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It’s that time of year again: Cybils Award season. The judge announcements went out this morning. I’m delighted to be serving on the First-Round panel for YA Fiction. My last stint on this panel was in 2010, aka The Year I Read a Million Books. (I’m sure it’s a TOTAL COINCIDENCE that that was also the year I began to need reading glasses.)
My appointment to this panel spurred me to make a move I’ve been considering for some time, which is to dust off my tumblr (again) and try using it for my YA-related content. I’ve got a new YA of my own coming out next year, and tumblr seems a better fit for connecting with teen readers. I’ll add a link to the sidebar, or if that topic interests you enough to want to follow it in a feed reader, here’s the RSS. (I also use tumblr for reposting interesting articles and art I’ve come across, so fair warning.)
Disclaimer: I consider all platform changes to be experimental until they’ve proven themselves convenient, so this may or may not be a long-term shift. I just really like keeping things in different boxes. But if you’ve seen my garage, you know there usually comes a point where I get annoyed by the clutter and dump everything into one big container. (Believe me, you don’t want to see my garage.)
I believe this post may have set a new record for ending paragraphs with parentheticals. (Yeehah!)Add a Comment
Books have a way of wrecking a person’s life. Well, okay, not wrecking, that’s far too strong. Ruin maybe. Well, no not ruin either. Let me try again. Books have a tendency to keep a person from being settled in her opinion of things. The opposite could be true too, books could serve to always confirm a person’s opinions and beliefs. I guess it all depends on what sorts of books a person reads. For me, the first one tends to hold sway.
Most recently my opinion of Andrea Dworkin has been ripped to shreds. I am reading a book of essays called Icon edited by Amy Scholder to review for Library Journal and I just finished an essay in it by Johanna Fateman on Andrea Dworkin. I can’t say that I have ever read Dworkin. I have read bits and pieces, passages, quotes, never an entire book of hers. By the time I came along to college and took a women’s literature class, Dworkin had already pretty much been written off by feminists because of her anti-porn and, purported, anti-sex, stance. I wasn’t especially concerned with porn, but when you are twenty, the thought of being anti-sex, even if you weren’t having any, was preposterous. So I wrote off Dworkin too as a kooky feminist who had gone way too far. I was all, feminism yay! But I just didn’t see the reason it had to go to such extremes.
But this Fateman essay is forcing me to re-evaluate my opinion of Dworkin. To be sure she did go way out there, but she had reasons. And now, from the perspective of 20+ years, I can also understand that sometimes one needs to go to extremes in order to get any sort of attention on an issue that people don’t think is a problem or refuse to believe is anything to be concerned with.
And did you know Dworkin wrote novels? A couple of memoirs? And some supposedly excellent literary criticism? I certainly had no idea. And now this (not) stupid essay has made me want to go and dig some of those things up, especially the criticism, to discover for myself just what made her so known and influential before everyone turned on her.
If I hadn’t agreed to review this book for Library Journal, and if there hadn’t been an essay in it about Dworkin then I could still be going on my merry way with not a thought about the woman. But now, blast it all, I am not going to be able to let it go. I will have to investigate further. Darn books, why can’t you just let me be ignorant? I don’t have time for this. Books have to go an ruin everything.
Question: I am trying to write a young-adult, fantasy, romance type of novel. It's first person POV. The girl is the main character who is a vampire. AndAdd a Comment
Brazen Animation, a new animation studio comprised of animation veterans from Disney, Blue Sky, Reel FX and Green Grass Studios, has launched in Dallas, Texas.Add a Comment
I no longer dread the question “Where do you get your ideas?” That’s because I finally figured out the answer.
Don’t get me wrong I’ve answered it a million times over my more than ten year career as a writer. I’ve nattered on about brain monkeys, ends of rainbows, stealing ideas from Maureen Johnson, ideas not being that important, blah blah blah.
The actual answer does not involve light bulbs or muses or brain monkeys or Maureen Johnson. Well, not directly. My true answer involves lots of work. I apologise for the lack of glamour.
