Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My character's mothers: Mom or Momma

I have a dilemma, which maybe isn't a dilemma at all, but a matter of preference or background.

Me and my brothers refer to our Mom as Mom, Mommy when we were very young. My Mom and my Uncle, referred to their Mom as Mother. And, as far as I remember, my dad referred to his mom as Mother, too. When I was a child, I didn't know of anyone who actually called their Mom Momma. In fact, it was considered kind of...well, ghetto. Or country, at least among my circle of friends, family and acquaintances. Now, don't throw rocks at me, that was just my narrow-minded thinking based upon my own personal experience growing up in small town Des Moines, Iowa.

The first person I knew who referred to their Mom as Momma was a young lady I dated in high school. She had moved to Des Moines from Kansas City, and pronounced the word 'Momma' ebonically, drawling a two syllable word into almost five, which solidified my ghetto-country perception of the word. Years later, Hallmark started producing black greeting cards, and they used lines like: Happy Birthday, Momma! And I thought that was somehow patronizing. Of course, I ended up moving to Texas, where I learned the word wasn't ghetto, country, or black. It was Texan that got spilled over onto the rest of the country.

Now, I referred to my Grandparents as Grandma and Grandpa. So, I was surprised to learn that some people — a mostly southern thing, I think — refer to their Grandma as Big Momma. Don't you know, my lips would be three times their physical size, and well calloused by now, had I ever referred to my Grandma as Big Momma.

Now, I'm not condemning anyone's right to call their Momma whatever they like. It's just that now that I'm writing for children, I got to thinking about all the ways we address our Mothers and the different connotations that can be derived therefrom.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Me? Write fantasy?

I'm still trying to decide which direction to take WB, a manuscript that I wrote that involves personified animals. Anastasia Suen described my story as a 'social issues' concept book. At first, that label didn't sit well with me because of the social issue the story might be mistaken for. It was suggested that I might bump up the fantasy aspect of the story, not only to appeal to a larger audience, but to add another layer that might defray the possible social message (my perceived problem, not Anastasia's).

Problem is, I'm not a fantasy fan. I don't rush out to see the latest Star Wars, or Harry Potter movies. Although I loved the illustrations in Sweet Dreams Pie, I couldn't get my mind around the zany story, though K loved it. That said, I don't know if I could write a picture book fantasy, though, I guess WB is fantasy-like. Accidently. I can do humor, if that simply means being myself. I can do fiction, if that simply means making stuff up. But, people don't fly on magic carpets, even if those people are talking frogs, so I'm having a tough time moving my story to the realm, or should I say, surreal world of fantasy. And also, I'm not condeming the genre, picture book fantasies are needed just like picture book biographies are — there's room for all.

I'm just not confident that I could write one, since my heart isn't into it. Now, I'm not saying I won't give it a try, in fact I will. But maybe someone can suggest a few picture book fantasies that I could try out.

In other news: Kim Peek, one over caffeinated mom, gave THE HIDDEN FEAST a very nice review over at YA Books Central. Thanks Kim!

Also: Kim was kind enough to syndicate Rants and Raves over at LiveJournal. Thanks again!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Follow up

On the subject of books for children of color, Cynthia Leitich Smith piqued my interest in a new chapter book series. Here, she comments:

MINNIE SAVES THE DAY: THE ADVENTURES OF MINNIE by Melodye Benson Rosales (Little Brown, 2001). Dolls come to life in this new hardcover chapter book series with lovely color interior illustrations. The story has cross-cultural appeal but is also the rare fantasy in an African American family and community. It also works as a window to Chicago's Bronzeville community in the 1930s, where the story is set. Ages 5-9.

See also: Minnie's Risky Rescue and Minnie's Haunted Halloween.

I'll have to check this out. Some of my nieces have probably moved beyond the picture books that we purchase for them, and would especially enjoy this early chapter series!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Not so lazy days of summer

Tomorrow marks the first day of a very interesting summer ahead. Summer’s are always a difficult time for me in terms of completing work. I should have learned years ago, to take them off for the sake of stress relief. This summer, my work schedule has doubled, but so has my non-work activities.

