Saturday, December 30, 2006

Children's Writer addresses multicultural publishing

Children's Writer: Newsletter of Writing and Publishing Trends quoted me in an article that ran in their current January 2007 issue. Storming the Castle: Blacks in Children's Literature is the first article in a series that will focus on multicultural publishing. The article, written by Chris Eboch, basically looks at how far multicultural publishing has come since the days when children's books consisted mostly of white characters.

Where the article spoke to changes in multicultural publishing, I addressed how art has changed, too. I said: "In the late 1980s, early 1990s, I was told by everyone in the industry — editors, agents, authors, educators, multicultural editorial boards — that there was only one way to portray black people in children's books, and that was very realistic portraiture. They said it had to be done that way to offset years of derogatory images of African Americans in children's books. I wanted to let down my dreadlocks and have some fun! I wanted to use whimsical cartoons and stylized realism."

I remember standing in bookstores in the early 1990s and studying the variety of styles in illustrations on children's books. Books with animals or white characters ran the gamut, from cartoons to realism. But African American books all looked the same — realistic, to somewhat realistic. But that has changed. While I appreciate realism as an art form, and am humbled by other artists who can execute it successfully, it's just not my thing personally.

The article also spoke to the limited subject matter of African American books, often focused on the civil rights era or slavery. On that subject, I said: "I'd like to see a greater diversity in topics. From the books in my personal library, I found many stories about slavery, and about hardship and struggle. There were folk tales and poetry collections. Then, of course, there were stories of slavery. I found stories about famous black personalities, and stories about the black experience. Did I mention I found stories about slavery?..."

I don't mean to suggest that stories about slavery should not be told. Those stories are very important, and I will be sure that my son is exposed to those stories. But the black experience transcends slavery and civil rights and poverty and struggle.

The article also discussed the issue of color in children's magazines, too. At Highlights magazine, the senior editor discussed how they receive quite a few historical stories about the underground railroad, but that she'd like to see more stories about contemporary African American children.

Also featured in the article was Editor in Chief, Louise May, Lee & Low Books; Andrea Pinkney, Vice President and Editor at Large, Scholastic; Allison Whittenberg, author, Sweet Thang and many others.

I'm honored that Children's Writer quoted me many times in this article, and I look forward to reading others in the series.



Thursday, December 28, 2006

Flickr in the interim

Since my website update won't be finished until sometime mid-next year, I found a quick solution for updating my online portfolio in the meantime. I started a Flickr account. Eventually, I'll add some editorial work, too.

Updating images on Flickr is so much easier than tinkering with the html from my website, I may consider ditching my website altogether. Flickr has a blog feature, so I could use that space for school visit info. And, Flickr is free!

Heres a slide show.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Humble beads

Ok, I know what you're thinking: Devas T. makes jewelry, too? No, I don't. This beautiful necklace and bracelet was made by Heather Powers. Heather is a children's book illustrator, fellow blogger and master beader (is that the correct lingo?). See her website. She made this set for me, special order, last minute and I gave it to my wife for Christmas. From Heather's website, I selected a color scheme and requested Christian symbols as accents, if they were available. They were and wha-la!— this is what she came up with.

My wife loved it! I highly recommend Heather's work. Excuse my bad photography; it doesn't do the jewelry justice.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A good Samaritan

Yesterday, my family and I were at a Target store. While I stood at the customer service counter exchanging a pair of pajamas I'd purchased the day before, a complete stranger walked up to my wife, wished her a Merry Christmas and handed her a wad of money.

It all was ironic because we weren't supposed to be shopping in the first place. We'd planned to volunteer with a local charity, delivering gifts, but we overslept.

Busy with my transaction, I missed the whole thing. Later, my wife told me how the lady walked up and gave her the money, and how she insisted the lady take the money back. She refused and quickly left the store. Knowing my wife, I'm sure she thanked her profusely, then lobbed God bless yous and Praise the Lords at her and everyone else within earshot.

I don’t know why she chose to give our family money; we are not needy, and I hope we didn't present ourselves as such. My wife and I are both working professionals with fairly decent-paying jobs. And I have my part-time illustration business. We have plenty of things — a house, two cars, his and hers Macintosh computers. My son attends a private school. We're not rich, but were not needy either.

