Friday, February 29, 2008

My WIP

Three weeks ago, I blogged about my next picture book project, and how inspired I was about the subject, an ex-slave who went on to do great things. As inspired as I was, however, I was also discouraged. Not much is known about my subject's life, particularly as a child.

Much has happened in three weeks. I began my search on Amazon. I wanted to see if other books had been written about this person. I only found one, and it appeared to be self-published, in 1975. The cost was way out of my budget range — over $150.00. There was no description of the book offered, so I didn't want to make an investment, not knowing if the book included information that I needed, or for that matter, if the book was about the same person I wanted to write about. I decided to shelve this project until later in the year, once my finances were a bit healthier, and when I had more time to invest.

Before shelving this project, I decided to Google the author's name to find out if he was still living. Maybe I could conduct a phone or email interview. Well, long story short, turns out the author of the book was a personal friend of the subject I want to write about. Both men are deceased — remember, my subject was born a slave.

The good news is that the author's son is still living. And he sent me a packet of information that included a photocopy of the book, original newspaper articles written about the subject, photographs and much more! In addition, he said I could hold onto these materials as long as necessary. Needless to say, I was floored that a complete stranger would trust me with these materials. Wow!— the kindness of some people.

I'm ready to begin writing, but I still have a major problem. The materials document the person's life after he found success, but doesn't include much information about the person's life as a child. Apparently, my subject was very private and didn't discuss his childhood. But that should be OK. For Bill's story, the picture book I recently sold, I researched life in general for a child of that part of the country, in that time period.

More research is still needed. But I'm on my way!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Politics, again

I just returned from the grocery store, where I voted in the early primaries. As I stood in line, I was thinking about the book I've been reading, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs. It's such an emotionally difficult book to read, even though I already knew about the atrocities suffered by African-Americans slaves in this country. But this book really shines a light into an area of my brain that prefers to keep that part of our history dark.

I know there are certain subjects that Mr. and Mrs. Obama can't speak about. I know they can't be completely honest when expressing themselves on certain matters, lest they scare off their larger voting base. And that's OK. We do what we gotta do to get where we need to go. That's an accepted part of the African-American journey.

Today was my first — and possibly last — opportunity in this lifetime to cast a vote for a Black man, for President of the United States. That may be the wrong reason to support him, since I really don't agree with his politics. But so much more was embeded in my vote beyond healthcare, immigration and Iraq policy.

Even though Ms. Obama had to go back and conduct damage control, I knew exactly what she meant when she said: "… for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country..."

I felt like that today. Sorry, no apologies from me, though.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

SCBWI Houston!

Just in case you're wondering, my Houston SWBWI presentation went well. Wish I had more time to blog about it. My schedule won't allow for a full report. But I will share a very nice note found in my email box upon return:

...I enjoyed your presentation. I loved your honest no-nonsense advice. I know that the other attendees learned a lot from you. I sure did!

Warmest regards,

Kimberly Willis Holt


I enjoyed meeting the people of SCBWI Houston. What a wonderful and warm group they are — a family, really, I'll never forget them. Some are coming to Austin for our conference this spring, and I look forward to hanging out with my new Houston friends.

One thing I will say, I was so very happy to be first on the roster! That meant, I could make my presentation and then sit back and enjoy the rest of the day, butterflies-in-the-belly free.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Our giveaway basket is overflowing

As part of our 28 Days Later campaign at The Brown Bookshelf, we are collecting books written or illustrated by our featured authors and illustrators. On February 29, we will give some of the books away as prizes to those who originally posted suggestions to our campaign. Most of the books will be donated to a library (as yet to be determined).

Each Brown Bookshelf team member was responsible for collecting books from the publishers of the authors or illustrators they interviewed. Since I had double-duty — I also interviewed four illustrators, too — my stack of books is piling high.

Here's a list of publishers who have supported our campaign (again, the list is much longer, this is my list):

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Chicken-Chicken Queen of Lamar County (2)

HarperCollins
How They Got Over: African Americans and the Call of the Sea (1)
The Friendly Four (1)

Lee & Low Books
Momma's Window (2)
Chess Rumble (2)
Jazz Baby (2)
When Horses Ride By (2)
Juneteenth Jamboree (2)
How Smart We Are (2)

Peachtree Publishers
Sweet Land of Liberty (2)

Greenwillow Books
Snowball (1)
Below (1)

From author Charisse Carney-Nunes
I Dream for You a World (2)

From author Kyra E. Hicks
Martha Ann's Quilt for Queen Victoria (1)

My donations
The Hidden Feast (1)
Summer Sun Risin' (1)

I'm still hoping for
Dizzy
Bessie Smith and the Night Riders

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More interviews: Greenfield, Holyfield

Be sure to check out my recent interviews with author Eloise Greenfield, and fine artist, and children's book illustrator John Holyfield. You'll find the interviews over at The Brown Bookshelf.

