Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Naughty Car Twelve Days of Christmas

In case anyone wonders why we didn't manage to get Christmas cards in the mail…. here's what we were doing:

On the FIRST day of Christmas my cars gave to me a transmission crunching badly...

On the 2nd day of Christmas my cars gave to me
TWO pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 3rd day of Christmas my cars gave to me
THREE trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 4th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
FOUR different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 5th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
FIVE problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 6th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
SIX cranking no starts
five problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 7th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
SEVEN more radiator puddles
six cranking no starts
five problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 8th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
EIGHT wheels sitting useless
seven more radiator puddles
six cranking no starts
five problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 9th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
NINE mechanics busy
eight wheels sitting useless
seven more radiator puddles
six cranking no starts
five problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 10th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
TEN miles in a tow truck
nine mechanics busy
eight wheels sitting useless
seven more radiator puddles
six cranking no starts
five problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the 11th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
ELEVEN charges on VISA
ten miles in a tow truck
nine mechanics busy
eight wheels sitting useless
seven more radiator puddles
six cranking no starts
five problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles
and a transmission crunching badly

On the12th day of Christmas my cars gave to me
ZERO cars a working
eleven new charges on VISA
ten miles in a tow truck
nine mechanics busy
eight wheels sitting useless
seven more radiator puddles
six cranking no starts
five problem codes
four different rental cars
three trips to the dealership
two pink dribbles

Sunday, December 22, 2013


The Sprout has a habit of making up and mashing up words to best express just exactly how beautiful something should be. Usually that something is a version of a princess/fairy/ballerina/bride or anything that might be frothy, flowing, bouncy or decorated. This past week her new word for that was glitteramous, as in:

"Mommy, I don't like that cake. It's not glitteramous"
"Mommy, I want Santa to bring me a bride dress - one that is GLITTERAMOUS!"
(exasperated sigh) "Mommy why can't I wear ALL THE DRESS UPS to the doctor?! You know I like to be glitteramous!"

However glitteramous makes me think of something that is both glittery and enormous.

Like a ballerina hippopotamus.

Is this glitteramous enough for you Sprout?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Return from Rutgers: Two months later and it still feel intense

I promised myself I would write a post about my trip to the Rutgers Council On Children's Literature Conference for one very simple reason: While researching for the conference I never read a blog written by an illustrator who had applied without a manuscript. Was there anything special to know if all your mentor sees are your illustrations? I can't tell you how many times I typed that question in various forms into Google. Turns out I did get some answers to that question and on the plane home from New Jersey I started scripting out this blog post.

Then while standing in Baggage I got a text asking if I was available for a couple of new illustrations projects with a tight deadline. As should be very obvious by now, illustrators are like Ado Annie from OKLAHOMA….

Two months and two projects later here's that blog from that flight home, dusted off for punctuation:

One Intense Day
My mentor was Doris Ettlinger, an illustrator who's watercolors are simply stunning. Here's a cover from her new book, releasing in January from Sleeping Bear Press:

Beautiful right? This is a no brainer purchase for Fabulous Illustrator - I love the beach and now I've met the illustrator. One of the things Doris suggested that I've been really trying to push is using a complete overhead view at least once somewhere in the sequence of illustrations. Here are a couple of examples she showed me:
From Pilgrim Cat, by Carol Peacock
Also from S is for Sea Glass by Richard Michelson

I've always loved angles in my work but these are extreme! I'm looking forward to "tipping over the edge" and looking straight down on my characters.

The keynote speaker was, Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Her speech was inspiring, except for when she showed Nashville's embarrassing Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in her presentation.
Everyone sitting near me swiveled around to ask "is that really IN Nashville?" Yes, shudder, it is.

Lunch with the editors was the beehive of networking I expected it to be though everyone I met was surprisingly open and even expressed interested in seeing more work after the conference.

So from one heck of an intense day here's my top 5 take-aways for anyone planning to apply or doing the legwork after being accepted:

Number 5: Make sure there's a picture of each person in your research. Shortly after the morning introductions, the curtain separating the two rooms of mentors and mentees rolls back. Seeing a room full of NY editors and agents suddenly appear before your eyes can be... ah... daunting. But we illustrators are visual people and being able to recognize faces made it easier. I was pleasantly surprised how many people looked like their Linked In profile.