When my wife told me what had happened, I got excited. "Let's do something wild!" I said. My wife looked displeased. We were supposed to be serving others that morning, not being served. And I know $40 dollars doesn't buy much these days, but I figured we could at least do lunch at a nice sit-down, instead of at a McDonald where we ended up eating.

I don't know what my wife did with the cash, and I didn't press the issue. I can only assume the lady meant to give that money to a family less fortunate than hers — and, I don't know, maybe my family is. Whatever, it's probably good the lady gave it to my wife because, now, it will go to someone less fortunate than her — and my family, too.

What am I doing at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve? I'm at work, creating a map of Ding Dong, Texas. Seriously, I'm not being facetious. It's a town of about 20-something odd people living in it. Not to suggest the town is odd.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Fabric inquiry

Sorry folks for this interruption, this post isn't for my readers.

To the lady who sent me an email inquiring about getting her fabric designs into an American market, I'm sorry but I accidently deleted your email. I figured posting this would be the only way to let you know and answer your question.

I'm a fabric designer, too, so I wouldn't be able to help, but you can contact my licensing agent, who might be able to answer your questions. Send me another email, and I'll get you that info.

Now, back to the show.

Friday, December 22, 2006

More fabric news!

I've just received another fleece pattern in the mail. So glad I did because this pattern was my favorite, and when it didn't arrive with the others, I'd assumed David's had passed on it.

I think this design will be especially popular with quilters, and it matches one of my flannel designs. The bottom left photo was sent to me by a customer, someone who found my prints in a fabric store, Googled me, and sent this photo of her daughter in a dress she made from my fabric. How cool is that?! What I think is especially cool is how much the child resembles the girls in my pattern — long pretty braids.

My newest assignment involves four more fabric designs, though I'm not sure if I'm going to submit any, yet. I'm very busy sketching FARMER and time is tight. Since we've not received royalties from the fabric line, yet, it's hard to gauge if putting the time in would be worth it. S says that fabric can pay in the range of very little to several thousand dollars a quarter. That's quite a range to guess from and with my luck, it'll be in the very little range.

In other news: I've been invited to be a featured artist and display my work in the San Antonio Children’s Museum in February (so there, Chris). They have an enclosed display area in which I'll hang some of my children's book illustrations and things that I use to illustrate my books — sketches, reference books, sculptures, I may even have an unused underpainting. This will be a lot of fun, too. Well, with the exception of the January 24th press conference. I don't like live interviews.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Long gone Christmas trek

I used to dread Christmas day. It seemed less about peace and more about stress and faking the funk. Each year, back in my mid-western hometown, my family would undergo a day-long trek, traveling from home to home, exchanging gifts. The ritual began early in the morning and lasted until late in the night. I despised it. But, now living in Austin, 900 miles away from home, I think back with fond memories.

On that day, we'd awake early. My wife and daughter and I would rush through our gift exchange — no time for modeling new clothes or removing dolls from packages. We would load up my pillbox-sized car with gifts, burying my daughter in the back seat.

Our first stop would be at my mom's house. Though I’d moved out of my childhood home years ago, I missed Christmas day when it was just mom, my three younger brothers and me.

Mom was good about giving gifts she knew people would like. For me, she'd get a collectible Budweiser stein or a scale-model car. For my wife, strawberry dishes, cups, refrigerator magnets, things she had collected since high school. But our gift exchange was brief. We'd have to move on to our next destination — my in-laws who lived on the same street.

My mother-in-law was all about decking the halls. Her house would be decorated grand with brown-skinned angels and porcelain figurines. White lights would encircle each window, and flicker in sync with the soft Christmas music playing in the background. The mood would be quiet but festive.

For breakfast, my wife's mother always prepared an egg casserole with pancakes and sausage. My wife's stepfather would busy himself on the deck, smoking a turkey for our evening dinner. We'd eat breakfast, exchange gifts and ready ourselves to head out again.

Our next stop would take us west where we'd visit my wife's father. Dr. W. was an eccentric psychologist, a hippy, having not evolved much beyond the 60s. He was a highly intelligent man, well read. His basement hangout was heavily populated with shelves that were stocked with books on psychology, philosophy, science fiction.

