Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday teaser

Big changes to come. Wish I could make a formal announcement today, but I can't.

I'm elated, for sure! I'm terrified, but only a little.

I have done the right thing, though. I feel it in my gut.

News to come soon.

Now, excuse me. I gotta go barf.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Book Talk illustrator survey

What should new illustrators be aware of or avoid when submitting their work to publishers? What are the most challenging aspects of creating images for a picture book? These questions and more are answered by children's book illustrators Christy Hale, Patricia Keeler, Betsy Lewin, Ted Lewin, Jesse Joshua Watson and myself, Don Tate, at the Lee & Low website.

So, what are the most challenging aspects of creating images for a picture book? I answered: "For me, the most challenging aspect of illustrating a children's book can be the tight, sometimes unrealistic deadlines. Creating art is not magic. I can't wave a wand and produce a 32-page picture book in one month—though I know that some illustrators can. I am honest with myself and my publishers about what I can and cannot accomplish in a determined amount of time. And if I can't do it, regretfully, I turn the work down.

My greatest rewards come from children, my fans. One time, I was signing books at a literary festival. A little boy walked up with his parents and wanted to purchase Black All Around! a book that features an African American girl on the cover. The kid was white, and his parents were very uncomfortable with his choice. They tried to persuade him to pick out another book, pointing to a few other authors at the festival. But this kid was insistent, he wanted Black All Around! because "The illustrations are cool." He was so excited and asked me many questions. He said that he wanted to be a cartoonist when he grew up. That experience was very rewarding."

I also agreed with Christy. She said, "The hardest thing to do is please oneself! " That is so true.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What I remember about Christmas

Occasionally I'll cross post here and at The Brown Bookshelf, particularly when I'm running short of time, and when the content is appropriate for both.

As an 8-year-old, the story of Santa Claus didn't jibe with me: A rotund white man in a silvery beard and red suit delivering gifts to children around the world, while driving a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer. All in one night! I wasn't the sharpest tack in the box, but I wasn't a complete idiot either. "There's no such thing as Santa Claus," I announced to my dad one evening near Christmas.

Armed with a few scientific facts I'd gleaned from other non-believing 2nd graders, I continued my argument. "Reindeer don't have wings." I said. "And to make a trip around the world, everyone knows it takes 80 days." I leveraged my arguments like a baseball bat, ready to knock my dad's responses out of the park.

"You're absolutely right," he said, turning from his football game long enough to douse my storm. "There is no such thing as Santa Claus."

That was it! I was prepared for a fight, but he offered no resistance. I'd hoped, at least, he'd explain those things about Santa Claus that didn't make sense, the way grandpa always explained those things about God that didn't make sense — things like creating the world in six days simply by speaking the words. "Don't spoil it for your brothers," was his only additional comment.

I was crushed, and I wanted to cry. I knew a Santa Claus didn't exist, but I really wanted him to.

On that night, I resolved to protect my three younger brothers from the painful truth. I appointed myself Santa's personal marshal. My mission: To preserve the sanctity of Santa Claus and to retain the magic of Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, in our tiny bedroom, my brothers became my prisoners while I, the Marshal, established the rules. Rule #1: Everyone had to be in bed by 8 o-clock p.m., no exceptions. That gave dad plenty of time to assemble our toys and to eat the frosted cookies we'd left out for Santa. It gave mom enough time to wrap our gifts and to drink Santa's milk, while still having time to finalize any Christmas decorations. Rule #2: No one was allowed to leave the bedroom, not even to use the bathroom.

"But I gotta go pee," my brothers pleaded. Made no difference to me. No matter how much they begged — legs crossed, jumping around the room like Christmas jitterbugs — no one was allowed past the bedroom door. We would enjoy the magic of Christmas together, even if it meant soiling our beds.

"No!" I barked. "Santa Claus might be out there, and if he sees you, he'll move on to the next house without leaving you any presents."

"But why's mom and dad still out there?" one of my brothers asked.

"Because we don't have a fireplace, and if you want any gifts, somebody's got to let the man in!" For the next few hours, my lies multiplied like Easter bunnies.

After my brothers finally fell asleep, I laid awake, staring at the ceiling. I thought about the story, The Night Before Christmas, wondering about St. Nicholas, wishing for visions of sugar plumbs, still hoping for flying reindeer.

