Monday, July 31, 2006

My wife ain't so sure about SWBWI



Later this week, I'll be attending SCBWI's national conference, and that has the wife freaked out. Why? If you haven’t already seen the SCBWI membership roster, I'll let you in on a little secret: It’s mostly women, shhh! Had I known the wife's reaction to all this, I'd've attended one of these things years ago.

Over the past few days, the wifes treated me like a king. She didn’t laugh at me when I got dizzy on a subway escalator, in D.C. "One of those writer ladies might find escalator vertigo kinda cute in a guy," she said. She didn’t get angry with me when I forgot to pick up a gallon of milk on my way home from playing basketball with the son, like she had asked me to. "Children’s book artist ladies probably find forgetful guys kinda cute," she said. She didn't give me that evil eye when I snapped at her in the car over a trivial matter. "Some young cute editor might find angry black men kinda cute," she said to me, smiling, when she'd normally fire back at me. She even hugged me and told me how much she appreciated my taking the family on vacation. Dang, I’m enjoying this SCBWI conference, and I ain't even been there, yet.

One thing, though: she forbade me from wearing my favorite t-shirt, shown above. It was popular with flight attendants this past weekend, at least three of 'em smiling at me — and the wife — and commenting on my shirt. Needless to say, the wife confiscated it, so it won't be worn in LA. She should know, by now, I’m a good hubby, painfully uncomfortable in most social situations. So no worries. Though, I do plan to play this up, to the hilt, maybe even get a home cooked dinner out the deal.

On another note: I just loved D.C.! It wasn’t so much the Smithsonian or Chinatown or the White House or the Vietnam or Korean memorials, though I did love all that stuff. It was the very warm, friendly people. When on vacation, I’ve never been treated so well by locals, complete strangers. At first, I was very uncomfortable about going. I had heard about the crime stats, murder rates, and the newly enacted curfew. This didn’t sound like a place I wanted to visit. But complete strangers walked up and offered directions when we seemed to be lost. And on more than one occasion, someone stood up and offered (some insisted) their seats on the subway.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Back from vacation



Just returned from a fantastic 4-day vacation in the nation's capitol! As a caption for this photo, I had planned to post what my 4-year-old son had to say about Mr. Lincoln, but I'll have to save his X-rated comment for the super secret blog. I'll post a few more details about the trip soon, but for now, I'm home and it appears, our air conditioner is broke. I left it running, turned down very low while we were out. I figured by doing so, the house would be at a livable temperature when we returned. But, the entire unit is now iced over, making crackling noises, and our house is hotter than than I was in the above picture. It was quite toasty in D.C., standing next to the former president, looking out over the National Mall.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Conferences on the horizon

This fall, I have two SCBWI conference speaking engagements. The first one, "Destination: Publication," will be in Dallas on October 7th. Funny thing is, they've been reading my blog and think I'm funny, maybe even outgoing. NO! I'M NOT! The second one, "Follow Me'" will be here in Austin on October 21. The folks in Dallas are kinda anxious about knowing what I'm gonna talk about. Shoot, I don't know. So, I woke early this morning to do some brainstorming. Here's a rough outline:

My theme: Psudeo celebrity

Title: How to become internationally famous, travel to exotic far away cities, and become filthy rich, working as a children's book illustrator

Rolling out the red carpet: Getting started in the field of children's illustration

Accepting that first big role: Where to find work

An agent? Do big time children's book stars, like yourself, really need agents?

Finding the bigger role: I'm published, now what?

The secret to making a celebrity salary? Making a living at illustration

Stepping into a new role: Writing? Why not!


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On another note: I need to update my website, particularly my school visit information. School visit requests are starting to pour in. I've adjusted my prices since originally posting that page, almost three years ago. That's what happens to important stuff once you start a blog. This sudden boom appears to be as the result of SURE AS SUNRISE making the Texas Bluebonnet Masterlist.

