Saturday, March 31, 2007

In the event of death

If you died today, what would happen with your works-in-progress? I thought about that last night while visiting the Lee & Low website. WE is one of their spring 2007 releases. The illustrator for the book, Kenneth Addison, passed away shortly after creating the illustrations.

I don't know anything about Kenneth, or the circumstances behind his death. I can assume WE was a dream of his that will never be realized. He'll never experience what it feels like to open a box filled with books covered by his artwork and byline. And he won't get to share his books with fans, in classroom schools and libraries. Sad.

With Kenneth's passing, I paused to consider my own mortality. Besides obvious familial priorities, what would happen to my works-in-progress if I unexpectedly passed away? My wife — or any other next of kin — has no idea what I'm working on or which publishers I'm working for. Deadlines would come and go, and she wouldn't know the difference. She doesn't even know how to check my email which, primarily, is how I communicate with my publishers. She knows I have a licensing agent, but I doubt she knows her name. I've shared these things with her before but...well, you know, life's complicated enough without her having to know the intimate details of my business relationships, too.

Currently, I've been compensated (advanced) one-half for both books I'm working on. Would I leave my wife in financial debt to my publishers for books I wouldn't be able to deliver? I assume those things are covered in contracts, but she has no idea where I keep my contracts. Heck, I don't either.

I have many properties under license — so many, I couldn't name them all myself without digging through files. I have speaking engagements booked. Submissions are still out. What if one of those submissions received an offer?

I have no idea how to prepare for such a situation, or if it's even possible to do so. People die, yes authors and illustrators, too. Fact of life.

Later this summer, I'll begin illustrating RON, a picture book for Dial. Shortly after I was signed on, one of the co-authors passed away. And the author of FARMER, the book I'm currently illustrating, I'm told, is gravely ill.

Again, I don't know what the answer is. I wonder how others organize their lives for such possible unexpected events. Like death.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Fly adjectives

"Crunk." "Fly."



A few choice words students used at a Houston middle school to describe the My Peepz calendar. I met their teacher a few years ago when I was a featured author/illustrator at the Texas Book Festival. He's kept in touch with me and, occasionally, I've shared some of my products with his students.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Show way quilts

Last night, I finally read the book, SHOW WAY. I loved the illustrations and the writing; Jacqueline's voice rang true.

All that said, I read the book with mixed feelings. Recently, I learned that slaves probably did not create quilts with secret messages. According to many historians, no evidence exists to prove it so. At first I thought, "Well of course historians don't know, it was meant to be a secret." But to be honest, I have no idea. Probably is more myth than actuality.

While reading SHOW WAY, I was distracted with that question lingering in the air. I felt like I was being sold a bill of goods, as they say.

: (

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Over the past few days, I've received some encouraging comments regarding the column I wrote, that ran this past weekend. People said things like: "Your writing is wonderful, it appealed to me at a human level. I related instantly." Then there was: "You really hit the mark, your writing style and the details you included drew me in." Others said: "very nice," "excellent job," "nice article,"I really enjoyed reading your story." One editor said: "I wish you would write for our section more often."

Just a few years ago, I didn't consider myself a word person, and shied away from writing anything, so these comments went a long way in boosting my confidence.

Of course, there were some comments that threw me for a loop. One person in my immediate department said: "I didn't know you were writing this." She said it as though I had back-stabbed her by not making a formal announcement before it ran. "If you have a shortage of things to do, you can help me with my work load," she said, scowling at me. She never said anything nice about the column.

And then there was: "I enjoyed your article. You surprise me sometimes." Once he realized his words, he tried to clean it up. I interpreted it to mean: Very nice article. All this time, I thought you were stupid.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sweet peeve

I received an email, today, from my licensing agent. In it, she said: "'re too sweet."

She meant it as a compliment, in response to my joking around in an earlier email. She doesn't read my blog (I don't think), so she didn't make the comment to tease or spite me. She doesn't know about my no-sweetness-none-of-the-time rule when referring to my person.