Quietly, I slipped out from under my blankets, careful not to wake my brothers, and I tiptoed to the bedroom door. All sorts of curious sounds punctuated the night — the rumble of an engine coming from a toy motorcycle, wrapping paper being ripped from a roll, metal scissors snipping at delicate ribbon, muffled voices. The Christmas music had stopped playing, and it sounded like someone was watching Hitchcock on TV. Slowly I turned the doorknob until it unlatched, and then I forced the weight of the door into it's setting to prevent it from creaking. I peered out, hoping that no one would see me. Maybe dad had lied. Maybe Santa Claus really did exist.

My hopes for Santa were quickly squelched. There was no such thing after all, unless Santa Claus was a dark-skinned black man who smoked Kool cigarettes and drank Jim Beam whisky, while wearing nothing but his tighty-whitie Fruit of the Looms. Dad sat there in his drunken glory beneath our silver-aluminum Christmas tree, in a tangled mess of orange and black Hot Wheel tracks. Bummer. Though Hot Wheel tracks were exactly what I wanted.

Early in the morning, my brothers and I gathered at the bedroom door, our ears glued to the surface, listening for that familiar Christmas morning sound: the toilet flushing and the bathroom door unlocking. Mom was up! It was time to see what Santa had left. I released my prisoners, all of whom, including myself, practically knocked mom aside in a beeline for the bathroom.

Click here to read how other authors celebrate the holidays and what their celebrations mean to them. Share your story here!

I need my three months

I'm getting very nervous. Anxious and agitated, too. In order to meet our new established deadline — March 2008 — I must, must, MUST begin painting by December 1. That's coming up soon, and I still haven't received the OK to begin painting. Sob.

At the very least, I need three months to paint an entire picture book. Preferably 6, but that rarely happens. So each time there's a delay in the process that cuts into my 3-month painting time, I request to have that difference given back to me. And each time, thankfully, my requests have been granted. But I really don't want this book pushed back any later than it already has. The goal is to have it publish in plenty of time for Black History Month, 2009.

In all fairness, it is a holiday season. I didn't work much during the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, and I can't expect that anyone else did either. But Thanksgiving is past, I'm full, and I'm ready to paint. I hope delays won't go much beyond December 1st, because once the Christmas holiday hits, nothing happens in the publishing world until way after the first of the year. And I need my three months, all of 'em.

Edit to original post: In the meantime, I've just accepted to do two small novelty pop-up books! Both due in March, too. But, if things go as planned with my full-time gig, there will be no problem doing all three books during this same time span.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


I need to stop buying so many books and start reading the ones I already have. This year, I've obtained countless books — books I've bought, books given to me by friends, freebies given to me at conferences. Most of them are piled high next to my bed, unread.

Last week, I made a list of more books I want for Christmas. But then yesterday I visited the bookstore and didn't buy any of them. Instead, I bought Hill Harper's Letters to a Young Brother. Celebrity book, but it looks to be a good one, and it is an ALA Winner of Best Book for Young Adults, 2007.

I also got Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. It's funny, and written in bite-size essays, the way I enjoy writing myself. The title grabbed my attention, and five minutes later, I was standing in the aisle laughing out loud, like a fool. And it's not children's literature, which, as I stated in an earlier blog post, I need to temporarily break from.

This morning, I finished reading a book that didn't quite work for me. It's a short book, probably shouldn't have taken more than a few hours to complete, from beginning to end. But it took me forever. It's an award-winner. Has much in common to my own life. The book is beautifully written, but for whatever reason, I just didn't feel it. I like books that grab my attention and me pull me through. This book just laid there, and didn't pick up until the last few pages. Then it was over. Besides that, I don't do well with books that flip-flop through time, alternating then-and-now, every other chapter. Makes my brain spin.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The next, next chapter

I'm going to be a grandpa. Again. Told ya the story hadn't ended. I'm not the old sage my children think I am. I'm not a fortune teller, nor psychic either.

It's just that I've already been there.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Signs, many signs

For the past three years, the wife and I have been working with a credit managing agency. Like many Americans, we'd dug ourselves so deep that we were drowning in credit card payments. With the help of a credit counselor, we destroyed our credit cards, and have now ridden ourselves of credit card debt.

This past weekend, we pulled new credit reports. We went to San Antonio to meet with the agency to establish new goals. After speaking with the counselor for about an hour, he gave me some advice that left my mind buzzing ever since I left his office. He said, "Step out on faith, walk into your job tomorrow and put in your two week notice."

