Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Black Jesus, Fall Festivals and a Wildebeest

This is part of a spec illustration I worked up for a children's Bible written by author, Stephanie Moore (click down to interview). The character's in this Bible will be black, and since Jesus will likely be the most controversial image, I decided to focus on his character first.

There will be more than 180 illustrations in this Bible, and I'll be illustrating it at the same time as I'm painting FARMER. Needless to say, I have my work cut out for me. I'll be rendering these electronically using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.


I didn't do the Texas Book Festival this year. I spent most of Saturday with family. First, my son's school had their Fall Festival, and then he had a soccer game. I considered going to the book festival on Sunday, but kinda felt burned out on the whole book thing. Know what I mean? Not reading or writing or illustrating, but the peripheral stuff. So, I stayed home and did absolutely nothing. Boy, that felt so good.


The RACE FOR THE CURE — a 5k marathon — is this weekend, and we plan to run. Proceeds support the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Normally, I run for fun and exercise, but this year we have a special reason to participate. Last week, one of my wife's co-workers died from cancer — pancreatic, I believe, but she also had survived a bout with breast cancer. So this year while we run, our thoughts will be with Candice.

The wife wants to take K along, let him ride his bike while we run. I'm not too sure about that. I know my son. He'll tire after a few minutes, then cry if we don't completely stop, rest and get ice cream. Then, I'll end up pushing or carrying his bike for the remaining 3.5 miles. Nope! I'm not training all week to push a kid on a bicycle with training wheels through a crowd of 10,000-plus runners — no way, no how.

I'll let you know how my argument stands, and what the wife decides.


Yesterday, I received a verbal thrashing from an irate Wildebeest in disguise as an accounts payable person, who informed me that, no, it wasn't my fault that I haven't been paid. It was the fault of a freelance art director who's been giving out the wrong billing procedures to every artist who's worked on this project. Huh?

Thank you, Miss Thang, I thought to myself. But I know it ain't my fault, I just followed ya'lls directions so why you hollerin' at me? I should be the one hollerin'.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Loving Immediate Fiction

I've only read twelve pages from Immediate Fiction and already I'm inspired, energized and ready to plow ahead with my writing goals. As I always do, in a hurry to get to the meat of the matter, I skipped the introduction and jumped ahead to the first chapter. But, the first chapter was so good, I'm backtracking to read the introduction. I don't want to miss anything.

The reason these first few pages spoke so loudly to me is because he covered some familiar territory, things I could relate to. Author Jerry Cleaver says: "You must write badly first." I can relate, I do lots of that. He went on to quote Hemingway who said: The first draft is always sh#t." Only he used Hemingway's expletive as is. Again, I could relate to this, too; my first drafts are pretty sh#tty.

I've made a few mistakes since I started writing, but the biggest, I think, is that somewhere along the way, I started to care. I went from writing for fun to writing to get published. Cleaver says: "The less you care, the better you write."

Think I'm gonna like this book.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

This first second

This second is the first second I've had in over a week that belongs entirely to me

where I don't have to be somewhere by a certain time

or do something for someone

Or figure something out

I'm not on deadline. Well, I take that

back, I'm always on some kind of deadline.

When my wife wakes up from her nap, she wants me to...

When my son wakes up from his nap, he wants to...

Normally, I'd love to. But at this second, I don't want to do anything.

Hear the phone ringing? I'm not even gonna answer it.
Please, let me have my second.

I want to write a poem, read a book, watch The Monsters on TV

without interruption.

This past week was heavy

I think I lost it yesterday or was it the day before? Or maybe it was Monday. I can't remember.

But I just found it , got it together, this first second I've had to myself in over a week.

Friday, October 27, 2006

I'm wearing an ugly hat

Pardon my grouchy mood today, but I'm wearing an undesirable hat. As a freelancer, I have to wear many hats: artist, designer, delivery boy, technical support, programmer, speaker, receptionist, you name it. Today, I'm wearing my bill collector hat.

I hate wearing my bill collector's hat, but my son's gotta get his teeth fixed, pronto. And things are tight. So, I pull out my accounts payable pad to see who's paid me and who ain't. The unpaid, outstanding balances total enough to pay my mortgage for three months. Some of these balances date back to May. And, some of the biggest name publishers can be the slowest to pay.

