Sunday, April 30, 2006

Love those librarians!

So what, I'm a B-list up-and-comer. I received an A-list compliment from an A+ librarian. Check out A Fuse #8 Production! I thank her, and Jen.

Class begins!

I tend to work best under pressure. I also tend to do things spontaneously — something that drives my plan-it-down-to-the-finest-detail-wife crazy.

This week, high pressure will meet spontaneity when I start an online writing course given by author Anastasia Suen. I say high pressure because I'll need to read five picture books per day, in addition to the daily homework. That might be simple for your average 8-year-old, but for us grown dyslexics with full and part-time jobs — and kids!— it's gonna be a challenge. Not to mention that I didn't read the not-too-small print on Anastasia's website stating that I'd need to submit one manuscript a week. Where am I going to find a manuscript to submit? And what about my overbooked illustration schedule?

Chris B. saved the day — at least this week — when he gave me a subject to write about. I've spent the weekend researching my subject, and will submit a first draft manuscript to the group on Friday. Then, I do have two more first drafts I could submit in following weeks. I certainly don't like the idea of submitting early work, but it's better than showing up to class empty handed. Something tells me that "My dog ate my homework" won't fly with Anastasia.

There's a certain irony here, that will leave a few of you smiling, a few others scratching their heads, and yet a few others just plain wondering what I'm talking about.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Back from TLA annual conference



Me (left with the greasy face and crooked glasses), pictured with illustrator/author Brian Pinkney.

Just returned from Houston, TLA. Overall, it was a fun productive time. I left the conference today at noon, and we had sold all but four books. When I first started signing on Wednesday, seeing the huge mound of books under the table, I thought: no way are we gonna sell all these books. But we did. So, I felt pretty good about that.

This type of signing was a bit different than others I've participated in. I signed for two half days, though I couldn't sit still for too long, leaving my post to seek out autographs from other authors and illustrators. Most times, I've signed for up to an hour, then I'm on my way. This signing was work. And next time, I'll have to be sure that my participation is advertised. I mean, with no signage, and my name missing from the roster, nobody knew who I was. I was just a sweating black guy sitting behind a table, with a glued-on grin. I had to sell myself, and selling is not one of my strong points. Many people made purchases once I, or my publisher explained to them that I was the illustrator of the book they were holding. But some sales depended upon them reading the entire book, asking me questions about my previous books, awards, publishers, reviews, and my mother's maiden name. Then, if I'd sing, and do a little dance, I might make a sale. I'm an art guy, not a sales guy. Not complaining, it was a good learning experience. I made many contacts, passed out flyers for school visits, and met some really neat people. Librarians are the reason I fell in love with this field.

While there, I met, and shook hands with many librarians, as well as children's literary notables including: Brian Pinkney, Jason Low, Roger Sutton (yes, I shook his hand this time), David Davis, Jan Peck, Irene Smalls, Anastasia Suen, W. Nikola-Lisa (the author of one of my books), Jerry Wermund, Jeanette Larson, and Randy Cecil. I missed Nikki Grimes. How did I do that?

Highpoint: Meeting W. Nikola-Lisa. He is a super warm person. Also, meeting an elementary school librarian from a school in Menchaca, just a few blocks from my home.

Low point: Some lady called me ugly, I think. I gave her one of my promotional flyers. She looked at it, then at me, then back at my flyer. When I asked if everything was ok, she said, "You don't look anything like your picture." She was refering to the same picture I use here on my blog. She goes on to say: "This picture looks like a young college kid. Is this a recent picture of you?" she asked again, her face accusing me of a lie. "No," I explained, trying to pick my jaw up off the table. The picture is only a year old, but I must have aged, or uglied quite a bit since then, by the look on her face.

************

Also, I just did it. I enrolled into one of Anastasia Suen's intensive writing courses. I feel bad spending so much money, but this year, I had made a commitment on turning up the knob on my literary endeavors, and I think this course will help with my writing.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Insecure blogging from TLA

It's funny how we (humans) build certain people up so large that, in our minds, they become larger than life, almost idolic. It's silly when you think about it.