In the past, K attended daycare year round. It’s not an idea plan, I know. And I cringe saying it. But we aren’t at a point, yet, where one of us could stay home full-time. And we got bills. The challenge is that, this past year, K attended school, instead of daycare, and school let out last week. We discussed a few possibilities for the summer, but we ended up with a plan that's going to be quite a juggling act. It’s my fault, I’ll take the blame, because I was too busy to help with the planning. So, instead of daycare, K will spend the summer at half dozen themed day camps all over the city. Literally. He’ll do karate camp, then art, then science, then music, then — I don’t know — you name it. Instead of starting my workday early, like I probably should to keep up, I’m going to spend many days dropping K off at one camp for a few hours, just in time to pick him up, then drop him off at another. Then he’ll spend a bit of time with the wife at her job on some days, and some mornings at home with me.

But that’s only the beginning. ‘Z’, the book whose artwork I was to begin this past January, and whose artwork was due to the publisher two weeks ago, but was held up do to technical difficulties on the design side, now has a new art deadline. August. No, you did not read that wrong — August. Mid-September, at the absolute latest. And I still don’t have the go-ahead to start sketching on this, yet. Sketching, you know that part that comes before I do final art. Keep in mind, this is the time I had reserved for ‘Ron’.

Yes, I have an interesting summer ahead.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Black males in children's books

As an illustrator, I usually buy books whose art inspires me. Many of the books that I purchase, of course, are books featuring African Americans. As an illustrator, I hadn’t actually read many of them until I took the online writing course.

Over the past four weeks, I’ve read over 100 children’s picture books, and I noticed something that I hadn’t before: Of the books that are published featuring African American characters, it seems that most of these books are written for girls. In addition to mostly female characters, they use sort of a — I don't know — brown-sugar-in-honey-sweet language, words dipped in sun-kissed apple dumplin's.

Where are the books for African American boys, those who fight off dragons; who defeat the bully; who spend their summer vacations bucking broncos? Ok, go ahead and throw rocks at me, but my wife actually agreed with my assessment. And she never agrees with me about anything.

On holidays, for the children in our family, my wife always purchases books. She tries to find books that positively portray African Americans, and that somehow relate to the child she is purchasing the book for. For example, she purchased DANCING IN THE WINGS (Debbie Allen) for our niece who practices ballet. She admitted to never having trouble finding books for the girls in the family. But finding books for the boys usually presents a challenge (African American biographies excluded).

Last week, I wrote a book that stars a young African American female, and a female mentor. I chose a girl because...well, I do want to sell the manuscript. But secondly, I started off writing a story that reflected my own experience. But I had trouble using creative license, the storyline much too close to my own. But by changing the character to a girl, and deviating from my own walk, I was able to free myself to create. But, I’ve decided to change directions in the rewrite — I’m changing the character to a male, and a male mentor(if I can sell it that way). My son (and grandson, I can’t forget, I’m a grandpa) are going to need books that speak to them.

By the way, I did discover that my son’s favorite book, is also the favorite of my 100-plus books read, over the past four weeks: SUPER DOG: THE HEART OF A HERO, Caralyn Buehner, Mark Buehner. (Interesting, the book that spoke the loudest to both me and K, features a weenie dog in a Super Man outfit)

Here are a few books in my personal library that feature African American boys:

Hewitt Anderson’s Great Big Life, Jerdine Nolen

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, Kadir Nelson (which is universal, but features a young black male)

Cosmo and the Robot, Brian Pinkney

Max found two sticks, Brian Pinkney

Peggony-Po: A Whale of a Tale, Andrea Davis Pinkney

Summer Sun Risin’, W. Nikola-Lisa (universal, but features a young black male)

Joshua’s Masai Mask, Dakari Hru

Max, Ken Wilson-Max

Salt in his Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of his Dream, Deloris Jordan, Roslyn M. Jordan


Thanks, D. Yes, my comments were turned off. I was trying to turn on the spam thing.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I'm registered!

This morning, in addition to signing, and mailing a couple contracts -- I don't like negotiating my own -- I registered for the SCBWI Summer Conference. Last week, I bought my plane tickets, so, now, I'm all set! I'm still not sure why the registration form requests your middle name, but they didn't get mine. I'll be dog-gone if I end up walking around the conference with a nametag screaming Don EUGENE Tate!