Dr. W. was a divorced bachelor who rarely cleaned house, so before we could sit down and talk, we'd have to brush away months of piled up congestion — magazines, peanut shells, paper plates with dried-up black beans. Clutter thrived like bacteria in a petri dish. Dr. W’s gifts were never wrapped prior to our arrival. It was customary that my wife would wrap them for him, so before we could make our exchange, my wife would partition herself off in a corner — still within conversation distance — and wrap up our presents. We'd take pictures, tear open packages, and then move on.

S and J were a couple of teenage girls my wife used to babysit when they were young children. The girl's father and Dr. W. were close frat brothers. The family lived in a one-story house so small, we practically sat knee-to-knee, bunched up close together, catching up on news over the past year. We'd snack on cookies the girls had baked with their mom, and then it would be time for us to return to my in-laws for dinner.

Mrs. B, and my wife's auntie, would have prepared an extravagant meal for their entire family. Dinner was served from Christmas-print china, polished silver and crystal. I always thought chitterlings and china made for an interesting combination, and I'd have a gag-reflex each time the plate was passed in my direction. After dinner, we'd exchange gifts with my wife's extended family.

My wife's stepfather was a well-known politician. He was a colorful curmudgeon who kept local newspaper columnists busy writing about his public antics. But it was his private behavior that reporters would have killed for, had they'd known so much. We'd listen intently as he told behind-the-scenes stories about other prominent public figures. His stories were a hoot. My father-in-law laced his dialog with the n-word, and cracked enough racist, sexist and homosexual jokes to have made even Archie Bunker blush with embarrassment. I'd stuff myself with smoked turkey and pecan yams, but leave enough room for dinner number two at my mom’s house.

Being late in the evening, my family would have already eaten dinner, so we'd have dessert and visit with my grandparents who were strict Seventh-Day Adventist (with a Jewish slant). They didn't believe in observing the holiday, so there was never a gift exchange with them. Still, our trek wouldn't be over.

My wife and I mentored a "needy" couple with two toddler children. They were a very young, hip couple, who knew how to work the system. They received generous amounts of welfare from every possible source, though the mother worked full-time and the father had a good-paying, unionized factory job. They were fashion aficionados of the utmost ghetto type. They dressed their children in expensive designer clothes, exclusively Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica and other labels we could never afford. They would show off the gifts they had exchanged amongst themselves — expensive jewelry, leather outfits, fancy clothes for the kids, large sums of money for after Christmas shopping sprees. And the mother would turn up her nose at the clothes we bought for the children, probably at Target or K-Mart.

On our way home, sometime after mid-night, we'd leave gifts on the front porch of another family friend. Finally, exhausted, we'd go home.

It's been seven, possibly eight, years since our last Christmas trek. My wife's parents, and most of her aunts and uncles of that generation, have retired and relocated to Vegas. My family is still lives in the mid-west.

Here in Austin, we're planning a quiet Christmas day. We’re not going anywhere, except for maybe a movie later in the day.

Thinking about our old Christmas trek, I miss it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Meet Charlotte

Concerning the new Charlotte's Web movie, the wife seems to think I'm making a big deal out of nothing. "I've seen the commercials. What's the big deal?" she asks me. What's the big deal? Charlotte's pretty dang big!

Pictured above is Charlotte from the new motion picture — fangs and all. Arachniphobe or not, how'd you like a creature like that spinning nouns from your doorway? Some pig? That's some spider!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Charlotte's Web: keep her out of my house

The story of Charlotte's Web has always been one of my favorites. I'm referring to the animated movie, not the book because, sadly, I've never read it. As a child, watching the movie, I remember being so affected by Charlotte's death, I may have cried at the end.

Recently, I saw the trailer and commercials for the new movie. I won't be going to see this. I don't like spiders.

Up until just a few years ago, I had an irrational fear of them. I couldn't even look at a picture of one without freaking out. But since moving to Austin, mostly, I've gotten past that — I've had to. Austin is home to some of the biggest, creepiest spiders. Two days after moving into our newly built house, I found a dead tarantula on our driveway. And, no, I don't mean a really big wolf spider, I mean a tarantula. I took a picture of it and sent it to my mom because I knew she would think I was exaggerating.