Not sure how I'm gonna shake my sweet reputation. Will I have to do something drastically unsweet-like, in a stable, on stage, like Daniel Radcliffe?


Sunday, March 25, 2007

My 'Tales of the City' essay

You can read the actual essay here. When I showed up at work today, I'd received several emails and phone calls of support (And thanks Jerry).

Thanks, too, to Kelly at Big A little a for including a link to my essay in her list writers and illustrators who are out and about, being interviewed, profiled, and writing essays.

Now, about the 10K. I finished. Ran the entire distance. Didn't walk, stop or even pause to use the restroom, which was a challenge since my wife was insistent that I be well hydrated before the race.

This was my first 10K, and not to brag, but I didn't prepare for it at all. I think it was the Tae Bo that I've been doing every other day that helped. Anyway, today is a good day.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Essayist and runner

Austinites, be sure to pick up a copy of the newspaper tomorrow. You-know-who (yes, me) will be a featured essayist for the 'Tales of the City' column.

There won't be an online version, I don't think, so I might just post it here myself. I'm not sure if I can do that though. If not, you may have read a version of it last summer when I posted about my juvenile jail visit. The newspaper version will have the benefit of an editor — who pushed me to focus the piece and draw a conclusion, one that I hadn't considered before — and copy proofer. And a very nice photo, too.

I'm not too happy with the headline (did you know, copy editors, and not reporters, write headlines for newspapers): "Talking art to kids behind bars inspired us both." Upon first glance, seeing my picture with the headline, without reading the story, you might assume that I'm the one in jail. The story does clear that up, but...

Anyway, I've already received many compliments from an early run, and it hasn't even officially published yet.

Other Austinites interested in contributing Austin slice-of-life stories should do so by contacting the editors at

In other news: Tomorrow, the wife and I will run in the 30th Anniversary of the Statesman's Capitol 10,000, 10K fun run. This will be kind of interesting considering I haven't trained at all. We've run several 5Ks together, and she ran a 10K last spring. But I've never ran any farther than 5K. The last time we planned to run together, I injured my heel (a reoccurring problem), so she had to run alone.

When I went to work today, she sent me with a huge jug of water, and keeps calling to see if I'm keeping myself hydrated. What good is served by hydrating myself today when the race is tomorrow? Sheez!

Though we are running together, I've already warned her that I probably won't be able to match her pace (she's been taking running classes at RunTex). So, we'll be running together, but separately.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


In the past few years, I've received several emails from scrapbookers. Each were looking for scrap booking materials with African American themes. Of course, I pestered my agent (licensing) about this; there's obviously a need for these materials that aren't being filled. Recently, she called to tell me that a scrapbook manufacturer is interested in licensing some of my designs, not only African-American themes, but others such as my VROOM! cars — those used in the book ZOOM. Cool! I can't give out many details because the deal is still in the works, but for those who had asked: Yes, I will have several African-American-themed scrapbooking kits in stores soon (well, this is licensing, so not soon, but sometime in the next couple years).

On the fabric side, I'm frustrated. My fabric has done well (judging from royalties), and it's still being sold...somewhere. I have no idea where people are buying it, and neither do many of my customers. I've received several emails and phone calls from people who've heard about my fabric, or seen it, but can't find it when they're ready to purchase. And my manufacturer hasn't been very forthcoming with information. I'd think they'd want to help customers find their (our) products, but it doesn't seem so. Or, maybe thats just how this business works. With books, I give people an author's name, an ISBN and title — and it's no problem.

After receiving a call on vacation from a customer who wanted to purchase my fabric, but couldn't find it, I shot off an email to my agent, who shot off a second email to the manufacturer. I want to know the names of the stores where the stuff is being sold, order numbers, and how-to order info. Is that a ridiculous request? Or what?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Confused about media mail

I'm confused about how to use media mail. Two weeks ago, I prepared three packages for submissions. The postal worker asked if I'd be interested in sending media rate since I was mailing books. She asked me about the attached paperwork, and I told her it was my biography and a cover letter. She sort of hesitated, but said it was fine. I didn't mail the packages that day because I wanted to share one of the enclosed manuscripts with my critique group.

