Friday, August 29, 2008

I finished the first draft of The Woodsman

I just finished a first draft of my picture book biography, the first nonfiction piece I've written since Bill was acquired by Lee & Low Books last year. In the future, I'll refer to this book as The Woodsman.

Writing fiction is hard work, but it doesn't compare to the difficulty of writing a biography . . . in my opinion. With fiction, when you get stuck, you can make stuff up. You can't do that with a biography, unless it's a fictional biography, and I didn't want to do that.

There were so many challenges with writing this book. For one thing, when I began, I had little information to work with. My subject was born in the 1800s, so my first attempts at research produced nothing more than a paragraph or two about him. But in the end, thanks to the kindness and generosity of a complete stranger miles away, I had more information than I could use.

Although my subject isn't well known, much has been written about him. For reference, I had several newspaper articles, photographs, a copy of a rare book, an extensive interview with a family member of my subject before she died, an unpublished children's book about the subject written by an aspiring author before she died, and several other things that I can't mention without giving away too many clues.

This is all so exciting, but it's also nerve wrecking, too. I can't help but feel like someone else is writing this same story and just might beat me to getting it published. What a terrible feeling that is.

For now, I'm returning to work on Effa, I'll do an SCBWI Editor's Day writing conference, then I'll attempt a rewrite and revise (it's about 800 words too long).

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I wish...

... it were possible to squeeze ten years inside of a day. I'd write a coming of age YA novel about a young man in the Black Panther Party in Des Moines, Iowa. Believe it or not, little ol' Des Moines has a rich history with this movement.

My father-in-law is visiting this week from Des Moines and he brought along a friend, an old-timer and one-time community activist. He was good friends with many of the Black Panther Party members. I asked him questions this morning about some of the old party members, and I'm so fired up.

I can't write the story. I have way too many things on my plate. But it would be so cool to make that happen.

Well, back to work.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Last week, I squeezed in some licensing designs. These will be used for digital scrapbooking. Right now, they are being sold through an online scrapbooking company, but soon I'm going to make them available for download directly from my children's publishing website. Or better yet, I may start a site completely dedicated to selling my art in various forms — clip art, craft art, prints.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Good news

Ron's Big Mission, written by Corrine J. Naden and Rose Blue, and illustrated by . . . me . . . has been selected by the Junior Library Guild! Ain't that cool?

After all that hard work, it's nice to be recognized.

I wish I had more news to share about Bill, my first authored book to publish in 2010. I've been dying now for three years to make an official announcement. But I still can't. It's in that awkward waiting stage where nothings really happening. I can say that an illustrator has signed on. I won't say who that is yet, but I will at some point "soon."

I'll keep you tuned.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ready for school visits

Couple days ago, I mailed out more than 100 flyers (front, back) to Austin area librarians, advertising my school/library program. Beyond my website, this is the first time I've marketed directly to librarians.

I began by downloading promotional materials of other authors and illustrators. Once I had a taste of the competition, I wrote, designed, and then had the flyers printed and folded at Kinkos.

Author friend, Brian Anderson, shared a list of AISD librarians he'd already compiled. Only thing I had to do was to confirm his list with the AISD website, just in case some librarians had moved. I also sent flyers to private schools.

The most exciting thing about this flyer was making a last minute revision. Normally, I'm not thrilled about stopping the presses to make a change. But in this case, my newest book, Ron's Big Mission, has been selected by the Junior Library Guild. I think that's good enough news to throw away a few flyers to make that addition.

This year, I adjusted my pricing down a bit. I'm charging $600 for a full day (three presentations). Four hundred for a half day (two presentations). And all that is negotiable. Some of my colleagues have suggested that I should charge more, that the going rate for an author/illustrator visit is at least $1,000.00, and that's low. But I've been doing school visits for about 10 years now, and at that price, I'd have not visited many schools, if any at all.

Typically, I visit about 6 to 7 schools per year, and I also speak at maybe one or two conferences. But with a slowdown in educational work, and two trade books that won't provide any income for well over a year, I could use a boost from school visits. And besides, school visits are a blast!

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Austin African American book festival?

I recently discovered an African American book festival was held earlier this summer, right here in Austin. I didn't even know about it. And I was disappointed to learn that no children's authors were included on the program.

Austin is home to Essence Magazine's best selling author Varian Johnson, who writes YA. He's African American. Austin is home to Angela Medearis, one of the most prolific children's authors of our time. She's African American, too. Not to mention myself. I know there are others in central Texas, I've met them at various conferences.

For children, the festival offered, um . . . puppet shows. Well alrighty then.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


That last post wasn't meant for this blog. Ug.