He's a Christian counselor, he said it's a "God thing."

Sigh. That scares me so much.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

My Peepz 2008

November and December are probably the biggest months for calendar sales. So, I wanted to post a reminder about my tweener calender, My Peepz. It's on sale wherever most calendars are sold, and online in some of the following places:

Artisan Arts online

Cocoa Prints

Cush City

It's a Black

Lushena Books

And of course, the Shades Of Color website (publisher).

If you didn't already know, SCBWI is now posting registration and scheduling information for the 9th Annual Winter Conference on Writing and Illustrating for Children. I was especially excited about the one-day pre-conference event where Jerry Pinkney, among others, will lead an intensive illustration workshop.

I won't be going, though. Instead, I'm saving my money for our big Disneyland trip. My three brothers and I, and our children, are taking our mom on a week-long trip to Orlando! It's always been a dream of hers, so were gonna make it happen.

I will, however, attend the Write in the Heart of Texas Spring Conference, here in Austin.

Also note, I will be a featured speaker at the SCBWI winter conference in Houston, in February. More information to come.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The next chapter

The homecoming lasted all of two weeks.

As quickly as she fell back into my home

She's falling out again — my daughter and my grandson.

For the past two weeks, my typically quiet home
has been turned

upside down.

There has been some laughing.

But there's been more screaming. Hitting. Smoking. Crying, too.

Dear God, I'm ready for normalcy.

Of me, she says, "You're too proper."

Of herself, she says, "I'm too "ghetto-fabulous."

"The two don't mix," she says.

I agree.

Still, I'm deeply saddened.

While at the same time, I'm relieved.

But I won't be fooled—

The story doesn't end here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

News, news, good news!

This morning, I read a wonderful picture book manuscript. Three times. I liked it that much. It was sent to me by an editor interested in my illustrating the book. And guess what — I received an enthusiastic offer! And I'm going to accept.

I can't talk specifics, yet. But, with permission, details will come later.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

We had a nice weekend, you?

I had an amazing, wonderful, fabulous weekend and, somehow, I managed to do it without involving anything kid-lit. I'm in between projects, so I didn't have any work to do. I did prepare an agent submission packet, it's ready to ship today. Wish me luck.

First, my son tested for his yellow belt in karate (he's in the front row). He passed without a flaw. My son is growing up so fast, he looked like a little man standing up there performing his routines. He also earned his nunchaku, which he will use in his next phase of training.

The following day, we packed up our tents and headed south to the beautiful Palmetto State Park for a Cub Scout family camp out. That was just a total blast. Describing the experience would take more time than I have to give to this post.

If you don't already know, camping is expensive. For what it cost us to sleep overnight in a tent, we could have stayed in a 4-star hotel for two, possibly three nights. The tent itself only cost $34.00, but add on lamps, flashlights, sleeping bags, blow-up mattresses, pillows, a stove, and so-on and so-on and so-on. We've made our initial investment in camping equipment, so we intend to make use of it beyond Cub Scout camp outs.

The wife was a bit irritated with me, though. After initially setting up our tent, I moved it. Twice. I'm not a bug person, and I couldn't find quite the right spot where there were no bugs. The first spot was too close to a water spigot, which I was warned would draw bugs. Our second spot was too close to some brush. After hammering in the last stake, I noticed the ground was literally moving with bug-spray-resistant, little jumping insects from hell. Nope! No way. Our third spot was perfect, save for the snoring later on that night coming from the tent next to ours. But I'll take snoring over bugs-from-hell any day.

And while no one believes me, while fishing, we did see alligators. Three of them.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Today at Kinko's

This is going to sound totally made up, even exaggerated. But it's not, it really happened today. Only. In. Austin.

I finished revising my Ron sketches this morning and went to FedEx/Kinko's to copy and ship them off. I spent about 45 minutes copying, cutting and taping the spreads together, and another almost half an hour standing in the shipping line.

I don't do well with lines; I'm impatient. So picture me waiting in line for 25 minutes behind an elderly lady, with her granddaughter dressed as a ballerina (or possibly Snow White), wearing a day-glow yellow tutu, rolling around on the floor under my legs, kicking me in the ankles.