Later, when I was ready to mail the packages, another postal worker asked me if the packages contained any advertising. I told her what the packages contained. She said that media rates applied to packages with books only. No cover letters or biographies (considered advertising). Like the postal worker before, she said that she'd allow it, this time, but that media mail could be searched, and if my contents were deemed advertising, the packages would be returned to me. I hesitated, but I was in a hurry. I was trying to get to the airport. If she was cool with my package, I was cool with my package.

Now that I'm back from my trip, I looked at the USPS website. Here's what is says: Media Mail is used for books, film, manuscripts, printed music, printed test materials, sound recordings, play scripts, printed educational charts, loose-leaf pages and binders consisting of medical information, videotapes, and computer-recorded media like CDs and diskettes.

Who is going to mail any of the above things without, at least, a cover letter? And, now I'm worried that an agent might frown on my having sent a SASE with media postage rates. Grrrr.


On another note: One last complaint about my Vegas trip. We finally got back today — a day-and-a-half later than we'd planned. But, it was too late to use our Lion King tickets. Three ticket, $85-bucks apiece, down the drain. Grrr again.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Stranded in Vegas

Let me give you a piece of advice, if you don't already know: Don't be late and miss a flight.

I'm kind of a stickler about being places on time, especially when it comes to traveling. It drives the wife crazy. She operates on CP time, and don't mind doing so, and that's caused her to miss flights. I don't do that. Period. But yesterday, my attention was dulled, eating out at a fancy Vegas buffet. We made it to the airport two hours in advance of our flight, but airport travel was extra heavy due to spring break and St. Patricks day. We missed our red eye. And the next 5 hours were a nightmare I'll never forget.

I won't get into the details, but it was a long, boring, frustrating, tense, 5 hours that almost cost me $700 were it not for a flight reservationist who went beyond the call of duty to get me and my family back to Austin at no additional cost.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Married off my daughter

Today, I married off my daughter. A Hollywood Chapel, on the Las Vegas strip. I have several straight-out-the-ghetto, Jerry Springer-ish stories to share, and I may just post a few (on my other blog) soon. Here, when I return, I'll post something...sweet.

My daughter looked very beautiful. Unfortunately, that statement is the only positive thing I can find to say on this subject.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Well, I'm off to the Sin City. Won't be sinning much, or blogging either. Bummer on both accounts. Read ya soon.

Monday, March 12, 2007

My window at the San Antonio Children's Museum

Features books and my original illustrations from Sure As Sunrise; Summer Sun Risin' ; Black All Around; The Legend of the Valentine; The Hidden Feast; Say Hey: A Song of Willie Mays; Retold African Myths.

Sometimes, I look at the work of artists like Kadir Nelson, Brian Selznick, Mark Teague and others and think, dang, how come God didn't evenly spread around the talent. But then when I see my work all together, collectively, I realize he did.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Do I look like Kunta Kinte?

Today, I had a school visit in Round Rock. Turned out very nice; I spoke to over 1000 kids. I love it when the kids are so responsive. Just one problem though. At least three kids thought I was LaVar Burton from the TV show Reading Rainbow. One girl was totally star struck.

"I know who you are! I know who you are! I watch you on TV."

I was excited, too. She knows who I am! She knows who I am!

Finally, my bubble was broke when another kid said to me: "You're the Reading Rainbow man!" Ah, that's when things started to make sense.

Big, big licensing news to share. But not yet. My licensing agent was so excited. And when she's excited, I'm excited.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

My aunt's new book is out!

Sure, I shouldn't have been driving and reading at the same time, but I couldn't help myself. I'd just received a package in my mailbox, sent from my aunt Eleanora. I knew what was inside the package, but I couldn't open it because I was late for work. As I drove down the interstate, it lay there on the seat, nagging me to open it. "It's your aunt's new novel. It's your aunts new novel," the package said repeatedly.