Here’s what I realised: I’ve been practising getting ideas and turning them into stories for most of my life. Just as an athlete develops the muscles and reflexes necessary to be able to play their sport by training and playing for many, many years, so do writers develop their story-creating muscles.
I started when I was little. As I suspect many novelists do. I was one of those kids who was forever coming up with whatif scenarios.
My Parents: “Don’t answer the door if we’re not home.”
Me: “What if it it’s someone saying the house is on fire?”
MP: “They’d shout through the door.”
Me: “What if they’re mute?”
As you can see I’m already building a story. There’s a child at home alone, there’s a fire, and the only one who can warn the child cannot speak. What happens next? Will the parents get home in time? Will the child survive?
MP: “Don’t hit your sister!”1
Me: “But what if hitting her is the only way to kill the tiny alien that’s attempting to crawl in through her pores?”
MP: “There is no excuse for violence under any circumstances.”
Me: “But what if . . . ”
MP: “What if we say no more books for you until you turn 30?”
Me: *side eyes parents*
Here we have a world in which there are nano-aliens who can get inside us through our pores but who can also be destroyed by squashing them. What happens if they get inside us? Do they eat us? Turn us into pod people? How did they get here? Have they been here all along? Are they only after little sisters?
I played at what ifs almost every day of my childhood. When I wasn’t tormenting my parents and teachers I was making up stories for my sister and then for my friends.
If I lost a book before I’d finished it I’d make up the ending. Ditto for movies and tv shows I didn’t get to watch all of.2
It becomes a habit to start extrapolating possible stories out of, well, pretty much anything. Why is that banana peel on the ground directly outside a jewellery store? Genetically enhanced monkey jewel thief. Obviously.
When I overhear odds snatches of conversation I extrapolate the rest of the conversation and the story it’s part of. It’s fun to imagine whole lives and adventures for the people I overhear on the tram.
Having done this every day for decades now it’s no surprise I get ideas for novels many times a day. I see a fantastic tweet like this one:
When the teacher asks you to stand up and tell the class a little bit about yourself on the first day pic.twitter.com/IY8gMcXebl
— Shakira (@shakiraevanss) August 29, 2014
And I start thinking about writing a novel where a kid does that on their first day of school: walks in dressed very fine, holding a big sign that says FEMINIST. The rest of the novel would be them slaying the evil trolls, defeating the misogynist school board and principal, and saving the world.
When you get a bunch of writers together they often do this, bounce ideas off each other, extend them into a story. Whatif-ing each other for hours. It’s how collaborations often begin. That’s how Sarah Rees Brennan and I wound up writing Team Human together.
Of course, I pretty much never write the novel if I’ve already figured out how it ends. When ideas really spark for me I have to start typing. But even then I have oodles of half sketched out beginnings of novels, sometimes several chapters, sometimes just a paragraph or two, sometimes no more than a few lines. A very small percentage of these ever become novels. All that practise turning ideas into story pays off every time I finish another novel.
There is, alas, a huge distance between coming up with ideas, extrapolating a story, and turning them into a fully fledged novel. The first two are a matter of moments; the latter a matter of months, if not years. But without the ideas the novels never happen.
Finally, to tie this into Scott Westerfeld’s marvellous series on how to write YA, extrapolating about other people’s lives is a great way to build empathy, which Scott argues is one of the most important functions of a novel.
I hope everyone is enjoying the reviews here at Kid Lit Reviews. These are not your normal reviews. I try to make them humorous when the book calls for it and let you see a glimpse of my personality in the review, without taking from the book. I hope you enjoy these longer reviews as much as I enjoy writing them. I never thought I would write so much each day. There would be no reason to do this without all of you.
I will be away for a few days, possibly a week. I will try to continue posting reviews as usual. If you find the same review the next day, I apologize. I hope that never happens more than two days in a row. I must take a few days off to undergo surgery on my hip. Not a big deal, the hip simply no longer likes me, so I am replacing it for one that does. It is not easy living with a hip that works against you. The socket will be unoccupied as of tomorrow morning, if anyone knows of a good, loyal hip that needs a permanent home. It will be ready in about 6 weeks. This new tenant must be infection free and plan to stay that way. With all of you good readers out there, I hope someone knows of a hip without a bone to pick.
