Saturday, February 28, 2009

I'm home again!

I just returned home from a two day visit in Killeen, Texas. On Friday I presented to five groups of kids at two schools. My morning visit was at an elementary school on the Fort Hood military base. On Saturday I was a featured author/illustrator in the Take 190 West art festival. I had a great time. But I'm tired. So tired.

Here are a few photos:

This is a group from . . . I forget which school. But I did three half-hour presentations to the entire student body in the afternoon (the group was so big, I had to piece three photos together to show all the kids). Great kids, very enthusiastic.

This photo is deceiving. What you see is me autographing a valentine for one child, with another child waiting. What you can't see is the line directly in from of me, with about 50 other autograph seekers, who found every single bit of scrap paper in the library to have signed. Kids are great; they'll treat you like a rock star.

Friday evening, Pat Anderson of Texas Overlooked Books hosted a get-together for visiting authors and illustrators. Pat calls himself an amateur chef, but there was nothing amateurish about the meal he prepared. It was absolutely one of the best meals I've ever had. I think Pat should reconsider peddling books and open a restaurant. Seriously.

Not wanting to drive with a buzz, I didn't drink any adult beverages at the party . . . I waited until I returned to my hotel room, where I had a nightcap. Here I am getting loopy with myself, a mirror and my camera (excuse me, I'm kinda off).

On Saturday, I was one of the featured guest on hand to sign books, and I shared a table with author/illustrator Brian Floca (who I'm convinced will win a Siebert Award for his forthcoming title MOONSHOT: THE FLIGHT OF APOLLO 11). Brian and I also sat on an illustration discussion panel with author/illustrator Keith Graves, and illustrator Nathan Jensen. It was a lively and informative session for an audience of . . . three people, maybe four.

I also shared company with author David Davis and Jan Peck.

Keith Graves gives a painting demonstration.

Here's a more complete list of the children's and YA authors and illustrators featured at the festival:

Keith Graves, Sherry Garland, Brian Floca, David Davis, Jan Peck, Xavier Garza, Dotti Enderle, Christine Ford, Shirley Smith Duke, Nathan Jensen, Clare Dunkle, Jackie Mills — and graphic novelists Christina Strain, Ben Dunn and Rod Espinoza.

I was thrilled to walk away with a signed copy of Brian's The Racecar Alphabet. Here Brian signs my copy (And he bought a copy of my Ron's Big Mission, too).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My to-do list: Contact my editor; contact the man upstairs

Editorial Anonymous has a post on her blog entitled "The Joy of Layoffs." Basically, if you haven't heard from your editor in awhile, you'd probably better contact them. He/she might be gone due to layoffs, and if that happens, your project might end up in limbo.

One of my projects is in limbo.

I haven't heard anything from anyone concerning my Duke project, and it's been almost six months. I submitted thumbnail sketches last August, but then it was put on editorial hold, indefinitely. I moved ahead to my next project, Effa, and I've hesitated to contact them, fearing a scheduling conflict should they need me to jump back in.

In addition, I've agreed to do another project following Effa, and I've just received an inquiry about illustrating yet another. So I think it's time to make contact with someone. I hope everything is not too far off track.

And while I'm at it, I'd probably better make contact with God, too. I still have a job. If you haven't heard, newspapers aren't doing so well. The paper I work for is up for sale and voluntary separation packages have been offered to longtime employees. I'm praying there won't be any involuntary separations in my near future.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Take 190 arts festival in Killeen

The City of Killeen, together with the Killeen Independent School District (KISD), the Killen Civic and Conference Center (KCCC) and Visitors Bureau, and the Killeen Art Guild will host the Take 190 West Arts Festival beginning February 22, 2009, and continuing to February 28, 2009. Events include a student art show, a student film festival, writing and drawing workshops and an artists and authors event.

The event will include artists, authors of adult literature, graphic novelists, authors of teen literature, and children's book illustrators. Children's authors and illustrators include Keith Graves, Sherry Garland and me (Don Tate).

My participation in the event begins on Friday, with two school library visits (one taking place on the Fort Hood military base). On Saturday, I will participate in the festival, sign books, have a great time, and then head home for a long-needed nap.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A fleeting feeling, or maybe I'm hearing things

Tonight as I put the final touches on an illustrator interview I'm featuring tomorrow at the Brown Bookshelf, I heard this little voice. It asked: "Does it really make sense for you to spend so much of your valuable time promoting other illustrators, when you could use some promotion and higher visibility your dog-gone self?"

