Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A culturally insensitive Cub Scout meeting

Couple of nights ago, at my son's Cub Scout den meeting, the scouts learned and practiced a new song and dance. They're going to perform it for parents and older scouts at next month's pack meeting. I don't know what the dance is called, but if I had to give it a name, I'd call it Tasteless.

Each scout tied a feather around their head, pretending to be "Indians." They formed a large circle around one scout who was selected to be Chief. After the den leader waved his hand, the "Indians" began to dance in a circle around the Chief, patting their hands repeatedly against their lips. "Woo-woo-woo-woo, woo-woo-woo-woo," they sang gleefully.

The Chief would then randomly point at another "Indian," who would ask the question: "It it time for your poocha yet?" I have no idea what a poocha is — as far as I know, it may be a Native American word — but no explanation was offered.

The dance ended with the kids doing the Hokey Pokey (huh?).

Some of you may remember my blog posts from back in the early days (when I was just discovering my voice). Others of you may occasionally read my (super secret) blog, the one with cartoons. You know I'm not shy about dark or racial humor. My cartoons are often culturally insensitive (mostly with my own culture). Heck, I grew up on Richard Pryor and Red Fox. But something about the scene at the Cub Scout meeting just didn't sit well with me. I know it was meant to be all in fun — the kids were having a ball — but I didn't find it very funny at all, I think because it involved kids.

While I sat there, watching the Cub Scouts perform derogatory impersonations of Native Americans, I looked around the room at the parents. Across from me was an African-American mother. There were several Hispanic parents, and one Asian. No one seemed to be bothered. I wondered what would happen if the scouts performed a dance holding spears, pretending to be Africans. Or what if they danced around a Sombrero and sang, "Aye-yi-yii-yiiii," in an exaggerated Mexican accent? What would be said if they impersonated Asians?

Maybe I'm blowing this out of proportion, I mean, I'm sure there really are Native American ceremonies where people dance in a circle around a Chief while singing chants. I have no idea. But, since scouting is meant to be educational, and a place where boys can learn positive values and survival skills, I think a little education was in order.

I didn't complain. Didn't want to be the trouble-making, complaining parent. Didn't want to spoil the kids fun. But I plan to have a talk with my son. We read JINGLE DANCER when he was a baby, but it's time to read it again.

Before the scouts finished their song and dance, a young African-American kid raised his hand and said: "Oh yea, and their not called Indians. They're called Native Americans."

For the first time during that dance, I smiled.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Begger's night!

Tonight, when I get off work, I'm going to go purchase a pumpkin. Not because of begger's night*. Not because we need another jack-o-lantern — we already have two. But because I love freshly roasted pumpkin seeds.

This weekend, after we carved our pumpkin, I saved the seeds, mixed them with a teaspoon of olive oil, a few dashes of salt, and then roasted them in the oven. Heaven! Oh, heaven! On Halloween.

And my son loved them, too. And he doesn't like anything.

*Back home in Des Moines, trick-or-treat night is referred to as begger's night. What do they call it where you live?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ghostly illustration

An illustration I created for a story that ran this past weekend, about supposed places in downtown Austin that are said to be haunted.

I used Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I was much happier with the web version; the print version looked kinda muddy. But that's what tends to happen when art is printed on newsprint.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My reading list, changing gears

I hope this admission here won't cost me my membership to the kid-lit blogosphere community but yesterday while I perused a bookstore, I came to the realization that...that...I...uh...prefer reading adult literature — ssssh!

I love children's literature, of course — reading it, writing and illustrating it, living it. But for the past few years, I've focused my reading on children's and YA books and yesterday while looking at adult titles, I suddenly missed reading stories through point of view of adult characters.

Currently, I'm reading Frindel, where the main character, Nick Allen, is a fifth grader. Before that, I read Junie B. Jones, where the main character is a first grader. Before that, The Year of the Dog, where Pacy, a young Taiwanese-American girl — I don't remember her age — is in about third-grade.

I loved all three of these books, all are great examples of children's literature. But I'm 43-years-old, and it's been at least 30 years since my biggest problem in life was getting along with my fifth-grade teacher.

My to-read pile of children's books is waist deep. At the top are two books sent to me by my friend Mr. V.: The First Part Last, by Angela Johnson, and Tyrell, by Coe Booth, and I can't wait to jump right in. But after that, I plan to squeeze in some adult reading, 'cause I'm gonna go nuts if I gotta read one more anthropomorphic animal story.