On yet one more note: While giving a presentation at Windsor Park Branch Library this afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised when author, Chris Barton, entered the room. I didn't even recognize him. I thought: "Geez, does that guy walking up to shake my hand know he looks just like my friend Chris." Thing is, he didn't know he'd become part of the program.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Smoothing out wrinkles

Last night as I tightened up a second round of editor requested revisions, I was taken back to my childhood.

We had an old couch in our living room that was full of holes, and covered with the residue from spaghetti, stuck on silly-putty, and muck dried over from spilled Kool-Aid. There were four of us boys, and we took no sympathy on that poor old couch. To make it presentable, my mom bought some inexpensive couch covers. Inexpensive is probably not the right word — they were just plain cheap. Covering it was a chore; After tucking and smoothing down one side of the cover, the other end came loose from the couch. Once the other end was tucked back, it caused a big fold across the center of the couch. Fix the fold, and the part of the cover along the floor became lopsided. Covering that couch was never easy, or done very quickly, and as soon as you got it right, someone walked up and sat down, messing it up again.

That's how revising a picture book manuscript is. Delete that one passage of brilliance, that clever line that you wrote, and are betting will someday be quoted in Publisher’s Weekly, and suddenly your story is lopsided. You straighten things out, and it creates another imbalance. Change words at the end of the story, and you need to make consistent changes throughout. I spent about three hours last night doing just that, and now my couch...er, my manuuscript is finished. And, though the editor said that there’d probably be a few more rounds of revisions, I’m positive that we are about finished.

Funny thing, I've sat on these revisions all summer. My original intent was to wait and resubmit after the SCBWI national conference in August. The editor will be speaking there, and I wanted to resist the urge go pester her. But, now that it is finished, I have this nagging feeling that my book needs to be published pronto, before someone else publishes this story. Ok, I know that sounds amateurish, but, well...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

More farting manuscripts?

I'm feeling a terrible sense of guilt here. I've spent the past three days in writing activities. I've completely revised a manuscript; I'll send revisions to the editor on Wednesday. I've outlined a new manuscript; I’ll polish it off for my next critique group session. I wrote several blog post for my super secret blog which I never even posted. And I blogged here late Thursday night. I even joined a creative writing group through my church. What's wrong with that? I have a crapload of illustration that needs to be started, and I'm leaving on vacation this week. That's what!

Also, I received feedback from a manuscript, and I'm experiencing a mixture of emotions. Mostly, I'm on a high because the manuscript received rave reviews from a very reputable industry professional. "...charming story, well-written and sporting a most appealing character...," she said. But, also, I was advised that today's trade market is looking for more "commercial, edgy stories." I'm not sure what that means. Do I gotta write about farting dogs? I'm not complaining, I can write one helluvah funny farting dog story, if that's what I must do, and if that's what kids, parents, editors and librarians want. But, I especially like writing things that my conscience can give approval to. Though, on second thought, my conscience sure ain't guiltless of farting.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The art gallery owner, the auto mechanic and a drive shaft diagram

So, an auto mechanic walked into an art gallery. He was looking for something to hang on the walls of his garage. As he entered, other shoppers looked strangely at him because he smelled bad, and had a suspicious oil spot in an unfortunate location of his trowsers.

After looking around for awhile, the mechanic approached the gallery owner and explained exactly what he was looking for. The gallery owner listened intently, scratched his head, then set off to fetch just the right piece.

Within just a few minutes, he returned with a detailed diagram of an automobile drive shaft. The auto mechanic clapped his hands and smiled wide. “That’s exactly what I wanted,” he said. “Except I didn't like the wooden frame or the way the drive shaft had been cropped.” The gallery owner reframed the drive shaft in shiny metallic gold, and cropped it slightly different than before.

The auto mechanic clapped his hands and smiled wide. “That’s exactly what I wanted,” he said. “Except now I’d like the drive shaft diagram flopped backward, upside down.” Once again, the gallery owner obliged him.