Now, the challenge will be in choosing which workshops to attend. There are at least 8 or more to choose from for each time slot, and so far, those intended for writers are speaking to me louder than those intended for illustrators. For instance, on Friday morning, I should attend the session on: What an Art Director Wants to See in Your Portfolio. But I'm more interested in: 35 Writing Secrets for Beginners. In the afternoon, I probably should attend: Adding Emotion to Your Artwork. But I'd rather attend: Ten (Giant but Essential) Steps to Writing & Publishing Your First Novel. Decisions.

Anyway, I'm on my way to a bi-coastal summer. In July, my family and I be going to DC for the wife's family reunion, then a week later, I'll be in LA for the conference. And, I'll be broke because the hotel rooms for each trip, will be in the excess of $800.00 each. Gulp.

Maybe I should reconsider, and get myself a roommate for the LA conference. Thing is, I'm just not up for rooming with a complete stranger. Overnight is one thing, 4 days is completely another. I'm a private brotha. In a room by myself, I can wear — or not wear— what I want, and scratch myself wherever I'm so inclined.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Ok, I spent some time today checkin' out publisher's online submissions guidelines. Mostly they vary. But there are some commonalities, heres a look:

Dear author,

Thank you for your interest in publishing with our company. But, go away, our editors are busy. We don't have time to read your manuscript, we are a publishing house. If you insist upon sending it, we will throw it in the trash upon receipt. Please include a self addressed envelope, so we can throw that away, too. There are certain protocol we follow in this business. First, we suggest that you get yourself a literary agent. Keep in mind, the good one's won't want to be bothered either. And should you actually attain one, do us a favor: Tell them leave us alone, too — again, we are busy. Should your agent decide to bother us anyway — and they probably will — we might consider reading your stuff. Now, don't get happy, Jack, 'cause that ain't no guarantee. Should your agent actually get our attention, it will take us about six months, or longer, before we respond to either of you poor saps -- if we choose to respond at all. Remember, we don't like you, or your agent.

Second, please do not call, email, fax, or send us a follow up letter 'cause that'll just peeve us off that much more. Saps like you come a dime-a-dozen, and we know your type — don't even try to trick us by sending more than one submission. We don't want to read your first submission, much less your second. Three or more, and we will blacklist you — you won't even find work writing classifieds for Highlights magazine. And don't send us no talking animal stories, 'cause we burn them.

Do not include any illustrations with your submission; we don't like you, much less your illustrator. And don't submit your manuscript to more than one publishing house at a time, it just ain't nice.

Thank you for your time, good luck, now get off our website unless you're buying something!

P.S. If you are a celebrity, with no writing experience, or interest whatsoever in children's literature beyond reviving your washed-up career, we want to publish you soon. Please call.

Note to the editor who has been reading my blog surreptitiously: I'm just kidding, your online submissions guidelines were actually very cordial.

**Edit to original post: As a commenter stated, I hope this will be taken in the spirit of fun it was intended.

I'm so confused

I've just read my five picture books for the day. I picked them out randomly. All five books were written from the point of view of an adult -- not the child. Not one dealt with the child solving a problem. All were very nostalgic (adults recalling a childhood experience, every one of them, literally). Top it off, each book had a prayer, or someone prayed (though, none were religious books). All of these things go against what I've been learning about writing for children. Tell me, are there really any rules?


R.V.C. is the code name I've given to a children's book manuscript born right here on Rants and Raves. Originally, I wrote it as a poem. I had planned to expand the it into a full-blown manuscript, then enter it into last year's New Voices competition. But I didn't make the deadline — oh well. I recently finished expanding it, and have shared it with two critique groups. The general consensus:

What they said works: It's a feel-good, day-in-the-life story that puts a smile on the faces of those who've read it.

What they said needs work: It's indulgent with nostalgia. "Children aren't nostalgic, adults are" was one person's comments.

My thoughts: I wanted to write a feel-good story, that would appeal to children, but put a smile on the faces of adults, too. I mean, Disney does it all the time, why not? Not dissin' my feedback; I'm going to consider all the advice. But for now, the story needs to sit awhile. And not because the it needs more simmering, but because of my illustration demands are all hitting at once.

