the edges, weighted down from the bulk of organized pandemonium. It was stressed at the seams from a back and forth swing as mom sauntered from place to place. Her arms swung hard. Her walk had rhythm. Her purses took a beating, but because they were cheap, they were easily replaced. I alway felt a sense of sadness when mom replaced her purse. It had grown on me. Out with the old, in with another old one.

My grandma also carried a purse. I have no idea what she carried in there, and venturing to find out would have proven fatal. It was always neatly closed and zipped tight the many times she sent me to fetch it. She kept it on a step stool which sat in a corner beneath her phone on the wall. The stool doubled as a phonebook and newspaper holder. Grandmas purse had a odor. Not a bad odor. A grandma-purse odor. A mixture of money and I don't know what. And I never found out.

When I first met my wife, she carried a Coach. It scared me at first. My mom's purses were in the four-teen dollar range. Grandma's purses were of the second-hand garage sale variety. My wife's mother carried a Dooney, as in Dooney & Bourke. What does a woman need with a four-hundred dollar purse? Can I afford a woman whose mother carries a four-hundred dollar purse? But she's been a gem, her taste is still Coach, but she's downsized to Target.

My Poynter Institute bag serves as my carry all. A man purse one might call it. It's green with the Poynter Institute's logo screen printed across the canvas front. With brown leather accents, brass rivets and zippers this bag is a man's bag. A graphic reporter's tote. I fill it with those same things my mom filled her purse with. Everything. And who knows what else. And I couldn't find it if I needed to.


Susan and I share a byline in the children's anthology, Jump at the Sun. She as the author of Can I pray with my eyes open, and me as illustrator of Say Hey! A song of Willie Mays.

Kid-lit Thursday

...and ruined a brand new, perfectly fine, Nike ball cap for the sake of a visual. The Hidden Feast, a children's picture book written by Mitch Weiss & Martha Hamilton will publish in the spring of 2006 with August House.

Unrelated thought for the day: The public library asked me not to present my book The legend of the Valentine to children at a summer event because of its christian content. That same library recently voted not to remove Out magazine, a publication that promotes homosexual lifestyle. Chew on that.

Note my squeaky clean, unwaxed ear hole.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Wish me luck!

As per my art agent's email today, I'm still in the running as illustrator of a children's book with the editors over at Harper Collins. Shhh! Not sure which imprint — maybe Amistad, maybe not — but, I'm keeping my fingers crossed so tight, they're soon to meld and form a third thumb. If I'm still in the running after a third conversation, that's kinda good. Of course, the last thing my agent said was that she was in discussions with Ebony magazine about running a story on me.

That just ain't happen yet.

HC editors, if you see this post, just scoot on over to my online portfolio either at my site, or at the iSpot. Then pick me, pick me and call Suzanne! I can do cute little cars, too. Promise.

If this thing doesn't go my way, ya'll just won't hear about it no more.

Children's book artist, Janee Trasler sent me this link to another guy who — like me — maintains a diligent vigil over his Amazon rankings. Today, with Harry Potter at #1, I'm a modest #336,936.

Unrelated thought for the day: I know you either love him, or just plain despise him, but you have to admit that new R. Kelley "Trapped in the closet" tune is genious. It tells an intriguing story set to music. The tune isn't particularly catchy, there's no hook, and the vocals are off. But still, at it's essence, it's great storytelling.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Quick blog — adding it all up

June— One 5-day trip with the family to Des Moines: $1,400.00

July— One 5-day trip with the family to Arizona to visit daughter: $1,500.00

August— One Galveston to Cozumel cruise with the wife; one plane ticket for Mz. Gig to babysit the son; at least one excursion while on cruise; two months advance tuition for the son's private school; school clothes (uniforms): $2,400.00

Equals— One overdrawn bank account on tax free weekend. That means:

• No titanium white acrylic paint (I hope the folks at August House won't mind my painting brown cows).

• No problem re-establishing my six-pack for the cruise on my greenbeans for breakfast, lunch and dinner budget

• No easy reader online picture book course with Anastasia

• No Fall SCBWI conference

*sigh* such is the life of an artist

Unrelated thought for the day: I'm not much of a TV watcher, but Geena Davis as Commander in Chief is a carnally tantalizing oxymoron. No?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Just because

While reading the book Rats Saw God, I stumbled across a new art term: Dada. Dadaism was an art movement, or should I say an anti-art movement which started during World War I. I'm not much of a fine artist, I tend to fall on the commercial art side of the line drawn in the sand, however, if I were a fine artist, I'd be a dadaist. Why? Just because. That's the whole idea behind dadaism, art with no logical explanation. Dada is art for the sake of art and don't ask me no questions why. For everything art stands for, Dada represents the opposite. The non-conformist living inside my brain kinda likes that philosophy.