Hope that makes sense.

Friday, October 26, 2007

AACBWI listserve

I recently joined the AACBWI (African American Children's Writers and Illustrators) listserve. This isn't a new community to me. I was featured there in an interview a few years ago. AACBWI is a great resource and networking tool. And I hear rumors of a conference next year — count me in!

Earlier today, I visited their guest book and discovered something very interesting. It was an announcement from the art director at Charlesbridge. Apparently, they are seeking "illustrators of color." You can read the full announcement here; I didn't feel comfortable posting it in it's entirety on my blog.

Since I'm an illustrator of color — real dark color, according to my son — I shot off an email inviting her to check out my online portfolios (which are in bad need of updating). Hopefully they'll like my work. I'd love to work with Charlesbridge.

On another note. I contacted an agent a few weeks ago and he invited me to send him some of my writings and artwork. But, guess what. I never sent anything. Not that I'm dissing him. It's just that after re-reading my manuscripts, I realized they needed a bit more polishing. So between revising my sketches for Ron, I've been tweaking a few words on my manuscripts.

Hopefully, when he receives my stuff, he'll remember me.


On still another note: I heard some promising news this week from my publishers at Lee & Low Books, concerning my manuscript that was acquired earlier this year. Wish I could share that news, but it's still not final, and nothing is definite. Geez, I think I'm gonna burst.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Shooting photo reference

Today, I took photos of a few of my coworkers. I'll use them for revising my sketches of Ron. I'm really uncomfortable with photo shoots. I mean, I enjoyed art directing them when I worked for a children's publisher and Crayola Kid's Magazine, but shooting casual photos for drawing reference is awkward for me, to say the least.

When I received the contract to illustrate The Legend of the Valentine, I'd only lived in Austin a few months. Before moving here, I'd used friends or family as models, sometimes a talent agency. At the time, I didn't know anyone in Austin, and my book advance didn't allow for hiring professional models.

I needed an African American male, about the age of 8, and an elderly grandma-ish type, so I grabbed a handful of my books and went to the library. There, I saw a kid who fit the description of my character, so I asked him if I could speak with his parents.

When he returned with his mom, I showed her my books and told her I was an illustrator. I explained to her that I needed a model for a book I was illustrating, and that I'd like to take pictures of her son to use as reference for my paintings. I offered to pay for his services, in addition to getting him a copy of the book when it published.

She took her son by the hand and walked away, looking at me like I was an ax murderer. All she said to me was, "No." I never did that again.

Now that I've been in Austin awhile, I use friends or coworkers. Still, I'm not a very sociable, talkative person at work. So to suddenly approach a coworker and ask to take their picture, when I normally wouldn't say anything to them, is very uncomfortable. Luckily, they know what I do, and are always more than willing to help.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Back to the grind

Ok, I haven't blogged for awhile. And I can't blame it on being too busy. I was busy, but then I had a 5-day lull in between projects, after I finished illustrations for R&R.

What have I been doing? Sleeping. Seriously. Last week, I my schedule was on overload, but I was also wiped out by a cold. So, each day after I dropped my son off at school, I came home and got back into bed. In fact, I just woke up from my Sunday-after-church nap.

Now that I'm well rested (kind of well rested) I'm ready to plow ahead. I received feedback on Ron, a picture book I've been illustrating for Dial. The good news: the publication date has been moved ahead one season. That means I now have 5 months to complete this book instead of 1. The other good news is that they've agreed to my suggestions on how the book should end. They're even gonna change the text to allow for my suggestion. Cool! It was Disco Mermaid JA who asked the question: "Does it ever happen that the art director loves your sketch so much (like the boy reading on the floor) that they ask the author to kindly change the text a tad?"

And the answer is yes! At least in this case.

Now the bad news. Well, there really isn't any bad news. Only except that there are more revisions than what I'd expected. But that's really a good thing. I like all the suggestions, and I can't wait to jump back into this project...the day after tomorrow. Tomorrow I have yearbook and Cub Scout duties.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Check out The Silver Lining

Be sure to check out The Silver Lining, today, where author Pam Calvert is highlighting the snowflake I donated to the Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure campaign.

