Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cold call

Last evening, I attended a mandatory parent training session at my son's school. It's required that each parent complete at least four hours of parent training and volunteer hours each school year. Because sessions are held in the evenings, I can't attend most of them; I work a late shift. But last night, the topic was about raising boys, so I got the night off.

Before entering the school, I dug through my briefcase looking for my cellphone. I figured, if the session proved boring, I could play text-message-tag with my daughters — one in Des Moines, and the other in Arizona. I never found my phone, so I had to go it alone.

Inside, I sat in the front row so I could easily see and hear the speaker. But I was disappointed to learn that we'd be watching a three-hour-long video. My attention span is zilch, so I wasn't exactly excited about having to sit through a three-hour sermon.

The first segment lasted about an hour, and then we were given a break. As I stood up, my son appeared out of nowhere. He passed me a note written by my wife: "DONNY, I LOCKED MY KEYS IN THE VAN. I NEED THE KEYS TO YOUR CAR. CALL ME WHEN YOU'RE FINISHED AND I'LL COME GET YOU." My son snatched my keys and then disappeared again.

Suddenly, I remembered I didn't have my cell phone with me. Visions of walking home at 10 p.m. — much more than a 4-mile walk — sent me dashing from the building out into the parking lot. I caught them just before they pulled off. My wife gave me her cellphone, and I returned to training.

Later when she picked me up, she told me that she'd accidently locked her keys in the van after soccer practice. She said that she'd tried to call me repeatedly, but...well, my phone was lost in La-La land. Turned out, she and K had to walk from the park to the school where I was in training. It's not a terribly long walk, about four miles. But it had to be a worrisome walk considering she didn't even know if I had actually received the time off from work to attend the session.

Once we got home, I didn't find my phone. It wasn't anywhere in the house. And it wasn't on my desk at work the next day. But I didn't worry, I've lost my phone before.

Come lunchtime, I went to grab my lunch from the refrigerator. Inside, I discovered my forgotten lunch from two days before — barbeque chicken, broccoli, macaroni and cheese...and my cellphone.

Put's a new twist on the practice of cold calling...har har har.

I won't share this portion of the story with the wife.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I demolished a building!

This past weekend, a building in downtown Austin was imploded to make way for a future courthouse. The event was a huge deal for the folks at my full-time gig. Artists, photographers, videographers, reporters were put on assignment. I had no idea what to do — it's a building demolition. So what. They'll blow it up, the building will fall. A non-event. But thousands of people gathered in chilly early-morning temperatures to watch it fall. I was wrong, I guess.

I had no idea how a building was imploded, and I figured others wouldn't either. So I created this online info graphic to explain how it happens in general (turn on your speakers and click past the boring introduction page, I didn't create that). I used Carrara 3D for the animation, and Flash for the presentation.

I worked with another artist who collected information for the print version. First, we contacted the demolition company and asked a lot of questions. Thing is, they didn't want to give out any information. Guess they didn't want to be responsible for educating the public on how to blowing up and fall a building. Regardless, we had our assignment.

Howstuffworks.com provided some answers, along with Googling keywords: how to demolish a building, imploding building; causing a building to fall. Doing it felt creepy, and hoped the FBI wouldn't show up and arrest me for suspicious online behavior.

In the end, the building was brought down...well, kinda. The implosion lacked the luster that everyone had expected, and accusations that something had gone awry were tossed around.

Monday, February 26, 2007

My Peepz calendar art complete



Ahhh! I finished all of the art for the My Peepz 2008 calendar! I finished it a week later than originally planned, however three months earlier than in previous years. I needed to get it out of the way because, come May, I'll be knee-deep in painting Farmer and sketching Ron.

My favorite image is a tribute to the Broadway play and motion picture Dreamgirls. Here are My Peepz Dream Girlz. Cheers to Jennifer Hudson's Oscar win! The wife and I saw the movie last weekend, and Jennifer's performance was riveting, to say the least.

Next year, I'm going to do a better job of tying the character's personalities to the images I create. For instance, the character, Donny, is an artist and writer, but I never picture him doing any of those things.