I plan to return full-time as soon as possible. Until then, I hope you enjoy the reviews that do post. I will reply to each and every comment when I return. Until then, please talk amongst yourselves, behave online, and do return. I will miss you. Off I must go, but I will be back before you know it.
Until then, please take care,
HarperCollins Publishers has revealed plans for a new Holiday Express Shipping program to help support independent bookstores across the country during the holidays.
As part of the program, the publisher will ship all qualifying orders from participating stores that have been placed by 1:00pm (EST) out the next business day. If the titles are in stock, the books will be delivered within two business days. Reorders for HarperCollins and HarperCollins Christian Publishing titles are all eligible for this program.
Here is more from the press release: “New title laydowns will continue to ship by the established on-sale date for each title. November 3, 2014 and running through January 16, 2015.”
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.Add a Comment
On September 30, 2014, my new novel, Unstoppable Octobia May, will hit bookstores nationwide. On that day I would love you and/or the young people you influence to join me in shouting out to the world that they too are unstoppable by holding up the following sign, words, image:
I AM UNSTOPPABLE
If you and the young people you influence feel as if you’d like to show the world what skills make you/them unstoppable–while also holding up the sign–great! All this year I will be doing one thing or another as I try to get young people to express what makes them unstoppable.
In my novel Unstoppable Octobia May, a young girl is doggedly chasing down secrets as well as the truth regarding a boarder in her aunt’s boarding home. She is unstoppable and so are you and the young people you impact.
If you would like to join me in this effort, do let me know. On September 30th post your signs, etc. on Twitter and Facebook, create vines, have fun, all while making sure to include the following:
I Am Unstoppable
It is time we all let the world know just what we think of young people and what they think of themselves. Unstoppable! Determined! Powerful! That’s who they are. That’s who we want them to be.
Thanks. And do let me know if you plan to participate. And do pass this along!
You can reach Sharon through her website: http://www.sharongflake.com/.
The Last Waltz was a revolutionary documentary. It was the first concert movie shot in 35 mm, the record of a celebration of the Band’s last concert on the site of their first show as The Band. It is the visual evidence that more than thirty years ago Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel had the good sense to go out on top. There are many examples of actors, politicians, athletes and rock stars who didn’t. The movie itself, I hour, 37 minutes, was directed by Martin Scorsese. No matter what you think of Hollywood, his credentials as a director are undisputed. His list of credits, accomplishments and awards means that Scorsese is a serious director, not one to waste energy. At the time, 1976, a time when the underground half of the 60's generation was realizing that the other half was following in the footsteps of their parents, embracing the values that their governments, their elders and betters, praised and promoted, Scorsese was in the middle of directing NEW YORK, NEW YORK, a huge, expensive Hollywood project. Unbeknownst to the New York, New York producer who would have had a heart attack if he’d known, Marty (as he is referred to by almost everyone in the movie) took a weekend off, filmed the concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, put together the rest of it in a week and filmed three more songs on a Hollywood sound stage a few months later. It was edited and released in 1978. The sets, lighting, photography, sound and all the myriad details that go into movie creation were taken care of by hook or by crook, often improvised by world renowned experts in their fields. The project took on a life of its own. It was not made for profit and grew into an important cultural event. Before Scorsese made The Last Waltz, there was WOODSTOCK (where he worked as an assistant director and editor and learned what not to do), GIMME SHELTER, SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and an Elvis film, but no other single concert had been as carefully choreographed, as meticulously set and photographed as this. There were seven cameras shooting at times, each run by a professional and, in many cases, a world famous cinematographer. Bill Graham’s lawyers forced Scorsese’s assistant to negotiate each camera movement because he controlled the stage and insisted that nothing impair the sight lines of the live audience. It is best to mention here that the DVD of The Last Waltz is available cheap at your local DVD purveyor. This one only cost ten Canadian dollars to buy, a great bargain for musicians, writers and anyone else interested in rock ‘n roll and the making of movies. The “Special Features” additions on the DVD contain a lot of comical and serious comments by the movie makers, Mac Rebenak, Ronnie Hawkins, Mavis Staples and the band members which can be listened to as the movie plays. As each band member, song and guest performer appears, someone talks about them. The story of The Band’s creation and growth through sixteen years of living on the road unfolds through a series of interviews with band members interspersed among the songs, mostly answers to questions posed by Scorsese himself, questions provided by a professional screenwriter. Many of the answers are funny, some ironic, some poignant, but one feeling permeates the whole movie, a sort of good natured humour, an amused observation of the world at large and a sincere appreciation of the music. The Band were aware that the odds of survival for such a long time in such a high risk lifestyle, were against them. Robbie Robertson says, at the end of the movie, “The road has taken some of the great ones” and “You can push your luck”. Three of the Band’s songs were filmed on an MGM sound stage where Scorsese could control everything and was free to use a crane and a camera as in normal movies. The Weight, in which Pop and Mavis Staples sing verses and all four harmonize on the choruses with members of the band, Evangeline, which is filmed in stunning colour with Emmy Lou Harris doing an achingly sweet call and response with Levon, and The Last Waltz theme song which is a waltz written by Robertson who is playing a double necked acoustic guitar as he performs it with the Band, were all filmed on sets designed by Boris Leven, a friend of Scorcese and the production designer on The Sound of Music and New York, New York. It was Leven who was responsible for renting the San Francisco Opera’s set for La Traviata and setting it up in the beat up, spruced up, old Winterland Ballroom for the concert. His original idea was to fill the place with chandeliers but they couldn’t afford more than three. It’s fitting that while the rest of their generation was trying to deal with the post Vietnam world, the plan for The Last Waltz was hatching and growing between Robbie Robertson and Martin Scorsese in a couple of months of creativity and hard work. At first, there was no budget, just an idea. It was cobbled together by the seat of its pants, almost an afterthought. The Last Waltz began, in a way, underground, and became the standard by which all concert movies are measured. When the concert was over, Scorsese and Robertson agreed that through all the craziness and frenetic activity, through the power of the music and the personalities, maybe, just maybe, they might have produced a gem. The movie begins with Rick Danko telling Martin Scorsese that the game is “Cutthroat” and breaking the balls on a pool table. Then, in a way which makes sense only when you’ve watched the whole thing and listened to the commentary, The Band returns to the stage for an unplanned encore after the concert’s over. They play Don’t Do It and Robbie Robertson’s lead guitar places the viewer in a car travelling through a beat up neighbourhood of San Francisco to the Winterland Ballroom where crowds are lined up and the huge vertical sign above the entrance has half of its lights burnt out. A young couple waltzes gracefully across the screen against the backdrop of The Last Waltz logo as the names of the guest performers appear: Dr John, Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Emmy Lou Harris, Muddy Waters, The Staples, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Paul Butterfield, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood. In the first interview Marty asks Robbie if they’re really “just friends” who showed up. Robbie tells him that no, the musical guests aren’t just friends, they’re probably the biggest influences in music to a whole generation. Michael McClure, the poet, appears on stage in a spotlight where he recites a short piece of Canterbury Tales in olde English, smiles and walks off. Lawrence Ferlinghetti appears at the end of the show, just before Dylan, with a quick, cool poem. They are the connection to the Beats, their presence welcomed. Kerouac’s spirit. As Robbie says, it isn’t about the audience so they don’t appear except for a few reverse shots which Scorsese loved. The concert itself is a mixture of Band originals beginning with Cripple Creek, interwoven with guests who play only one song each. Dr John displays that New Orleans piano style, slow drawl and dazzling smile on What a Night. Joni Mitchell’s strumming and phrasing make the room feel like everything’s in motion as she stands golden haired and innocent singing the naughty lyrics of Coyote. The floor shakes to the beat of everyone stomping to Muddy’s Mannish Boy. In the Special Features section there is a hilarious commentary on Van Morrison’s sequined outfit as he steals the show with his tour de force performance of Caravan and almost cracks a smile. He had lived in Woodstock when The Band lived there and was an old friend. Scorsese manages to get Joni’s