The lady, I'd say, was 60-ish in age, Caucasian. Her granddaughter was about 6-years-old, and her name was Ellie. I know this because, for twenty solid minutes, while the lady filled out her FedEx slip, she repeatedly said: "Ellie, get off the floor. Stop! Ellie, get off the floor. Stop! Ellie, get off..."

Ellie never got off the floor, and no matter where I moved, she managed to kick me.

When the lady finally finished her transaction, she turned to me, put her hand on my arm, and apologized. "I'm so sorry for being slow," she said. "I've never done this before." The lady was truly embarrassed.

Her apology put out my fire. I relaxed, released the tension built up. "No problem," I said. "Take your time. But maybe I shouldn't have said that because she didn't let go of my my arm. She held on to my bicep and continued to...well, cop a feel. Then suddenly, as if she'd been caught with her hands in the cookie jar, she jerked away.

"You must work out," she said, smiling from wrinkled-up ear to wrinkled-up ear.

", yes, I do." I said, adjusting my posture, standing up straight, and pushing my chest out. By the expressions on the faces of others around us, they were just as uncomfortable as I was.

"Very nice," she said, looking at my arm. The FedEx guy motioned for me to step forward, I was next. Well, if the apology and feel-up wasn't enough, the lady reached back out and grabbed my arm again, and then ran her hand across the side of my chest. Shocked and beet-red, I jumped back, almost tripping over Ellie. "I'm going to make my husband start working out," she said. " This just isn't fair." Husband! I thought. She grabbed Ellie's hand and began to walk away.

I smiled at her. My smile was for the apology, nothing else. I tried to pretend like I hadn't noticed what had just happened. She and Ellie lingered behind me, doing who knows what. But I was thankful she didn't help herself to anything else.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

We've got a baby in the house

Last night my daughter came home. Her stay is indefinite. She fell back into my life as suddenly as a star falls from the sky.

I'm excited! My baby is home, my grandson is now with me.

I'm troubled. My baby is home, my grandson is now with me.
I have mixed feelings.

If I wanted a baby in my home, I know how to make them.

I'm on deadline. I have a book to illustrate. I'm writing a book.
I maintain this blog and another. And now, I've got an elephant in my art studio.

Bare with me, I just need a little time.

Last night, I started reading The First Part Last. It's about an African-American teenager, a young father raising his baby daughter. Took me back to when I was 18-years-old. I was a teenage father, too. I raised my baby daughter. It brought back warm memories.

I had planned to read this book after the holidays, but I think I need to read it now. I need to go back to that place.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Children's authors (and 1 illustrator), part 1 of a roundtable discussion

Author and co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf, Paula Chase-Hyman, moderates a virtual roundtable discussion between other members of The Brown Bookshelf. Panelists include co-founder Varian Johnson, Kelly Starling Lyons, Carla Sarratt, and myself, Don Tate. Check out the discussion over at Blogging In Black, where we discuss children’s literature as it pertains to African-American authors today, and in the future.

Here's my answer to one of the questions:

Q: Of 5,000 children’s books published in ‘06, only about 100 were by African Americans. But of that 100, most people can name maybe three. Why are the rest going virtually unnoticed?

Don: This is strictly a guess, but I’d say, in general, publishers aren’t investing much in promoting authors period — any authors, regardless of race. More often, authors are expected to promote their own books. Your work is not done once a contract is signed. A book sale represents a new beginning. The next phase is promoting/marketing, and for a new or not-so-well-known author, that responsibility may fall mostly on their shoulders.

All that said, publishers do promote some authors — celebrities, well knowns with a proven track record, those who have won prestigious, bankable, awards. The problem is, the black, not-too-well-known, author is at the bottom of the marketing totem pole, probably far behind the unknown white author.

Check out the rest of the discussion at Blogging In Black!

Also, over at The Brown Bookshelf, I'm giving away one of my signed copies of Jerry Pinkney's Little Red Riding Hood. All you gotta do is post a comment to any one of our blog posts this week, before Monday, November 11. Pass the word!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Weekend photos

At the Texas Book Festival, Jerry Pinkney talked about his process of illustrating books, and adapting classics. He also signed his new book, Little Red Riding Hood. Excuse my awkward pose in the photo. I'd hoped he would stand, but when that didn't happen, I bent down over his shoulder, looking like a wilted palm frond. My ego wilted as a result of our conversation. As he signed his book, I babbled on, telling him how his daughter-in-law, Andrea Pinkney, edited the first book of my career. I also told him how his and Brian's career advice, through several personal phone discussions, had helped me to reach my publishing goals. He knows me, kinda of, or so I thought. "What's your name?" he asked.

