Friday, October 31, 2008

Don't do this...

So, I was at a pretty cool party tonight (yes, I went Trick or Treating, too, beforehand). I was having a conversation with a sales rep from a major publishing house, when she mentioned that her son was an artist. I stepped in and encouraged her to encourage him to look into a new art college that's moved into town.

She looked at me confused.

"My son is only 7-years-old," she said. "He's not college age, do I look that old?" There was an awkward silence among the eight of us sitting at the table.

"I think I've just been insulted," she said.


I had a really good time. I'm often uncomfortable in mix-and-mingle situations. But tonight I approached it with a different attitude. I made a decision to have a good time, to be outgoing. I was intentionally conversational, walking up to complete strangers, engaging them in conversation. And it totally worked! In situations like this, people want nothing more than for someone to approach them, to break the ice and talk to them.

But the margaritas were double-loaded, so to slow down the buzz, I filled up on Tex-Mex and made an exit . . . before I said something stupid or tripped over my feet.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's been decided

Pertaining to the problem in my previous post, where I wasn't sure whether to attend a party tomorrow or take my son Trick-or-Treating, it's been decided. Here's how the conversation went:

"Dad, I can't wait until tomorrow!"

"Why?" I asked him, knowing the answer.

"Because it's Halloween, Trick or Treat!"

"Since when do you like Trick or Treat? You are usually too scared." I thought my argument was sound, figured my party was in the bag.

"That's not true," he said. His voice sounded hurt.

"Yes it is," I drove my argument home. "I usually have to make you go Trick or Treating, and you never want to stay out long."

"You weren't even home last year on Trick or Treat. Or the year before," he shot back. "You were at work, so how would you know?"

After a long pause, I changed the subject.

Crammed up weekend ahead

It's Thursday already, and I still have an unresolved conflict to work out. Several of them, actually. Tomorrow I'm supposed to attend a very cool party put on by the Texas Book Festival, for featured children's and YA authors, moderators and organizers. I'd like to be there. It will be fun.

But tomorrow is also Trick-or-Treat night.

I love taking my kids out for Trick-or-Treat. When my daughters were little, I'd paint their faces like clowns. They appreciated that so much more than any store bought costume. We'd go door-to-door, many times in the rain or snow, staying out late until everyone's candy had run out. But my son, to be honest, doesn't like Trick-or-Treat much. He's scared of the dark. He's scared of Halloween decorations (people in Texas go all out with Halloween decorations, scary music and costumes -- it's almost religious). He's scared of other Trick-or-Treaters, too, unless they're dressed like angels or princesses or soft, friendly dinosaurs.

The evening is usually stressful for him and for me. Have it his way, he'd put on his costume and give out candy at the door (to those dressed friendly, of course). Have it my way, we'd sweep every home in the neighborhood. So we usually compromise; He puts his costume on, we visit maybe three homes, then we come home where he can pass out candy in the safety of our well lighted livingroom.

And I should miss my party for that?

On Saturday at 3 p.m., the authors on my panel and I are to meet in a designated room at the State Capitol. My plan was to visit a few of the other children's and YA panels in the morning, then do my panel at 3, and then attend the cocktail party at 6. But my son has football pictures in the morning, and a game at noon. And, of course, my wife has church mixed up in there somewhere in the morning and evening.

I'm still not sure what I'm going to do yet. I will be there to moderate my panel, no doubt. But everything else hangs in the balance.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The candidates lives as graphic novels

This has to be the coolest depictions of the candidates I've seen so far. IDW publishing is now offering graphic novel biographies of the candidates. And they're also available to be read . . . on your iPhone. Get outta here!

For better or worse, I do think the day of electronic picture books are just around the corner.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Take a Chance on Art

Ok, I admit, the driver of this blog has been asleep at the wheel. For reasons I won't go into, I haven't written much in the past couple of weeks, here or elsewhere. So today I'm playing catchup.

The Texas Library Association is holding a raffle, Take a Chance on Art. Proceeds will support their Disaster Relief fund. The art to be raffled is a character study of Duke Ellington that I created for an upcoming book about the jazz great.

This year's drawing will be held in Houston on April 2nd, at the annual conference. Tickets are only $5.00. You can purchase one at the conference or print a ticket and mail a check to the TLA office prior to March 20th to be included in the drawing.

