Sunday, December 28, 2008

A new year; A new blog

I started a new blog today. It's called The Best Kid in the World! It's a place where I can write exclusively about my experiences with my son. It'll get pretty sentimental and sappy up in there sometimes. I'll celebrate, complain, tell stories, share pictures. Talking about my son won't feel off topic like it does here at Rant and Raves because this is what this blog will be for.

I won't often link to this other blog, it will just exist and people will find it when they click around.

Well, I'm signing off all blogs for awhile. Catch you in about a week. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Holiday goodies made for a big soft belly

I'll definitely have to wait until after the holidays to get myself back into shape. I haven't worked out since way before the Trail of Lights 5k run, and we have too many sweets in the house to think about chiseling my abs.

Here's a list of all the holiday goodies we received from friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and teachers over the past week:

-Beer batter bread
-Oatmeal cranberry cookies
-Lemon bars
-Homemade fudge
-Pumpkin bars
-Fruit cake (really good!)
-Sugar cookies
-Chocolate chip cookies
-Several varieties of trail mix
-Ginger cookies
-Gingerbread loaf (3)
-Apple streusel loaf
-Homemade cinnamon tortilla chips
-Rum balls
-Oreos dipped in white chocolate

This is only a partial list because I've already eaten many things and can't remember now, and this doesn't include things like the deep-dish pumpkin pie and cheese cake we had for dinner at friends, or the goodies my wife bought home from her Christmas party at work. My belly is overlapping my belt, and I'm so badly out of shape, my muscles are sore from playing Wii Sports.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

What a great kid I have

This is a photo of my son, taken minutes ago. He's playing his new Nintendo games, so he's on a DS high.

I have an abnormally well-behaved-at-Christmas-time kid. He wasn't up at the crack of dawn, begging to open gifts. He slept in until 10, and then he greeted me with a Merry Christmas. Then he sat patiently near the tree and waited for his mother to wake up.

When my wife finally got up, my son tore through the gifts under the tree. But he wasn't looking for his own, he wanted to see that his mother and me received ours first. Before opening his gifts from family out of town, he thoroughly read the cards and then reminded us that we needed to send thank you cards to everyone.

He didn't show any signs of disappointment from the books or clothes he received, and he set aside playing his new DS games and Wii to call family.

No trick ending here, this is for real. What a great kid I have.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I totally loved reading Alvin Ho

For the holidays, I had planned to set aside reading youth literature and focus more on books written for grown folks. So I purchased Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. But my plans didn't last for very long.

Last night, I woke up at about 2 a.m. with a terrible headache. I couldn't get back to sleep, so I decided to read. I reached over the side of the bed to grab Blink, but instead I found Alvin Ho, by Lenore Look. I couldn't put it down and read the whole thing.

The author of Alvin Ho is a storytelling genius. She completely nailed it. The book is funny, smart and clever in all the right places.

Alvin Ho is an Asian American second grader. He is afraid of everything—elevators, tunnels, heights, scary movies, shots, girls, school, the dark. Even though he keeps his PDK (Personal Disaster Kit) nearby, it doesn't always help because you never know exactly what you'll need in a personal disaster, and it has to be updated every school year.

What especially struck me about the character Alvin Ho was how accurately Look portrayed a shy kid, without ever using the word shy, bashful or introvert. His actions (like his inability to talk when he entered a school), his thoughts, the way he solved problems, clearly illustrated his crippling shyness without ever having to label him. I was a shy kid, so I could totally relate to Alvin Ho.

And just like Alvin Ho in the chapter Psychotherapy, my parents also sent me to a psychotherapist at about his same age to find out why I wouldn't talk. That chapter in Alvin Ho's life ended on a much funnier note than mine — I didn't curse out the "psycho" in Shakespearean lingo — but Alvin's experience struck home with me.

Children's books like this are so necessary — books with everyday, contemporary Asian characters. Stories that aren't necessarily about being, say, Chinese, but just so happen to be written from the POV of a Chinese child . . . who thinks he's a super hero and who actually thinks chicken pox are cool.

Just as successful are LeUyen Pham's ink illustrations. They're funny and will have you laughing out loud.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Catching up

When you sign up for a Face Book account, you have to enter your birthday. When your birthday rolls around, they announce it to all your "friends," who in turn send happy birthday well-wishes. Today on Face Book, I think I received more happy birthday wishes than at any point in my life! It's kinda cool.