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This weekend's book buys: Out of the Ballpark by Alex Rodriguez (ok, I bought a celeb book), and illustrated by Frank Morrison. I am a fan of the artist (and quite jealous of him to be honest).

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A tantalizing party

Last night, the wife and I gathered with a slew of children's literary luminaries — authors, illustrators, librarians, educators and their spouses or significant others —at the home of Greg and Cynthia Leitich Smith. We celebrated the release of Cynthia's newest YA gothic fantasy novel, Tantalize. And we all took home a complimentary signed copy.

Cynthia and Greg are gems; they've enriched my career. I'm blessed to know them. Cynthia was dressed in fitting with the theme of her book. She wore a vampire-ishly black outfit, black netted shawl, blood red highlights in her hair. Greg crooned a serenade...in Italian, I think it was.

I have no idea how many people turned out, but I'd guess somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 people or possibly more. I was especially honored to meet Camille, aka Book Moot. I had no idea that Camille and Book Moot were one in the same. I was embarrassed though. Towards the end of the party, I had a touch of vertigo. No, it wasn't the wine. As I reached out to hug Camille, I lost my balance and almost fell on her. My wife said I played it off nice, faked it like I meant to trip and almost fall.

I also had an exciting conversation with a professor at UT. She's also the President-elect of ALA. She encouraged Mr. V and I to contact her about getting involved in ALAs speaker circuit. I've always wanted to do just that, but wasn't sure how to go about it or who to talk to. She assured me that as an illustrator of children's books, I'd be a star in this arena. I'm gonna follow up.

All in all, we had a fantastic time out (without the kid). Funny though, when it comes to socializing, mixing and mingling, I'm the nervous one. But I wasn't nervous at all. I was more excited. My wife was nervous. Normally, she lives for social gatherings. But she called me an hour before the party and whined in a panic: "Oh, Donny, I can't go; I have nothing to wear. I don't have anything Austin casual. I need a new outfit."

She wore an old outfit and looked just fine.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Am I sweet?

The word "sweet" is an adjective used far too often lately by those describing me and my art work. Me? Sweet? When I think of "sweet," I think this, this, or this.

An editor recently described my stories as "sweet," right before she rejected them. Two agents described my stories as "sweet." They were looking for "edgy."

Not too long ago, an author friend told me that I reminded her of another friend of hers, artist, Colin Bootman. "You both are such sweet guys," she said.

Yesterday, I received feedback — not from my publisher, but the author of a book I'm illustrating. I'm always uncomfortable when the author is brought in to double as art director. Anyway, on every page, he made the comment: "This image is far too sweet."

What the heck is sweet? I don't consider myself sweet. And I don't think the wife would use that word to describe me either. Obnoxious, maybe. Crabby, maybe. Impatient, always. But sweet? I'm not, dang-it! So, I pose the same question I found on Kim's blog: What is just one word you would use to describe me? And, if you post the word "sweet" in my comment box, I'll post the word "scrotum" in yours (just an excuse to use a hot-button word in literary circles).

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Feedback

Just received feedback from Farmer. I'm not feeling well. I won't comment on the comments except to say, they want me to picture the dead body, full view in the casket.

Intuition is speaking to me

Barring any editorial hold-ups or drama in my life, by the end of this year, I will have completed three books in less than two years (Farmer, Ron and Zoom). That means in 2008, I'll celebrate three book releases. That's good, right? So, how come I'm feeling uptight about not having a new book to work on next year? How come my inner voice is telling me that I'm not working hard enough?

Since my first trade picture book published in 2000, books deals have continued to come my way, back to back. Since then, I've illustrated 6 more, not including the two I'll finish this year. For various reasons, two other book deals have went up in smoke — Bible and Fox. Bible was a huge project. I'd planned to quit my full-time gig and take on this book as a stepping stone to a full-time freelance career. But funding fell through. And Fox just plain got mixed in the fray as it's publisher went through some management changes. In addition, a book that I had written, and was asked to illustrate, seems to have slipped away, too.