Besides that, now that I have a couple of manuscripts written, I'm really not sure what to do next. Wait for that editor to call, whose been reading my blog surreptitiously, and is dying to read what I've written? Yeah, right.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Late last night, I re-read, WB, the manuscript I submitted to my online critique group. This is the same manuscript that I was so proud of only yesterday. But looking at it again, 24 hours later, I saw holes. Not big holes, but holes none the less. Now, I know I didn't do well with 9th grade English — sentence structure, prepositional phrases, verb conjugating — but, you'd think I completely forgot about pronouns. Pronouns!— you don't even need 9th grade English to understand that using the same noun over and over and over and over and over and over and over again might soon get on folks' nerves.

Friday, May 19, 2006

I'm booked!

Not children's book booked, but airline booked. I just purchased my ticket to Los Angeles for SCBWI's summer conference. I haven't registered yet, but I figured airline ticket prices would continue to rise, while the registration wouldn’ long as I register before June 26. This is going to be much fun — a four day trip — but quite pricey fun. I purchased my airline tickets at a relatively decent fair, but my hotel bill will be three times as much. Ug, I'm feeling sick. But, I've never done one of these conferences, and would like to just once.

Five manuscripts, five critiques

Ok, I've just submitted my third manuscript to my online workshop. Friday's are sort of a manuscript swap. I'll be reading, and critiquing at least four of their works, and they'll offer critique of mine. I am very happy — amazed really — how my story shaped up. I wonder if other writers ever feel this way. I mean, I went through my story one last time before submitting, and I thought, wow!— I did this, and it's not too bad. In fact, I think it's pretty good. It has all the right ingredients: A clear beginning, middle, and end; it has several examples of problem solving, it is humorous, and speaks on a subject that all children will identify with. It's much too long, and will need to be edited down, but for a first draft, it's headed in the right direction.

This week, I've specifically asked for negative feedback. I think people — particularly people who don't know each other very well— tend to be inclined to say nice things. Thank you, but this week, I need people to get mean with me, and tell me what doesn't work. My mom will have enough nice things to say.

Also, this weekend, I'll be meeting with Chris. We have swapped manuscripts and will offer critique on Sunday afternoon. I've submitted a different manuscript for this critique. Though I'm happy with the direction of this one, I think it needs at least one more rewrite before I let it simmer. I'm on a roll!

Thanks to Cynsations for the shout out!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Dabbling in virtual paint

I spent some time this evening experimenting with Painter, a computer program that simulates various drawing and painting media. Together with a Wacom tablet, one can get some impressive painterly effects. I was inspired by my online buddy, Janee Trasler, who's a Painter pro, so I pulled out my virtual paint brush, and created this image. I kinda like it.

Soon as I get some spare time, I'm going to convert some of my harder-edged art, meant for licensing, into this softer style.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Nerve wrecking

Final art for book #1 is due to the publisher next week. Problem is, I haven't been given the go ahead to begin the initial sketches, much less final art. Keep in mind, creating final art will be about a two month endeavor. I did receive an advance for this book many months ago, so I know we are still on. But it's kind of scary to have such a large project out there, sort of floating above my head like a storm cloud, ready to strike at an undetermined date.

Final art for book #2 is due in six months. That should be plenty of time provided we get going soon. I submitted thumbnail sketches, but I'm waiting the go ahead to start sketching final art.

Sketches for book #3 are due in December.

Nobody told me that magic was a necessary skill in illustrating for children's books.

On another note: I'm on the verge of developing a nervous eye twitch, as the result of checking my email every couple hours to see if my manuscript has been acquired, or rejected. No news is good news, I guess. But an eye twitch sure ain't.
Kidding, my eye isn't twitching, but my email-checking finger is.

Monday, May 15, 2006

What kind of books do I want to write?

Recently, I was asked the question: what kind of books do you want to write? Silly question, I thought. I want to write books that will get published. Simple. No need to make it any more complicated than that. But, this weekend, a few things happened that provided better focus.

One, I completed a full second draft on a manuscript that I had been working on for about the last year. At it's core, it’s the story about a child being loved by his family. Two, I began and finished another first draft. It deals with issues of self esteem. Three, I saw the movie, Akeelah and the Bee. This movie addressed many of the same themes I’ve written about. What spoke the loudest to me, was Akeelah's drive to take her talents to the top of the world through the memory of her father, the help of a mentor, the support of her family, and the entire south Los Angeles community as a whole. This movie just blew me away! So you can imagine my disappointment at discovering it was pure fiction. Ug, that really hurt.