Ron's Big Mission

Ron's Big Mission

Written by Rose Blue
and Corrine J. Naden

Illustrated by Don Tate

Publishes January '09, Dutton Children's Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group

Sunday, August 10, 2008

This woman is not Effa Manley

Research for Effa, a picture book I'm currently illustrating for HC, led back to one of my favorite childhood movies — Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. I had no idea back then that this fictional movie was inspired by real life baseball teams, owners, players and events from the American Negro Leagues.

Apparently, Bingo Long's character was inspired by Satchel Paige. The Traveling Allstars and Motor Kings were inspired by the Indianapolis Clowns. Joe Callaway 'Esquire' loosely represented Jackie Robinson. And the character of Bertha Dewitt, a Negro League team owner, was inspired by Effa Manley. When I first discovered this yesterday, I thought, "Bingo!— just the reference I needed!" But after watching the movie again, I realized how far off the mark they were.

In the movie, the character supposedly inspired by Effa Manley was a villain, the butt of fat jokes who cheated, abused, and took advantage of Negro League players. While it's entirely possible and maybe even probable that some Negro League owners took advantage of their players, that's not what Effa Manley was known for.

Effa Manley was a hero who fought for the rights and equality of Negro League players. Her team, the Newark Eagles, wore the best uniforms and had the best of traveling accommodations. She was a social activist and a tireless fighter in the Civil Rights movement.

I'm so happy that Audrey wrote a story that sets the record straight.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Austin Youth Lit Creators social

Last evening, I had the pleasure of attending a gathering of local children's writers and illustrators at Waterloo Ice House, hosted by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Approximately 60 to 70(?) people showed up to hang out, talk trade, and to share their newest literary news.

It was a blast. I chatted it up with folks I've known for awhile — Frances Hill-Yansky, Brian Yansky, Chris Barton, Varian Johnson, Brian Anderson, Mark Mitchell, Jo Whittemore, Greg Leitich Smith. I also made acquaintance with a few new names — P.J. Hoover (with photos!, scroll down), Jennifer Ziegler, Carmen Oliver, and others.

I'm not a socialite at all, so I feel awful that I didn't get around to chatting with so many other familiar faces.

In addition to collecting a few business cards, I received three signed copies of Brian Anderson's The Adventures of Commander Zack Proton. This is an excellent series of books, especially for boys, and I can't wait to share these with my son (after I read them).

Cynthia, as usual, was a warm host, welcoming everyone, never leaving anyone out. She has a certain . . . star power, which always seems to blind-side me whenever I'm within a few feet of her. She'll walk up, greet me with a warm hug and say something nice. But then when I speak to her, my words just kind of fall out my mouth clumsily and in no particular order. She'll play along, give me her full attention and continue to chat with me, while I attempt to sweep my words up off the floor and put them back together into legible sentences. It's usually quite messy.

Frances was as sweet as ever, several times checking in on my wife, who I unintentionally left alone to put a killing on a plate of buffalo wings.

As far as consumption goes, I did good. Although it was sort of a happy hour event, I made due with plain ol' lemonade and a stick of Doublemint gum. And I passed on the trans fats, instead opting for sushi from Central Market on the way home.

I'm not one to attend the monthly meetings on a regular basis, so it was nice to go and catch up with everyone.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The research puzzle

I'm not good with puzzles. I won't touch a Rubic's Cube or a crossword. To heck with Sudoku. But I do love the puzzling aspects of researching a nonfiction picture book biography. After digging through libraries, online archives, museum research departments, it's exciting to finally discover that perfect bit of visual research needed to reconstruct a character or scene. But with my current project, I keep running into dead ends.

I'm looking for visual reference of Effa Manley, co-owner of the Negro League's Newark Eagles. I've found a few images online (nothing like the many, many, many images I found of Duke Ellington for another book I'm illustrating). And I contacted a few sources, experts in their knowledge of the Negro league baseball, however they only lead me to images I already found on Google (Read: com' on, no, duh.).

This morning, through WorldCat, I was excited to discover that Effa kept a scrapbook. I contacted the Hall of Fame wanting them to send me copies. I figured Effa's scrapbook would be like my wifes — full of candid moments of the Newark Eagles, adorned with cute little buttons and momentos. Wrong! I'm told the book is on microfilm and full with newspaper clippings. Few photos beyond what I can find on the internet. No buttons or stickers or coordinating papers. Okay.

No worries, though. This could be a good thing. Leaves much room for me to take some creative license. I know that she was tall, fair skinned (some articles actually say she was a white woman). And that she dressed like my mother-in-law — to the hilt! Hats, heels, flowing flower print dresses, minks. It will be a matter more of researching the time period, Negro leagues, and upper-income black folk.

I'm curious if my publisher would subsidize a research trip to the Cooperstown Hall of Fame in New York, or the Negro leagues museum in Kansas City. But I wouldn't want to ask unless I knew my results would produce something I could use. So I'm going to ask a lot of questions first. So, I'm back to the puzzle of research.