Call number one: I'll get back to you soon. That's what they said three weeks ago.

Call number two: Who are you? And we don't have you as a vendor in our system. We'll call you back.

Call number three: Leave a message, and we'll call you back next week. They didn't call me back in July. Hmm.

Now, I gotta put on my other hat: Mad, hungry, black man with a mortgage, a kid with bad teeth, and a wife who wants to see the Lion King — tickets go on sale here this weekend.

I'll let you know how effective my hat is.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The sacred dummy arrived

When I returned home from Saturday's fall conference, an envelope was waiting on my front doorstep. It contained a sacred dummy book for ZOOM, a novelty pop-up book I've been working on. I say sacred because I've been through an entire year — and several paper engineers — waiting on it to arrive.

For the past few days, I've been dying to play with it, but first I had to finish thumbnail sketches for FARMER. Then were the discussions about the African American children's Bible. Then the Boys 2 Men talk. Finally, this morning, I got to open the package and test it out. For about half-an-hour, to my delight, I pushed and pulled and flipped and dialed and toggled the various manipulatives. What fun! I wish I could show it off, but it's not ready for show in prime time. Besides that, the editor is "feeling very protective of it," having waited so long, and, visually, it's fairly crude, in sort of a sophisticated kind of way. Know what I mean?

The next step is to negotiate a few more dimes. Over the past year, the concept for the book has undergone quite an evolution. It's about three-times as much work as first conceived, so I'm gonna need at least two-times more dimes. Thankfully, the editor and art director agreed with me and are willing to "make things right."

I'm very happy with the direction they've decided to take this book. The changes will add warmth to the overall design and boosts the book's personality. There's a few things that don't work so well, so I'll make some suggestions and maybe even try my hand at paper engineering — though I failed miserably in my first attempts last year.

We've decided to change the main character from an animal to a child. Race wasn't mentioned, so I'm going to experiment with a character that is race neutral. Is there such a thing? Maybe fair skinned with dark eyes and dark curly hair?

So, did I convert you? (inside joke)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Talking with the boys

Today's Boys 2 Men Speaker luncheon went well. These guys were enthusiastic, receptive and all around nice. I remember when fifth-graders were scary. Course, I was in second-grade then. But now they seem like babies. I'm getting old!

While I re-organized my slides and while they ate lunch, I chatted with them. Then I began by talking about my career and having the pleasure of drawing pictures all day. They thought that was cool, though some thought software programming was even cooler. Ak! But I didn't say that.

After the slide presentation, I reflected upon my pre-teen and teenage years. The word of the day: inadequate. It's the only word I could think of that totally defined how I felt about myself at age 12. I figured everyone could relate to feelings of inadequacy at times. I was right.

I talked about how we all feel at times like we don't measure up to the expectations of others — parents, teachers, peers, and even to ourselves. And how we often seek out ways to boost our self-esteem, to feel powerful, big.

I shared with them how some people seek power through belittling or bullying others. Or how others steal, or drink or act out in other ways, all in the name of trying to be men. Then I shared some of my own stories where I made bad, self-destructive decisions in an effort to boost my own self-esteem. Some of these stories weren't easy to share because I still feel ashamed having done certain things.

On the flip side, I painted examples of where I made good decisions as a teenager. Like when I worked with my grandfather in his maintenance company and saved enough money to buy my own school clothes and a moped. I told them how I sketched and drew pictures everyday and polished my skills, entered art contests and won a national art competition. The message I hoped to convey was that by working hard, helping others and developing skills, they would boost their self-esteem, and find power. That's how real men do it. Probably didn't come out that smooth, but I think they got it based upon the stories they shared with me.


Me brilliant? I can dig that.

An editor (newspaper) where I work sat me down and said that a blog post I wrote and posted was too controversial, and possibly libelous. So, he sorta censored it, took it down. I was dumbfounded. The post was meant to be a nostalgic, a feel-good piece. I've written things that were meant to stir the stew, and this wasn't one of em.