The auto mechanic clapped his hands and smiled wide, however, he made several more requests. In addition, the auto mechanic wanted to own the copyright to the drive shaft diagram — afterall it was his idea to have the drive shaft diagram reframed, recropped, and flopped backward. Frustrated, the gallery owner asked the mechanic to leave his store, all deals off. Besides the fact that he was getting on the gallery owner's nerves, the mechanic had an irritating voice, like he had a chicken bone caught in his throat, and never bothered upchucking it out.

Well, that auto mechanic really wanted that drive shaft diagram, so he didn’t leave, but instead kept pressing the gallery owner. Finally, the gallery owner agreed to sell the diagram "as is" for practically nothing; he just wanted that weird mechanic out his store before his other customers got scared off -- all of them weary of auto mechanics anyway. The gallery owner tried to explain that the diagram was for sale, to be hung on his garage wall, but that he couldn't own a copyright, even if it was his idea to frame it in gold metalic. What was this guy’s problem? Was he some kind of a doofus?

Well, the auto mechanic finally accepted the terms, wrote a check and paid the gallery owner. Then he left the art gallery, and drove back to his garage, two counties away.

But, once he got back to his garage, and realized the gallery owner was serious (he had written a little reminder on the back of the diagram), he called his bank and stopped payment on that check. He couldn't accept the truth that one can't own a copyright on art created by someone else, unless given permission to do so by its creator.

Several days later, that stopped-check wreaked havoc on the gallery owner’s bank account. Top it off, that dang auto mechanic refused to return the drive shaft diagram. "First, you must reimburse my costs for stopping that check, then you must send me money to ship it. Then you must sign a contract promising that you won't sell that drive shaft diagram — golden framed, recropped, and backward — to anyone else, ever again!" the auto mechanic threated. Now, ain't that a trip? I guess he didn’t realize that the gallery owner didn’t get many requests for golden framed drive shaft diagrams anyway.

Well that gallery owner was fit to be tied. He never had a problem like that before. Most of his patrons were nice little old librarian ladies, second-grade students, and an occasional publishing company executive. Not knowing quite what to do, he called one of them big-time lawyers and explained the whole situation. "At this point, Mr. Lawyer, all I want is my drive shaft diagram back, and reimbursement of damages to my bank account," he tells the big-time lawyer.

"First of all," The big-time lawyer tells the gallery owner. "This is not just a matter for your bank, but a matter for the authorities. That auto mechanic's actions, in the eyes of the law, were criminal offenses. “In essence,” the big-time lawyer explained. “That mechanic walked into your gallery and stole that diagram off your wall, and, now, he's committed extortion (to obtain from a person by force, intimidation, or undue or illegal power).

Sadly, the gallery owner never did get back his drive shaft diagram, and he's still stuck with that bum check, as well as several overdraft charges. Thank goodness, though, the police agreed with that big-time lawyer.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Yes, you may take my photo, but...

Got an interesting email today. It was from Harcourt. They'd like to arrange a photo shoot of me here in Austin. As you might've guessed, a brotha kinda liked that. I'm flattered, honored, supercilious, ghetto fabulous, you name it.

Thing is, I'm not photogenic. Cameras aren't very nice to me. Publicity photos, such as the one in the upper right hand corner of this blog, have the benefit of being retouched in Photoshop. That melanin pigment on the white of my right eye? Gone! with a single click of my mouse. Sweaty nose shine? Gone! Bad afro day? Fixed! Grey hair? Dyed, but sometimes the grey hairs get photographed anyway, but — gone! I won't have any control over a photo taken by someone else, and when it comes to photos of myself, I'm a control freak.

I've welcomed them to send a photographer, of course, however, I've requested to see the photo first. No kidding. One time, a pretty nasty photo of me ran on the inside cover of an anthology, and I about died every time I opened the book, partly because it was the 80s, and I was wearing a bad Michael Jackson hairdo, but mostly because it was just plain ugly.