profile in shadow when she sings an ethereal harmony to Neil Young’s Helpless. Garth Hudson’s head is suddenly illuminated as he stands to play a sax, trading solos with Robbie’s guitar in It Makes No Difference. Clapton trades licks with Robertson on Further On Up The Road after his guitar strap comes undone and Robbie picks up the solo without missing a beat. Neil Diamond, a companion from their Tin Pan Alley days, sings a song looking like he’s ready for Vegas. Paul Butterfield pulls off an amazing physical feat when he plays along with Muddy. Ronnie Hawkins, Muddy and Van the Man all exit the stage the same way, deliberately, with a flourish. In the commentaries Ronnie Hawkins tells the story of each band member as he was brought into The Hawks, Ronnie’s backup band which later became Dylan’s backup band, then The Band. He says he hired Robbie Robertson, the kid, to be a roadie as a favour to the boy’s mother. Robbie was hanging out with some guys who might end up in the penitentiary. Richard Manuel, quiet and gentle, always reminding me of The Furry Freak Brother comics in the interviews, roars the lyrics to The Shape I’m In with a strong singing voice made for the blues and slow dancing, rough and smooth at the same time. Levon Helm’s performance vocally and on the drums is hypnotizing . The physical energy required to play and sing that long and that hard is clear in the movie. Rick Danko’s voice is “mournful and strange with off the wall harmonies” as Mac Rebenak put it. It is sweet and harsh with power and feeling. Dylan (another funny commentary in the Special Features section) sings Forever Young and leads his former band into Baby, Let Me Follow You Down. The finale, with everyone onstage, is Dylan’s, I Shall Be Released. Robbie Robertson’s guitar playing is unique. He can play like a lot of people but no one ever plays like him, no one’s got his style , it’s really unique. Ringo and Ronnie Wood appear playing in an out take of a jam until, after 6 hours of filming, the cameras and people take a break. There may be better bands at some things but only these musicians could have pulled this off. A concert which requires a backup band for a variety of performers can be accomplished technically, but the life which The Band injected into the songs, the huge variety of styles they had to adapt to, could only have been done by them. They were a perfect backup band as well as the stars of the show. The sex is in the music. Understated and hinted at, never openly mentioned, the sex is in the music. In the interviews Scorsese asks about women on the road. The answers are, for the most part, as vague and euphemistic as the references to “fun” and other bad habits. Garth Hudson states with certainty that the greatest priests on 52nd street in New York were the musicians. Songwriters were the low men and women on the totem pole but the street musicians were the greatest healers. Thirty years after the movie was made, Martin Scorsese has done another concert film with The Rolling Stones called Shine a Light. Waiting to borrow my copy of The Last Waltz are a twenty year old drummer and a seventeen year old bass player. It means that Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson and everyone involved in the movie did produce a gem. And it means that all is not lost.Add a Comment
“How do I get my eBook on Amazon?”
“Do I really need both printed books and eBooks?”
“What price should I charge for my eBook?”
There’s never been a better time to be an author. It’s an oft-stated truth, as the digital technology driving the publishing revolution now enables creative people around the globe to develop and market content in truly unique ways. But with anything new and unfamiliar, questions are sure to follow:
“Can you help me design a cover for my book?”
“How much money can I make from my eBook?”
The stigma of failure that used to be associated with self publishing is a thing of the past.
Digital delivery systems such as Apple’s iBooks and Amazon’s Kindle bring your readers right to your doorstep. Gone too are the old barriers that kept self published authors from seeing their words in print. Digital printing and POD (print on demand) have expanded writers’ horizons. New mediums are being invented and old ones are being re-invented. New devices are being created at unprecedented rates.
“What’s an ISBN?”
“How can I distribute my book to Europe and other regions?”
With all the rapid changes in publishing swirling around, there’s another less-stated truth: there’s never been a more confusing time for authors, especially the ones who have chosen to self-publish. The process of taking your finished manuscript and putting it into the marketplace can be daunting for even the most tech-savvy author.
That’s one of the reasons why Blue Ash Publishing was created. We believe that self publishing doesn’t necessarily mean going it alone. Authors can rely on the resources of two publishing industry heavyweights – Writer’s Digest and BookBaby – who have the experience and knowhow to answer all the questions posed above – and then some!