In the same breath, he said that my writing is "just brilliant" and makes him laugh. He said that my commentary "converts people." I'm not sure what he meant by that. He also said that if somebody were smart, they'd publish me outside the blogosphere (He's in a position to do that, but I held my tongue and didn't say anything).

His compliment was bitter sweet, considering the censorship thing. But regardless, his words made my day.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Leave me alone, I'm trying to read about Keith Graves

I'm at work, trying to read an article online about local author-illustrator, Keith Graves, who'll be appearing at next weekends Texas Book Festival and this pesky-as-a-flea reporter keeps interrupting my reading, asking questions about some dang Hutto, Texas city limits map. ARGH! Do I look like I know anything about the current city limits of Hutto? Or care for that matter!

*clenching teeth*

And, here she comes again!

Tomorrow's Boys 2 Men

This morning I'll spend time thinking over my presentation at tomorrow's Zilker Elementary School's Boys 2 Young Men Speaker Series. I'll be speaking to a group of 5th and 6th grade boys.

Originally, I thought it was more of a typical school visit where I show my art and talk career, but I've learned it goes a bit deeper.

Eight men in very different fields will share their lives with these young men in an attempt to counter our cultures very limited definition of boyhood.

Hmm. I'm going to have to think on this.

They want me to "get real" with em. Talk about my personal experiences from Jr. high school. Discuss mistakes I've made. Tell em about my experiences with girls or about trouble I've gotten myself into.

Again, I'm going to have to think on this. I don't really have any big stories to tell. There was the time I made some homemade wine from a recipe given to me by a class mate. One day after school, when my concoction was fully ripe, I drank down half the jug like it was Kool-Aid. And I got so drunk, I was rolling around in leaves in a gully across the street from my house when my mom came home from work. I got a ride to the hospital in the back seat of a cop car that my frantic mom waved down. And, in a drunken stupor, I cursed out a doctor who had stuck a tube up my nose and down my throat to pump out my stomach.

Also, I'll probably talk about how I wasn't into sports. That was a big deal for a boy and especially a black boy who was expected to hoop and run and hit better than the white boys. I remember attending an almost all white elementary school in 6th grade. I'd get picked first when choosing up teams. "The black guy can ball," they'd say. The surprise was on them. I'd much rather have been sitting in the art room macrameing a wall hanging with colored twine and beads. And when it came to Home Economics and sewing a darshiki and frying eggs, I showed the girls how to do it and wasn't ashamed. Those were my talents.

One last thing I'll probably touch on is how I didn't like to read. I literally was not reading anything unless it was related to art, and sometimes I wonder how I made it through school at all. In retrospect, I think I was dyslexic, and in addition, I had trouble retaining what I'd read. In my early 20s, I re-taught myself to read by reviewing every few words, then every few sentences, then paragraphs and chapters of a book. I overcame my reading problem, but I missed out on so many things. Steinbeck? Roman myths? Poe? History—huh! I wasn't reading that stuff. So, now I'm playing catchup.

Well, now that I give this some thought, I do have some stories to tell. I'd probably better run my ideas past Lindsey Lane and the school librarian just to be sure I don't get myself put out the school.

Edit to post: Just learned that my stories will be fine as long as told in in terms of growth, learning and responsibility. Ah, glad I asked. I'm gonna recall some other stories.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Carving a jack-o-lantern

Though I had much work to do, the son didn't care. He wanted to play a game, watch a movie together, carve a pumpkin. So I sat my thumbnail sketches aside and took my frustrations out on a big ol' pumpkin.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A successful fall conference

The Austin SCBWI "Follow Me" conference was a huge success! The mood was upbeat and enthusiastic. Check out Cynsations for a complete rundown.

For me, the best part of the conference was connecting with others who love children's literature as much as I do. I had a fantastic time, met some really nice folks, and heard some inspiring stories.

With the exception of some technical glitches — no one knew how to run the lights, not even the security guard — I was very happy with the outcome of my breakout session. I wasn't even nervous. Not even a little. Well, maybe a little, but just enough to keep me on my toes. I was only sorry that I had to miss the writer, editor, and agent workshops.

The conference opened with author Bruce Coville. There was a slight problem with sound (Where was Chris when we needed him), so I don't have any idea what he talked about, but it looked quite entertaining.

