Thursday, August 30, 2007

The proof before the proof

Last week, my publisher emailed a pdf file of Enkelin. It was completely laid out with scans of my illustrations along with the text.

I don't know about other artists, but I have a hard time looking at my own finished artwork. And I rarely look at my own books. When I do, I cringe. I see all my mistakes, things that others might not see (or maybe they do but just don't say anything).

When I looked at the proof of Enkelin, I thought ug! Why didn't I do this or that. How come my art can't look like his or hers? I compare too much, I know.

I called my publisher and asked if they could send me copies of the original scans, which they did. And within Photoshop, I reworked a few things. Small things, in fact the art director thought I'd made a mistake because she couldn't tell what I'd changed.

The image above is a small portion from a full spread illustration. This image bothered me the most, something about the child's face. And those braids! Too much Dippity-do. Hopefully, the change didn't affect the mood. She's supposed to be scared, unhappy. Not homely.

In the end, I reworked about 5 images using the cloning and airbrush tools.

Which one do you think works better? I still have until noon tomorrow (Friday) to change my mind.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rejected by Wiki

OK, maybe my actions were narcissistic, led by a pitiful and misguided search for significance. But my search only led to one conclusion: I'm insignificant.

I wanted to purchase LL's newest book, so I Googled his name, and came across his Wikipedia page. I was impressed; I don't have a Wikipedia page, so I decided to create one for myself.

I spent an hour trying to figure out this cryptic info-thing of a website, only to have my new page immediately deleted within 3 minutes by the Wiki gods. This is a portion of their response (I'm only showing a portion because my ego won't let me post the entire message):

The article Don Tate has been speedily deleted from Wikipedia. This was done because the article seemed to be about a person . . . but it did not indicate how or why the subject is notable . . . articles that do not assert notability may be deleted at any time. Please refrain from introducing inappropriate pages, such as Don Tate, to Wikipedia.

OK, that hurt. Maybe I'm no LL, but I've done a few things worth noting. I decided to try again, this time asserting my notability. I included a list of the books I've illustrated, awards and honors my books have received, along with a list of biographical and verifiable source information, things like reviews or articles that have been written about me.

They deleted me again. This time not immediately, but within 15 minutes. Ouch again.

Dejected, I decided to search Wikipedia for other authors and illustrators with about the same notoriety as me, but I couldn't think of any others because . . . well, because they are unknown.

I sent a note to the Wiki gods pleading my case. They sent me this report back, listing why I was removed:



--As per nom

What the hell's As per nom? Did they insult me again?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Jazz question

How many children can you think of who listen to jazz music? What about old time jazz music? How about hip hop, rock, R&B or country? I'm just wondering because I just returned from a book store where I saw a new children's picture book about, you guessed it, jazz music. Beautifully illustrated. Brown faces on the cover, I ain't complaining, I'm just wondering out loud.

Seems like each year, a new crop of picture books about jazz music hits the market. So I ask again: How many children can you think of who listen to jazz music? What about old time jazz music?. Hmmmm?

Friday, August 24, 2007

My writing goals came up short

If you're a writer, you already know this truth: Writing a children's book ain't easy! A month ago, I set one, actually I set many goals. But pertaining to writing, I set a goal to write an entire early chapter book. I wanted to finish it by the last week of August, in time to share with my critique group. I'd planned to write the whole thing, ten chapters, plus have three chapters polished enough to share. That didn't happen. Like I said, writing a children's book is not easy.

I have two days before I have to submit something and all I have is three chapters —two are first drafts and only one is revised enough to share (I actually revised two, but I lost one).

When the realization hit me that I wasn't going to meet my goal, at first I decided to blame it on my mom, my mother-in-law and my aunt. I'd asked these folks for information and research materials that I could use to write my book. One of these people has been on vacation, the other one tends to forget and probably doesn't remember my request, and the other one refused to answer any of my interview questions at all — and she's a writer!

Ug. I can't blame it on anyone else, I'm writing this book; I'll need to do my own research. Or make stuff up.