Now, stop laughing at me.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Reconsidering MySpace

I consider myself net savy. I have half dozen or more email accounts, a website and a blog. I've discovered the good, bad and the ugly while cruising the net. But there's one place I've avoided like the plague, that's MySpace.

I first became familiar with MySpace about eight months ago through working at the newspaper. Various stories started popping up on newswires about adults who met children through their MySpace blogs. Whatever MySpace was, I didn't want my name, or IP address associated with it. But lately, I've been having second thoughts.

According to Publisher's Weekly, at this year's Licensing 2006, the emphasis was on the tween market. Actually, this market has been hot for quite some time now, which is why my licensing agent advised me some three years ago to create art that appeals to the demographic. MyPeepz®, a property that I developed, and is designed to appeal to tweeners, children, ages 8 to 12, debuted at Licensing last year, but thus far doesn't have a major supporter — I need a Disney or Nickelodeon — so, MySpace might be just the way to get the word out.

I just visited MySpace for the first time; it looks rather innocent, as compared to even a typical image search on Google. Just as anything else, it's probably as innocent, or deviant, as the person behind it. I think MySpace may be another one of those little things I've allowed to mushroom into some sort of monster. Either that, or now that I've found a possible commercial purpose, I'm starting to rationalize.

Whatever, I'm gonna sit on this awhile, no quick decisions.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Checklist

• Delete bug-a-boos, check! I tend to over use "and" and "then". See what I mean?

• Run spellcheck, check!

• Re-run spellcheck, check!

• Run it past an author friend, uncheck! There comes a time when your mentors must push you to stand on your own two feet. I'm thankful for mentors.

• Run it past a copy editor, check! There are advantages to working in a newsroom.

• Type cover letters, check! Repeat the above steps.

• Stew several days, check! Fear, excitement, coward, then confidence.

• Run it past the wife, uncheck! Um, she's having a bad week.

• Print copies, double-check names, check! Wouldn't it be horrible if I mailed an agent a cover letter addressed to someone else?

• Drop manuscripts in the mailbox, uncheck! But will do that later today, on my way to a library visit.

Now, back to sketching. I am an artist, you know.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hugs are in order

"It's been a horrible week. The checking bounced; I made a mistake on a project that cost my company $2,000; Being a Vacation Bible School volunteer is a drag; It's that time of the month; There's a lizard loose in the living room, and you're not here to catch it."

-- Quoted from the wife

What's a brotha supposed to say to that? I've had a fantastic week. Completed a manuscript; Sent three queries with three positive responses from all; Wrote three cover letters; Obtained a new licencee (my cute little cars are taking off); Started sketches on a pop-up book(more cute little cars); Had a very warm exchange with an author friend (DA thinks I'm sweet); Finished a successful library visit; Received a small royalty; No varmint run-ins. And, it's only Wednesday.

I guess a hug is in order, since I snored in her face last night when she needed a hug (heard through the grapevine).

Guess I could send flowers? Though that wouldn't remedy the lizard situation much.

Mom's blog makes national news

First, Gregory K. gets a write up about his blog in the New York Times; now Ms. Gig, my mom gets a write up about her blog (scroll down, last two paragraphs) in Newhouse News. I just got one question: When's this brotha's blog get some national media love?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

No joke

Com' on, seriously, wish me luck. I'm gonna need it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Taking baby steps

Query, query, and query. I did that today. One enthusiastic response, so far, and it's only been an hour since I sent the last one. I'm so psyched!

Wish me luck.