Thing is, the sports editors at my newspaper gig didn't know I'd recently unearthed a new art form. They requested an illustration from me right smack-dab in the middle of my new finding. The above illustration is the result of my applying those new found principles. The sports editors were speechless. Literally. I'm an art guy. They're sports guys.
they expect?<---(see, I got my cool on). This illustration ran on the Austin American Statesman's sports cover with a story having to do with all the new college sports TV channels.

Ask me what this is, go 'head. My new dadist answer: It just is.

Unrelated thought for the day: I'm not a historian or a scholar. My community college degree knows nothing about world history beyond yesterday. But I'm gonna ask two politically incorrect questions anyway. Why is Africa in trouble? Again? And again. And again. And again.

And why do folks think that throwing more money at them is gonna help?

Another thought: I'm not bloggin for awhile is apparently relative.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The pressure is on

I'm almost there! I'm in the final stages of painting my most recent children's book. However, my two week extension has been cut by one week, and I'm overnighting the paintings I already have finished. I now have one week to finish 8 paintings, and a full-time newspaper gig to attend to. In essence, a brotha doesn't have time to write books or blog. However, I feel like I can't just leave this thing hangin'. I gotta post something monumental. I gotta leave something big that will generate profound thought and insightful commentary in my comments box while I am gone.

And it just occurred to me.

Cow farting is damaging the ozone.

And don't you big-time-children's-blog censors go taking offense. Not with farting being the most popular subject as of late in children's literature today.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Publisher's catalog

Just received— hot off the press — my ZonderKidz 2005 - ’06 catalog (with June ’05 announcements). ZonderKidz is an imprint of Zondervan Publishing, who published my work in the book, The Legend of the Valentine. Zondervan is a publisher of Christian books. Cool, needless to say. Zondervan's catalogs are above the level of grandiose, not trashing the others, but theirs are completely full-color, spot varnished, gloss stock throughout, while most other book publishers go black and white. I'm excited to say, Valentine is highlighted three times throughout the catalog.

I was also happy to see another African American title featured in the catalog: Christmas Soup, written by Phyllis Dooley an Alice Faye Duncan and illustrated by Coretta Scott King award winner Jan Spivey Gilchrist. I'm happy to see this because, although Zondervan is my publisher, and I kinda like 'em, they don't seem to publish much color, color being, in this case, PC for black people. Glad someone out there is realizing that, yes, black folk like Christian books for their kids, too.

Now, I got an idea. Everyone reading this post, put everything down right now. Don't spill your coffee. Turn your computer off, and rush over to Family Christian Book Stores and buy my book now. Hurry, run! Yes, it's a Valentine's Day book. Yes, it's August. But royalty checks are royalty checks, even in the fall.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Artist Greggy

I don't remember the exchange exactly, but I recently sort of had a conversation with my friend Frank over at Splinter Cell. He had posted a blog, or comment, or something concerning online friendships. I made a remark stating that blogging can create a false sense of friendship. I went on to say that if I were to fall off the edge of the earth, none of my blog acquaintances would give a rip. However, I think, I was wrong. Something unthinkable happened to one of my favorite blog buddies, Artist Greggy.

Apparently, Artist Greggy, Gregory Broadnax, was in a tragic car accident. His car flipped and his wife was killed. His daughter Serena was severely injured.

I have never met Gregg in person, and wouldn't even recognize him should I pass him on the street. But I've read his blog fairly regularly over the past six months. I've also enjoyed the comments he left on my blog. Although I've never met Artist Greggy in person, I feel like I know him. And I can't quite put into words the sorrow I'm feeling having read about this brotha's unfortunate accident.

Not too long after I started blogging, I discovered Gregg's blog. I am an artist, therefore I tend to be attracted to blogs of other visual creatives. Gregg's is one of the best designed, and his warm personality beams through not only his writing, but his vibrant artwork. Those of you who have read his blog can attest to my words. So when he announced just a couple months ago that he was taking a blog break, I was really quite disappointed. And in fact, I just posted a message yesterday on his blog to let him know I was thinking of him.

So, Frank, I was wrong. Although we bloggers are worlds apart, separated by a vast expanse of a world wide web, there's real God-given life behind the blogs that we read on a daily basis. And I have become virtual friends with many of those I've met here.

Gregg, my prayer's are with you and I offer my sincerest condolences to you concerning your wife. I hope you will recover quickly, and can return to caring for your daughter, creating your beautiful art , and writing your inspiring words very soon.

Any written correspondence can be forwarded at least in the near future to Gregg's fathers house at :
Greg Broadnax
5527 Old Court Road
Baltimore Md 21244
Email can be sent to his email address:">

Thanks Cheryl for passing on this news.