I first met illustrator, Brian Pinkney, years ago. Then, my excitement was having met one of the few black children's book illustrators in the field. That was 1990-ish. But since then, I allowed his name, as well as the entire "dynasty" of Pinkney book creators, to become enormous in my head. So much so, that today, when I stood alongside this illustrator, I was so nervous that I could hardly speak, or breathe. In fact, I didn't even say a word to him at first, just handed him my book to be signed, and stood there like a doofus, waiting for him to absorb my thoughts of admiration like osmosis. It was especially awkward because it was just him and me. Oddly, no one else was in line. Finally, he broke the silence and we chatted. Sort of. Afterwards I felt like an idiot. Not because he probably, now, thinks I'm retarded, but because he's simply human, same as me. No better, though his accomplisments are greater. No bigger, a least in the eyes of rational people. Realizing what I had allowed to happen, I cleaned up my act, got it together.

Later, at his personal invitation, I attened a presentation he gave. Since I only had an exhibitors pass, I figured someone would stop me at the door, and not let me in. I looked forward to looking them in the eye, and saying: "I'm an invited guest of the speaker, Brian Pinkney." But that wasn't necessary 'cause I just walked in without incident. Dang, and I was hoping to use that line.

Anyway, before his presentation, he struck up a brief conversation and even asked me to help out with his projector should it blur out during his presentation. It did, and I fixed it. Twice.

Another thing I learned: everyone gets nervous, even those big named folks. Brian was so nervous when he started speaking, that he tripped over his tougue and became somewhat flustered, just the same as I do when in his shoes.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

TLA: oh my sore feet!

I'm probably going to sound like an old-time fogie, a 42-year-old man with aches and pains like that of an 80-year old. Hypochondriac, I am. But, for real, have plantar fasciitis. Should my mom be checking this out, there's no need to freak. Plantar fasciitis is a fancy term meaning: my heel hurts. I had been planning to run a 10k marathon with my wife, and trained in should-have-been-thrown-out-long-ago running shoes. Now, I can barely walk. I've had this many times before, usually comes with too many deep calf raises with heavy dumbells. Clears up with rest, Ibuprofen and time.

Thing is, today, I'm driving to Houston to attend the TLA conference. As you may remember from my ALA midwinter meeting experience, these conferences require a lot of walking. More walking than my wife's marathon, probably. And, right now, the thought of all that walking ain't sitting so well with my sore heel, throbbing as I type this.

Though my name was left off the official author/illustrator signing list (I'm such an outsider), I will be there signing my new book, THE HIDDEN FEAST, at the August House booth, #1728. I'll be there in the afternoon today, and again in the morning on Thursday. In between, I plan on playing groupie to my favorite children's authors and illustrators, and mingling with the many names that I am actually familiar with. Living in Texas has been a great thing!

I think it might be tacky to wear my new running shoes on the exhibit hall floor, but my sore heel is telling me I should. The mere thought of getting out of my seat and walking to the kitchen just plain hurts.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Chocolate-covered epiphany

Epiphany is a word with a delicious sounding ring, no doubt. "I'll have a chocolate-covered epiphany with my Latte Grande," one might say.

Yesterday, while on my way to work, I had a devinely scrumptious epiphany. The answer to the 64-million dollar question came to me while I weaved my way through Interstate 35.

The answer was soft, sweet, but clear. Many times my wife has told me that God talks to her, and I look at her like she's koo-koo. As a result, she ain't said that in awhile. But now, I understand what she means. I was so excited that I almost forgot the answer, and the question by the time I got to work.

I'm so glad I didn't email my manuscript before fudging the ending. Fudge? Chocloate? Latte? I must be hungry. Or delirious.

Also, this epiphany meant changing my title.

Cross your fingers. I'm submitting!

I don't want to Play right now!