What I'm reading

Sometimes I read one book all the way through, other times I read several books all at once. I get bored easy, that or I'm must plain fickle. Here's what I've been reading (I've been taking a short break from reading children's books):

Finished 90-Minutes in Heaven, Don Piper. I had mixed feelings about this book. While I do believe in heaven, I don't believe people die, then immediately go there. Much less, do I believe that people go there, only to return and tell us about it. So, while I respect the authors right to believe what he believes, and I don't question his sincerety, I was skeptical. Besides that, one thing confused me. The author, who was in an horrific auto traffic accident, his body mangled as the result of being literally run over by an 18-wheeler, then pronounced dead at the scene, claims not to remember anything about this awful day. What he knows was recounted to him by others — police reports, witnesses. But he also goes on to describe, in detail, everything about thoughts going through his mind, and his feelings following the accident, even what the doctors looked like. How did someone tell him what he was thinking about? Anyway, all that said, I still enjoyed this book. This story, if anything, serves as a reminder that we are mortal, we don't know when we are going, so, everyday, we need to live life to it's fullest. And, I've been keeping my eyes pinned on 18-wheelers.

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life (Little Brown, Nov. 2006), Wendy Mass. An advanced copy that I picked up from ALA, or TLA, I can't remember. Jeremy Fink intercepts a package from the mailman, a package intended for his mother. It contains a wooden box sent by a lawyer on behalf of his father. Thing is, Jeremy's father's been dead for five years. Inside the box — meant to be opened on his 13th birthday — is contained the meaning of life. The box is locked, and the keys to the four key holes have been lost. And Jeremy's birthday is just days away. That's as far as I've read, and it's just enough suspense to keep the pages turning.

Watching Words, Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar
One of my coworkers gave me a tremendously cool book, though I can't figure out if it's a children's book, or what. Published by Chronicle, it will especially appeal to graphic designers and typographers. There are no pictures, only words, playing, dancing, clever uses of typography. It's one you have to see, because it's difficult to describe. I like it.

Mobile Mansions, Douglas Keister is another book given to me by a coworker. It's a very cool coffee table-ish book with great photos of outrageous...yes, RVs. These unique homes on wheels have a special place in my heart since we spent many a weekend camping with my grandparents in their Holiday Rambler.

The Embrace of a Father, compiled by Wayne Holmes
I'd love to write a book like this. This book offers a variety of inspirational vignettes about fatherhood.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Bookmarks

Started a new blog today. Actually, I converted the longtime defunct Devas T. Reads Children's books into a blog that I will actually use, Devas Ts Bookmarks.

There are so many great writer resources that can be found in the blogosphere. Whenever I discover an article that I want to read, but don't have time, I can never find it again when I do have time. So this new blog will serve as my place to save all those things I want to read, someday.

Unfortunately, I'll be bookmarking these articles by hitting the "blog this" button, so I won't be able to credit the source where articles were originally found.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Changing demographics

If you haven't noticed, demographics are quickly changing. Classrooms that were once blue eyed and blond, are now varying shades of brown. Authors and illustrators who visit classrooms and school libraries will need to consider this new demographic in order to relate to the children presented to. I have no problem with this change; I've embraced it. Problem is, for reason's I can't put my finger on, I've had trouble making a connection with one particular group of students — though I'd really like to.

I need to be careful in attempting to define this group. I don't want to offend, make false assumptions, or put entire populations of people in a box. I've done many classroom and library events. My audiences have been everything from predominately white, black, rich, poor, Hispanic, male, preschool, elementary, high school, college, city, rural and mixtures of all of the above. Each audience is unique. But the group I seem to strike out with, are groups who are newly(presumed) immigrated — primarily Spanish speaking, or bi-lingual. 10 years ago, when I first started doing school visits in Iowa, "Spanish speaking" and "bi-lingual" weren't even a part of my vocabulary.

As I set up my presentation at a recent event, the 20 or so children I'd be presenting to, were in the next room. I listened to their chatter. None of the chatter was in English. I thought back to previous library visits, with similar audience makeup. Those that I recalled didn't go over so well. For reasons I’m not sure about, my attempts to connect with the children failed. They didn't laugh at my corny poems, and my attempts at getting them to interact with me proved impossible. I couldn't even get a volunteer to come up and allow me to draw a cartoon of them, something most groups of kids practically fight over. One librarian offered an apology saying the children were very shy.