Number 4: Check the list twice, or 15 times. The list that Rutgers publishes of the mentors changes several times before the conference, even the night before. I also recommend starting your research even before knowing that you are accepted. It doesn't go to waste and it makes for much less cramming in September.

Number 3: Remember how way back in May you didn't feel you had a dummy worth sending and you only sent in the 5 illustration samples? I feel you, but realize that your mentor only sees your work that morning. So take your portfolio! Otherwise all they have to give you feedback on are the 5 copies sent months ago. The wireless signal in the building is not great so don't count on getting online... its best to schlep the hardcopy with you. The schlepping is worth it because I was able to show it to industry folks beyond my mentor and 5 on 5 Group.

Number 2: Leave early from the panel discussion right before lunch and stalk your lunch table. I was surprised by how many people didn't do this. While the panel discussion was interesting, if you've attended years of SCBWI conferences then I bet you've heard the same info before. The mentors are seated for lunch at the same tables they sit in the 5 on 5 groups. Its easy enough to look at the table groupings and figure out your best lunch dates, park your portfolio bag, and guarantee some networking.

Number 1: This is possibly the biggest take-away…. if I had to do it over again I would apply with a dummy. While I brought mine with me, my mentor wasn't expecting to give feedback on it. Even if its not the sterling document that you want it to be, send it in so that your mentor can be prepared. My work changed a lot from the time I applied to when I actually attended the conference. You can always bring an updated dummy with you.

Finally what I learned from the weekend was keep working.

That means in your hotel room that night. 

The conference ends at 4 pm. I returned to my hotel and worked for the next 6 hours on an adrenaline high. Don't miss the chance to use the conference as an artist's retreat because when better to work than after a day of consultation and inspiration.

As a shout out thank you to Doris Ettlinger for letting me post her work on this blog check out where she lives online:

Illustrations © Doris Ettlinger 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

New Project: The Fort

I'm happy to be working again with Reading A-Z on another classroom reader. The Fort is about 3 friends who turn their living room into something other than a place with boring sofas. My kids make forts all the time in the playroom so I had plenty of inspiration for these sketches

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My Roller Coaster Weekend at the SCBWI Midsouth Annual Conference.

Over the weekend Music City hosted the Midsouth Conference for SCBWI. This was my first year on the Conference Committee. I always say that you should get at least one good story out of every event. This time I got two. Here they are:

I was slated to pick up one of the faculty from the airport at 9:54, Friday morning. As anyone who knows the Fabulous Illustrator well enough can attest that I'm an extremely thorough and organized person who likes to make a plan and stick to it. Friday morning was going according to my plan until I (very responsibly I might add) decided to sit down and check the flight schedule for said faculty member's flight.

This was at about 8:45 and I was standing in my studio in a T-shirt and shorts. Remember that her flight was supposed to land more than an hour later at 9:54?

The Internet said it was landing in 7 minutes.

So much for an organized morning.

There was nothing else to do but race around throwing clothes and artwork into suitcases and portfolios then throw it all in the back of the car. Then I texted the faculty member to let her know I was aware of the early arrival. Now's probably a good time to reveal that this person was Bonnie Bader, Editor in Chief at Penguin Young Readers Group/Grosset & Dunlap. I don't know about any of the rest of you but I just couldn't fire off a missive to an editor I've never met in freakin' text speak. Somehow "R u early?" didn't seem professional enough. So I sent a very polite, and long, text asking if she'd arrived and explaining that I was on my way. To which she replied and asked about the best way to meet. I was working on this plan en route. The problem was now I was having to drive and text at stoplights which I never do…. sadly my texts were devolving into "r u n baggage?" and "c u in 10."

So much for professional communication.