Other recent interviews include authors Sundee Frazier, Troy CLE, and Tonya Bolden. Stop by. Show us some blog love. For a celebration, it's awfully quiet over there.

In other news: I just finished and made a test run of my presentation to be given at SCBWI Houston this coming Saturday. It's two hours long. Maybe more. I gotta do some serious editing. My time slot is 45 minutes.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Real life drama is better than fiction

My daughter called tonight.

I wish you could have heard
The sparkle in her voice.

Sheer jubilation.

She's gonna be on national TV.
For her, a lifelong dream come true.

I should have been more supportive
When she shared her news.

But I didn't say a word.
I just couldn't fake the funk.

Tomorrow morning, she flies to California.
Both she and her husband. They're both so excited.

They're gonna star on Divorce Court.

No kidding. I'm serious.

And I know what you are thinking, reading this.
And to you I say: It's national TV. It ain't a secret.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Blog on rest

I am working on overload, and, among other things, I need to put this blog on rest. I haven't even started working on my presentation for SCBWI Houston.

I'm tired. I'll be back in a bit.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Politics

I'm going to blog off topic today. Meaning, I'm gonna talk about something other than myself or children's publishing. I want to post my thoughts about the presidential race, as it relates to my son.

Over the past few months, my wife and I have morphed into political junkies. When the TV is turned on, we are watching news channels. We enjoy watching — and arguing along with — the political pundits. We are following the races closely. And my son has been watching, too.

Anyone who read my blog in the early days, knows that I tend to fall to the right. It's nothing I planned, so don't throw rocks at me. Conservative politics just make better sense to me. But with the introduction of Obama, I've jumped ship.

As we watch the debates, listen to speeches, follow the news coverage, my son asks many questions. "Why is Clinton and Obama always on TV? What's a Republican? What's a Democrat? Do I get to vote, too?" Although, of course, he's too young to vote, he's already made up his mind: "I'm voting for Hillary Clinton."

That's not a popular position in our home.

This Democratic race is historic. Just a few years ago, who'd have thought it possible? A woman? A Black man? Battling it out for the White House? And one of them is actually likely to win? Martin may have dreamed big, but I'll bet he ever imagined this.

I love this race! My son, my African-American son, can aspire to be President of the United States, if he so desires. No longer is this a far-fetched dream. I'm almost brought to tears when Obama gives a speech while my son quietly looks on and asks questions. But I'm also curious as to why he cannot see an African American as President. Why does he view Obama negatively, and Clinton positively? Surely, he doesn't understand the differences between their socialized healthcare proposals.

I think that both Clinton and Obama are serving as good role models for children — Clinton for girls, Obama for African Americans, or non-whites in general. But based upon my son's reactions to this political race, I wonder if African American children have a longer way to go in wrapping their minds around the concept of a non-white president.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

I need some writing goals to ease my stress

This afternoon while at an SCBWI meeting, Cynthia Leitich Smith walked up and congratulated me on the good news I'd been sharing on my blog lately. Several others congratulated me, too. Instead of accepting their well wishes with grace, I grimaced. I felt stress.

So many great things are happening for me; this is a time that I should be celebrating. Instead, I'm worried about the disarray of my writing life. A partial first-draft of a YA verse novel is tucked away on my computer. Somewhere. Another project I haven't touched since last fall, an early chapter, year-in-the-life novel. I have several picture books in various stages of completion. Then there's that picture book bio I was so inspired about last week. I'm not sure how this agent/writer thing works, but I feel like it's time to put up or shut up.

Sometime soon, I need to plan out some writing goals. I'll feel better once I do that. And based upon how many times my wife and son interrupted me while I tried to write this short post today, one of those goals will be to gently communicate to them, DON'T BOTHER ME WHEN I'M WRITING!

***********
In other news: Varian Johnson was the speaker this morning's meeting. He offered advice to authors on using supplemental tools to enhance a manuscript, things like footnotes, charts, diagrams, emails, doodles, etc. Unfortunately, I thought the meeting started at 11:30, when actually it began at 10:30. I was an hour late and arrived just in time to hear questions. Most times, family obligations conflict with SCBWI meeting times, so I can't attend. But today, there was no basketball or baseball or soccer or Cub Scouts. I was looking forward to hearing Varian's presentation, more so to take notes to use in my SCBWI presentation in two weeks. Bummer I missed this. But I did get an autographed copy of his book, My Life As A Rhombus. Cool!