At a recent event, the mostly Spanish-speaking children didn't seem as "shy." Before I started my presentation, they came up and looked at my work, they seemed interested. Maybe art transcends language. But, once I started speaking, the whole thing went flat, same as my other experiences with similar groups. I want to make it clear, it's not a Hispanic thing. I've spoken to many primarily Hispanic audiences. They are not much different than other audiences of children. Again, it appears to be that growing audience of Spanish speaking, or primarily Spanish bi-lingual children.

One mother at this recent event, sat with her two children. After my presentation, I went over to thank her for coming. She quickly looked away, mumbled something back, then completely turned her back to me. Maybe she didn't speak English, and my approach made her feel uncomfortable, I have no idea.

Again, I'm not blaming the children. I am the speaker, it's my job to connect with them, to engage and inspire them, and not them me. I need to make some changes.And I'd suggest, if you already haven't made some of those considerations to your programs, you probably should.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Manuscript swapping

This picture book critiquing thing is SO. MUCH. FUN! I just received Chris’ manuscript, and I am so excited to get another opportunity to read it and see how it's grown!

For me, I had a hard time letting go of my manuscript. I've hovered over it the past couple of days. I'm quite happy with the direction it's taken, but still, it's a tall tale, and for some reason, I'm embarrassed about sharing it.

With a tall tale, you just have to let it all hang out, loosen up, get silly, have fun. I found it hard to do all that, while at the same time, being serious about wanting to get it published.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Whenever I get discouraged and start thinking that I really can't write, I get really encouraging feedback from blog readers. Here's a few comments taken from my other blogs. These comments keep me going when I want to give up:

"You're skilled at making quality character stories out of mundane events."

"You write as well as draw. Is there no end to your talents?"

"...that's a beautiful, very well-written post. A powerful memory, which you've turned into a story. Good work."

"I envee you your talant for drawing, and I like your writting."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Less tributaries, omit social issues, add outrageous

In my writing, I like to use little inflections. Several times in a sentence, I take steps off the main path, creating tributaries like those that feed a river. I do this by using words that — I think — help build the story, or create rhythm or add interest overall. I've seen this style used in folklore, where the author is trying to capture a certain dialect or a colloquial voice. Problem is, my little colloquial inflections add up, causing my word count to skyrocket, making it impossible for me to keep my story within the guidelines of a picture book. Make any sense?

I’ve spent some time the past two days revising my 1000 word manuscript. Recently, an author described it as a social-issues concept book. Tackling a social issue is not my goal; I’m going for fun. Now, I’m trying to drive it into the direction of a tall tale. I’m only halfway through this rewrite, and already, I’ve added 400-plus words.

It’s interesting how deleting four words omitted the possible social issue, and turned it into more of a problem solving, character driven book. But, now, I’m having trouble being outrageous, a necessary ingredient for a tall tale.

Whoever says that writing a picture book is easy — and I’ve met a few who think so — has never written one. At least, not a publishable one.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Rewriting a previously told story

A few years ago, I wrote a picture book that was based upon a childhood experience of mine. It deals with an issue that all children face in some form or another. Author friend, Cynthia, was kind enough to read it, and offer feedback. One suggestion she made in particular was to rewrite my story using animals. I had planned to do just that, but never did, discouraged when another book published with the same concept.

I hadn't actually read the other story, and avoided doing so as not to be swayed by it, should I decide to revise my story. Recently, I dug up that old manuscript, and rewrote it. Then, I read that other, previously published story by another author. It was too close to mine — same concept, similar animals, same problems for the MC to solve, same everything.

Next weekend, I'm meeting with Chris, my critique partner, and for now, I'm leaving the story as is, with the exception of tightening it up. Maybe he'll have some ideas on how to retain my basic premise, while making enough changes that I won't be rehashing a story already on the market. Anyway, that's what I'll be up to this week.

Happy 4th!

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A big congratz goes out to author friend, Cynthia Leitich Smith, who recently debuted the cover for her upcoming YA novel, Tantalize.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A library vist at jail



I know this painting isn't very good, it was done long ago, my second ever attempt at oil painting. But it fit my post for today (Scorpions, Walter Dean Myers).