I certainly appreciate the time Pam is putting in to interviewing me and others on her blog. I hope that everyone's efforts will make this year's campaign an even bigger success than in previous years.

And I cracked up laughing when I discovered her comments about, bodybuilding attempts. Don't laugh at my photos, natural, drug-free bodybuilding is for skinny people (who 10 years later have big bellies).

Here are a few other bloggers who, today, are highlighting snowflakes and their creators:

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blogging for a cure

Ok, I know. I said that I was too busy for blogging. And I am. But I just realized that this week kicks off the 'Blogging for a cure' campaign. In an effort to raise awareness of the Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure, and steer traffic over to the online auction, many, many, many folks have agreed to highlight some of the snowflakes to be auctioned off. And they're talking about the illustrators who created them, too.

My snowflake, "You'd better duck!" will be highlighted over at The Silver Lining on Wednesday, October 17. That means a few folks might end up here at this blog. Should that happen, I'd like to re-direct folks back over to the Robert's Snow site. Just little-ol'-nobody-me here. But over there, they gotta party going on! They got Ashley Bryan in da house! Mo Willems, Randy Cecil, Mark Teague and Jarrett J. Krosoczka. They even got Ms. Grace Lin herself! And more!

For those who end up hanging around here, they'll only discover I haven't been in the best mood lately, so I wanted to post something a little less...well, grouchy.

But I can't think of anything, so go check out the snowflakes, consider bidding, and see the full lineup of bloggers blogging about snowflakes and illustrators over at Liz in Ink.


In other news: I discovered an interesting post over at Lee & Low Books, "How diversity Helps Literacy." They've even got graphics and pie charts everything! I don't mind bar and pie charts when I'm not the one making 'em. Take a minute to check it out!


This week, my schedule is as heavy as a Mac truck. I have no idea how I'm going to get everything finished. Thinking ahead, beyond this peaceful blog moment, makes me ill.

In addition to my art projects, I'm now a Cub Scout dad. That's actually a highpoint for me and my son. The problem is getting time off from work to attend the meetings in the middle of a busy newsday. I've made Cub Scouts my priority, but there are so many hoops that I must jump through in order to participate. And our department is short staffed on Mondays. I am one in a few dads who actually stay for the meetings — most people drop their kids off like Cub Scouts are babysitters — so my son really looks forward to my being there.

I'm also co-chairing the PTA yearbook committee. And I'm behind, I should have met with the yearbook printer weeks ago. Thankfully, I'm co-chairing with the wife, so she can make a few phone calls that I'm too busy to deal with.

In addition, today is tax day for big time delinquents, like me. In the next 24 hours, I need to find mortgage interest documents, real estate taxes, home insurance premiums, and utilities paid for the previous year. Sigh.

And I gotta finish three paintings for R&R before 2:00 this afternoon, just in time for my doctor's appointment.

I won't even mention all the other things that are popping into my head right now. I may not blog for awhile. See ya later.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Ug, I've been sick for the past three days. Today, I'm hot, sweaty, dizzy, I have a headache. I can't breathe, my body aches, and I have no energy. Top it off, my nose is runny. Really, really runny. And my voice is now baritone like Barry White. *sneeze!*

Probably good that my critique group meets online now. I don't advise anyone sit near me. *sneeze!*

I sent an email to the folks at my full-time gig today, told 'em of my plans to stay home. I really hate doing that. Though I sure don't mind missing out on the opportunity of locating car accidents on city maps, I don't like leaving the guys short handed. We have a small department and when one person is gone, it leaves the others with...well, more more car accidents to cover with less people. But there's nothing worse than sitting at a computer all day, with your nose running, and your ears muffled, and sneezing non-stop. *sneeze!*

In writing news: I've been writing a chapter book, and one of my critique partners has agreed that my most recent chapters would be better served as a stand alone book. The good news is, now I have two rough drafts in the works instead of just one. The bad news is that, now I gotta figure out how to write two books. *sneeze!*

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What's the beef with Junie B.?

Not too long ago, I picked up a Junie B. Jones book, but I never did read it. I felt ridiculous, reading a first-grade chapter book, even for the purpose of studying the genre.

But I've changed my mind, my interest has been piqued. Last night at my son's parent/teacher conferences, I asked his teacher about introducing him to chapter books. My son is a great reader, but he reads mostly very simple picture books. I figured, if Junie B. Jones is a first grader like him, he should be able to handle the books.