I am one of those rare people who will not get terse with a telemarketer — even when I want to be. I figure, they are just doing their job, earning a buck. But this Beth, this pesky-as-a-mosquito sales representative from Play, an illustration directory marketed to the toy and gaming industry, is about to drive me freaking batty. She calls me during the day. She calls me at night. She sends emails, and letters — even though each time, I tell her no, I don't want to purchase a $3,000-plus advertisement.

"Oh hello Beeeeeeeethhhhhh," I said, as drawn-out and irritated as I could possibly sooooound, just a second agoooooo, when she called once mooooore. I just talked to this woman last week, so it seemed. She proposes payment plans, special deals, sends me free catalogs, and offers unsolicited marketing advice (purchase an ad from her, no doubt).

Today, I wasn't so nice. I couldn't help it. Though I didn't say anything mean, my long deep sigh, and the tone of my voice said it all. I hope. And the next time she calls, I'm gonna unleash the brotha living inside me, the one reserved for those special occasions — or people — who provoke him out of his Mr. Nice Guy personna.

I don't like to unleash the Brotha, 'cause he can be kinda street, and ain't as tactful as I.

***********
I'm about to do something I probably shouldn't do — somebody'd better stop me. I'm gonna email my manuscript back to my editors. I've addressed the questions and suggestions they posed. I've incorporated many of the suggestions made my author colleagues. I probably should let this simmer for a few more days, then give it another once-over, but to be honest, I'm exhasporated. I'm feeling like I should revert back to doing artwork — paint a picture once, and be done with it. I mean, as a writer, at what point do you finally call a work finished and move on to the next thing? I'm gonna let this whole matter simmer overnight, then send it off tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm gonna go run a few miles.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The 64-million dollar question

My manuscript is coming together! This morning, I met with my critique group...er, my critique partner. The feedback I received from him was invaluable.

First, we read each others manuscripts. Hearing someone else read my words was tremendously helpful. It sort of made my manuscript real, brought it alive hearing it read from someone else's mouth. But, also, it exposed a few holes. For instance, as Chris read, I noticed a large gap in the story, a gap that I knew had already been addressed. Somehow, unintentionally, I'd chopped a large portion of my manuscript out. That became especially evident after reading ABs remarks. I accidently chopped out two spreads, very important pieces to this story. Just think if I'd had submitted the manuscript to the editors like this! I almost did!

Second, we gave positive and negative (maybe negative isn't a good word — improvement suggestions) feedback on each others manuscripts, and asked questions. It really turned into a discussion on how to make each others works better — it worked like a critique group should.

Although the sit-down exchange was a blast, my favorite part of the process was reading Chris' work, getting in there, dissecting it, understanding it, getting to know his subject. After that much time with a work, one can't help but to become attached, and truly hope for it's success. I look forward to cheering this work on to publication!

But then, there's that 64-mllion dollar question. So far, all 6 people, including an editor who's shown interest in this manuscript, have asked this question. Everyone feels it should be addressed. Problem is, I don't have an answer. No one knows the answer for sure —that's the thing. I could probably make a fairly accurate, educated guess, but I don't know if I'm comfortable with making assumptions when dealing with biographies. Should this book ever publish (I'm confident it will), reviewers will ask the same question, I'm sure. I'm gonna have to sleep on this one.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Friday wind-down

Monday, I shared lunch, and good conversation with a singing zoologist. At least, that's how he was referred to by one of his fans who exited the men's room and excitedly recognized him (nobody recognized me). Lucas Miller, a local children's entertainer/author/singer/columnist extraorannaire shared with me his experience, and business insights. I was truly impressed. I haven't met very many children's writers who practice their trade full time, and make a good living at it. Lucas does, and he is self published. To me, that screams spunk!

As a result of his participation with TLA, and TCA, Lucas has school visits coming out his ears, which is primarily where he sells his books. We discussed the possibility of collaborating on a project, and I'm looking forward to the day we can work together. Besides that, his wife has kicked off a business for people like me, people in business, but need a bit of coaching.