Finally, as I pulled into the airport I thought: good grief, if I park and walk in it's going to be another 10 minutes… yet, is it proper to essentially do a drive by pick-up of a faculty member?! My grandmother would be horrified. Efficiency trumped manners this time and drive by pick-up it was. Fortunately Bonnie was very cool about it and probably glad to get out of the airport. We had an interesting conversation on the way to the conference hotel. By great lucky coincidence I discovered she's a regular visitor to Rutgers where I'll be attending the RUCCL's One on One Conference next month so she was able to give me some good travel tips on getting to and from the campus without having to drive.

My only remaining disappointment was that I didn't get stand in the airport with a sign like you see in the movies! I did make one though, and took a picture just for posterity:

The rest of the day unfolded with much less drama. I attended sessions with Josh Adams of Adams Literary and Lorainne Joyner the art director at Peachtree Publishers. Later, as a conference coordinator, I would get the chance to talk with them one on one. Josh has a wonderfully rich, measured voice. I want to work him just so I can hear him talk about revision notes. Loraine was an absolute joy to meet. A real Southern lady, she was friendly and encouraging in her comments on our work. Here's my piece from the intensive: 

Rounding out the rest of our "imported" faculty were Lisa Cheng, editor at Running Press; Michael Bourret, agent with Dystel & Goderich; Jordon Brown, editor at Waldon Pond Press and Balzer + Bray; Stephanie Fretwell-Hill, editor with Peachtree Publishers; Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why and The Future of Us; and Kristi Valiant, who recently debuted as an author/illustrator with Penguin Cha-Cha. All were funny and engaging in their sessions and sitting around various lunch and dinner tables over the weekend. I was particular fond of Lisa's bold move to go for the baby crab claws at Friday's dinner because they were delicious. At that same dinner Stephanie told us about her tricked-out suburban that she and her husband lived in while making their way to Atlanta from London. Made me wonder if I could do something similar with our van and go camping with Sprout and Fry. 

My favorite Saturday morning event was Michael Bourret's session on the 10 Secrets of Agents revealed. The best of the ten was the reminder that, even with an agent, you are your own best advocate for your book. He admonished us that if we're afraid of our agent something is wrong.

About mid-afternoon on Saturday, the winners of the year's contests were announced. There was much hootin' and hollering as it turned out to be a great year for some long time members of the region with David Arnold, Kurt Hampe, and Patsi Trollinger winning in the genres for YA, Middle Grade, and Picture Book respectively. Finally it came time to announce the Illustrator winner. I had entered the contest but had already seen Amanda Driscoll's great piece Charlie The Ranch Dog and figured it was a shoo-in. The Midsouth's Illustrator Coordinator, Susan Eaddy took the podium and I was poised to holler "yayy Amanda!" when it dawned on me that the name Susan was saying was not the name I was about to holler. 

Instead it was my name. 

Winning was great. Winning was spectacular to be honest because I've been entering unsuccessfully for years. But even better than that was getting the congrats and hugs from my friends and fellow illustrators in the Midsouth, including Amanda and Susan and all the rest who are named in this Facebook post. This wonderful group of artists inspire and encourage me, a few years ago they critiqued the sketch of the piece that won. It's my face in the picture but the award might as well have all of our names. 


Everyone got Mardi Gras beads for Saturday night's
Kid Lit Creator's dinner! Sprout helped me stuff beads
into folders for all the attendees.
The rest of the conference passed in a bit of a blur, I received congrats from all the faculty which was very sweet of them. I did get a chance to thank Lorianne Joyner personally for giving it high honors. Amazingly right after the announcement my overwhelming worry was that I would be late to my First Pages session where each of our picture book first pages were being critiqued. Fortunately I wasn't that late and I didn't have to send any unprofessional texts. 

By Sunday I'd received some great constructive feedback on restructuring my latest work-in-progress from Bonnie Bader, gotten positive reviews of some new illustrations and promos from Lorainne Joyner and Lisa Cheng, and eaten way to much Monell's fried chicken and mashed potatoes at the faculty goodbye dinner.

This year instead of being breathlessly focused on schmoozing and angling for an opportunity to submit work, I was focused on keeping up with the rest of the Conference Committee who were controlling a million little details with precision and humor behind the scenes. By the end of the weekend the people whom I normally would have worried about schmoozing were just regular people. Maybe we'll work together on a book one day. I hope so. But at the very least I hope I have some new friends that I can eat baby crab claws with at another conference. 