My licensing agent, Suzanne Cruise, was a big hit. She followed me and spoke to a captive audience with lots of questions. Suzanne is a fire ball. First and foremost, she's an illustrator herself. She's worked for Hallmark and various other greeting card companies. On the flip side, she's a shrewd business person, and I pity the fool who tries to cross or short change her. I'm so glad to have a licensing agent like that.

I also had the pleasure of critiquing the portfolios of three talented illustrators. I'm normally very hard on folks when it comes to art critiques. I mean, if your stuff isn't up to snuff, then you won't get work, plain and simple. Nice ain't gonna help you. But I went easy on em; these folks had their stuff together and are well on their way to publication.

After my presentation, I realized that I have a whole body of work that I haven't been sharing: my editorial newspaper illustrations. I try to keep the two separate as to avoid a conflict of interest at work, but conflict or not, I have 9 years of editorial illustration — some of which is my best work.

Last but not least, I purchased and had autographed a copy of SANTA KNOWS by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Greg Leitich Smith. Stayed up late last night reading it. Such a fun story! I especially enjoyed Alfie's technical savvy and references to the world wide web. Can't wait to share this with K.

I also purchased a copy of IMMEDIATE FICTION: A COMPLETE WRITING COURSE, which I'll jump into later this week after I finish LOCOMOTION.

Oh, and, great to see you Heather!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Today's conference, last night's reception

There's nothing worse than speaking in front of a group, and having someone yawn. It's happened to me before while doing school visits. Not that my visits are boring, they're not. But when you gotta yawn, you gotta yawn. Whenever it's happen to me, I'm completely thrown off track.

Today, I'll be attending and speaking at our local SCBWI conference. The problem is, I am a coffee fiend. I. LOVE. COFFEE. But coffee started causing health problems, so I had to quit. And since then, I've been sleepy. Sleepy! My mouth is constantly wide open in a yawn, and I'm walking around in a daze. It's overwhelming.

So, although I'm looking forward to todays conference, I will likely be rude and yawn and nod off and sleep through most of it because tea doesn't do a thing for me.

To kick off the conference, last night, The Leitich Smiths (Cynthia and Greg) had a wonderfully warm speaker reception in their home. The setting was perfect, the guest friendly, and their home — historic arts and crafts — made for an elegant evening. About 35 guests turned out.

Ug, how come Blogger won't let me create links today? Sigh.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Back to reality

Over the past few weeks,
I've spent so much time
Writing about illustrating
And talking about illustrating
And negotiating new books,
That I haven't had time
To do what I've been
Writing (blogging)
Talking (speeches)
And negotiating (contracts)

Illustrating children's books.

So, after tomorrow's talk at
Our fall SCBWI conference
And next week's talk
At Zilker elementary
And the following week's talk
at Wooten elementary
I'm going to buckle down
And do more of what I've been writing
And talking and negotiating about.

Illustrating children's books.

Imagine that!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dreams vs. Responsibilities

I have a major career decision to make in the next 24 hours. Family responsibility — a mortgage, car payments and private school tuition command I do one thing. My heart and a lifetime of dreams tell me to do another. The question is: can dreams support family responsibility?

I feel sick.

Edit to original post: I just talked with the wife; she says go with the dream!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Am I dissin' my agent?

I feel absolutely terrible. My agent and a guest are in town and I'm too busy to spend any time with them. They think I'm dissin' em, and maybe I am, but not because I want to.

On Saturday, Suzanne will speak to the illustrators at our SCBWI fall conference. She and Richard came into town a few days early to kinda hang out, chill and enjoy the live music scene here in Austin. But I have to work tonight until 11.

Tomorrow, my time is limited, too. Before I go into work at 2:30, I need to organize my slide presentation for Saturday and give some thought to what I'm going to talk about. This presentation will be much more casual than the speech in Dallas two weeks ago. But, still, I need to prepare.

And, there's no time on Friday either. In order to attend the speaker reception on Friday evening, I have to go in to work early that day, like at 9 a.m. I won't get to spend anytime with them on Friday until the reception, if they go. Their attendance is based upon whether some baseball game is finished.

They leave Saturday after the conference.