Oh, and by the way, K loved his CDs.

***************************************

A company specializing in African American themed wallpaper is interested in licensing three more of my designs for their juvenile line. I plan to build up the designs discontinued by Lowes because I'm still receiving emails from buyers wanting to know what happened to the Kidz collection.

***************************************

I finished thumbnail sketches for 'Ron' and faxed them off to my editors at Dial yesterday. I haven't used a fax machine in years, and in fact, had to dig mine out the garage, and hook it up just to send the sketches. With the ease of sending PDFs, who needs a fax machine? In this case, I would have had to scan 19 pages, so faxing made better sense.

***************************************
I just figured out that by joining a critique group, I'm gonna need to write more, and probably blog less. I don't know why that didn't occur to me before. But, after submitting my first manuscript, and also receiving my first manuscript for review, I realized that we're gonna be doing this again in another 30 days, or so. I'll either need to write something new, or revise one of the three other first draft manuscripts I've already written.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Mainstreaming in art

I received an interresting question in response to an illustration that I posted a few days ago. Miss P AKA Her Royal Cliqueness — as tactfully as possible — asked: "when illustrating for work, knowing the reader of the paper you work for, was it assumed when you got the assignment that the illustration would depict a certain race?"

I'm reticent to discuss much about my full-time gig on this blog. This blog is primarily my spot to discuss children's publishing, and besides that, I don't want to give anyone any reason to ...fire me. But, it was a very good question, deserving a full post.

I've been asked this question many times, many ways. In general, it goes something like this: when it comes to your newspaper art, why's a black illustrator always illustrating white folks?

My answer: Well, I don't have a good answer, and the following probably wimps out.

Back home in Iowa, I worked for a Ganette paper. They had a term used for promoting diversity in the paper: mainstreaming. Mainstreaming wasn't particularly about race, per se, but included gender, age, religion and sexual orientation. It simply promoted the goal of getting diverse voices, images, and sources into the paper. As it related to me, an artist creating images for the paper, it meant including black people (or, least non-whites) in my art whenever possible, unless a story specifically called for a white person. I mean, if a story was about Bill Clinton, obviously, I couldn't illustrate him as a black man. If a story was about flying kites at the park, I would illustrate that story with people of color.

Mainstreaming was mandated from the top down, so whenever I created illustrations, I pretty much created images of black people exclusively. With seven other white artists on staff, there was no shortage of Caucasion images going into the paper. Mainstreaming gave me permission to do what I knew was right, but was too uncomfortable to voice with my higher-ups. And, don't misunderstand, mainstreaming wasn't meant to exclude white people; it simply challenged people to think diverse.

Mainstreaming isn't a term used at my current full-time gig, at least I've never heard it used. Now, let me CYA — another term I learned at a past full-time gig. I'm not saying that my current full-time gig isn't concerned with mainstreaming, or racial diversity in illustrated images, I'm sure they are... at some level. But, for me personally, it hasn't been an in-your-face-issue the same as it was in my past experiences, so I simply choose to leave it alone.

Most times, without thinking, I'll simply illustrate white people in my newspaper art because it draws the least amount of undesired attention. Unfortunately race adds a whole separate conversation to an illustration. Putting a black face on a generic story suddenly communicates something that may be unintended, particularly for nonblacks. The illustration that I posted earlier this week, which featured a white person, had to do with politics, and legislators. Though, I'm sure there are black state legislators (I think, I might be wrong), had I used a black face, there may have been some questions as to why, or who does he represent, or why is he black, or what are you trying to say?

I'm not trying to move mountains, I'm just trying to make a living from them.

Besides that, I get plenty of opportunities to illustrate people of color in the realm of children's publishing. Wimpy? Maybe. This issue just isn't my fight.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Agony

Ok, the manuscript has only been left to simmer for about an hour. I picked it up and reread it again after my author colleague confirmed receiving the email. The first sentence is a mouthfull — one big, long, run-on, never-ending sentence.

Sigh.