Anyway, I’ve given more thought to the kind of children’s books I want to write: I want to write books that help children realize, through the characters I create, that the highest human potential can be reached with a desire to succeed, a bit of faith, and a lot of hard work. So far, without even thinking about it, I’ve written three stories that exemplify that goal.

Here's a quote used in the movie, that I now have plastered to my computers, at home, and at work:

‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond imagination. It is our light more than our darkness which scares us. We ask ourselves – who are we to be brilliant, beautiful, talented, and fabulous. But honestly, who are you to not be so?

You are a child of God, small games do not work in this world. For those around us to feel peace, it is not example to make ourselves small. We were born to express the glory of god that lives in us. It is not in some of us, it is in all of us. While we allow our light to shine, we unconsciously give permission for others to do the same. When we liberate ourselves from our own fears, simply our presence may liberate others.’

- Marianne Williamson in Return to Love: Reflections on a Course in Miracles

Wow, what a mantra!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Roadblocks removed

The best part about having read so many picture books, in a condensed amount of time, is what I learned from other authors. The online workshop I've been taking is great, I've grown tremendously, there's no denying that. But no one can teach what can be learned through simply reading. A lot.

Over the years, I've had many story ideas swishing around in my head, but wasn't quite sure, or confident enough, about taking them beyond simple ideas into full-blown stories. I thought I needed a new subject, something unheard of, unique. I figured, all my story ideas had already been told. But, I've realized that there aren't really any new subjects. Excluding current world events, those things that will happen tomorrow, there is no topic that I could write about, that hasn't already been written about. But, there are new voices. There are fresh ways to say something that's already been said, and new ways to discuss old problems. That realization is a major roadblock removed.

Now, if only I could understand the difference between a semi colon, and an extra long dash.

Unrelated link for the day: Yes, you will do a double-take. But this ain't me. It's my brother.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


I’m currently in a situation reminiscent of my high school days. Tomorrow I have a big assignment due, but in order for me to finish it, I’d have to stay up late tonight. I’m not staying up late tonight!— where’d you get an idea like that? Now, I know I’m sounding just like I did when I was in high school, but at least now, I have better excuses: I don’t have my assignment finished because I’ve been too busy doing the class work. Really.

As part of the online workshop I’ve been taking, tomorrow I have to turn in a manuscript to be critiqued by the group. Last week, I wimped out and turned in half a manuscript that had already been polished and polished and re-polished. But this week, I’d have to turn in a manuscript that hasn’t been seen by anyone else. One that isn’t polished, that’s not much more than a first draft. That gives me the chills. Top it off, the manuscript needs to fit certain criteria. My manuscript doesn’t fit nobody’s criteria, yet – shoot, it barely makes any sense. So, guess I’ll wimp out and turn in the other half of my already been polished manuscript.

Wha! At least I’ve matured since high school. Then, I’d have simply gypped and hung out with the boys and… well, on second thought, nevermind the and.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

School Library Journal highlight!

I began my day in a bummed-out mood. But it ended on a high note. SLJ has posted a spotlight of me on their blog!—(Part 1) (Part 2). How cool is that!?
Disregard the old photo that is posted, I was having a bad hair year (and I'm really not that green). Now, I’ve gotta rush home and update my website — it’s way outdated (as per the photo), and needs some recent art.

I thank School Library Journal, not only for the blog highlight, but for the starred review of my book, SURE AS SUNRISE, and for their kind words about my most recent book, THE HIDDEN FEAST. And a special thanks to A Fuse #8 Production (a way cool librarian with connections)

Summer speaking

Summer is around the corner, and in addition to writing and painting, I'll be speaking at Austin Public Libraries. I'm not sure what my presentation will involve, yet, but I've been toying with the idea of griot-style storytelling combined with drawing. I'd like to do that someday, but I'd need the time to practice the stories I'd present. Right now, I'm consumed with the whole writing bit. So, we'll see. Most likely, I'll tell stories, draw caricatures, and talk about the steps an illustrator follows when illustrating a book. Here's a look at my summer speaking schedule at Austin Public Libraries:

June 6, Tuesday @ 3:00 Carver Branch
June 13, Tuesday @ 3:00 University Hills Branch
June 21, Wednesday @ 4:00 Oak Springs Branch
July 6, Thursday @ 3:00 Cepeda Branch
July 12, Wednesday @ 3:00 Ruiz Branch
July 19, Wednesday @ 2:00 Terrazas Branch
July 26, Wednesday @ 2:00 Windsor Park Branch
July 27, Thursday @ 3:00 Southeast Austin Community Branch

Bummed today

Today, as an illustrator, and wannabe writer, I'm feeling very uninspired. I've never invested so much time into an endeavor that didn't have a definite payoff in the end, or at least, some kind of satisfying resolution. I've been reading, writing, and taking a children's writing workshop with the intention of eventually authoring a children's book. Do you know how many people I've met who have that same goal? Do you realize how many of those people are still winding their wagons, and have yet to get published? Do you know how many of those people will pay a name-brand editor good money to sit down with them for 10 minutes, with no guarantee that the editor will remember them 10 minutes after the critique. And who will likely not be interested/able to publish their work anyway?

I've got a painting to work on, and guess what? After I finish this painting, and submit the final art to Harcourt, this piece will get published. No hoping, no waiting, no revising, no begging. And I'll quickly reap the benefits of my labor.

Sigh. Children's book writers are a special breed.

Ok, I’m not giving up, I’m just bummed. I never give up.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

SCBWI fall conference announced

Well, guess I'll have to bite the bullet and cough up the $415.00 early registration fee for the SCBWIs 35th Anniversary Summer Conference. I'd really like to attend this year. I just discovered the announcement on their website. I was a bit disappointed that there wouldn't be much color (dark chocolate Oreo color) on the faculty, but, oh well, that's the way the cookie crumbles. Since I will be conducting workshops at SCBWI Austin, and Dallas this fall, I thought it a good idea to see how the big-guys do it.

One cool thing, Louise May, my editor at Lee & Low books will be speaking, as will my licensing/art agent, Suzanne Cruise. I met Louise this past January at ALA San Antonio, and though I've been working with Suzanne for well over ten years, we've never met face to face (Her voice tells me she's a babe).

I might be in the market for a new keyboard. Suddenly, my spacer key doesn't respond well; I have to slap my thumb down really hard to make a space. That can't be good for the keyboard, and it surly ain't good for my thumb. My apple keyboard is see-through, revealing food crumbs, nose hairs, and bitten off finger nails. I guess that could be the problem.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Dallas Children's Book and Literary Festival, 2006

Back row (starting from the second person in): Freddi Williams Evans, Lamberto Alvarez, Paul Epner, David Rice, Don Tate.
Middle row: Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Toni Simmons
Front row: Shirley Duke, Mary Brooke Casad, Alice McGill, Catherine Carrasco Lynch, Willy Welch

Yesteday, I was reminded why I do what I do — illustrate for children. I spent the day at the Dallas Children's Book and Literary Festival held at the Dallas Public Library. This event puts authors and illustrators from around the country into inner city classrooms around Dallas. Events like keep me on focus. It's not about art directors or editors or agents, though I need them to reach the kids. It's not about this blog, or other author/illustrator blogs, or websites. It's not about reading conferences, book signings, or paid speaking engagements. It's all about the kids because without them, we'd be writing and illustrating about... gas prices, or something.

Top: Freddi Williams Evans, Don Tate, Alice McGill.
Don Tate, Coretta Scott King winner Jan Spivey Gilchrist. She's illustrated over 60 children's books and authored 4. She claims to be old enough to be my mother. She looks like she could be my baby sister. No joke.

Dallas West Branch Library displays all the books I've illustrated!

High point: The night of the social turned into a mini Des Moines family reunion. One of the librarians used to attend my church back home in Des Moines. Author/storyteller Toni Simmons and her husband Frank lived in Des Moines for many years, and turned out we knew many of the same people. So, we all spent a good deal of time reminiscing about Des Moines folks. Four black folk in a Dallas library with Des Moines roots. How unlikely is that?