It wasn't an audible voice; it was more like an uncomfortable feeling that I gave words to.

I don't know, I'm gonna shake it off and hope in the long run I'm doing the right thing.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Are you addicted to Facebook?

I found this article interesting. It asks: Are you addicted to Facebook? For me, since I use MySpace, Twitter, JacketFlap, Wordpress, Blogger and Facebook, the question applies more to social networking in general.

Here are the questions and my answers:

10 warning signs that you may be addicted to Facebook (social networks)

1. Facebook is your home page.
No. Yahoo is my homepage. Drudge is usually next. Facebook follows close behind.

2. You update your status more than twice a day.
I update my Facebook status at least once per day. Occasionally twice. More than that, I'll use Twitter which, designed for frequent updates, is less likely to irritate people.

3. You have over 500 "friends" half of whom you've never actually met.
I have little over 200 Facebook "friends" and the list keeps growing. I know, or have personally met about 50% of these people. The rest I've met through the internet. I use Facebook for trade networking, so most of my "friends" are children's publishing professionals that I've met at conferences, literary festivals, through SCBWI, or long term through the blogosphere. MySpace — with its crazy animated graphics, music, backgrounds and noise — crashes my browser, so I never use it.

4. As soon as you step away from your computer you're on FB on your phone.
No. Occasionally I will text message an update. Probably good I don't have an iPhone though.

5. You are a FB stalker. You qualify as a FB stalker if you:

a) click on someone's profile more than once a day even if they haven't messaged or tagged you in a photo.

b) have dragged and dropped more than 3 FB photos (not from your own profile)

c) actually go to a place mentioned on someone's page in hopes of seeing them in real life...creepy!
Never. None of the above.

6. You change your profile picture more than a 12-year=old girl.
I've changed my profile picture one time in the year I've been signed on with Facebook. On inauguration day, I changed my profile to a drawing I created of Obama.

7. You have checked your FB page while reading this article.
Nope. Well, except to get a count of my "friends."

8. You clean up your "wall" so it looks like you spend less time on FB.
Listen, I don't care what people think about my Facebook time. As long as I'm making my deadlines, it's nobody's business.

9. You are a member of more than 10 groups and respond to every event invitation "attending" even if you have no intention of going.
I belong to about 10 groups, but I haven't been able to find them ever since the Facebook redesign. And most of my event invites come from New York, so no I (regretfully) ignore them.

10. You change your relationship status just to mess with people.
Since my wife is anti-social-networking and does not have a Facebook account, I've never changed my relationship status. When she joins, I'll make an update.

Now, here's the weird thing: There are people I know who will talk to me on Twitter and Facebook, but who will walk right past me in person and not speak a word. Hm.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Artist to artist: An interview with author/illustrator Greg Foley

Wait a minute, don't leave! Your eyes haven't deceived you; you're at the right place. Devas T. Rants and Raves is not always about me, sometimes it's about people I admire. Today it's about author/illustrator/producer/designer Greg Foley, a man of many hats.

Greg is the author and illustrator of the award-winning Thank You Bear books — Thank You Bear, Good Luck Bear, Don't Worry Bear. The stories are told with very few words, and the illustrations are refreshingly simple. With expressive but simple lines, flat colors and soft shading, Greg has captured something special, a series of books that have charmed young and old alike.

Thank You Bear has received starred reviews from School Library Journal, and in 2008 it won the Charlotte Zolotow Award, given annually for outstanding writing in a picture book.

His most recent book, Willoughby and the Lion, publishes with HarperCollins this month! And it looks to be a winner, too.

Raised in Austin, Texas, Greg now lives and works in New York.

So without more fuss, here's my chat with Greg:

Don: With the books Thank You Bear, Don't Worry Bear and Good Luck Bear, where did the character come from?

Greg: Originally, Thank You Bear was inspired by an office meeting at one
of the magazines I work on. Someone was showing photos for an
editorial, and everyone at the table had a different reaction–ranging
from indifferent to comically cynical. It occurred to me that the
adage 'everyone's a critic' could make a good story. When I was first
thinking about the story, the main character was a boy carrying around
a paper bag and asking people to look inside. Then when I sat to write
the first draft, animals just jumped into the character spots. What
clinched it for me, was that the bear's best friend was a little mouse.