This is my art/licensing agent of at least 11 years. I should wine and dine them at a fancy hill country restaurant. I should take them out sight seeing; show them the city.

It’s times like this that I wish I had the freedom of a full-time freelancer (Keep your fingers crossed on a deal I’m negotiating with Tommy Nelson, and I may find that freedom soon).

I need my life to slow down, badly.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Research! Can you help me?

For me, research is one of the most enjoyable parts of illustrating a children's book. And I spent most of my day doing just that.

FARMER is a book set on a farm — duh. The family, I'm assuming by some of the language is German immigrants. Other clues — wood burning stoves, horse-drawn plows — tell me the story takes place, circa 1930 to 1940, or before.

Given all that, I figured, a Texas farm was out. I mean, Texas is for...Texans, not Germans. But I was wrong. After spending some time on Google, I discovered that Fredericksburg — about an hours drive east of Austin — is a historic and picturesque city settled by German immigrant families. Many of the old farm homes have been preserved and converted into bed & breakfasts or guest houses. And some of the farms now serve as museums. Perfect! Road trip!

Also, there's the Amana Colonies, about two hours east of Des Moines, Iowa. I'd love to take a trip back home for research, but that's probably out. Anyway, this is a whole new subject for me and I'm lovin' it!

If you can think of any picture books with a similar setting — German, farm, early 1900s — please let me know. I can use all the help I can get.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Recently illustrated

This is an illustration ran in my hometown newspaper a few weeks ago. I can't remember what the story was about. Had something to do with people and friendships and isolation and how we maintain friendships differently in the age of technology. Make sense?

Anyway, I wanted to do something figurative and experiment with split complementary color schemes — in this case, yellow and violet. I also threw in a bit of green. When I work, I also look for humorous opportunities.

Add jury duty to the mix

I understand serving on a jury is supposed to be an honor, my civic duty. So, how come I'm feeling quite violated? I mean, I have no choice in this matter. Regardless of how I feel, or how busy I am, I have to report for jury duty, today, or face a fine up to $1,000.

This week, I have a lot of work to do. I need to prepare my workshop presentation for this weekend's fall conference. I need to finish thumbnails for FARMER. I've just received a boat load of revisions on ZOOM. Where's jury duty supposed to fit in to this mix? And, top it off, I just learned that, because everyone in my department at work called in sick today, I have to fill in and work a full shift once I leave the court house. Grrrr.

With the exception of learning that an editor truly intends to publish one of my manuscripts (details to come in about a year), I'm not having a good day.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Revising DOOG

I've been working on DOOG, on and off, for the past couple years. The original story was based upon a childhood experience in my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, circa 1970.

After receiving feedback, I changed story into one with with personified animals. And I changed the setting from midwestern to an exotic location on the other side of the world. The story was better; still, there were wrinkles.

Finally, my story was ready to show. I mailed it to agents and editors and received a wide range of feedback. Once again, I changed the story based upon feedback. Then, I changed it again.

This story has undergone an amazing evolution. Problem is, the original premise is long gone, as well as the enthusiam initially generated.

I love revision. For me, it's the most enjoyable aspect of the writing process. But revision for the sake of revision doesn't necessarily guarantee a better manuscript, particularly if you lose sight of your goals. So, I guess, I need to re-evaluate my goals for this story in order to get it back on the right track.

In other news: I finished reading HUGGING THE ROCK. I read this book in 4 days, almost a record for me. I'm a very slow, dyslexic reader. Normally, it takes me a month, at the very least, to finish a novel — even a fairly easy-to-read verse novel like ROCK. If I'm not careful, I'll read several pages of a book without retaining anything, my mind tends to wander. But I found myself completely absorbed in the story and buzzed right through it. The story tore at my emotions, recalling my relationship with my eldest daughter. She sent me an email yesterday, basically letting me know that I am her rock. Highly recommended!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Experimenting with Flash

This is a little somethin' somethin' I created today. Next year, I plan to redesign my website. It's badly overdue to be revamped. I plan to do it in Flash, and to incorporate some interactivity — you know, make it fun for kids to play around in. Below, click the buttons, it's interactive.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Two dollars and forty-seven cents

Two dollars and forty-seven cents?