Edit to original post: My mom came through! She got all the research materials I'd requested, making a special trip to the library and Des Moines Register. See, a brotha knows he can count on his momma.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I'm not bummed anymore

Remember the book I mentioned yesterday? The opportunity I thought I had lost because I didn't have time to do the requested revisions? It's not off. Not yet anyway. They want to work with me; I want to work with them. And they want to get a contract finalized soon. So I will do a new character study, but mostly pencil sketches, and not full-blown paintings. Again, normally I wouldn't mind doing the extra work, but with my current schedule, I just can't.

Oh, and one more thing. It's not just one book were talking about. It's 5! I didn't know that.

Don't congratulate me, though. It's not a done deal.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bummer. Bummer again.

I've been offered an opportunity to re-illustrate a book for a very, very well-known and prominent author. I was flattered when I learned of her admiration for my work. I'm a big fan of hers, but I'm afraid this is an opportunity I will lose.

Earlier this summer, I submitted a painted character study to her publishers. They loved my sample, but asked that I submit a new sample with older characters. At the time, I was busy trying to meet a dealine. Enkelin was due July 1, so I couldn't invest much more time. I did so anyway, and submited three more painted studies. They liked those too.

Today I received a third request. They'd like for me to show the main character at varying angles and emotions. Normally I wouldn't think twice about meeting such a request. With some books, it comes with the territory. But there's no way I can interrupt Ron, the current picture book I'm illustrating. Absolutely no way. Wish I could.

I must sketch and paint Ron, complete, by the end of this year; it will publish in the fall of 2008, and with all the interruptions summertime has to offer, I'm behind the schedule I set for myself.

Unfortunately, today I had to send a note saying that I couldn't meet their most recent request, which may take me out of the running (there's another illustrator on the table). That was so hard to do. Ug, I'm gonna be sick, I'd love to work with this author.

And what feels even worse is that last week I had to turn away another book offer — educational division of a major publisher. Again, not that I wanted to, but right now, my focus has to be on Ron.

I've reached the point in my career where my full-time gig is getting in the way of my part-time gig. If I were illustrating books full-time, none of this would be a problem. Probably.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How many books did you read in 2006?

A recent Associated Press article reported that in 2006 one in four Americans didn't read any books at all. And those who did — mostly women and old folk — read religious books and popular fiction.

I wonder if they even counted children's books. In 2006, I read about 400 books. Mostly picture books, of course. But I also read a few YA novels, adult fiction and nonfiction, and inspirational books of interest to Christian men.

And I wrote a few, too.

Monday, August 20, 2007

I'm finally library legit

I just resolved a very frustrating situation at the central library. Last year, I borrowed some books to use as reference for Enkelin. I returned the books late, dropping them in the after-hours box a week after they were due. Later that month, they billed me $5 in late fees. No problem, $5 is a pretty good deal considering how helpful the books were. But I didn't pay the fine immediately. Figured I'd pay next time I visited the library.

Over the next few months (I admit, I don't visit the library as much as a children's book illustrator should), I received several letters from the library. I didn't open them, I figured they were reminders about my $5 debt. I wondered why they were sweating me for $5 when it probably cost them more money to send me all those notices. Finally, I opened one of the letters. Turned out, I'd forgotten to return one of the books, and they charged me for a lost book (to be credited upon return of the book). I found the book in my messy studio and returned it immediately, again to the after-hours box.

This afternoon, I had a few minutes of time to spare — and since I was downtown anyway — I decide to pay my library fine. I handed the librarian my library card, and he handed me a bill for almost $60! Yikes! I blinked, bit my lower lip, but I didn't question it. Figured, I'm delinquent, time to pay up. As I handed the librarian my credit card, I changed my mind and decided to ask how my $5 fine had grew so large. He said that I had lost a book, that I didn't pay for it, and that the resulting fines had been referred to collections.

Again, being delinquent, I hesitated to ask questions. But the thought of how many books I could purchase with that $60-bucks prompted me to dig further.