In addition, Cynsations has featured two very nice interviews of librarian Jeanette Larson and me, in regards to the raffle.

Here's an excerpt: "Normally I use a tight, stylized realism. But for this book, I wanted to do something very different, something bold, loose.

So I approached this study with the plan to throw away the final piece. That way, I'd loosen up, not care so much.

I sketched my subject with a Sharpie marker. That way there would be no erasing. Then I used a photocopying process to make several copies for experimenting with (that was my only short cut). When it came to painting, the trick for me was not to think, not to plan, to just let it happen.

But I liked the final piece and couldn't throw it away. So I made myself another and donated the original to the Disaster Relief fund."

So if you haven't already, slip on over to Cynsations and check out the interviews, and consider purchasing a ticket. Your contributions will help children and families, especially those recovering from Hurricane Ike.

And once again, I thank Cynthia Leitich Smith for her support and generosity.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Change in plans, Texas Book Festival

Well, the session I was to moderate at the Texas Book Festival with Kadir Nelson had to be canceled. Big bummer. I was so looking forward to chatting with this great artist. Wouldn't that have been cool?!

Instead — and just as cool — I'm pleased to announce that I have been offered the opportunity to moderate another panel, I Haven’t Been Myself Lately: My Life as a Writer. This panel will include National Book Award finalist Shelia P. Moses, Varian Johnson, and Shana Burg. This session will take place on Sat., Nov. 1st from 3:30-4:30.

So, if you're in Austin, be sure to stop by what will be an energetic, informative and insightful look into the minds of three of the industries top writers of YA.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

My son thinks I'm a rock star

Last month when I spoke at the Grand Opening of a Corpus Christi Library, I took my wife and 7-year-old son along. We made it a family get-away/working weekend.

On the morning before my presentation, we walked out on a pier that overlooked a huge school of white jelly fish. They kept us entertained for about an hour, bobbling up to the surface and then disappearing underneath. They looked like cotton bolls floating on water. Afterwards, we rented beach bikes and rode along the ocean front (though I was a bit grouchy, preferring instead to take a nap under the shade of a tree).

My son knew I was going to make a presentation at the library. I'd recited my opening comments to him several times on our way in the car. But when we arrived at the library, he was indifferent. As I set up, he stayed far away, like he was embarrassed about what was about to happen.

A few minutes before my introduction, several people who'd bought books but weren't staying approached me for an autograph. And suddenly my son became interested. He glued himself to my side.

I began my presentation by reciting a couple of poems that I'd illustrated for educational publishers. Before I knew what was going on, my son became a part of the act. He was right up there with me, walking back and forth in front of everyone, looking up at me and out at the audience. A couple of times, I almost tripped over him.

What's wrong with him?, I wondered? Why doesn't he sit his little butt down and let me do my thing? Normally he has model behavior. But as I continued to share my stories, he crawled under the table where my books were displayed and popped out from under the tablecloth like a jack-in-the box, stealing the show. A few people laughed. At another point, he crawled on all four and snaked his way between my legs. Finally, I stopped and told him to go sit down and waved for my wife to come get him.

After my presentation, I signed books. Lots of books. And he stood right alongside me through the whole thing, telling everyone as they approached, "I'm his son. I'm with him," pointing enthusiastically at me.

"Daddy, you're a rock star," he whispered in my ear. That's when it all made sense. My son was proud of me.

Yesterday when I presented at the Hill Country Book Festival, I remembered my son's behavior from a month ago. To help him feel a part of the show, I gave him the assignment of passing out coloring pages to the kids. But that didn't work. He quickly passed the pages out and wandered back and forth out front, right along with me. "Sit down, man," I whispered to him. "Sit down, please."

I was irritated, but I didn't complain too much. I do the same thing when he performs at school programs or sporting events. I make a fuss. I take lots of pictures. Sometimes I break the rules and barge my way to the front, if it looks like I might miss a memorable moment. He's mine — I'm with him, and I let everyone around me know it.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

So sorry for Omer

A character in a book I'm reading just died, and it so depresses me. Thing is, I knew this was gonna happen. I mean, the character was so adorable. Too cute almost. I felt like the author really wanted me to love this character . . . for some reason. So I figured she'd have to kill him off for the sake of good reading. I hate when that happens.