Don: Your books are fun yet simple stories that any child can relate to. What is your secret for telling a great story?
Greg: When telling stories, we all have to stick to what we know. But
we're all human, and for me the best stuff is in emotions–doubt
becomes relief, fear becomes friendship, frustration leads to joy. The
details are only a frame around the internal dialogue, which all kinds
of people can relate to equally.

Don: What inspired Willoughby & the Lion?

Greg: One time, when I was visiting my sister in Bermuda, I got some
change from a store and noticed that their penny had a little furry
pig on it. It struck me that even coins are telling a story in as
little as one picture. It took a while for the rest of the story to
fall into place, but I knew it should be based on a boy finding a coin.

Don: What is more of a challenge for you, writing or illustrating?

Greg: For me they both come with a great deal of effort! I'm not the most
natural at anything, but if I can see it in my head and feel it in my
heart, then it deserves to be brought into reality. Both patience and
tenacity are the keys.

Don: In a SLJ interview, you mentioned that cartoonist Charles Scultz was a
huge inspiration for you. What was it about his cartoon series that
spoke to you, and how did it affect you as a writer/illustrator?

Greg: As a kid, the Peanuts strips just tickled me. I'd stay up late
reading the paperback collections of them. But much later, when I
started looking more closely at story-telling, Charles Schultz's work
ethic just struck me. It seemed that he loved his work and that it
offered him a peaceful place to exist for the most of his life.

Don: You're a man of many hats — Creative Director with
Visionaire, V and VMAN magazines, instructor at Parsons School of
, and you were nominated for a Grammy for an album cover you
designed for the Pet Shop Boys. What drew you to children's

Greg: Most of the creative work I've done–branding, packaging, design–
helps shape some kind of a visual story, but rarely does it actually
tell a direct story about a character and their concerns. Back in
1991, when we started Visionaire I was already interested in character
design. But it took a few years to realize that those characters
needed real emotions to drive them. So I started from square one, with
a children's writing workshop. It was in that first workshop that
Thank You Bear was conceived.

Don: Are there any other hats that I've overlooked?

Greg: I've directed a few music videos–mostly to learn how it's done.
There's a graphic novel I'm developing with one of my best friends,
and some musical tracks to go with it. The music is something
different–my collaborator is a super talented beat-maker from Jamaica
Queens. Eventually, it would be great to direct the whole thing as a
show or a film.

Don: What medium do you use in your art?

Greg: Most things start as pen or pencil doodles, but eventually
everything ends up in the computer. Lately I've been using more
collage of found material and manipulating it digitally. Ironically,
the challenge of working this way is that you save lots of versions,
which forces you to edit yourself more.

Don: As a creative person, what inspires you?
Greg: To learn new things and make things better.

Don: When you're not creating, what are you doing?

Greg: Visiting with friends, soaking up nature and stuff that other folks
have created.

Don: Who are your cheerleaders, those who cheer loudest for you along the

Greg: My mom, dad, sister and family. Of my very close friends, there are
many who give honest advice and a few who lend their professional
opinion–which has helped me face up to my limits and find ways to grow
beyond them.

Don: What advice can you offer to aspiring writers and illustrators of
children’s books, or young artists in general?

Greg: Ask more questions and find answers to those questions. Collaborate
often and look for the magic in your mistakes.
Don: Thanks for the interview, Greg, and considering our little mixup — shhhh! — I appreciate the time you took to answer my questions.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Who'da thought, me an author?

This afternoon I read my Bill Traylor manuscript for the first time in several years. It won the Lee & Low Books New Voices Honor Award for 2005, and it was acquired by the publisher in 2008. I received an email from my editor today, with final revision requests (well, maybe not final, this is publishing). I've shared the manuscript with friends, but other than that, I haven't had a reason to read it; I've been writing other things.

My editor sent two versions of the manuscript. One was the original manuscript, following our last round of revisions nearly three years ago. With the other, she'd made editorial changes and cuts.

I read my original manuscript first. Reading it felt strange. Somehow I felt detached from it, like I was reading the work of another author. Do other authors ever feel this way? Maybe it was because I hadn't read it in so long.

I read the second version next. My editor had made a few cuts, and she had changed a few phrases, but it looked good. The cuts were necessary to get the word count down (I'm a man of few words, except for when I write). I do plan to rewrite the phrases she added, using my own words. This book will have my byline on it, so every word will be mine. Thankfully, in no way did she change the story, which, because it's a biography, probably can't happen anyway.