The wife thought it was funny.
Laughed about it all evening.
"Is that a royalty check from
One of your children's books?" she asked.

"Yes it is," I told her. We both laughed.

Though it wasn't funny.

It may be only
Two dollars and forty-seven cents
But it's
Two dollars and forty-seven cents
More than I had the previous day.

But what's even funnier
Is that her birthday is next week.
And I had planned to gift my
My first October royalty over her.

Two dollars and forty-seven cents!

Yes! That is funny after all?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Finished a rewrite, and I'm pretty grouchy

I just finished a rewrite of a manuscript originally written this summer. DOOG, is the code name I've given it. I submitted the original to my critique group, an editor and two agents, but the feedback I'm receiving is that I need to dummy it up with illustrations. Why? Maybe I don't want to illustrate it. Like I don't have enough things to illustrate. So, because I'm an illustrator, I got to illustrate my own stuff?

Anyway, it's fun to watch this story evolve. Problem is, I'm still at around 900 words. I'm finding it a challenge to keep my stories under 1000 words. I really want to write a story. Not a glorified Hallmark card, like many picture books as of late. Oh well, maybe I'm just a bit grouchy today.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Saturday's Q & A panel

Following my speech and workshop, I sat on a Q & A panel where conference attendees had the opportunity to toss questions at the various speakers.

I don't do well in panel situations because I can't think clearly when I’m live on stage, in front of a zillion people. I’d have preferred my questions by email, then answered sometime in the next 24 hours.

The first few questions were directed at the editors, so I was able to doodle on my note pad uninterrupted. Finally one person, an African American, stood up and lobbed the question, and I'm paraphrasing: What is multicultural, and what makes a manuscript considered to be multicultural? Gulp. Anyone one of us panelists were qualified to answer that question, and, though the question seemed better suited for an author or editor, I felt pressured to say something. I mean, I was the black guy, Mr. Colorful sporting a mohawk, representin' for the multicultural masses. Surly, all eyes were on me; I had to say something, anything. And something profound would be nice.

But my mind went blank. Heck, what is multicultural as it relates to this industry anyway? Nancy Mercado (Dial Books for Young Readers) offered an explanation, but I don't know what she said. My mind was too busy cooking up an answer and hoping she would speak for a long time. Maybe she’d speak so long, the moderator would have to ask us to move on to the next question. No luck, someone shoved the microphone in my face. My mind wasn’t finished cooking.

"Um," I said, in controlled panic. "Most of the books I've illustrated would be considered multicultural. They were offered to me by editors who preferred an African American illustrate that particular story." OK, had nothing to do with the question asked, but it was the best I could come up with. "I don't consider myself a multicultural artist." I continued. "I'm an artist, just happen to be a black artist." I went on to explain that good writers should be able to write for any racial or ethnic group if they take the time to research their subject. Again, I didn’t really address the question, but without time to think, it was the best I could offer.

I breathed a sigh of relief having answered what I hoped would be my last question. But this person wasn’t finished with me yet; she posed another question, this time directly to me. Earlier that day, in my speech, I had made the statement that good picture book writers are those who can write visually, offering illustrators many opportunities to bring the story to life. She wanted to know how one would write visually. Hmm. And I’m supposed to offer an answer on the spot? I didn’t answer that question any better than the first, but I did ponder it more, and pulled the person aside following the panel discussion to offer some examples.

While I drove home from the conference, I gave the multicultural question some more thought.

In my opinion, multicultural children’s books are those that offer diversity. And diversity can mean many things, depending upon who you ask. Most often, I think, multicultural includes issues of race, ethnicity (and alternative lifestyles, if you want to go there).

Multicultural shouldn't be a separate label. Ideally, multicultural should be an adjective, describing any collection of children's books. A publisher's recent list should be multicultural; book stores and libraries should be multicultural, a child’s at-home collection should be multicultural. Multicultural shouldn't be an optional flavor.

And, speaking of multicultural, I finished reading ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NOT. The mc is gay. Would that be considered a multicultural book? I don’t know, I’m asking, not saying.