For additional inspiration check out this post reprinted from the Midsouth Conference Blog by Meridth Gimbel (click her name to see her awesome piece for the intensive):

1. Every page in your dummy picture book needs to have an action in it, whether it's subtle or dramatic.
-Loraine Joyner (Senior Art Director at Peachtree Publishers) 
Talented YA writers plus the Friday night Dessert Party
equals a cool music circle
2. "Never give up. You'll come across something that only you can write."
-Jay Asher (Author of Thirteen Reasons Why) 
Jay Asher 'splains how he came to be a Vanilla Ice fan

3. A distinct, authentic, relatable voice is probably the most important element to writing a good children's picture book.
-Lisa Cheng (Editor for Running Press Kids)

4. “This is not the music business, there are not high stakes, we don’t make that much money, and someone already has your idea."
-Micheal Bourett (Agent of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management) in response to a question from the audience asking if we need to worry about others stealing our ideas or stories. 

5. “I’ve had your postcard on my bulletin for 1.5 years and have been waiting to hire you." 
-An Art Director told Ms. Susan Eaddy (freelance illustrator) 
Author and Illustrator panel tells how they handle the cycle of writing

6. It takes chocolate, fast food, vodka, friends, and an unwanted dog.
-Answers from the artist/writer panelists to the question, "How do you buoy yourself when you are at the bottom of the cycle of despair?" 
Catching up with longtime Midsouth members 
7. Orient all the pictures in your portfolio the same way.
-Bonnie Bader (Editor & Chief at Grosset & Dunlap) and Loraine Joyner (Senior Art Director At Peachtree Publishers) 

8. A wrong agent is worse than no agent.
-Micheal Bourett (Agent of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management) 

9. "Please do not info dump."
-Lisa Cheng (Editor for Running Press Kids) on telling your audience too much when introducing a new character. 

10. Be consistent when you send out your mailers.
-Loraine Joyner (Senior Art Director At Peachtree Publishers) & Lisa Cheng (Editor for Running Press Kids) 

11. Read, read, read.
-Jordan Brown (Editor at Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray) on what you can do to advance your career

Amanda Driscoll shows off the Mad Libs
made just for the Kid Lit Creators Dinner
At the very end I came home to a cake!
And a note of congrats signed by my two biggest fans;)

Friday, August 30, 2013

De-virgo the line

During my SCBWI LA super fast paced yet insightful portfolio critique, artist agent Mela Bolinao correctly observed that I get a little fussy and overwrought with my line-work. "You are trying to make it work too well," she said.

Sigh... this is the story of my line life.

I agreed with her and joked that it was because I'm a Virgo. She surprised me by laughing and saying that as a Virgo herself, she totally understood. That doesn't surprised me, every Virgo I've ever met shares the keen sense of the master puppeteer. We control every strand, no matter how small a part it is attached to. For me personally, this is why I never miss deadlines. Ever.

It's also probably why I've struggled for years to keep the energy of my sketches in my finished pieces. Bolinao said "Loosen up! Let the line go the wrong way! Don't fix it and erase it, just try it." So when I came home from LA I decided to practice on the kid illustrations cavorting across my drawing table for the Lifeway's Agency D3's series. Here are some of my favorites:

I do like how these guys look. Admittedly loosening up the line was easier with little spots because a) they're spots and b) I was a super tight deadline. I continue to experiment on this thank you card illo I created for people I met at the conference. Here was harder because I had time to be careful:

I need to think more like Taurus or Aquarius, just brashly crashing the pencil around the page. Would the Bull or Water Bearer be better with lines?

Maybe, but not deadlines. I bet Virgo's are still the best at those.

Monday, August 19, 2013

SCBWI LA Conference in Notes and Doodles

Two weekends ago, on Saturday night, I was attending my second SCBWI International Conference in Los Angeles. Actually this is what I doing at 8pm Saturday night two weeks ago:

Yep, that's a costume boa and my friends Renee and Heather are wearing wigs. Thats how kid lit creators roll. You can dress us up and we will still find a way to act like the characters in our minds.