But here's the funny thing: My mom, who religiously calls on my birthday to sing the song (yes, I'm 45, and she still sings the song to me), didn't call today. Not that she forgot. Let me reassure you, she didn't. She just has her days mixed up. She is gonna call me first thing tomorrow morning to "surprise" me, but the surprise will be on her. . . he-he-he-he! I'm so bad.


I haven't blogged in awhile, so here's what else is going on in my world:

I've finally become a Twitter-er. I've been posting tweets several times throughout the day. It's a little strange, though, I must admit. Tweeting is like talking to yourself, except "followers" might be listening. I'm not sure how long this muse will last. I'm getting bored with it already.

We took a family vote and decided not to get on the road to Iowa for the holidays. It's just too dangerous. Wind chills in Iowa are at record-breaking, below-zero temperatures. But my wife and I are from Iowa. We know how to do cold. The larger problem would be blowing snow, which can cause total behind-the-wheel white-outs. We've had some pretty scary experiences along the I-35 corridor during the winter — being forced off the highway to spend the night in an army barracks, having a semi truck skid off the highway, inches from smashing my then Nissan into a pancake. I'm just not up for dying this Christmas.

At the Brown Bookshelf, we've made our 28 Days Later selections for Black History Month. 28 Days Later highlights an African American children's book author or illustrator each day during the month of February. We will announce the selections and make a 2009 poster available for download soon. We'd greatly appreciate your helping us spread the word once the announcements are made.

It's been almost a full year that I downgraded my full-time position at the newspaper and went part-time. I did this so that I could devote more time to my freelance children's book illustration business. But overall, I have mixed feelings about my decision.

On the one hand, I am much happier. This new arrangement offers a balance in my life that I couldn't achieve before. I'm at home more often, so I can be a dad and a husband, and not the guy who wakes up here in the morning. I can help out more around the house — I actually do dishes! I can participate in church related activities, that were out of the question before. I actually get to enjoy things about Austin that I'd always heard about but could never participate in because I was always at work in the evening — things like running groups with my wife in the middle of the afternoon. The other night, the wife and I took in an Anthony Hamilton concert . . . on a weeknight! That's a big deal for us, ya'll!

But on the other hand, when the economy crashed earlier this year, so did my freelance work. The problem is industry wide, at least my art agent says so. This has presented a huge financial strain on my family. Surviving from month to month has been a juggling act. Bills are going unpaid. Things are now sinking so fast, if they don't change soon, I'll be forced to do something different — get second part-time job or, maybe, find another full-time job.

On the up-note, I have two trade picture books in the works — one with Charlesbridge, another with HarperCollins. And another I've just accepted! All three are excellent quality manuscripts with above average advances. So far as my children's book career goes, things couldn't be better (well, things could always be better, but I am happily content).

Friday, December 19, 2008


It's been my goal now for awhile to sell artwork online, but I'd never got around to doing it. So when I realized another year was about to pass without reaching the goal, I decided to do something about it. So I created this little site, DonTateStuff.

Nothing fancy because I did it myself. I'd planned to hire a web designer to create something with a bit more pizzazz, but with my limited budget as of late, I had to do it on the cheap.

I'm using Wordpress to host the site, and I'm using PayPal and Payloadz to conduct transactions. PayPal collects the cash, Payloadz automatically delivers digital art to my customers without my having to get involved.

This was all very scary for me at first. I had to verify my PayPal account by providing them with my bank account information, and then I had to give Payloadz access to my PayPal account. Seemed like a recipe for identity theft, but I checked around with other people who are selling this way, and no one had had any problems.

For now, the only things I have for sale are 12 x 12 digital scrapbook kits. Crafters and scrapbookers can download and use my artwork as backgrounds and embellishments for their projects. In the near future, I'll also sell original artwork and prints from my children's book work, which means that I'll look at future projects with an eye for resale in the future.

I'm not sure if Wordpress and Payloadz were the right choice. Selling from my own domain might have been a better. Or maybe using a service like Etsy — a lot of artists are going this route. Services like Etsy have an established community of buyers and sellers, so I'm kind of out there by myself. And because Payloadz is a paid service, I'll actually need to sell a few things each moth to cover the expense.

The name — Don Tate Stuff — is kinda lame. If you have any better ideas, throw them my way.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Change Has Come, my interview with the artist, and my thoughts

I posted an interview today at The Brown Bookshelf with artist Kadir Nelson, where he discusses his upcoming book, Change Has Come: An Artist Celebrates Our American Spirit. The book couples drawings by Kadir Nelson with the words of Barack Obama, Simon & Schuster, Jan. 09.