Cleaned a hurdle

I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my back, which allowed me to clean a major hurdle. I just completely finished a rewrite of "Bill'! After addressing some issues, I had planned to rewrite it with more of a southern voice, maybe sweetening up the language. But, after looking at the editors comments, I figured, why tinker with it? They seemed to like my words, and voice as is — at least their comments weren't directed at my prose.

I'm sure this will not be the final draft, but I do feel like I have a stronger manuscript than before — about 500 more words, for a total of just over 2000 — but I needed more words to include some important details that were left out.

Now the scary part, I just emailed it to my critique group. Maybe "group" is a strong word considering, at present, it's me and another guy (to be revealed once I get his permission to do so). But we will meet on Saturday, along with our kids. We thought it a good idea to see how much critiquing we actually get done with three toddler-ish boys. K does pretty good as long as he knows where the bathroom is, has someone to play with, and cookies are abundant.

And the other scary part; I’m an artist and wannabe writer. My group…er, the other guy, is a writer. He's a soon to be published writer, with an agent. I know his input will be of value to me. So, I’m hoping my input will be just as valuable to him…and eventuallly, to them.

I also emailed the manuscript to another author colleague, so I should have some pretty good feedback in which to address a final draft.

Now, back to my thumbnail sketches for 'Ron'.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Modular illustration



Today, one of my illustrations ran on the front page of my hometown newspaper — my full-time gig. By now, creating illustrations are no big deal — that’s what I do. But this one proved to be somewhat…special.

My assignment was simple: create an illustration/infographic that included a road with obstacles symbolizing the road legislators might encounter on their way to tax reform. Now, remember, the first love of my career is illustration for kids. The second love of my career is illustration for kids product licensing. So, illustrations to symbolize tax reform ranks down there with sweeping floors or cleaning toilets. Well, not really, but you get my meaning.

This assignment was really no different than others in terms of deadline and content. At least it started off that way. Because of it’s physically large size, I assumed — as did everyone involved — it would run somewhere deep inside the paper. So, you can imagine my shock when I learned it was running on the cover! Illustrations traditionally don’t run on the covers of newspapers, particularly dang-near full-page illustrations. Those are saved for Features fronts and occasionally Business or Sports. Problem is, once an illustration is bumped to the front of the newspaper, everyone involved is suddenly freaked out — you gotta make everyone look good, or everyone’s heads are gonna roll. And that ain’t no fun.

Since I wasn’t working the weekend shift, and the illustration was running on Monday, and I ddin’t want to get called in to work, I had to create sort of a modular illustration — you know, create individual illustrated pieces, plus a background which a designer could use to create their own thing. That’s kinda scary ‘cause my byline would be front and center no matter what the outcome.

As a writer, could you imagine choosing a select grouping of words and phrases, in which to give to me, that I might use to write a story — with your byline?!

But, all turned out fine, the front page looked nice.

*Note, the little vulture icon I created to represent lawyers was omitted in favor of a scale of justice, which is good. I have some law friends whom I hold in the highest esteem, so that would not have been fair.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter

The wife got me an Easter basket, full of those things I love: chocolate/carmel eggs, Kit Kat candy bars, beef jerky. She also filled it with those things I need: new socks, shampoo, mouthwash. I also got her an Easter basket, too. I filled it with a new scanner/printer/copier/fax machine. And I included a little poem; a fib. Not sure how well it went over. "Honey, I wrote a love poem especially for you, it's a fib." The smile that followed scratched across her face like long fingernails on chalkboard — even after I explained the fib principle. Could have been because the poem was written with a water-based Paper Mate pen, which ran.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Wired

Yesterday, Time Warner hooked up my wife's new computer up to the internet. We already had high speed on my computer — a G4 PowerMac — so it was just a matter of wirelessly networking my modem to hers.