However the days surrounding Saturday evening's Black and White Ball were filled with workshops aimed to entertain, educate, and most of all inspire all of us before we headed back to solitary studios and writing rooms. My usual MO is to take lots of notes in longhand while simultaneously drawing furiously in my sketchbook. Below are some of my favorite notes from the sessions and key notes and the sketches that accompanied them. Also check out the  official conference blog here, and my Word Disco friend Jenni Bielicki has lots of other great photos on her blog here. Plus stop into Word Disco later this month for some Schmooze It or Lose It stories.


The conference begins with each speaker or faculty member stepping to the mic and saying one word. Here's my scribbled down list of words. About 10 minutes in to this I noticed the person sitting a few rows down flipping back and forth through her conference guide writing the words by each of the speaker's bios. Brilliant. I am totally doing that next time:

Opening Key Note:
Laurie Halse Anderson, author
Be brave today

We are lucky, when you were born a fairy godmother crept into the hospital and blessed you with magic. Books are proof that humans can do magic.

Jon Scieszka, author
Kids = nuts. They are the best audience

Giuseppe Castellano, Penguin Art Director
You guys had to pay to come here, all the while daring to be artists. 

Art directors and editors do not sit in ivory towers smoking cigars. We're not elite jerks.

Then he told this really touching story about his parent, particularly his father, coming to America from Italy in the 60's. His father struggled to find a creative outlet as a child while dealing with strict parents who did not approve - and demonstrated their disapproval by occasionally destroying his father's childhood creations. The moral of this story was that if his father could go on to succeed creatively, as an immigrant, with no family support, then we all can.

Steven Malk, agent, on career planning:
Be in control of your career, don't let it control you.
Take a deep breath and slow down.
Know your history, read it, breath it, live the books you create.
If at first you don't succeed, don't abandon ship.


Kirby Larson, author
Palimpsest (this was her word from the opening) it means writing that has been effaced to make room for more. We all create on the well worn steps of those who went before us.

Editors Panel with
Namrata Tripathi, Andrea Pinkney, Donna Bray, Claudia Gabel, Allyn Johnston, and Melissa Manlove
The main topic of the panel was "What makes a hit, what makes an evergreen"
Hits speak to a moment in time
A close examination of a moment in time can turn out to be an evergreen.
An evergreen is also about the human existence.

Each editor wants a book to have magic

Allyn Johnston thinks All The World is the perfect picture book (I agree)

Mac Barnett, author
Most of all, get the reader to be willing to suspend disbelief.
Don't break the contract with a kid reader.

He told the story of a contest in his book Billy Twitters and Blue Whale Problem where a reader could send in to get their own blue whale as a pet. Then as an example of how to break the contract with the kid reader he played voice mails left by preschool age Nico, for his pet whale Randolph. This had us simultaneously laughing and wiping tears.

Jenny Bent, agent, on queries:
I found myself in this session only because the one I was trying to get to had closed. But I found Jenny Bent to be really funny and personable. She explained the different parts of a query letter giving really great examples of real life successful queries. Google her and you'll find similar information on her blog. Google also query mad libs for a fun exercise.

Matt de la Pena, author
He gave a stunning keynote about growing up the child of teenage parents and how he landed in writing. In short college equaled girls which equaled poetry which equaled no girls but a great voice for YA.

Ask yourself, Where are you coming from?

Write what will be written

Laurent Linn, art director
I've seen Laurent Linn speak many time and I'm always entertained and I always find a new way to look at picture book art. He had do a quiz to see if we could tell what was traditional art, digital or a mixture of both as its increasing difficult to tell.

Carolyn Mackler, author
Writing is an antidote to the darker days.

We should all watch Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Market Report
I admittedly checked out of this one after the picture book news, but here's what I gleaned:
Picture book sales are actually up, driven by character driven books and franchises. Bullying is a frequent theme. A growing number of projects are originating in house.

Agents Panel with
Ginger Clark, Mela Bolinao, Joanna Volpe, Steve Malk, Jenny Bent

This was Sunday morning, after the Black and White Ball, and it was time for a bit of a reality check. Here it is:
Agents get 25 to 75 queries a DAY. 
You should be careful what you sign away.