Later, when I would cut my lawn — something since then given over to a lawn service — over-sized grass spiders would dash up my legs if wasn't careful. Though seeing a spider doesn't send me scrambling for the Raid, like it used to, I haven't come face-to-face with a big one in quite some time.

That said, I'm gonna pass on the new Charlotte's Web motion picture. There's no doubt the story itself is great; it's a classic. It's the new visuals that bother me. In the old animated version, the spider was kinda cute, in a creepy sort of way. In this new version, Charlotte is too realistic. No, I take that back; I just revisited the website. She's just plain scary. I flinched.

Sorry Charlotte lovers, but if she was in my garage (notice, I didn't say bedroom, 'cause the thought sends chills down my arms), I wouldn't be able to sleep till somebody smashed her and showed me the evidence.

Friday, December 15, 2006

ZOOM dedication

Today, I'm submitting a dedication to my editor, for the book ZOOM, a novelty pop-up book featuring cars, trucks, boats, trains and planes. I'm dedicating it to my 5-year-old son and to my 1-year-old grandson. There, I've said it — my grandson. I said it again.

For my son, Kolby; and for my grandson, Charles. Rev up your engines!

Edit to original post: Oops! Sorry, wrong movie originally uploaded. Embarrassed. That was meant for my other blog.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

On the writing front: an essay

An editor at my full-time gig, invited me to write a 1000-word essay for a feature that runs in the newspaper every so often. They’d like some diversity in the voices typically published. As she explained the guidelines, it took practically every muscle in my face to conceal my smile.

The feature, "Tales of the City," offers first-person essays, written by locals. And they can write about...well, whatever they want — things that matter to them. “Our aim: To give readers an intimate glimpse of life in our town.”

As I listened to the editor, I wanted to interrupt. I wanted to tell her that I write everyday. I wanted to blurt out that I'm a New Voices Honor winner. I wanted her to know about my desire to be published as a children's author. I didn’t; I just listened. For whatever reason, I felt the need to prove to her that I could do what she was asking. But, that's when she said: "I’ve seen your writing; I know you can write."

That’s just the thing I needed to hear.

Thanks, thanks and thanks for the shout outs

To Cynthia Leitich Smith and Kim Peek for linking to my post on "Flannel and Fleece.” To Liz B. for linking to yesterday’s post about the MyPeepz calendars. And to several of you who linked me up as a friend to your MySpace pages. Though I probably won’t use my MySpace page for much of anything (all I need is one more blog to maintain), I still appreciate the invites. Hope I didn't leave anyone out, not intentionally.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

My Peepz 2007!

Just received samples in the mail of my 2007 calendar which features the My Peepz characters. The printing came out fantastic. I regret a major text flaw on the introduction page. Two blocks of text are identical. I copied one block describing a character and forgot to replace it with the new text. I don't have an editor or copy proofer on these things. They print it like they receive it. Oh well, I tried. Calendars can be ordered here, here and here, well as many other places where calendars are available.

This character, LeShaun, is representative of my eldest daughter, Shawn. She's always been about the latest hair styles, clothes, slang, music. And, as a teen, she could always be found braiding or styling someone else's hair. But this is also my favorite image because, here, LeShaun wears her hair in colored locs, just as my wife does.

In other news: I have exactly one friend on my MySpace page, one more than I have in real life — though, as in real life, I've had to reject several that I don't want to be associated with. Most of which weren't wearing much in their profiles.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The cover

I like it.

The art director loves it.

The editor adores it.

The sales force cheers it!

The publisher isn't sold.

My eye is twitching.

Back to the drawing board.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Site redesign

In between sketching FARMER and revising ZOOM, I've also been redesigning my website. It's badly overdue for a new look. I'd originally planned to hire a webmaster, that is, until I found out how much it would cost.

I've decided upon a Flash site, only because I don't know Dreamweaver, and I don't want to code a website from scratch, tag-by-tag, as I did my current one. The final site, planned for a summer of 2007 release, will offer both a slick Flash version and my old html version. If there's time, I'll add some simple interactive games, activities related to my books and downloadable coloring pages.