After setting up her computer, I didn't bother test-driving her internet connection. I mean, as far as I knew, she had no connection, yet. Turns out, once cable guy gets here, he discovers that she's already hot-wired and ready to go. Her computer has Airport, a built-in device that seeks out wireless networks, and provides access. Appears, our home has extraneous networks beaming throughout the house. Cable guy tells me that we could have siphoned off of any of those networks for free, and saved ourself an $80 setup, plus the additional $15 per month. I'll gladly pay, I don't want to compromise our online security, but I learn something techno every day.

*******************

Along with my wife's new computer, came a free .mac account. Knowing she wouldn't be interested (she's not very techno), I signed myself up. I had passed on Apple's offer a few years ago, when I first bought my computer, thinking it was just a worthless money grab. But, turns out, .mac is a very worthwhile service, free for the first year, but I'll glady pay when my year expires. Among other things, it allows me to make files on my computer's hardrive public to the world. Scary? Not really. I get to choose which things are public, and one would need my account password to gain access.

And, it already came in handy, and saved me money. My licensing agent sent an email requesting some designs that I had created, but she could not find. I was at work, had no access to the files, but since they were in my .mac publc folder, she was able to log in, and retrieve the files immediately. Another example: I finished the 'My Peepz' calendar a couple weeks ago, but never sent the art to the publishers. It's not due till May, so I figured no hurry. They called yesterday asking that I send whatever art I have immediately. Since the art was in my public folder, they were able to get the art right away — much too big to email — and I saved the cost of shipping. Very cool.

*******************
I miss my iPod Nano. Sure, my new iPod has much more storage space. Sure, I could watch reruns of Grey's Anatomy', should I so desire. But, compared to my iPod Nano, now my wife's Nano, it's a big honkin' thing, heavier than my old-time Walkman, or Discman. I can't imagine jogging with this brick in my pocket. I'll try it out this weekend.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Welcome to a blue-chip blog

I just discovered something kind of cool. Blogshares, a fantasy stock market for weblogs, rates my blog, Rants and Raves, as #9 among their 'Top 100 Blogs in Children's Literature', as of today.

Ok, just what I needed — another ranking system that I'll be checking daily. Sad to admit, I still check my Amazon rankings...not daily any longer, but at least monthly.

Books, books galore

Today, I received contracts from Paraclete Press. I'm not scheduled to start sketching 'Enkelin' until December, about the time when ‘Ron’ will be winding down. But, I learned some disheartening news about my authors. As I said in an earlier post, one of the co-authors for ‘Ron’ recently passed away. And my editor at Paraclete informed me of some sad news about the author of 'Enkelin'. You can read more about it here (download the whole story). This news creates a sense of urgency, over and beyond what is already a tight schedule.

I’m considering illustrating both books simultaneously, but don't know if I can realistically do that. I did so with ‘Valentine’ and ‘Summer Sun Risin!’ but, that was before I had a small child in the home. And don’t forget, 'Zoom' is still buzzing around in the clouds, ready to land anytime, justas soon as the paper engineer finishes the mechanics. One day at a time; that’s my motto.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Midweek sidebar

Ok, my plans to join a critique group didn't quite work out as planned. Unfortunately, for reasons I won't go into publically, I had to back out. I still have the utmost respect for these talented authors and artists, and I'll continue to support them however I can — but I need a plan B. Not to worry, the local children's author/illustrator community here in Austin is rich in talent, so there are plenty of people to lean on.

**********
I finished the first round of revisions on 'Bill'. After putting in more research time, I rewrote the ending, filled in some gaps, moved around a few blocks of text, and smoothed out some transitions. At this point, I'm going to go revise once again, experimenting with a southern voice, which will be a bit tricky, and require more research since, technically, I'm considered a yankee.

**********
I'm well into drawing thumbnail sketches for Ron. After reading a manuscript, I like to create tiny sketches. I email these sketches to the publisher before I start my real sketches. My editors have given me so much freedom to experiment! The first thing I asked, of course, is: "What's the size of the book." Their answer: "you determine that." My ideas will be put on the table before anything is decided definitely. That's cool!