I loved the writing in this book. I wish I could write like David LaRochelle. I chuckled my way through each and every page, laughing out loud at practically every other sentence. But, I had guessed the ending all wrong. I thought that Steven, the mc, had fallen in love with his best friend, Rachel, and would soon discover he wasn’t gay after all. Boy! I guessed it wrong.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I nailed it!

My SCBWI speech was a tremendous success, as was the break-out workshop. I opened with a joke based upon my personal experiences doing public speaking, and the room erupted in laughter and applause. That happened several times throughout the short speech, it was very cool, actually.

In my travels to conferences and literary festivals, I've had the fortunate opportunity to meet many authors and illustrators. I felt at home, knowing so many people.

At lunch, I sat next to artist/author extraordinaire, Janee Trasler, an old friend from the blogosphere, whom I met in person for the first time. Other friends I ran into: The wonderful Anastasia Suen, Jan Peck, Willie Welch, Shirly Duke, Alan Stacy, Sue Ward, and so many others, who I'm not leaving out intentionally.

Diane Roberts
, whom I met earlier this year at ALA, and who invited me to speak, introduced me as, "The good looking Don Tate." Ok, I'm hip to that!

My only regret is that I arrived so late that I wasn't able to attend the pre-conference dinner Friday evening. Saturday, I was in such a zone that I wasn't very sociable. I never even introduced myself to the other guests: Nancy Mercado (Hot!), Andrea Menotti (Sweet), Libba Bray (Refreshing), and Lori Nowicki (All about the business).

In an attempt to beat the Texas vs. Oklahoma football crowd back to Austin, I had to leave before the Saturday, post conference dinner. I did beat the traffic — problem is, for two hours, I was lost in a black hole east of Forth Worth. It got so bad, that at one point, because I was so sleepy, I considered pulling my car over, locking the doors and waiting the night out until I had some sleep. And sunlight. Anyway, I did find my way, with the help of my cell phone, my wife, Google, and a large cup of coffee.

*Sorry I only have pictures of myself, but I really was out of it.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Bullet dodged

As I left the house this morning, I made one last check to be sure I had everything I needed for the trip. Slide projector? Check! Speech notes? Check! Wallet, glasses, cash? Check, check, check!

So, I shut down my computer, turned off the lights in my studio, and that's when I noticed a piece of paper — one out of a trillion scattered all over my studio floor. It lay there winking at me, vying for my attention. I picked it up. It was page 3 of the notes for my speech! Somehow, it had escaped from the rest of my notes, paper clipped and packed away in the trunk of my car. That meant one thing: Page 3 of my duplicate, in-case-of-emergency, copy was also missing.

I pretty much have this thing committed to memory, but it would have been quite startling to flip to page three, only to discover page 4 staring back at me.

Bullet number-one dodged!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I'm hitting the road! No butterflies.

Yesterday, I read the latest issue of Children's Book Shelf, a free newsletter from the folks at Publisher's Weekly. I scrolled down to an article about the National Book Festival. It featured photos of children’s authors and illustrators who made appearances there, this past weekend. A photo of artist, Bryan Collier, compelled me to Google his name. I wanted to find out what new books he has up his sleeve. Soon, I found a picture of him. In it, he sat behind the table at a children's literature conference. The photo reminded me of my speech tomorrow. The butterflies that have been living in my stomach for the past few weeks quickly grew into bats.

My heart started pounding so hard, it caused pressure in my ears and, suddenly, I couldn't breathe. I felt dizzy. My throat was dry. I got up to get a drink of water thinking I might choke and die right there at work, on the newsroom floor.

As I walked, my legs felt weak and heavy, just like they do after a workout of heavy squats. In fact, everything felt weak; I just plain felt sick.

What have I gotten myself into?

I approached the vending machine and inserted two quarters and a dime. The bottle plunged heavily from the machine. And that’s when I heard the voice, it said: What in the world are you so afraid of?

The voice was so vivid, real, that I turned to see who was standing behind me. No one was there; I was alone. But the question remained clear. What was I so afraid of?

I took a seat in the break area and tossed out a few answers to the question. Was I afraid of being one of a few African Americans in a sea of white people? Possibly. But, would I feel any better if the audience were mostly black? The answer was no to both questions.