I explained that everything I'd borrowed I'd returned no later than one week past due, with the exception of that one book. He did some checking around, called in the help of another librarian to investigate and, after a long, long, long, long wait, they discovered their mistake. In their process of returning the book to the eastside branch where I'd originally borrowed it from (they said it didn't matter which branch I returned it to), they lost it. Then they charged me, and referred it to a collections agency. That's probably who's been calling me repeatedly, and whose ring I've been ignoring.

Between the two branches, they straightened all this out, but what worries me most is that this happened to me before. Last time, I paid much more, and I never asked any questions.

Today, I paid a $19 fine.

Lesson learned: Return your library materials on time. Pay your fines immediately. And, no matter what they tell ya, return your books to the branch you borrowed them from or be prepared to pay if they lose it. They just might.

In other news: I paid my lapsed SCBWI dues, too. I'm feeling too legit!

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I just finished illustrating a small educational book project. It only took one day to sketch, and three days to finish. By this time tomorrow, I'll be back to illustrating Ron, my picture book for Dial.

Thanks to the folks at the Lake City Public Library who've been helping me with some research for a book I'm illustrating. And a special thanks to my online librarian buddy, Camille of Book Moot, and her librarian husband, who both quickly researched a question I posed to them about library cards. Thanks Camille! And Camille's husband!

I'm really bummed. I was looking forward to a big speaking gig next summer, but the deal has fallen apart. Sob. I was so looking forward to sharing my story . . . oceanside. Note: I'm a starving artist. For speaking gigs, especially those outside the state of Texas, I charge a fee. Not a huge fee compared to what others charge, but a competitive fee. And generally, I ask for reimbursement for travel and lodging expenses (and sometimes food), and that isn't out of the ordinary. Sob. I hope that won't prevent me from getting other speaking gigs in the future.

My School Bears were a big hit among scrapbookers! Today I received a personal note from the owner of Daisie Co. First two-week sales went through the roof! And the school year hasn't even started yet.

Earlier this spring, my picture book biography was acquired. The contract has been on hold until it's decided what kind of contract it will be — a plain ol' author contract, or an author and illustrator contract! I began to get worried with so much time having passed since acquisition of the manuscript, so I sent an email to my editor. Yes, I know, I probably shouldn't have done that, but a contract isn't a contract until ... well, until there's a contract. And besides that, I started getting all itchy waiting. But my editor reassured me that they will make a final decision in October. Yes!

I hate August. I really do. Anyone you really need to talk to is on vacation. And the person in charge of fielding questions for the vacationer is on vacation, too. And it's hot. I can't wait for September.

Cynsations is back from a brief hiatus!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Irked my censor, again

In the past few days, I found some writing time. I'm writing an early chapter book based upon my childhood experiences living in historic Chautauqua Park. I was inspired by Tomie dePaola's 26 Fairmount Avenue, and Grace Lin's The Year of the Dog. Both stories reflect a year-in-the-life of a young child, inspired by the author's own lives. I can do that! And I've never been so excited about a writing project. I've already written two chapters, enough to share with my critique group later this month, after some polishing.

Once again, however, I've irked my personal censor. He wants my story to portray a strong, positive, caring, African-American father. And I, myself, would rather not perpetuate negative images of black men, particularly in books that will be read by young black males. Thing is, I'm writing my personal story. My main character will be 6-year-old Donny Tate. His father will be a mean, uncaring, selfish boob, who stays out all night and, sometimes, doesn't come home at all. Just like mine.

My censor doesn't like that, and neither do I. But it's real life.

Edit to post: Strange, my mom emailed this photo to me (caption reading: I didn't know you were a Supreme). It's me, my dad and mom and my younger brother (two other younger brothers, not pictured, came later). This photo represents the time period I'm writing about. My mom has no idea I'm writing this story, or that this photo would help. Weird.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Who's censoring you?

Yesterday at our local SCBWI chapter meeting, author April Lurie posed this question to a group of children's writers: Who's your personal censor?

A personal censor, the way I'd define it, is that little voice in a writer's brain that tries to control what topics should be avoided. The voice stands patrol, and as a writer begins to put words on paper, it begins to send warnings: You can't write about that. That subject is taboo, off limits. You should feel ashamed of yourself for writing about that. Under certain circumstances, a personal censor may not be a bad thing. Eventually, I had to employ one to watch over this blog, so that I wouldn't put anything out that might damage my career. But when it comes to writing a novel, particularly getting through a first draft, a personal censor can be more harm than good.