On a sad note, I recently learned that one of the co-authors of Ron passed away.

**********
I had planned a trip to Lake City, South Carolina for research. But an aunt who lives near the area made the trip for me. She got the perfect shot, just what I needed, and saved me a mini vacation.

Justin and the Best Biscuits in World delivered the bacon, and I didn't even know it. I was starting to become angry with him, but he delivered it along time ago. I didn't know that publishers now do direct deposit. I should have known, I mean, how else did they get my personal banking info? The wife discovered this before I did. After she caught her breath, she got mad at me, thinking I was holding out on her. Just days before, I had told her about a news story I had heard where some spouses commit financial adultery — hiding money, or committing large financial debt in secret. I did none of the above. She felt better when she came home the next day to a new computer sitting in her studio.

Just discovered a fib...

...first on Bartography, which led me to Chicken Spagetti, which led me to Gregory K, who sort of invented the form. Not one to be left out, here goes:

Bought
An
iPod.
Another.
Second one this year.
And, a computer for my wife.

Ok, not so poetic, but I'll practice.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Excuse me while I whine

Lately, my confidence in writing has taken a beating. My coworkers have discovered one of my more...colorful blogs, I heard through the grapevine. These are professional writers, reports, editors, and copy proofers. And that terrifies me. I thought I was blogging anonymous, but one person figured me out, and the word quickly spread. Though several people have told me how much they enjoy my stuff, I haven't written as much since then, and for the first time since I've taken an interest in writing, I get writers block.

Today, my confidence took an even bigger hit. I was rummaging through my archives here, looking for something to repost, something that I had already written. I came across some of my writing that, at the time, I thought was fairly good. It started this way: "Excuse the capricious quality of my ramble here..."

Oh, that makes my stomach hurt.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Email makes it convenient, but I must resist!

Somehow, I have to resist the temptation to shoot off revisions to my editor without getting feedback from my professional writer friends. L, the executive editor at Lee & Low, invited me to send revisions anytime through email. I just rewrote the ending of 'Bill', and I'm so happy with the direction it's taken, my first inclination is to send it off without even having addressed the many other issues — much less copyediting.

Argh!– I've gotta exercise a bit of control here, for I blow this.

Besides that, I'd like to rewrite the whole thing, experimenting a bit with plays on words, and metaphors, though I will have to be careful. The simplicity of verbiage is one of the things they really liked about the manuscript.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Bill meets Ron

Bill meets Ron

About a month ago, I said my good-byes to Justin, sending him, the star of ten paintings, off to Harcourt. After Justin's departure, I'd planned to give my full attention to 'Ron', a book to be published by Dutton. After receiving an email from an editor at Lee & Low, I'm reminded that it's been almost three months since I gave 'Bill' any attention. Bill — a manuscript that I wrote — is demanding his story be told. That said, both Bill and Ron will be at the forefront of my children's book pursuits over the next few months.

Fear, and an overloaded work schedule has kept me away from 'Bill'. Last week, I finally picked up his manuscript, and looked over the editor's suggested revisions. I must have been nervous this past January when I spoke with that editor at ALA's mid-winter meeting because I can't even make out my own writing. I think, at the time, I was writing for the sake of looking like I was writing. But, whatever I was doing, I think I got the gist of what she was trying to tell me. Now that time has passed, I realize, her suggestions are right on target! There are so many holes that need to be filled. More front matter is necessary, as well as a stronger conclusion. A few of my writing friends made some of the same comments, but I was stuck on exactly how to resolve this problem. The answer: wait. It's amazing what four months of time will do.

Though I was stuck on how to resolve the ending, today I found my answer. I attended an SCBWI meeting at Barnes and Noble in which author/illustrator, Mark Mitchell, offered tips on finding the story within your nonfiction idea. One thing in particular stood out. His suggestion: "Start telling your story from the climax." That's it! I've been telling my story in linear mode, from front to back. I think I have a strong beginning to my manuscript, the middle is also strong, but my ending flounders, probably because, by the time I get to the end, my creative energy is spent. So, as I approach the revisions, I'm going to start at the end.