I just love the buttons — strum them! It's just simple animation with very simple scripting, but looks much more complex than that. I've been learning some advanced techniques from a cool guy over at CartoonSmart. He offers a few free downloads, but I've paid for the good stuff.

Of course, if there's only a blank box above, there's problems I'll need to figure out, or you haven't upgraded your Flash Player to version 8.


On a frustrating note: I just spent the last two days creating my first interactive fun page — I blogged about it a few days ago. And the .fla file corrupted. And I have no backup. This is frustrating on so many levels. Sometimes, but very rarely, files corrupt. And as far as management is concerned, the project didn't get done. They probably figure I don't know what I'm doing. But I do. Sigh.

Technical difficulties


Friday, December 08, 2006

New title: Fabric designer

So, I'm in my car, driving home from the park when my cell phone rings. I shouldn't pick up. One, I'm driving; two, I'm still out of breath from the three-mile run. But I answer anyway.

It's a new customer. Nothing at all to do with the kid's book business. It's a lady who just discovered my flannel fabric designs in a sewing store, and she's excited to be speaking with the fabric designer. Fabric designer? Who me?

She loves my designs, she says, and wants to know where she can find more of my work. She has all kinds of questions, and she's shared a few of my patterns with members of her sewing club. They are excited about my patterns that feature children of color. I'm ecstatic, of course. But problem is, I don't know much about the fabric industry. And, typically I don't shop at sewing stores.

But I decide to give it a try on a recent trip to Hobby Lobby; I need to start somewhere. While the wife shops for Christmas decorations, I slip away, inconspicuously, to the sewing department. Hands in pockets, I look up at the ceiling, then down to the floor. Several ladies briskly rummage through the many fabric selections; the energy is high. I key-up my macho swagger a few notches. Pretending to be uninterested, I steal a few glances at the rolls of flannel and fleece.

Another guy walks past, hands in pockets, too. Dang! Is he checking out the fleece, incognito, too? Surly a guy dressed in cowboy boots and wearing a handlebar mustache isn't gonna concern himself with the details of rubber-ducky flannel print. He walks past me and joins his wife, glancing over at me. I suddenly felt the need to ask him, "How 'bout those Dolphins," and slap him a high five. But I didn't press my luck.

Finally, I stop in the center of the fabric department. Panic! What's a brotha like me be doing in the sewing department of Hobby Lobby? I'd better get myself out of here before someone thinks I'm stealing something.

And that's when it hits me: Yes, in addition to being a children's book illustrator, who sometimes hides book covers when reading them in public, I am now a fabric designer, too! With a renewed sense of Versace, I snatch up some fabric samples. I study the designs! I consider artist's choice of colors! I swim through that flannel and fleece like a triathlete in a strong man competition!

And I survived with my manhood in tact. Now, to those around me at work, I just need to explain why I spend so much time cruising sewing and fabric websites.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Looking ahead — Flash

Last week, the folks at my full-time gig brought in a Flash guru, and I got to spend two full days training with him. Unfortunately, the course was geared for beginners, and I'm more of an advanced intermediate. Besides that, I'm somewhat a Mac nerd. If I had a second career beyond illustrating, I'd be one of those guys people call when their computers break down. I love trouble shooting, figuring things out, and knowing technical stuff most other people are scared of. So, two days of Flash basics — motion tweening, masking, and "goto" actionscripting — was pretty much a sleeper for me. But it did result in something exciting.

My boss (the new one), asks me if I'd be interested in creating online, interactive presentations geared toward children. He knows I'm into the kids book thing, more so than the traffic accident locating thing. And he pretty much said I could do whatever I want. And it doesn't have to be newsy!

Over the next few days, I'm going to brainstorm and propose a few ideas. But right now, I'm thinking that I'd highlight a children's book (or write my own stories) that deals with a particular theme or subject. Then I'd create animations, games, puzzles, downloadable coloring pages and activities related to the theme. There's so much that can be done with Flash. And I'd satisfy all of my skills — illustration, writing and technical.