It's been at least two years since I've done any marketing — Picturebook, theiSpot, mass mailings. I do have a licensing agent/art rep, but intuition is telling me to get off my butt and do more to promote myself. Having a full-time, consistent-paying, gig has made me lazy.

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Over the last few days, I've been struggling with what to read next. Since reading the first few pages from Penny in Heaven, Born to Rock, and The Poet Slave of Cuba, I've moved on to a few others: Black Fathers: A Call for Healing; Dreams From my Father (Barack Obama); The Secret Life of Bees. Bees spoke loudest to me but, I think, it's a girly book, and all are a bit too heavy for my taste at the present. I need something light. Something to make me laugh. So, guess what's ultimately stolen my attention? Rock This! by Chris Rock. Ha!— I'm gonna have a ball reading this!

I'm not giving up my first love — children's literature. But right now, I wanna read some grown folk's books.

This coming weekend's must-have purchase: Somebody's Gotta Say It by Neal Boortz. Oh, the wife's gonna look at me like I'm crazy, but if this book is half as enjoyable as the talk show, I'm in for an enlightening and entertaining read.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Rethinking the flu

I've received more than one email reminder suggesting that I get a flu shot, and not try catching the flu intentionally. Ok, I was just joking. Kinda. Anyway, I can't get sick, not with Cynthia's book release soiree this Friday evening. Trust me, I'll be washing my hands copiously between now and the weekend.

What I'm illustrating, guys night out



I recently created this illustration for a story about how online music downloads are now beating out cd sales. I used Carrara 3D, which was an experiment because I'd never used this program before. I tend to work best under pressure, live and on deadline. For two days, it was me, Carrara 3D, and a three-inch-thick reference manual. Turned out, it was very simple.

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I'm hoping, praying, to get the flu soon. Seriously. Next month, we are going to visit my in-laws in Las Vegas. I'm planning to get in a couple shows, probably Cirque du Soleil, and I don't want to be sick while I'm on vacation. Problem is, everyone around me at work is coughing and hacking and, one-by-one, they're calling in sick. In fact, my hours today have been kicked around because a coworker called in sick. If she's back tomorrow, I'm gonna be all up in her face, so I can catch my flu and get it out of the way so I can enjoy the Vegas strip and not have the sniffles.

Another thing, when I visit Vegas, my brother-in-law plans to treat me to a guys night out. He has VIP passes to a strip club. I don't do strip clubs. They're tacky, tasteless and I don't get the point — me and a bunch of other (drunk) guys sitting in a dark audience watching...well, you know what we'd be watching. I'd rather sit at a sports bar and suffer my way through a football game. Or, if I've gotta view nekkid people out in public, I'd rather do so at the Guggenheim museum at The Venetian. But something tells me he doesn't do art museums. Anyway, the wife's not too happy about the guys night out either, so maybe I have a legitimate alibi.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Schedule change, and what I'm reading

The next couple days are going to be extremely frustrating. My boss has asked me to work a middle-of-the-day shift on Mondays and Tuesdays. That's going to cut deep into my freelance endeavors. Working an 11 to 8 shift doesn't allow enough quality time in the morning or in the evening to get much freelance work done. Also means, I'll miss two workouts per week. I'm a die-hard gym-rat, so missing workouts will hurt almost as much as losing freelance time. Even more frustrating, I've been asked to work these hours simply to fill a slot — to have a warm body sitting in a chair, just in case something happens. On most days, decisions aren't made until late in the day, so I'll be sitting there flittering my thumbs, with work building up at home. Sigh.

Anyway, I'm ready to begin reading a new book. I finished RAISING FENCES. Next in my pile: BORN TO ROCK, THE SLAVE POET OF CUBA, and PENNY FROM HEAVEN.

I grabbed BORN TO ROCKBORN TO ROCK last year at TLA. Or maybe it was ALA. The story begins with the main character bent over, grabbing his ankles, "while some total stranger has his fingers in a very private place where nobody should be rummaging around."