I'm looking forward to spending the next few months with Ron and Bill, telling their stories — one with words, the other with pictures — and hoping Justin soon returns to my mailbox with some bacon.

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After the meeting, while perusing the children's section, I discovered the book, Mammoths on the Move, written by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Kirt Cyrus. The illustrations are stunning! There's no other way to describe them — simply, stunning. I've seen a few other books illustrated by Kirk, and I'm a big fan of his work, but he has outdone himself with this book. The illustrations are perfect.

Friday, April 07, 2006

TGIF update

A follow-up to yesterday's post: The day turned out anomalistic. Everything went just right. The reporter was nice; the city manager quickly emailed a file, and it was actually compatible with my Mac. I finished the job in less than an hour. I was almost disappointed. Things never go this smoothly. I mean, I almost needed things to go bad as a selling point to the idea of quitting my full-time gig, to pursue my true calling. But, I had a good day, relatively speaking. Darn-it.

TGIF! Maybe not

Ok, I decided to go into work early today. Normally, in the mornings, up till about 2:30, I work at home on my children's books. Then, I get dressed, and head into work at my full-time gig. I'll get off at about 11 p.m. But, today I decided to go in early because, well, it's Friday, and I'd rather not be at work till late tonight. But, I think I'm gonna be sorry I did.

My first assignment: diagram a new courthouse. Exciting, huh?

Now, first thing I gotta do is call the reporter back because the cellphone number that I've been given for the city manager contact ain't working. The reporter, of course, will be irritated because, in his mind, the stupid graphic designer (me) is bugging him while he's trying to write his story. After I get a good cellphone number, I'll have to chase down the city manager to have him email the floor plans. Keep in mind that getting this information will probably take all afternoon — four hours, no less. If and when I get the diagram emailed to me, it won't be compatible with my Mac, I've been down this route before, so I'll ask him to fax me a copy as well. Thing is, the faxed plans will be so distorted that nothing will be clearly read. I'll have to try to decipher the fax, on deadline, and produce a graphic before the reporter leaves for the day, about 6. All the while, this doesn't include everything else I'll be juggling on one foot — maps of obscure land purchases, city budget pie charts — none, no less complicated than the diagram.

At this point, I just wanna go home and illustrate my books.

I'll report as to how close my prediction went.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Dianna, My Peepz, and a Mickey mouse check



Yes, I know; My blog life has slacked up. With so many things going on, I sort of put Rants and Raves on hold. Here's a quick recap:

Saturday, I attended Dianna Aston's book signing. She has several spring 2006 releases (see Spooky Cyn's post for details). That day, I also walked right into a make-shift critique group. Mark Mitchell, Liz Scanlon, Frances Hill, and I, have decided to form a writing group in which we will focus on picture books. I'm going to take the charge, follow up with everyone, and organize a first meeting to ensure this doesn't fall through the cracks. Everyone was so enthusiastic, so I think this will be a good thing for us all. Holler if you'd like to be included. I have no idea how big or small these groups should be, but I would think 6 to 7 people would be a comfortable size.

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Finished the art for the 2007 My Peepz calendar! I have to admit, I wasn't excited about doing this second year art. Last year's calendar — though it sold out — hardly made anything. But my licensing agent says, with a calendar, the first three to four years are spent building a following.

My first instinct was to slop something out, recycling art from last year. But, as an artist, concerned only with producing the highest quality, I couldn't bring myself to do that. So, the My Peepz 2007 calendar is even stronger than the year before!

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I received my first royalty statement, and was inclined to throw the envelope into my files, not bothering to open it up. Usually, they contain a couple of worthless 8-and-a-half, by 11-inch sheets of paper, good only for a nasty paper cut, if I'm not careful. But this one — Mickey Mouse dancing in the corner — was a bit heavier than normal. Jump at the Sun Treasury had a nice little payoff — a full car payment!