A couple of things about the interview stood out to me. For one, because the idea for the book didn't happen until somewhere shortly before or after the election, and because the book will publish in time for inauguration, Kadir only had 10 days to complete the illustrations. For those of you who are not illustrators, that's like magic. It's practically impossible to illustrate a 32 page trade picture book in 10 days, unless they truly are sketches — and I don't know if I could create 32 publishable sketches in 10 days. This was truly a feat.

Second, what a brilliant idea on Simon & Schuster's part. Not only will this book publish near the historical inauguration, but also at the same time Kadir sweeps the ALA awards — Coretta Scott King (for sure) and Caldecott (possibly) — for his book We Are The Ship. Can we say ca-ching!

What a great deal for a talented artist.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Killeen Rocked!

Unfortunately I had to miss lunch at Central Market with my author/illustrator friends of the Austin youth literature community (missed you, guys!). But I had a great time lunching instead with authors, illustrators and librarians in Killeen, Texas. And the press showed up to cover us!

The folks in Killeen are planning their first annual book and literary festival to be held in February, so they invited — and paid! — a few Central Texas authors and illustrators to mix and mingle with event organizers. Authors included were Nathan Jensen (author/Illustrator), Scott Sutton (author/Illustrator), and author Claire Dunkle.

The atmosphere was upbeat, lunch was delicious, and we were treated like celebrities. I'm past my fear of speaking, but I still get a little jittery when the press — with their monster-sized TV cameras — is present.

I began my presentation with a poetry reading by Jack Prelutsky, and then I read Black All Around!, and talked about a few of the illustrations. Librarians were very receptive and several promised to have me back to visit their schools.

A special thank-you to Pat Anderson of Overlooked Books, who invited me to be a part of the event, and has been promoting my books to librarians across Texas.

Author/illustrator Scott Sutton discusses his middle school chapter series, The Adventures of Dinosaur Dog.

Author/illustrator Nathan Jensen discusses his book, Don't Ever Cross That Road: An Armadillo Story.

A packed room of, maybe, 50 to 60 people.

Photos taken by the talented artist and student Dewayne Lacey.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Guiding Young Readers Through The Literary Jungle

Be sure to check out The R.A.W. Affair: Readers & Writers Conference. RAWSISTAZ Literary Group (don't blush at the book covers), one of our sponsors at The Brown Bookshelf, is hosting an online panel discussion today: Guiding Young Readers Through the Literary Jungle.

When to introduce your little ones to the library? How involved do I have to be in my teenager’s reading life? What are some of the classics of African American children's literature. We answer those questions. Check us out!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The book sale

This past Friday, the newspaper where I work held its biannual book sale. I'm normally off on Fridays, but this sale always lures me in to the office on my days off.

Our books editor receives oodles and gobs of books sent by publishers hoping for reviews in our Features section. Thing is, only a small portion of books actually get reviewed. The rest are sold at sales that rival the recent Walmart, Black Friday, stampede.

I love this sale because everyone else bypasses the books I'm looking for — children's, YA and Black-authored books. Means I get my fill of whatever I want. So here's what I got:

Flower and Fade, a graphic novel about a couple that reminds me of my cartoon series.

The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine by local Austin YA author April Lurie.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things. The only reason this book caught my eye was because of its mention on Bartography. I read the first few pages and I'm hooked.

Little Divas by Philana Marie Boles, a 'tweener series. I certainly hope this talented author will receive more attention for her great works.

Matthew Henson: The Quest for the North Pole. A Black guy who likes snow, cold and mountains. Hmmm. My interest is piqued.

I also got some non-children's books, too:

My Grandfather's Son by Clarence Thomas. Like it or not, I'm a big Clarence Thomas fan.

T.O.'s Finding Fitness. I can't stand this guy. I can't stand football either. And T.O.'s half-naked book cover repulses me. But I'm addicted to fitness books, so I'll read every word, eventually.

The Hip Hop Wars by Tricia Rose. This is one of those books that will decorate my bookshelf, but likely will never get read.

Ghetto Nation: Dispatches from America's Culture War by Cora Daniels. Ditto on my previous comments.

Definition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop by Cey Adams with Bill Adler. I was almost embarrassed to pick up this book in a crowded room, with it's racy cover. But in all honesty, the racy cover is what sold me. It features a digital painting of rapper 'Lil Kim, all spread out, you know like she does... For an artist, graphic designer, visual person, this book is the bomb!

Now get this: I got all these books, brand new, hot off their publishers presses, for only $23-bucks.