Reminds me, I'm overdue (intentionally) for a doctor's appointment. I'm putting this one on the back burner. The book and the appointment.

THE SLAVE POET OF CUBA begins as follows: "My mind is a brush made of feathers/painting pictures of words/I remember/all that I see/every syllable/each word a twin of itself..."

Beautifully written. But the last few books I read were heavy on poetry. I like poetry, but I'm not in the mood for more poems. I do plan to read this one, but I'll wait a bit.

That leaves PENNY FROM HEAVEN, a total contrast in comparison to other books I've been reading with African American male protagonists. But, I think I'm going to enjoy the change.

Good news: Cynthia Leitich Smith's popular's children's literature blog is back at home. Additionally, Cynsations is reorganized, has new colors, and is now mirrored on LiveJournal.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Basketball ignoramus

I'm such a basketball ignoramus. This morning my son's basketball team was winning, 5 to 4, in the second quarter. I was surprised because, just a few minutes prior, they were winning, 5 to 0.

I said to my wife: "How'd the other team get four points so quick?"

The wife said to me: "They made two baskets."

I said: "Right. Two baskets, not four."

The wife said: "Each basket is worth two points."

I said: "Oh."

The wife said: "You're such an artist."

Who came up with that stupid rule anyway? One basket equals two points. Heck, it should be one basket wins the game, then we wouldn't have to sit through four quarters waiting to see who wins the game.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Hello!

Where'd my people go? go go go go?

Anyone out there? there there there there?

Last year, about 280 people visited my blog per day.

This past January, about 130 per day.

Yesterday, it hovered around 50.

Today. less than 30, as of this post.

Hello!

Where'd my people go? go go go go?

Anyone out there? there there there there?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

M. Torez's graphic novel drops today


Congratulations go out to fellow artist, writer, graphic novelist, Michael Sales, aka M.Torez. His latest graphic novel, SOUTHSIDE NEFERTITI # 2, releases today under his own publishing gig, TYPE ILLY PRESS. I admire those with the gumption to skip the mainstream rigmarole of traditional publishing — query, wait, submit, wait, wonder, wait, reject — and just do it their doggone selves. I'm strongly considering taking this route with my own comic strip.

SOUTHSIDE NEFERTITI # 2 (review) and other Type Illy Comics can be purchased from the M.Torez website.

I first learned of M. Torez about a month ago through author, Eleanora E. Tate (who happens to be my aunt). She told M. about my interest in cartooning and graphic novels, and he contacted me, offering his advice and assistance. He also referred me to another artist whose, now, nationally syndicated cartoon began in much the same way as mine, as a webtoon.

Now, I need to get on the ball and get back to posting cartoons.

In other cartoon news: Scott McCloud will be presenting and signing books at Austin Books, Saturday, February 17th from 7-9 p.m.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day!

This year for Valentine's Day, I wanted to give the wife a gift that would excite her senses. Steam things up. Curl her toes. So, naturally, I visited the children's section of my local book store. I gave her the picture book, Love: Selected Poems by E.E. Cummings, illustrated by Christopher Myers. It's a children's picture book featuring erotic poems and provocative images. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

I paired the book with Givenchy eau de toilette spray: Irresistible, and topped it off with frosted sugar cookies from Whole Foods.

For me, a red-hot, Hot Wheel (Acura HSC concept) along with all my favs: Twizzlers, Rolos, Turtles and cherry flavored Kisses. Mmmm.

Monday, February 12, 2007

What I'm working on



Currently, I'm working on my 2008 tweener calendar. My goal is to complete the art by the end of this week, though that's fairly ambitious. Each page typically takes about two days to illustrate. There's the cover, 12 illustrations for each month, and two additional pages.

Above are some of the reference materials I'm using for inspiration about what teenage girls wear. Seventeen, Tiger Beat, Vibe. Mostly, the calendar is meant to appeal to girls.
But the publisher and I had discussed the possibility of making it more appealing to boys. I just don't know if that's possible. It's fashion. Fingernails. Hair. Earrings. Purses. It has a girly feel that won't appeal to boys. Well, most boys. We've decided to keep it a girly product. Maybe next year, I'll pitch the idea of a calendar for boys.