During yesterday's meeting, there were many answers to the question: Who's your personal censor. For one guy, it was his teenage daughters. For an elderly woman, it was her critical mother. For someone else, their devoutly religious father.

Me, I have many personal censors. The most influential — and probably most harmful for my writing — is my personal religious beliefs, and those of others important to me — my wife, mother, grandfather, friends or family who know me as a Christian. I mean, what would those people think about me if I wrote a story about a 16-year-old kid who, following some emotionally traumatic event in his life, acted out by using alcohol, participated in risky sexual behavior, used drugs, and shoplifted as a means to boost his self esteem? Not saying that's the story I'm gonna write but, if I did, I'd hear the voices of my personal censors telling me that I shouldn't write such things that might introduce, encourage or romanticize such behaviors. "Is this you?" they'd ask. And I might not want to answer that question.

Of course, I wouldn't paint this picture gratuitously. I'd use these behaviors to illustrate my character at his weakest point. My readers would then witness him overcome his demons; He would grow into a better person, or maybe even self-destruct. Either way, writing a story like this would be a struggle between me — my creativity, my imagination, my personal experiences — vs. my personal censors.

Who are your personal censors?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Freebie Friday!

This week, I'm offering a free sample of my scrapbooking art for download. The School Bears Freebie Kit includes a sample of one of the bears, along with some tags and do-dads for use as embellishments. All of the art is saved as 300 dpi png files, with transparent backgrounds, that way digital scrapbookers can create their designs without having to knock out their own backgrounds.

Freebies are offered to encourage sales of the main School Bears kit.

I'm learning a lot about preparing art for digital scrapbooking. Initially, I supplied Daisie with my art, and then they created the entire kit. But now I'm creating the entire kit myself — illustrating the individual components and backgrounds, preparing the art for upload, creating product example shots for the website, writing catalog text and setting prices (something I haven't caught onto yet).

I've received some nice feedback from customers who are enjoying the art, and so far, I've sold hundreds of kits — rockets and safari being the most popular. Unfortunately, I won't be able to offer as much African-American-themed art as I'd planned. The market is tiny, and therefore, so is the return. I mean, how many sistahs do you know who scrapbook digitally? For that reason, I'll continue creating kits, but will stick to wider universal themes.

For the entire month of August, my back to school kits will be on sale for 20% off!

See entire collection!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Deep Squats and bloody mary

Today, I am so pleased with myself! Not because I wrote a book? Not because I won an award? And not because I illustrated a book, though I am in the process of doing so. But that's not why I'm reeling.

Recently, I discovered a bodybuilding instruction website that offered a truly leg blasting routine. Earlier today, I completed 200 squats!— without stopping, all in one session! Of course three hours later, I'm numb from the waist down, and I'm walking lopsided, but that's OK. As they say, no pain, no gain.

What? Disappointed? You were you expecting more children's literature news? A brotha does have other interest beyond writing and illustrating for children, you know.

My goal by the end of the year: 500 slow, controlled squats in one session. That ought to fry my wheels, and maybe add enough mass that I'd consider one last competitive event (natural bodybuilding) before I'm too old to compete.

I may not have a Coretta Scott King award like Jerry Pinkney, James Ransome, Floyd Cooper, Kadir Nelson, E.B Lewis, Bryan Collier, Frank Morrison, or Ashley Bryan. But I'll bet none of them can do 200 squats either! At least, not today.

You think?

Edit to original post: On second thought, look at the little trophies they give out! Bodybuilding is all about the big trophy, some actually taller than the bodybuilder himself. I don't know if I want to compete for a little plate.

In other news: My son shared with me a new game he learned from his friends at Karate camp. It's called Bloody Mary. First a coin is spun. The person nearest to the fallen coin is declared to be Mary. And all the boys get to make Mary bleed.
Interesting game, huh?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Yellin' at the kids?