I didn't get the full-time online position that I blogged about a few months ago, but this could be even better.


In other news: Once again, I'm experimenting with a new profile photo. Someone told me that my new look — the mohawk and pointed beard — gives me the look of a walking football. Phooey on them! Pretty brave of me to take a new photo this time of year. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I'm at my...healthiest. And I carry my extra health in my face.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Is there a cybrarian in the house?

I learned a new word today! In all honesty, given my limited, one-syllable vocabulary, I learn a new word every day. But today's discovery is particularly interesting and apropos.

The word, a noun: cybrarian \sye-BRAIR-ee-un A person whose job is to find, collect, and manage information that is
available on the World Wide Web (M-W).

Example sentence:
The library provided an e-mail address to submit inquiries to the

Librarians? Of course, duh. But I'd never heard of a cybrarian. Have you? I need to make a trip to the library, but I've been too busy. I wonder if libraries in Austin have cybrarians.

Must be a fairly new word. It's driving my spell check crazy.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Follow up to "Flannel and Fleece"

Thanks for all the well wishes regarding the fabric line. I spoke with Suzanne yesterday about pursuing a pajama manufacturer which will be a new area for her. Mostly, she's specialized in the areas of greeting cards, stationary and fabric. And I also pitched the idea to the folks at HC. But, they are strictly book people, so about all they could do was offer me well wishes.

On the business side, the fabric deal works different than with books. I received no advance, and compensation will be 100-percent royalty, per yard. Royalty pays about the same percentage as a hardcover book. But my hopes are high since it will be sold mass market as well as in specialty stores. Expanding the line will depend upon great sales, so finding a pajama manufacturer would be a good thing.

Interesting tidbit: The fabric will be sold under two names — Don Tate in Mass market, Devas T. in specialty stores. I'm not sure exactly why, but I think it has to do with cost differences. For example, fabric sold at, say, Walmart (mass market) is going to be cheaper than that same fabric sold at another outlet. Two different names, technically, two different products. This kind of thing is done all the time in other areas — particularly with high tech stuff, I'm told.

In other news: I need to make a decision about my blogs. My schedule is completely full, with sketching FARMER and now revising (again) ZOOM. So I probably won't be writing at all, and I'll have to put the cartoon blog on hold. Given that, why'd I start a MySpace page? And why do I feel so...icky about it?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Flannel and fleece!

I've got my own line of flannel and fleece!

On Thursday, following my conversation with an editor, my doorbell rang. I could see the brown UPS truck from my studio window, so I dropped everything and sped to the door. A huge box sat on my front porch, and judging it's large size, I figured it was a Christmas present, probably for K. I was a little disappointed; he always gets the good stuff.

I sat the box — bursting at the seams — on the floor, and noticed the label: David Textiles. That meant just one thing — samples from my first fabric line!

Of course, I tore it open like a child at Christmas. Inside I found nine 5-yard skeins (is that the right textile lingo?) with my designs printed on them. This was as exciting as when I've received printed book samples. Almost.

This time last year, to the date, DT presented about 30 of my designs to Walmart, and I was lucky enough to have had several motifs chosen. One design features African American girls jumping the double-dutch and playing hop-scotch. Another is a pattern featuring my Sunrize Kids. This pattern matches one of my wallpaper designs sold through Montomery Wallcoverings. Other motifs include safari animals, Latino children (with Spanish words) playing soccer and construction vehicles.

At first I was a little shocked by the fleece patterns; they looked blurry. Worried, I immediately called Suzanne. But she assured me that fleece normally prints kind of blurry. I'm used to sharp printing on slick paper, but imagine printing an intricate design on the back of a furry dog. That's kind of what it looks like. Last night, I visited Hobby Lobby to see other fleece designs, and, yes, they were all sort of blurry.

I have a few other ideas as well. I noticed that Mark Teague now has pajamas that match his book, HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODNIGHT. Incidentally, my construction vehicles from the book, ZOOM, are the same used on the flannel material. So, I'm seeing matching pajamas!

Anyway, these designs are — or soon will be — available through Hancock Fabrics, Jo-Ann Fabric & Crafts, Walmart fabric department, and at independent specialty stores.