The biggest challenge: this is a niche product. Niche products either make a lot of money, or none at all. After agent commission, I don't make much on this. Some people do what they do because they love doing it. I do what I love doing because I got bills to pay. Because-I-love-doing-it is a second consideration. Next year, I'll need to rethink this. I love the idea of providing a product for African American girls that's just not available elsewhere.

Somewhat unrelated observation while perusing teen magazines: Am I wrong, but I thought the Cheetah girls were an African American targeted, Jump at the Sun, celebrating black culture, tweener property. So, what happened?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Where's Cynsations?

If you haven't noticed, Cynsations is stuck on Thursday. I'm a daily reader of Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog, so I noticed it on Friday. Here's the scoop: technical difficulties. Blogger Beta. Google. Nuff said?

Hopefully, Google will fix this problem soon. In the interim, you can catch Cynsational news and interviews and more at the blog of Greg Leitich Smith, her husband. So, go check her out!

And, congratulations to Cynthia on the upcoming release of her YA gothic fantasy novel, Tantalize.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Today's book buys

Chowder. The art is cool. I couldn't resist.

John's Secret Dreams: The Life of John Lennon. I found it on the bargain shelf, 7-dollars for a book illustrated by Bryan Collier? No brainer.

Why I went to Book People in the first place? My intention was to purchase that LL Cool J Platinum Workout book, not to buy more picture books. Fitness tips for guys over 40, that's what I need. They had had two copies, but they sold out immediately.

The book I'm currently reading: Raising Fences: A Black Man's Love Story. And speaking of love, I love this book. Have you ever read a book that you enjoy so much, you want everyone else to read it, too? Read this book! Raising Fences has caused me reconsider the verse novel I'm writing. Maybe it's not YA after all. I'm wondering if it would be better suited for an older audience.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Meme'd

Tagged. By Gail. Five weird things about me:

1. I brush my teeth no less than four times throughout the night.

2. I can flex my nostril muscles.

3. I can't read while sitting in the passenger seat of a car. I get sick.

4. I still bite my fingernails and chew the inside of my cheeks.

5. I cut my own mo-hawk using a strip of masking tape down the center of my head.

Consider yourself tagged.

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Unrelated: I was smitten with Anna. And then she died.

The spirit of Black History Month

The folks at Lee & Low Books surveyed authors and illustrators of color. Their questions: What person best represents the spirit of Black History Month? And how does your family celebrate? Here are my thoughts (read my, and all the comments at the Lee & Low website):

As a child, my mother made sure we learned about our black history. As a family, we'd attend events at a community cultural center that promoted African and African-American history. We'd play games like Mancala, an African marble game, or we'd color and decorate pictures of African American historical figures. Afterwards, adults would share stories with us about people like Martin Luther King, Crispus Attucks, Madame C.J Walker, Harriet Tubman. At that time, not much black history was taught in schools, and there weren't many picture book biographies featuring people who looked like me. Evenings at the Black Theology Center provided my brothers and I with an insight to our past, something we weren't getting anywhere else.

When it comes to black history, no one person best represents the spirit of the month. There are so many black people who have made significant contributions to the lives of all Americans, many sacrificing their own to do so. It would be unfair to narrow the spirit of Black History Month down to one person. However, stories about Harriet Tubman were always my personal favorites. The idea that this black woman refused to be enslaved, escaped the south at the risk of losing her life, and then returned to save hundreds of others, speaks volumes to me. Her example of selflessness, and her willingness to help others is something that I, and this entire world, can learn from.

As an adult, my wife (also a student of the Black Theology center) and I stretch Black History Month out to last all year long. Our home library is filled with African American picture book biographies. We feel it's important to teach our son about the history of his people, black people — and all people, for that matter — all the time.