Great book, none the less, but ug, Omers a kid and now I feel sick.

Busy week behind me, busy week ahead

I've been so busy, I haven't had time to post an update or anything, so here goes:

I'm sort of at a stopping point with both my books, Effa and Duke, so I worked on a little gift shop book for The Austin Steam Train Association. Think Polar Express, but in Cedar Park, Texas. I also tested an won a very small yet very large (if that makes any sense) educational freelance project. With Effa and Duke on hold, ready to resume any day, I really can't afford to take on another project. But with such a dry freelance summer and fall, I can't afford not to take on another project either. A brotha needs some income.

Thanks to my friend, Kelly, who referred me to the service, I signed on with Children's Lit, Author/Illustrator Booking. I'm hoping they might be able to arrange a few school visits in the North Carolina area when I speak at the AACBWI Conference next spring.

I RSVPed to attend a very cool party with featured authors and illustrators of this year's Texas Book Festival. I will be moderating a question/answer session with Kadir Nelson. More details to come.

Yesterday I received samples two advanced copies of Ron's Big Mission, my most recently illustrated book. And I received a very nice note from the author, Corrine Naden, who offered compliments and praise. We both expressed our sadness about the passing of co-author Rose Blue before the book could publish.

Today, I'm presenting at the Hill Country Book Festival in Georgetown, Texas. My presentation is in three hours, so I'd better get off the internet and prepare. Local authors Cynthia Leitich Smith, Liz Garton Scanlon, and PJ Hoover will also be there!

I started writing another picture book biography. Crit partner Chris Barton offered this subject, and just like with Bill, a book to publish in 2010, I let it sit for years before writing it. So far, I'm still plugging in dates on a time line, so I haven't actually got to the writing part.

And I'm back to practicing figure drawing, too. I sketched, probably 50 or so figures this week. It's so relaxing.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Virus problems

For the past few months, a virus has been stealing my America Online password and sending emails to everyone in my address book. I don't know much about viruses, but I've figured out that it's attached itself to my Firefox browser and is sending some kind of script that steals my password. I know because every once in awhile, I receive an email from myself that I did not send. It's disconcerting when that happens to say the least.

The answer, of course, would be to purchase security software like Norton, but my money's been funny so security software is the last thing on my priorities list.

In the meantime, I've changed my America Online password almost weekly. But as soon as I do, my browser sends me a warning about a script that is attempting to access my information. Happens in America Online and on Facebook.

Earlier this week, I thought I'd found the answer. I loaded a program onto my browser called Firefox NoScript (no links because NoScript prevents me from adding them). Supposedly, NoScript will block password-stealing scripts from accessing accounts. Problem is, the danged thing has blocked me from accessing my own accounts — AOL, Facebook, Flicker, Blogger. And the thought of logging into my bank, Amazon, or PayPal accounts scares the crap out of me.

For now, I'm gonna have to figure out how to remove this virus blocker from my browser. Yes, it's probably better to be safe than sorry and to leave my accounts inaccessible. But it doesn't make sense to leave my accounts accessible to others, but not me!

In the meantime — editors, art directors, authors, illustrators, book people — should you receive an email from me that isn't children's book related, please know that I do not sell Viagra or male enhancement products. Nor is a brotha in need of either.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The candidates in cartoon

This is an illustration I did for a humorous Features article that compared the presidential race to a track and field event. This was such a fun project because I've been dying to do some political cartooning. But because I work on the news side at the newspaper, and not the editorial side, I'm not allowed. Although this illustration doesn't make a political statement (which is what I'd really like to do), it does allow me to create fun likenesses of the candidates.

I did the line work with a Sharpie marker, scanned it into Photoshop and used the brush tools to lay down color. I also used the dodge and burn tools — which I'm told isn't the best way to work — but it seems to work for me.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Character study

This is a character study of Effa Manley. I painted it with acrylics. Not sure if it's exactly the direction I want to go, so I'm going to do a few more. I prefer whimsical illustration, slightly cartoony, which wouldn't be right for this book at all. But I don't particularly enjoy realism (portraiture) either. So the trick for me is to strike a balance between what I enjoy painting and what is necessary for the project.