Finally, I was overcome with anticipation and curiosity, so my body took matters into it's own hands. One knee reached up, grabbed the wheel and steered the car, while both my hands — and teeth — tore into the package. Inside I found Celeste's Harlem Renaissance (Little Brown) by Eleanora E. Tate, her eleventh book.

Receiving a book written by my aunt is just as exciting today as it was when I was a kid — even more so now that I'm in the business myself. Back then, my excitement was based in my aunt's celebrity status. Seemed like everyone in Des Moines either knew Eleanora personally or was familiar with her work. "Are you related to Eleanora Tate," was always the question that followed when I introduced myself to an adult. "Yes," I'd spit out proudly. "She's my aunt, my dad's sister."

Were it not for my aunt's influence, I probably wouldn't be illustrating children’s books, or trying to write them. I'd be an artist of some kind, but children's books wouldn't have crossed my mind as a possible avenue.

In my family as a child, we had a pressman, nurses, postal workers, receptionists, a barber, beauticians, a janitor, plumber, and maid — all honorable professions. I learned something valuable from each one of these people, things I used to succeed in life. But in my family, we also had an award-winning journalist whose work was published in the Iowa Bystander, the black newspaper, and she went on to become an author, whose first novel was adapted into a movie starring Richard Roundtree (Shaft). There weren't any other black kids at school who could claim that, and most didn't believe me when I told them. Her example inspired me to take a similar path.

My excitement today is less about perceived celebrity — though she is — but it stems more from a true understanding of her real accomplishments. Writing a novel — or picture book for that matter — ain't easy. And getting it published is another feat completely.

Anyway, after reading the jacket flap and acknowledgments of Celeste's Harlem Renaissance, my curiosity was quenched. My knees relinquished control of the steering wheel back to my hands, and I continued my drive to work.

I was especially tickled at one of my aunt's acknowledgments in particular. My aunt said: "Dedicated to my mother, Lillie M. Tate, who told me to never ever put her name in my books..."

If you knew my Grandma DD's eccentric ways, you'd die laughing, as I did on the interstate (she's gonna act mad, say something nasty, but she'll be smiling inside).

Also enclosed in the package was a copy of Mike Sales' graphic novel Southside Nefertiti. Cool!

****In other news: I may or may not, be blogging over the next week. My weekend is jammed-packed — school visit, critique meeting, basketball, soccor, Farmer — and then it's off to Vegas, where I learned at late notice, that I'll be purchasing my daughter a, I mean, giving my daughter away in marriage.

And, thanks Rinda! for glittering me.

Congratulations go out to Cynthia Leitich Smith on the sale of her latest picture book, Holler Loudly.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Under construction

As you can see, I've been tinkering with my Blogger template. Unfortunately, I've lost my blog links, my Flickr badge, my Sitemeter, my Cafepress banner. Sigh. And dang, I don't have time to mess with it.

I'll be back to tinker some more. Soon.

And who was that again, the illustrator, who Flickr linked me?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

An N-announcement

Today, I received an email promotion/announcement from a publisher. The publicity folks thought I "might be interested" in a newly published book: THE N WORD: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, and Why.

I have no problem with the book; it's probably quite interesting. I just wonder why they thought I would be interested.

Did you get an email announcement, too?

: )

Monday, March 05, 2007


Last night, on my way home from work, I had the worst experience ever on Austin roads. I got caught in an Austin-style traffic jam. Normally it takes me about ten- fifteen-minutes, tops, to get home from work at night. But last night, it took me over two hours. Little cars like mine mixed with trucks and 18-wheelers, bumper to bumper, stretched on for about 10 miles. Tempers flared. There were no incidents of road rage that I know of, but I'm sure each driver was outraged. The department of transportation had closed down the highway. No warning. No signage. No nothing, but a two-hour traffic mess. Good thing I had a full tank because normally I don't.

When I got home, it was almost 1 a.m. I should have went to bed, but I was too wound. I didn't get to sleep until almost 3. And I had to get up at 6 a.m. to get my son ready for school. Needless to say, today I was burned out.