The two companies that comprise Blue Ash provide everything an aspiring author needs to take their work directly to the marketplace. Blue Ash publishing packages are powered by BookBaby, so you can sell your eBook in the world’s biggest online bookstores — including Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and beyond. BookBaby is the sister company of CD Baby, the indie music powerhouse that’s helped musicians sell their music around the globe.
Meanwhile our writer’s resources are powered by Writer’s Digest, giving you access to their wealth of marketing and educational information. For more than 90 years, the experts at Writer’s Digest have been creating books, magazines, competitions, conferences and distance education materials for writers who want to polish their skills and hone their craft.
By providing answers to all your questions and taking care of the heavy lifting for all technology issues, we help writers concentrate on what they do best: Writing.
To help authors get a jump start on their self publishing efforts, we’ve put together a Blue Ash Publishing guide called:
It’s free to any author thinking seriously about pursuing the path of self publishing. The guide is available for download HERE.
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With my eyes closed | I really want to be more free from worry with my drawing. This is a white elephant. The line drawing is done with my eyes closed. It isn’t even ink on paper but it still makes me nervous to share. learning to let go of the fear.Add a Comment
Are you looking for just the right animation job? The new Cartoon Brew Job Board is the ideal place to search.Add a Comment
Here are some things to think about as you try to find a publisher for your picture book.
I'm pleased as heck to share the news that I've been picked to be a Round 1 judge for the Cybils in the YA Speculative Fiction category.
What does that mean, exactly?
It means that from the beginning of the nomination period on October 1st, through the selections of the finalists that go live on New Year's Day, I'll be reading YA fantasy and sci fi until my eyeballs fall out. I'll be stalking my library catalog, I'll be hunting down books at the store, I'll be stalking the ebook sales.
But Bibliovore, I hear you say. Isn't that what you do anyway?
Yes, but I get to discuss and debate them with my fellow Round 1 judges! Honestly, that's why I love doing this. You can take the girl out of the English courses, but you can't take the English courses out of the girl. Right around Christmas, we'll be picking 5-7 finalists that will be sent on to Round 2. And then we'll all collapse in a heap and wait, oh, maybe about two hours before going to find another book to read.
These fellow judges are:
Pull together your nominations right now, folks, because I expect to have some awesome books to read come October! And since each book can only be nominated once, grab some backups, just to make sure that your favorites all get their day in front of a judge's eyeballs.
“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Margo Kelly, author of the YA thriller WHO R U REALLY? These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk specifics.
GIVEAWAY: Margo is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).
Margo Kelly is a native of the Northwest and currently resides in Idaho. A veteran
public speaker, she is now actively pursuing her love of writing. Margo welcomes
the opportunities to speak to youth groups, library groups, and book clubs. Find
her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. She has September and October 2014
signings in Meridian, ID and Boise, ID. Margo’s debut novel is WHO R U REALLY
(Merit Press, Sept 2014), a young adult thriller-suspense. Kirkus said of the book,
“Kelly’s first novel is a suspenseful page-turner.”
A CHANGE IN CAREERS
In January, 2009, I decided I wanted to change careers and pursue a long forgotten dream of becoming a published author. Sound familiar? I purchased Janet Evanovich’s HOW I WRITE and Writer’s Digest’s GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS, and I began my research into the industry.
Six months later, I finished my first manuscript and I started sending out query letters. The rejections flooded in. I had tough skin. I knew rejections were part of the process, but one of the form letters pushed me over the edge. I struck a match and sent the rejection up in flames. (Yes, that was back in the days of snail mail.) Then I took a deep breath and went back to querying.
I also started writing my next manuscript. I read more books on the craft of writing, subscribed to magazines and journals that would help me better my skills, wrote flash fiction to tighten my story telling, and connected with two great critique partners that I met through online communities.
A year later, in August, 2010, I had finished my second manuscript and began to send out query letters. The requests for partials and fulls came in right away! I was so excited! But then rejections followed. I paid attention to the agents’ feedback, because I wanted to improve the story and make it saleable, but it was tricky, because while one said, “The main character is too naive” another said, “The main character sounds too adult.” I revised nonetheless.