What about being judged? Is that what I was afraid of? Possibly. But, why fear being judged? Judging isn’t lethal, unless you’re on death row.

I twisted the cap off my bottle and took a swig of water. Then, I laid out every possible scenario, every thing that could go wrong. Nothing was that dang scary. Not even the one about the terrorist author, and the hostages, and…

I'm a rational brotha, so when I failed to find anything concrete to fear, I realized my fears were irrational. Tornadoes can kill me. Pitt Bulls can eat me. I'm afraid of both. But public speaking? To a group of authors and artists? Give me a break!

I headed back to my desk feeling a deep sense of peace, realizing that there was honestly nothing to fear, but my imagination. And the butterflies flew away, as did the bats. My burden had been lifted and carried away.

I am so looking forward to Dallas!

Gave the wife a sneak peek

Last evening, the wife got a sneak peek at my presentation; she actually sat through it, twice. And, didn't squirm. Practicing with a real live person — as opposed to an image of myself in a mirror — was well worth staying up late. Note to self: Pause. Breathe. Begin slowly.

Though, I've practiced this presentation a zillion times over the last couple weeks, I was still nervous. So nervous that I made several mistakes. When I finished, I was soaking wet from sweating. Note to self: Take along an extra shirt to change into for the afternoon workshop.

Earlier that day, I made a pit-stop at Kinkos to get copies of my handouts. I didn't have time to make up my own list of bullet points to hand out, so I got permission from a couple people, who spoke at national SCBWI, to pass out their handouts (with necessary credit). Jarrett J. Krosoczka made up a flyer offering tips on creating an effective postcard, and licensing agent, Suzanne Cruise, has a list of tips on art licensing. I was amazed at the service I received at Kinkos. Their normally poor service was exceptional, this time, and the machines made 150 copies, printed on two sides — and stapled! And all inside 5 minutes! Go figure.

In other news: Received a cool invitation to speak at a University in Detroit next summer — some type of children's literature program. That would be very exciting! More info to come.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

College football is cramping my style

I just received some awful news. This coming Friday afternoon, when I set out on the road to speak in Dallas, several thousand, college football fans will be headed in the same direction. This weekend, Texas plays Oklahoma...somewhere, I don't know. I'm told it's somewhere in the same area I'm headed, though.

Every year when this game is played, and the stampede is broadcast all over the news, I'm always thankful for two things. One, that there aren't any football fans living in this house, and, two, that there's no reason for me to be in Dallas on that particular weekend.

I've been warned that, unless I'm on the road before noon, my normal 3-hour drive to Dallas will be more like 6 or 7. I can't leave work any earlier than 3 p.m. — if that early — so, it's likely I will miss the evening reception. Sigh.

Well, looking at the bright side, I'll have up to 7 hours to rehearse.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Hidden Feast, animated!

The Hidden Feast, a picture book that I illustrated (and still haven’t had time to add to my website), has been adapted to an animated flash movie. Check it out here (give a second to load). They did a fantastic job of converting my painted art to vector. The Hidden Feast is writen by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss.

Monday, October 02, 2006

And, an interesting email...

...letter, posted on Fuse #8 production, raises some interesting questions about SCBWI. Hm, I never even considered this.

Another blog sighting

This summer, at SCBWI's national conference, is when I first learned about the talented illustrator, Jarrett J. Krosoczka. And today, I discovered his blog!

Now, if you are a children's book illustrator, I must warn you before reading his blog. This guy is extremely talented and successful. After hearing him speak, I left the conference feeling so...small in comparison. So, check out his stuff with a spirit to be inspired, but don't compare. It will only depress you.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

My son is writing, cursive!

My son, 5-year-old K drew this picture. It's a picture of our family, he says. He asked me if I planned to put it on my blog. "Of course," I told him.

I think this is a wonderful piece of art, though, I'm probably biased. But what's even more wonderful than the art, is his signature on the bottom. He wrote it in cursive. He's in kindergarten, and already he's learning to write in cursive. I remember learning to write in 3rd grade, and not mastering it until 4th.

And to think, many schools these days have decided not to teach cursive handwriting any longer, claiming that it's no longer necessary, especially with computers.