Other high point: The young African American girl that I sat next to, who was such a a voracious reader, and who spoke so articulate, who played the piano, and told me, in detail about a novel that she wants to write. She wasn't but maybe 10, but she started out telling me how her novel was set in the rural south, 1940s, and the details of her story were so vivid, real. I just know that this little girl is going to do big things.

Low point: It was a good time. There really weren't any low points.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Overload, again

It's 10:30 at night. I still need to pack for my Dallas trip. I have an email box full of request that need to be addressed, or at least let folks know I'll contact them next week (Insert a very cool interview request from a major review journal). I have at least 10 loose-ends that need to be tied before I get on the plane. I still haven't read my five books for the day as a part of Anastasia's workshop, and top it off, the powder bathroom sink just sprung a leak. Did I mention my wife wants me to help her fill 35 water balloons for tomorrows track and field day at my son's school, and my beard needs a dye touch-up? How'm I gonna show up in Dallas with a grey beard?

I guess this explains why I didn't spell or grammar check this post, and why everything is all run-on.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Lessons learned (Thursday)

I've easily read 25 picture books this week as part of Anastasia's workshop. So, what have I learned about my preferences in children's books?

I like books that are simply told in easy to understand language. My favorite book read this week was TOMAS AND THE LIBRARY LADY, by Pat Mora. Not only does she tell a good story, she tells it clearly. No flowery, ambiguous metaphors that kids will have to stop and figure out. No rhyming poetry that does not rhyme. She uses engaging dialog that children will love. That's the kind of book I want to write!

I used to think that writing was out of my reach because of my own limited vocabulary. I figured, simple language doesn't make for great writers. Whenever I tried to write with big, fancy words, I sounded like a fool. "I can't write for children; I'm gonna sound like a 3rd-grader," I told myself. But I was wrong, and now consider my limited vocabulary a blessing in disguise.


Well, my week is ending in a crunch. Originally, I was supposed to fly to Dallas today to participate in school visits on Friday, as a part of the Children's Book and Literary Festival, sponsored by the Dallas African American Museum. But, my son's school has their big track and field day tomorrow. My son loves to run! I'm seeing college track scholarships already, and he ain't but 4-years-old. I couldn't miss watching him run across that finish line, and I could never miss his looking for me to see him crossing it. So, I will have to miss the school visits in Dallas, fly out immediately after field day, just in time for the author's social on Friday evening. On Saturday, I will present to a group of children at the Dallas West Library. This is one of my favorite festivals. Besides the generous honorarium, they are heavily sponsored by the business community. That makes it possible for them to get authors and illustrators from around the county into inner city schools that probably never get opportunities like this.

Others in the festival include Lamberto Alvarez, Mary Brooke Casad, Shirley Duke, Paul Epner, Freddi Williams Evans, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Catherine Carrasco Lynch, Alice McGill, David Rice, Toni Simmons, and Willy Welch.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Fictitious surprise

I have a rather large collection of picture books — 500-plus and growing. Many of them are biographies, so I had assumed. A biography is not too hard to figure out. Right? Wrong, not until you read the fine print. Many of the biographies in my collection are not biographies at all, but fictionalized accounts. Geez, I never knew. Is that ok? Must be 'cause many of those books also have those little golden awards stickers attached, a ringing endorsement of the fictionalized biography, as far as I can tell. I'm throwing out this manuscript I've been slaving over — this step-by-step, ho-hum retelling of events, and telling the story I'd really like to tell: The fun one where I’ve filled in the holes with a handful of creative license.


No, I know it's not Thursday like this post states. But, for some reason, Blogger won't let me post more than one post per day with out making it a new day. So, don't feel silly pretending it's Wednesday — 'cause it is.


With all this talk of writing lately, this place is starting to look like a writer's blog. But don't forget, I illustrate for children. Not only books, but juvenile wallpaper, or anything else that a child might enjoy.

I'm pleased to learn that Montgomery Wallcoverings will soon carry the Kidz design (partly shown above), formerly carried by Lowes. I really feel this will be a better fit. Before, the designs were kinda hidden inside the huge expanse of a warehouse. It became impossible for folks to find the collection. Montgomery will find the customers. There's even whisperings about reviving the switchplates.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Two days left, and counting

Manuscript Friday, with my online writing workshop, is coming up too soon. At this rate I’m gonna finish my first draft by Friday, just in time to turn it in, making myself look like a complete and illiterate buffoon. I’ve made a change of plan: I'm not going to turn in a complete first draft, but an incomplete second, revised draft. I might be a buffoon, but I'm a proud one none the less.