Yesterday, as part of a summer reading program, I did a very special library event. It was in a jail. Seriously.

For some reason, I thought this would be a typical visit, one for elementary school kids, ages 4 to 8. Couple hours before the event, I called to be sure an easel would be available so I could draw cartoons for the children. While speaking with my contact — a probation officer — the circumstances became clear — there'd be no 2nd graders at this visit. This would be a group of about 10 to 20 young men, ages 12 to 17.

For a second, I went into a panic. I was at work, I had everything with me, and I was prepared to do my usual visit where I read my picture books, draw cartoons, and even dance at one point. A dramatic presentation of 'The Singing Tortoise and the Loney Hunter', complete with my booty-shake turtle dance was not going to work, so I dashed home to get some slides of my art, and a projector.

Entering the building, the probation officer led me up several floors, every door locking behind us. Once in the library, while I unpacked my materials, the officer went on to tell me how each child was a convicted felon, removed from the public school system, convicted of crimes such as gang rape, drive by shootings, drug dealing, gang involvement, armed robbery. Some were Crips or Bloods, stripped of their colors, and shaven clean with the exception of tattoos. She walked with a crutch, her foot in a cast following a scuffle she had with one of the...um, children. She lost. I grew more nervous by the minute as she told me various stories, of which involved guns, violence, stabbings, murder.

She left the room to allow me to set up; I had an half hour to do so. What was I possibly going to say to this group of young men? Suddenly, I felt completely inadequete. Surly, they'd view me as a girly-man — a black male Martha Stewart, with my artwork, children's books, wall paper and fabric designs. I've never been to jail, or in any real trouble. I had no hardship stories to relate. Then, to my horror, my slide projector malfunctioned. My entire presentation is visual, intentionally. Without visuals, I'd have to speak for the next 45 minutes. I reconsidered the turtle dance, but luckily, as the young men began to enter the room, I got the darn thing working.

As two big guys — guards I presumed — opened the library door, about twenty young men entered. My mind had built them up as monsters, but as I caught the eye of each one of them, I realized these were children — big, burly, possibly dangerous children, but children none the less. And they were respectful. Each entered, shook my hand, and greeted me with a, "Good afternoon, Mr. Tate." They stated their first name, and sat down quietly, attentive.

I began my presentation stumbling through an introduction. When I realized I was talking in circles, and probably not making much sense, I quickly turned the stage over to my artwork, and booted up the projector. That's when things got easy; I started started telling stories. I told them about being a kid their age and wanting to be an artist, but not knowing how. I told them about how I was inspired by my aunt who was a young adult novelist. I told them how I couldn't play sports, so I spent my free-time drawing pictures. Each piece of art had a back story, and they listened attentively, asked questions. One painting, in particular drew the most attention and discussion. It was a painting I created many years ago, a poster for the book Scorpions (Walter Dean Myers). It depicted a scene where one gang member held a gun to another kids head, very graphic. I was shocked to learn that almost all of these young men had read that book. With excitement, they recounted the scene from the story (Backs up what I wrote earlier about needing books that speak to black males; They do read!). Then the questions started flowing, and it turned into more of a group discussion. In terms of interest level, and enthusiam, this group turned out to be one of the best groups I've ever shared with, and I've done quite a few of these visits now.

I left the library confident that I had inspired this mostly African American group. Some of them left with a spark in their eyes. Many asked questions about getting into school. They seemed interested in earning money beyond selling drugs. But what saddened me was the realization, conveyed by the probation officer, that most of these kids would eventually end up in the prison system. Some of them don't even have parents who come visit them.

Have I found my ministry?

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Thanks to all those who have responded to my post, Black Males in Children's Books. I'm still receiving comments. I don't read that far back in my comments boxes, but I know when I receive a comment because I get an email, and I appreciate all the feedback.