In spite, I still managed to revise three manuscripts, write three cover letters and prepare three submissions packages. They're ready to go!

Now, Farmer revisions full-time...except for my full day school visit on Friday.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Funny how writing works. I thought my manuscript was ready to send off to my critique group. At one level, it was ready. But at another level, it wasn't ready-ready. So I gave it a quick once-over, revised it about seven more times. Then it was revise a few more times.

Hours later, it's ready. Ready-ready. Finally. Now I can sleep.

Any agents in da house?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Critique meeting coming up

With a critique group meeting coming up next Saturday— our first in-person meeting of the year — I was in a panic about what I would submit.

After speaking with a few authors at the Tantalize launch party last weekend, I'd decided that my YA WIP (<---look at me using fancy author talk) was too early in the writing process to share with others. At this point, I have nothing more than random first-draft verses. Though we often share first draft writings at our meetings — heck, Chris' S.V.T manuscript was first draft when I read it — what I have so far isn't even a linear story, yet. Critique at this young stage would probably serve to do more harm than good.

So over the last week, I wrote...not one, but two picture book stories. One is very rough, but provides a foundation to build upon for April's meeting. The other, I've written and revised several times. For now, I'll give it the code name of Bermuda a la mode, though I'll probably never remember that should I need to use it again.

I really wanted to finish some writing projects before I start revising the illustrations for Farmer. I'm not sure how well I can write and illustrate two separate projects at the same time. Both require so much creative energy.

Now, I've just discovered a problem. Toward the end of the story, I used a term that may not sit so well with some. It's not a body part, I promise. And I honestly used the term innocently, not realizing it could have double meanings. It wasn't until this last read that it jumped out to me as a possible problem. For now, I'm gonna leave it in, see if my critique partners notice and call me on it.

Sweetness update: As I said before, people who know me beyond a casual acqaintance would not describe me as sweet. Here are a few choice words my mom used in a recent email to describe me: spoiled, intimidating, stubborn, outspoken, chavenist (she can't spell), humorous, talented, intemperate, intelligent, ornery and embarrassing (as in intentionally embarrassing other people).

And these were the nice words?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Revision time!

Today I had a long chat with the editor of a book I'm illustrating. Basically, I have to start my sketches over from scratch. Because of extraordinary circumstances, I feel I need to make the changes without putting up an argument.

There's a reason most publishers usually keep the process of writing a book and illustrating it separate. Most times it's simply because the writer and illustrator are two different people. Bringing them together — forming a true collaboration — can be like two speeding trains railing down one single track...headed toward each other. It's been accomplished successfully many times, I know. But I've heard some horror stories from other artists, and I've experienced one situation myself.

I'm going to approach this as an opportunity to make a great book even better. Better, in this case is subjective, but sometimes you have to set ego aside for the sake of peace, and just let things go the way others think they should. And I'm going to illustrate death, full view, in the casket, and turn my eye to the warning flags that are frantically waving in my subconscious.

Maybe, hopefully I'm wrong. The author is far smarter than I; he's a National Book Award Winner. I'm not.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Congratulations to Bartography!

I just heard some exciting news. One of my critique buddies has just sold his second picture book! You can read the details over at Bartography.

I first heard the good news through an email he sent me shortly before posting the news on his blog. I got the news early. I'm feeling like such an insider! I know it's not my book that sold, but I practically jumped up out of my seat and did the good-news-dance after reading his email. And I know how his boys must feel; they were so excited the day we read the story at our critique session.

So, of course, you know what that means for a self-centered brotha like myself: What about me? I'd given up on trying to find an literary agent, only after two tries. I'd decided not to participate in the futile process of sending out manuscripts to the few publishers who still accept unsolicited manuscripts. And I still haven't even submitted the 30 story ideas to the one editor who expressed an interest in helping me develop a story that he could publish.

But, hearing Chris' good news has changed all that. He has demonstrated to me that patience is truly a virtue. His example inspires to to keep on keeping on. My pump is primed!

Head on over and congratulate Chris. He's worked hard and his determination has paid off.