This is an editorial illustration I recently created. The story ran in last weekends paper and dealt with the topic of parents, and how we should never raise our voices or yell at our children. Surprisingly, the guy who wrote this story does actually have children.


In other news: I used to be paranoid about posting art on this blog, afraid that it might get downloaded and used for commercial purposes, without my permission or compensation. To a degree, I'm sure that happens, but recently I received a call from a university. They asked my permission to use an illustration from this blog for their alumni newsletter. Because I didn't hold the copyright — something I rarely give up — they commissioned a new piece, and paid my asking price. Ain't that cool?!

Still, I worry about having so much art ready available online. But I feel better knowing that there are honest people out there willing to respect artists copyrights and pay for art found online.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Man with a plan

Major conflict here. I've spent the entire weekend whining to the wife about my having to miss the national SCBWI conference, about how I had to miss presentations by Kadir Nelson and Walter Dean Myers, and twice she's suggested that next year we all go as a family. I don't wanna go as a family. I can't go as a family. SCBWI conferences simply are not family affairs. And thankfully I didn't learn that the hard way by taking my family with me to last year's conference, my first.

I'm not sure how I'm gonna manipulate myself around this one, 'cause she's all excited about the conference being in New York, and neither of us has ever been to New York, and she thinks that we can do this all together like a family conference/vacation kind of a thing. Seriously, she does.

When I attended last years SCBWI conference, there was no free time for slipping away with family to. . . go to the zoo or something. I was with the conference from early, early morning until late, late at night, four days straight.

I've been thinking about this, and I may have to do what I did last year. Then, I planned two trips, back-to-back. First, I took the family on a 4-day DC vacation. I did the family thing first — visited President Lincoln, saw the White House, rode the subway. The following weekend, I went to the national SCBWI conference.

Maybe sometime between now and February, I'll take the family on a Grand Canyon vacation, or someplace. Maybe that'll free me up to attend the New York conference.

That a plan?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Missing SCBWI

Shh. Take a second to listen. What do you hear? Nothing. Why? Because everyone in this corner of the blogosphere, children's writers and illustrators, are away in LA at the Summer SCBWI Conference.

It's 9:00 a.m. here in Austin, which means that in LA, conference attendees are up, meeting each other, getting their coffee, strolling the conference floor and preparing for the first keynote of the day. And I'm gonna miss it all. Ain't that a mofo?

Last year, I attended the conference and, even though I didn't do much socializing or mingling, it still was a blast. Four days of networking, and listening to dynamic speakers, and opportunities to meet influential people in the field. Fun, fun, fun! This morning when I told the wife how bummed out I was for having to miss the conference, she said not to worry, that maybe one year we could all go as a family.


Maybe I'll plan to attend next summer, or maybe I'll attend the coming winter conference. Um, alone, without the family.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Spouting off

The following is a portion of an email I received earlier today from an agent. No, I'm not querying agents any longer, but I still had one submission out.

Agent: Dear Devas T., Thank you for sending me the first ten pages of your manuscript,. . .

Me: Dear Ms. Thang, I didn't send you the first ten pages of my manuscript; I only sent 3.

Agent: Although I appreciate your idea, I am sorry to write the opening pages didn’t grab me enough to want to request the rest of the manuscript. . . .

Me: It's good you're not requesting the rest of my manuscript because there ain't no more to send. It's a picture book, I sent the whole thing.

Agent: Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to consider your material.

Me: Thank you, too. But I don't know whose material you considered. It sure wasn't mine.

Texas Book Festival, 2007

I just checked out the line-up for the 2007 Texas Book Festival. This year, there's a fair number of children's authors appearing. Here's a look at a few authors who will sit on panels this year (there may be others, but these are names I recognized at quick glance):

Linda Sue Park
Deborah Wiles
Kimberley Willis Holt
Jane Peddicord
Roxie Munro
Kate McMullan
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Brian Yansky
Mo Willems
Sally Cook

During earlier Texas Book Festivals, I had the pleasure of speaking on panels with authors Cynthia Leitich Smith and Roxie Munro.