David Wiesner, author/illustrator
I saw David Wiesner at the SCBWI New York conference in 2008. In fact I wrote this post about it. I still think the guy is a rock star and frankly I don't ever want to be in an elevator with him because I would probably a) really embarrass myself by stammering about how much I love his work or b) give myself skin cancer by blushing shades of red not found in the natural world. I am happy to admire from afar. That is, until I win the Caldecott, then y'know Dave and I can hang out and be in the same critique group. Also monkeys might fly out of my butt.

Anyway here was his keynote wisdom:
Follow the story where ever it leads
Always go back to old ideas you have, you never know where they can end up

Jarret Kroscocka, author/illustrator
I went to back to back sessions with him and then attended his closing keynote. I admire Jarrett for his unrelenting drive in this business and for just seeming like a nice guy.
Think about colors for each character
Multiple characters means humor is born.
Let your brain go to the more interesting story.
Google story mountain.
Keep a Word doc of all your story ideas.
Visit schools for free while you are getting used to doing school visits.
Create educational value.
Link your books directly to publishers site you avoid any preference for Amazon over independent book sellers.
Give away a little bit of your presentation on-line so they know what they are getting.


On Monday I attended two intensive sessions, the first with Melissa Manlove on using picture book texts to inform your writing, the second with Namrata Tripathi on creating a better dummy for picture book author/illustrators.

Melissa Manlove:
Do a close reading of every picture book you read. Look closely at language, try to figure out what is working for the book. 

Humor comes from disrupted expectations.

Namrata Tripathi:
Don't say you can do this because there are so many bad picture books out there. That tells her you want your book to be the second worst in the store.

Pay attention to voice and line work in illustrations.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I'm on the Dance Floor at Word Disco

I'm happy to be contributing to the writing group blog, Word Disco. Each month there is a new theme for posts about craft or the business of creating books. Check out my latest post under the theme of "Inspiring Speeches."

Speaking of inspiring speeches, tonight I gave a presentation to the students at Nossi College of Art about getting started in freelance illustration. My theme was "Peanut Butter plus Determination: How to build a freelance foundation." Hopefully all my graphic explanations of the hard work and amount of PB & J you eat as a young freelance artist doesn't scare them into accounting.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Kid Lit Tid Bit Round Up

At the moment the drawing table is overrun with sketches not bound for the blog so I decided to do a round-up of some of the cool kid lit news blogs I've read in the last couple of weeks. I've wanted to do this for a while, and maybe I'll start once a month doing it (maybe I'll also learn how to reupholster a chair, properly do eye make-up, and grow completely organic blueberries.... but I digress.)

Since a creative network is crucial to both starting and maintaining a life in this business, I find blog hopping a great way to do this. With no further ado here's my cool tidbits from this week:

For an interesting peek behind the curtain at Penguin, read this interview with Guiseppe Castellano. Also don't forget to follow his #arttips on Twitter.

Scroll down on the same blog to read Kelly Light's start up story. It's real life, not the Hollywoodesque I-graduated-art-school-and-then-picked-up-this-book-contract-on-the-street-and-then-danced-perfectly-with-Seth-Rogan.

Then check out Eliza Wheeler's tips on gearing up for a book launch

Then for some fun read Tara Lazar's continuing tilt with Barnes & Noble. It's got everything... Breakfast Club! Snoopy! Ryan Gosling!

A little reading on my desktop

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Monstore is Open for Business!

A shout out to PiBoIdMo creator, Tara Lazar, as her book, The Monstore, releases today! It looks like a great fun book for kids and I can't wait to request my copy. As a debut author she can definitely use the help of discerning parents. Check out her blog on how and why and help The Monstore find a home at the monster bookstore (aka B&N.)

Monday, June 3, 2013


If dinner tasted good tonight it was a miracle because in the middle of cooking squash casserole, the Fry and Sprout burst into the kitchen shouting "mommy mommy I think we need to help this baby bird!"

They had found a tiny, featherless hatchling that had fallen into the mulch by our deck. While the squash boiled over, I spent 20 minutes getting the baby bird back in the nest under the 12 foot high eaves of said deck. During the rescue, Fry christened the bird "Cuteson if it's a boy, Cutsie if it's a girl."