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In other news: Congratulations to Lee & Low's 2006 New Voices winners! Glenda Armand Sheppard (Winner) and Janet Costa Bates, (Honor).
I was a 2005 honor recipient.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I'm writing again! An essay

It's been awhile, but now I'm ready to write again. Much as I'd like to credit Robin for her suggestion that I listen to 'Eye of the Tiger," that's not what did it for me. That song just made me wanna punch somebody.

For awhile, I buried my desire to write in the mud. Rejections (two), unanswered queries (three), a publishing opportunity in limbo (12 months). Frustrating. But I pulled myself out of the dregs after successfully completing a 1000-word essay. It will publish in a newspaper column in two weeks. They're even running my photo along with the essay.

I submitted my first draft shortly before Christmas (actually my second draft since my first draft was born on this blog last summer). The editor liked it, but felt that I held back at the conclusion. She told me not to worry, that it is common for essayists to become blocked, or to mask their true feelings, particularly when writing about themselves. Fear of exposure. Avoidance of a discomforting place. Me? I thought. As I've said here before, I'm a fairly transparent writer.

I read over the essay, reconsidered the content, rewrote the ending. But it didn't work. She said my ending felt forced, like I wrote something for the sheer sake of finishing the essay, getting it out my way. That was kinda sorta the case.

"The answer is right in there," she told me. "Look at it close."

I let it sit for a few days and then looked at it again. I found the conclusion. She was right, it was there all along. I was trying to say something, but for whatever reason, I just wouldn't say it. It was nothing big, monumental. Nothing to be embarrassed about. I just missed it. Tried too hard. So I reworked the conclusion and resubmitted. "I like it a lot," she said. "It's perfect."

I'll offer a link to the essay when it publishes on the 25 of this month. If you've been reading my blog awhile, you might even recognize it, now made over an polished.

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On another note: I was so revved, I pulled out that YA verse novel I've been randomly working on, reworked it some. I'll submit a portion to my crit group in a couple weeks.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

San Antonio, window dressing, purple pickled onions

Yesterday I cruised down to San Antonio. For the month of February, I'm the featured artist at the San Antonio Children's Museum. They have a dedicated window display for artists, and I needed to set up my work. But I got lost. Good and lost. Keep in mind, San Antonio is a beeline, one hour south of Austin.

Somewhere on the outskirts of San Antonio, I hooked a wrong turn. Then I hooked another. Three more wrong turns later, I was hooked on the fast track headed to Corpus Christi. I missed the wife. She's my navigator. I picked up my phone and called her. She Google-mapped me back to San Antonio.

Upon entering the museum, there is a life-size model of San Antonio Spurs David Robinson, complete with an actual pair of his basketball shoes. They were so large, I could have easily fit both of my feet into them.

C, the director of marketing, showed me to the display window. I'd brought along some original art, preliminary sketches, clay models, and other things I use to create children's books. I'm an artist, storyteller, digital illustrator, writer. I wear many hats. One hat I don't wear: Window Dresser. I can't design a display. Once again, I was missed the wife. I called her, but there wasn't much she could do from Austin. I left the window in shambles. They'll figure it out.

C treated me to lunch at a new wave-ish Mexican restaurant on the Riverwalk. It was delicious. I had fish tacos with purple pickled onions. I don't do onions. Once again, I was missed the wife. She'd love purple pickled onions — she loves everything I hate.

To make up for the day, I'm taking her and K to San Antonio this weekend. K will enjoy the children's museum, and the wife, purple pickled onions. And while were there, maybe she'll fix my window.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Writing

Lately, something peculiar has been happening to me. I haven't been in the mood for writing. I'm not sure if it's a lack of confidence or interest. I hope it's neither. Maybe all writers go through this from time to time. In the last couple of months, whenever I sit down to work on a manuscript, I seem to be able to find something else to do. Even blogging has become less interesting. For instance, like right now. I'd planned to write a full post, but the words aren't coming.

I'll try again tomorrow.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Black History Month and politics






Here's the story if you haven't heard about it. We're in for a fun political season.

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Ok,
I broke my rule about no politics, no religion, no current events on
this blog. But I shut down my other blog until spring, and I'm dying to
post cartoons.