"DON TATE!" I practically screamed.

"Thank you for sharing your story, Don."

That was it. I got my awkward picture, stuffed my broken ego into my pocket, and walked away.

This morning, the wife and I ran in the Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure, a timed, 5K race and fun run. We weren't timed.

My wife ran in memory of her grandmother, Lula Lewis, who died of breast cancer when my wife was a young child.

Me, if I look irritated, it's because of what's not pictured: my tired feet and the two giant give-away bags I'm carrying. And the pink-ish shirt didn't help my mood either. All in all, it was a beautiful morning and a fantastic turnout, over 20,000 runners.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Preparing for a busy weekend

It's a beautiful day in Austin, not too hot, not too cold. That highly irritates me. Why? Because nice weather comes in spurts this time of year. If the weather is nice this weekend, next weekend, a rainy cold-front will surly move in. And next weekend, we're going on our first Cub Scout camp out.

Along with our den, and the entire pack, we will camp out in tents at Camp Tom Wooten, overlooking Bull Creek and Lake Austin. I'm sure it will be a lot of fun, I love camping. When I was a kid, I went camping almost every weekend with my grandparents. Thing is, we camped in a fully equipt, modern-day camper. When it was cold outside, grandma turned up the heat. When it was hot, we had central air. And we had bunk beds and TVs, too! No electronics are allowed at the Cub Scout camp out, which means two days of without email! Or blogs!

This weekend is going to be very busy. I need to continue revising Ron. On Saturday, my son's school Fall Festival. I also plan to attend a few sessions at the Texas Book Festival — Jerry Pinkney will be in the house! Coleman has a closeout on camp gear, and since we have no tents, we need to take advantage. Sunday, a 5K run the Susan G. Koeman Race for the Cure. Not to mention a dozen other things to squeeze in, including writing my first blog post for Brown Bookshelf, to post on Monday. Obviously, some of this isn't gonna happen, I'll probably have to miss the TBF. : (

See ya later, time to dig myself in.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Introducing The Brown Bookshelf

I am pleased, honored, and proud to announce the launch of The Brown Bookshelf, a group of 5 authors and illustrators, brought together for the collective goal of showcasing the best and brightest voices in African-American Children’s Literature, with a special emphasis on new authors and books that are “flying under the radar.”

After bumping into one another on various children’s writers’ boards, YA authors, Paula Chase and Varian Johnson, realized the same issue popped up again and again — the overwhelming lack of awareness to African Americans writing for children, especially YA, outside of the heavy-hitting veteran authors. Determined to launch an initiative that would shine a spotlight on the varied African American voices writing for young readers, Chase and Johnson created The Brown Bookshelf.

Soon after, they recruited fellow writers Carla Sarratt, Kelly Starling Lyons, and illustrator/author, Don Tate (moi), to serve as a research and review team.

On February 1, 2008, the group, in conjunction with the African-American Read-In Chain, The Black Caucus of NCTE, and AACBWI, will launch the 28 Days Later Campaign, an initiative designed to highlight African-American authors with recently released books or books that have “gone unnoticed.” Each day during Black History Month, a different book and author will be featured. The campaign will culminate with a day of giveaways and announcements of future programs on February 29th.

All that said, The Brown Bookshelf needs your help. We are looking for the best new and unnoticed works by African-American authors. From picture books to novels, books fresh off the presses to treasured classics–whatever books you like, we want to know. We’re specifically looking for new books and books that have “flown under the radar,” but you can nominate any book, as long as it’s a children’s or YA book written by an African-American author.

The Brown Bookshelf will be taking nominations from November 1, 2007, to December 1. Simply post a comment at the Brown Bookshelf website, or send an email to us at: You can nominate as many books as you like. And be sure to leave your email, as each nominator automatically has the chance to win one of our great giveaways.

Also, be sure to check The Brown Bookshelf blog often, as we’ll have regular updates and blog posts by the members of the Brown Bookshelf, and maybe even a post or two by some special guests.

So what are you waiting for? Nominate an author! And spread the word!

- The Brown Bookshelf