Cute-son/sie was reunited with a sibling in the nest but I didn't have the heart to tell the kids' relieved faces how nature usually works this out.

Instead I had a flash of insight that this might be a good time to throw in a little bit of faith. Unlike mothers who have it all together, these insights are not an everyday occurence for me so I figured I'd better grab it. We sat on the stairs and asked God to return Cutsie/Cutson's mother to the nest. During the course of this 45 second conversation with God, Fry changed the bird's name 5 times: "it's Cuter mommy, no I said Curter... I mean Curtis and Chris if it's a girl. I mean Chrissy. Curtis and Chrissy. Except I meant Cu...."

At this point I interjected that God probably knew the bird's name. Nevertheless Fry ended with "please bring the mother bird home and make sure she asks You for his name. Amen." So we're hoping for a tiny miracle under the eaves of the deck. A tiny miracle with the correct name.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is a global blog tour to showcase authors and illustrators and their current work. I was tagged by the super talented (and fellow Ringling Alum) Wilson Williams, Jr.

I decided to post about my newest picture book idea in progress....

Then after the Q & A I'll pass it along to Meridth Gimbel , Jessica Young, and Alison Lyne who will pick up the tour on June 6th.

1) What is the working title of your next book?
Bernadette's Ghost Light - though this is totally a working title as I'm terrible at titles! As I divulge information on the story line I might be taking suggestions for real titles....

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
I'm a huge theater buff and a few years ago I read Frank Rich's memoir, Ghost Light. His life is a very compelling story. In the book he describes what a ghost light is - a simple light left on in a theater all night so that the theater never "goes dark" and risk bringing ghosts and bad luck with the darkness. In Rich's memoir the theater itself was a ghost light during his troubled boyhood. I was struck by both the literal and figurative idea of the ghost light. At any rate Bernadette does not have a troubled childhood... except that she's the smallest of her family with the smallest job at the theater and one very modern grownup does not take that job seriously... until it's too late.

3) In what genre does your book fall?
Definitely a picture book

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie version of the book?
This is a great question! Definitely John Cusack would be Mr. Black. Ryan Gosling is another possibility just so that I could hang out on the set with him.... because illustrators are cool enough to do that right? Bernadette is harder to think of because I don't see her as the typical cute blonde little girl actor. She's more like the spunky kid from Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Smarmy Mr. Black

5) What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?
Nobody mess with Bernadette's mojo.
Faced with being told she's not important, Bernadette has to prove the one thing she's in charge of at the Music Box Theater is the only thing that can stop the chaos around her family.

6) Who is publishing your book?
Clearly a publisher with impeccable taste

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I rolled the idea around in my head for a couple of months before even starting to write it down. My very first stabs at any idea I write in long hand in my journal. After writing 4 or 5 drafts there I took the story to a writing retreat and over that weekend really fleshed it out. Then I started creating the sketches. I'm still in that process and have pages and pages of discarded spreads on my studio floor. So up to this point it's been about 3 months.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Good question... I've been trying to think of this as it's always good to mix into a query. Right now I'd say it's David and Goliath meet The Haunted Mansion.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Well I have to give a shout to The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen. I love that book and the fictionalized story of a real event (or in my case a real item.) I also originally got the idea (late one night in a bubble bath which is where all my ideas come from) thinking about how we as a society tend to prize certain jobs over others but this is almost always to our own detriment. Instead what we should value is dedication and excellence in any job. So then how to turn that concept into a kid's book...
This is a rough sketch of a spread. After getting the rough plotted out, I scan it in and size to the what the finished size of the dummy will be. Then I redraw it from there.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
Well what I've already said, that a ghost light is a real theater tradition. Also there really is a Music Box Theater in Chicago. My story is not set in that theater but I do plan to give it a feel of a 1920's vaudeville/movie house with lots of gold and dark red and little scalloped touches. 

Thank you for stopping in here to help me celebrate my "Next Big Thing." Now onto the next two candidates who will post on June 6th. I'll update with direct links then!