An email was forwarded to me today from one of my wife's sorority sisters, back home in Iowa. She's written a children's book "which needs to publish soon". She is in need of an artist. She has "scripted it on paper and [is] about to chart out the sketches." She even has models lined up to use for the sketches.

That's just precious.


Oh, and, a librarian thinks I'm hot.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


My brain is fried, and I can't write.

Lessons learned (Tuesday)

I always thought the word 'prose' indicated a desirable thing, a writers poetic use of voice. Was I wrong? Here's how defines the word: Ordinary speech or writing, without metrical structure; Commonplace expression or quality; To speak or write in a dull, tiresome style. If I want to write dynamically, do I want to write in prose at all?

I use the term 'white folks' all the time in my non-children's book writing, 'black folk', too. Those terms have a casual feel, more comfortable to use than the words 'white people' or 'black people'. Don't ask me why. I've avoided those terms in my children's writing, not wanting to offend. But reading a few children's books yesterday, I came across the terms several times (course, now that I'm trying to find an example to post, I can't find one). Guess it depends upon the context used, and the mood the author is trying to communicate. Maybe. I got a long way to go.

Read Tuesday:

Bill Pickett: Rodeo-Ridin' Cowboy, by Andrea Pinkney. A biography about African American Rodeo star Bill Pickett, who, with the help of a dog, invented bulldogging — literally taking a bull down by sinking his teeth deep into a bulls sensitive lips.

A Cinderella Cuento, by Joe Hayes. A Mexican folktale-ish version of the Cinderella story. For some reason, when I chose this story, I thought it was a biography. Judging a book by it's cover, but not actually reading the title until afterwards — not a good thing. A bit strange, I thought, but folktales can (and do) go there.

Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly, by Anne Bustard. A biography written using a rockabilly, sharp-shootin', voice about the life of Buddy Holly. Loved the story overall, very high-spirited.

Satchel Paige, by Lesa Cline-Ransome. A biography about negro-league baseball great Satchel Paige, who went on to play in the majors for a short time, and became the first African American to pitch in a World Series, but didn't take too well to rules. Rules like showing up for practice and to games on time. Beautifully illustrated by James Ransome. Loved the authors voice.

The Champ: The story of Muhammad Ali, by Tonya Bolden. A look at the life of boxing champ Ali, who as a child had his Schwinn bike stolen. He vowed to "whup" the kid who stole his bike. Well, you know the rest of the story. Surprisingly, very wordy. In fact, I'm surprised to discover that most of the picture book bios I've read are very wordy, in the excess of 2500 words, some of them.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Reading lessons

Not much time for blogging, but I do want to keep this site somewhat updated. Each day (when I can), I'll write a few points about what I've learned through the intensive reading I'll be doing as a part of an online writing course I'm taking. I won't share Anastasia's curriculum, or discussions taking place in the class, but will share some of my personal discoveries or experiences.

What I learned today: I need to stop self-policing myself, to some degree. I've been letting my inner parent (who must be a politician), tell me to avoid certain subjects. For instance, the person I'm currently writing about is devoutly religious. This fact is not so much important to the story overall, but is important in painting a clear picture of the character I'm writing about. So far, I've been trying to write around the fact that the subject is religious, thinking that I must avoid religion in a children's book. In this case, it would be like writing a story about Martin Luther King, but not mentioning that he was a Baptist preacher. One of the books I've read as part of my homework is MOSES: WHEN HARRIET TUBMAN LED HER PEOPLE TO FREEDOM (Jump At The Sun ), by Carole Boston Weatherford. In this book, Harriet, a slave, keeps in a constant dialog with God through prayer. With spot-varnished, capitalized text, God's voice leads Harriet to freedom. How much more religious can you get?

By the way, this book doesn't publish till fall; I got my advanced, unbound copy at the TLA conference. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson, it's a sure winner. Beautifully written, too!


I just finished a sketch for Harcourt, so, now it's back to my reading. And my manuscript.