Friday, February 08, 2008

A ritzy school visit
















Yesterday I spent the day (and previous night) in CH, Texas, doing a school visit. In three sessions of about 200 kids each, I presented to the entire school. The kids were attentive and asked great questions. The teachers were enthusiastic and so very supportive. I brought along a few books and calendars, and almost everything sold out. One teacher even talked me out of a roll of my wallpaper!

CH is in an upper socio-economic community, just south of Dallas. The school is encircled by large, expensive-looking homes. A fountain so large that it looks like a lake sits just below the school. The community is swank to say the least. What surprised me the most — and this is gonna sound awful, I know — is that CH is a predominately African American community. Days before my visit, when the librarian and I discussed what books I should bring, she told me about the school's African-American makeup. I expected the community to be more like others I'd visited in certain areas of Dallas — scary.


As I carried my bags into the school, parents driving expensive-looking cars and SUVs dropped their kids off in front of the building. These kids were not being bused in. Little brown kids dressed in khaki pants and simple shirts skipped past me. No gangsta sagging pants. No little girls dressed like they were going to night clubs.

After the morning bell rang, the vice principle made his morning announcements over the intercom, stating that WF Elementary students are all college bound. Wow! What a great school this was. And the students made me feel like a rock star.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

And then. And then. And then ... an agent!

Ever since this afternoon, I've had great news to share. But first, I had to drive back from Dallas, following a full-day elementary school visit (more details to come). Then I had to attended a small group meeting with church members. Then I had to listen as my son read a book to me. Then I had to read off a long list of groceries to my wife who called from her cell phone while at the store. Then I had to wait for Blogger to act right.

So now, I finally I get to share my news: I have an agent. A licensing agent. An art agent. And now ... drum roll please ... a literary agent!

Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc. She called while I was on the highway returning from Dallas. She likes my stories! Says they're well written. Funny. She was so enthusiastic. Wow! What a day I've had.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Inspired

Yesterday, after a private media tour of Austin's new performing arts center, I found myself in the awkward position of walking several blocks back to work with one of our newsroom suits — my bosses boss. Actually, I was the one who was awkward. She's actually a very nice person.

As we walked, I babbled on profusely, trying to avoid an uncomfortable silence. Mostly, of course, I talked about my art projects, and particularly my new book deal. She was genuinely happy for me, and offered her congratulations.

When she asked if I planned to write another biography, I was stumped. I explained to her that I would like to write another, but before I could do that, I'd need to be truly inspired. So far, although several friends have offered suggestions, I haven't found another person who inspires me enough to write about them.

But that's all over now; my boss offered a name. Later, she sent an email with some background information about the person. I'm so inspired. But I'm also so very challenged. Not much is known about this person. But what is known has all the necessary ingredients to make a compelling story.

Check out 28 Days Later

This morning, I posted my first interview for our 28 Days Later campaign at the Brown Bookshelf. My interview is with artist Sean Qualls. If you read it, don't laugh. I'll admit, maybe I was a bit overly melodramatic in my description of Sean's artwork. Maybe I used one-two-many over-the-top metaphors. Maybe I'm taking my newfound a writer-with-a-contract status too seriously. Maybe.

Anyway, be sure to stop by the Brown Bookshelf and check it out.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

5 years in the making, and it ain't finished yet

The contract arrived in the mail today! Two years from the date that I first received the good news that a publisher was interested. Three years from the date that I first sat down to write the story. About 5 years from the date that author Dianna Aston mailed an article to me that she had clipped from the newspaper. That article was the inspiration for a wonderful story. Of course, it only took three seconds for me to open the envelope today and scribble my signature on the contract.

This will be my first authored children's book. I remember several years ago, sitting on a panel at the Texas Book Festival, the lone illustrator, declaring that someday I'd write a children's book. Although it sounded good at the time, I didn't really believe it. I wasn't a writer. My interest in writing began soon after, here on this blog. And my interest and love for writing has grown from there.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Cynsations children's literature blog is off hiatus!

Following her winter hiatus, Cynthia Leitich Smith is back. And Cynsations promises to be better than ever. She will feature more weekend blog posts and highlights which will include interviews with several children's and/or YA authors/illustrators, editors, and literary agents.

Cynsations begins the new year with an interview of the Brown Bookshelf team.

I appreciate the support that Cynthia has given us. I've always held Cynthia in high regard, however now that I am in the process of conducting 8 interviews myself, for our 28 Days Later initiative, I have an even greater respect for what she does on a daily basis. Organizing and conducting interviews (and having them returned in a timely manner) is not a simple feat. At. All. But Cyn makes it look so easy.