His teacher didn't hesitate to tell me to challenge him, to begin introducing chapter books. But she also questioned the appropriateness of some of the subject matter from the Junie B. series. I can't imagine anything inappropriate in a children's book written for first graders, but I might be wrong. My son attends a very conservative Christian school, so maybe that's why the concern.

Anyway, I plan to test out my copy of Junie B., but, as per his teacher's advice, I also plan to find chapter books of special interest to him -- things like karate and race cars. And books with characters of color, though honestly, I don't think color matters to him...yet.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Coaching, conferences, and cars

Tomorrow, I'm looking forward to spending time with a do-it-all, know-it-all journalism coach, for editors, reporters, writers and newspaper folks of all kinds.

I first met R. a few years ago, way before I had any real interest in writing. She gave our group of artists a simple writing assignment: write directions on how to get to work.

One by one, she read each assignment aloud, and offered critique. After reading mine, she said it had a poetic quality about it. "Literary," she said. That stunned me because I wasn't trying to write well, and I didn't consider myself a word person at all. But her comments, along with many other things that followed, gave me the confidence to begin writing seriously.

Now, the thing about tomorrow's session is that it takes place at my full-time gig. I won't be able to discuss what I'd prefer to discuss — my picture book manuscripts. And I'd love for her to read and critique a chapter or two from the early chapter book I've been writing. Instead, we'll talk about maps, charts, diagrams and infographics. Eww, eww, eww, ewwww!

On another note: I just returned from my son's school conferences. He's in 1st grade, and he's getting all As! His teacher said that whatever we're doing, were doing it right, and to keep on doing it.

His mom sat there and boo-hooed through the whole conference, while I turned beet red from embarrassment. I'm proud of my son, too, but what's with all the tears?

On yet another note: While I'm awaiting approval to begin final paintings of Ron, I've accepted an assignment from a children's magazine. Fun, fun, fun. And more cars!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Writing takes a left turn

Recently, the storyline of the chapter book I've been writing hooked a sharp left turn. Suddenly, it went from sweet and nostalgic, inspired by my own childhood experiences, to suspenseful and mysterious. Now it has nothing at all to do with me or my personal experiences.

I love the direction the story has taken. In this case, fiction is more realistic than real life — or at least it's more interesting.

My original concept would be a much easier story to write — it's straight forward, simple, cute. But this new direction is much more fun. I've actually scared myself a couple times, sitting here writing with my hairs standing on end. I'm trying to figure out a way to mesh the two stories together, but honestly, I'm afraid that doing so might weaken both concepts.

I have no idea what I'm going to do now, except that I'm not going to worry about it. Just gonna keep writing, even if it ends up being a mishmash of two different stories.

I want to finish the first draft so that I'll have time to do some revision before our SCBWI spring conference in 2008.

Writing is a very frustrating thing (for me). I've submitted three more chapters to my critique partners. They've already read three chapters from before my story changed. I'm looking forward to their feedback on this new direction.

Friday, October 05, 2007

What I'm working on

I have mixed feelings about this illustration. I was trying to stretch, branch off, do something different. I think the drawing itself turned out ... eh, OK. It's the execution that leaves much to be desired. Oh well, failure means that at least I tried. Next time, I'll go for more of a surreal painterly effect, instead of a hard-lined cartoon.

This illustration was for a story about extreme athletes. For these people, a 10k run — like the one I plan to do next month — is more like a warmup. An extreme athlete will run 750 miles, and do it for 17 days straight (45 miles per day). Is that crazy or what?


In other news: while I'm waiting approval on my sketches for Ron, I've accepted a small assignment from a children's magazine.

Monday, October 01, 2007


I'm kinda digging this new (for me) technique. I began with an under-painting of sepia water color. Then I applied two coats of acrylic matte medium, and then painted with thinned-down oils. Oil paint rocks!

Thing is, I don't know if I'm going to be able to use this technique for the whole book. Takes too long, at least for me because I've never used this technique before. I need to have this entire book painted by January (providing I get approval to begin in the next couple weeks). I may use an altered version of this technique, doing less oil work. We'll see.

I may have to return to what I'm most familiar with, acrylic paint on Canson paper.

This photo is weird. Kinda looks like Ron is looking at me while I paint him.