The title of the book and bylines read like this:

When Bill Traylor Started to Draw
by Don Tate
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Reading this was both exciting and bizarre. Seeing my name as the author? And not the illustrator? I wouldn't have believed it possible a few years ago. Me, who stumbles through the spoken word, and who routinely uses bad English like, "I'mma go git me some sammiches." Or "Happy Birfday?"

People often ask if it's awkward for me to have another illustrator illustrating my story. And the answer is . . . well, no and yes.

When I wrote the story, there was no question in my mind that I could adequately illustrate it. What I didn't know is if I could actually finish a first draft. Make revisions. Or sell it. So I removed my illustrators hat, and popped on my writers hat, and I focused only on writing the best story I possibly could. I thought about what the visuals might be, of course, but I was more concerned about getting my words right. I submitted the manuscript with a note to the editor, stating that if the manuscript was acquired, I'd be fine with another artist illustrating it.

After the manuscript had been acquired, I had second thoughts. I wanted to illustrate it, too! I submitted illustration samples, but that's when things started to get complex.

First, I already had one book in the works, Ron's Big Mission, and I had received offers to illustrate two more. Originally, Bill was to publish this year. Second, my editor wasn't sure if she wanted to use my stylistic, whimsical illustration style, or go with something edgier, grittier. Time was running out, a decision hadn't been made, and those other advances were talking to my empty bank account. So we mutually agreed to go with another illustrator.

I do feel incredibly lucky that my editor let me choose the illustrators we would approach to illustrate the story. And I'm so pleased that Greg signed on. When the book publishes, it will be perfectly clear why Greg Christie was the perfect artist to bring this story to life.

Still, yes, a little bit awkward. But all is good.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

I'm stuck, seriously stuck...

...that's why I'm blogging instead of sketching.

I have this spread I'm working on. In it the character is writing a letter, and thinking. And feeling. She's thrilled, hopeful, and outraged, all within the span of three sentences.

There are many names used in the text, people the character is writing about, so I could picture some of the people. But the problem is that all of these people will be used again on the next spread, as cameos. Picturing these people again, people whose faces will not be immediately recognized by anyone, seems redundant to me. Their names, in my opinion, will be more important to readers than their faces, at least on this particular spread.

In my original thumbnail sketches, I proposed showing the character sitting in a chair, writing letters. No, that's not particularly exciting. In fact, it's downright static. So as I expected, my AD asked for something different. But she asked for something more active. I'm struggling with how to make a quietly-written scene more noisy.

I've sketched out dozens of ideas — mostly active, imaginative, almost collage-like images — but I keep returning to my original sketch. I had hoped to finish these sketches by the end of this week, but I have the feeling I'm going to be stuck on this spread for a few more days. But I do like a challenge, so this isn't a bad thing.

Back to the drawing board.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Missed opportunity

Yesterday I spoke at Cedars International Academy. I was invited by the school's art teacher, and my SCBWI cohort, Christy Stallop. She introduced me with kind words and compliments, then I rushed into my presentation without thanking her, or acknowledging to kids that Christy herself is a talented and accomplished children's book illustrator.

So I say here on my blog, thank you Christy for the opportunity to share my artwork and experiences with your students, and I thank you for working so hard to sell my books.

Christy did. I have a pile of unsold, out-of-print books, The Legend of the Valentine, that I purchased from the publisher. I only grabbed about 15 copies, but Christy saw to it that they all sold.

So, thanks again, Christy, from a huge fan of There's a Yak in My Bed.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

What a mess...

... no not my studio, my schedule. This morning I checked my emails, like I do every morning, and I discovered a note from an illustrator friend, who had invited me to speak at her elementary school. The email basically said: "...see ya, tomorrow."

I panicked. I didn't know for sure if I had a school visit tomorrow. The school had changed several times, so I wasn't completely sure. Following a flutter of emails, I got things straightened out.

My next email was from the guy at Overlooked Books. He wanted to know if I'd planned to bring my books to the book festival, or if he should plan to bring them himself.

I thought, "What book festival?"

I knew he was somehow involved in Killeen's first book festival, and in fact I'd even met with him, festival planners, and the press back in December. But no one told me that I was in the festival. Who'da known?

I have it all worked out, now. Well, sort of. I will definitely present at Cedars Academy tomorrow. Then the week following next, I will do the Killeen event.

So if you thought my studio was a mess, you ain't seen nothing yet.