I HEADED TO MY FIRST CONFERENCE
With a bright and shiny polished version of the story, I headed off to my first writers’ conference. I met up with my critique partner, Melissa, and we had an absolute blast. Plus, two agents at the conference requested my full manuscript, and I just knew one of these fabulous agents was going to offer me a contract. Yes-sir-ee!! I went home too excited to work on any writing. I was waiting to hear from the agents.
More than a month later, I sent very polite follow-up emails to the two agents from the conference. Both responded, explaining how busy they were (of course, I understood, I wanted them to take care of their current clients first, that made sense). But I was demoralized. I couldn’t seem to start a new manuscript. So I pulled out my first novel and dusted it off. I figured I could work on rewriting it and improving it until I found my writing mojo again.
Three months later, one of the conference agents emailed to tell me she’d decided to shelve my manuscript, unread. She was no longer looking for new clients. By the summer of 2011, the second conference agent emailed and apologized for the delay in reading my manuscript. She said the writing was great, but it didn’t excite her enough to offer me representation.
My tough skin had been broken, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue down this publishing path. Then I was diagnosed with a rare 12mm lesion in the middle of my brain. After a lot of time and money, the specialists decided there was nothing they could do about it. I had to reevaluate my life, my priorities, and my goals. What if my time was limited here on earth? How would I want to spend it? Through self-evaluation, I realized writing was still important to me, and as a result I refocused my efforts with great fervor.
11 MORE QUERIES
On November 11, 2011, I sent out eleven queries for my novel, WHO R U REALLY? A dream agent from my dream agency requested a partial the same day (it was a Friday). Monday, she requested the full. Wednesday, she requested a phone call. Thursday, we discussed ideas for revisions. I loved all of her suggestions, and my mojo exploded! She said if I could accomplish these revisions, she’d offer me formal representation. I wanted it! I got to work, and I was on fire! I sent her the revised manuscript about a week and a half later (I know, it sounds like I rushed it, but I’m telling you: I was ON FIRE!!). She read it right away and requested more revisions. I got right back to work. I was still excited about the process, and I was thrilled to think that someone had caught the “vision” of my story. While I was busy working on more revisions, she surprised me and mailed me a contract! YES! Not to mention, in the time I was working with her on revisions, other agents had requested partials and fulls. Out of respect, I contacted them to let them know I’d received an offer. One of the agents told me I’d be nuts to not accept the offer from this great agency.
On December 12, 2011, I signed with Brianne Johnson of Writers House. I’ve been smiling ever since, because I have the best agent from the best agency.
From there, we finalized revisions and made another title change before sending the manuscript out on submission. It took a while to sell, partly because the main character’s age put the story on the fence between middle grade and young adult. However, Jacquelyn Mitchard of Merit Press (an imprint of F+W Media) saw the “merit” in the story and made an offer. WHO R U REALLY?, will finally be published on September 18, 2014.
Now I’m polishing my next manuscript, and I’ve already started writing another. The publishing process certainly requires persistence and patience, but the future is so exciting.
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Over the five years I’ve been writing Playing by the Book I’ve had the chance to meet many authors and illustrators, but one who has a special place on my bookshelves, and indeed in my heart is James Mayhew. I’ve always admired and been inspired by his passion for storytelling across the arts; so much of his work is about opening horizons beyond the pages of a picture book to encourage curiosity and foster delight in art, dance and music.
This year is a very special year for James. It’s hard to believe, but it is 25 years since the publication of his first picture book, Katie’s Picture Show. Katie and her adventures inside paintings (and across landscapes and cityscapes) are known the world over. A new edition of Katie’s Picture Show has been published, to mark its Silver Anniversary but what’s especially interesting to me is that this new edition, whilst still very much Katie’s Picture Show, contains entirely new illustrations and new text.
I’m fascinated by the changes that have been made and so I took the opportunity to talk to James about it. This is a long interview, but I do encourage you to savour it. What James has to say is fascinating and thought-provoking.
Zoe: Ah, hello James! It’s always great to talk with you. I’ll dive in straight away with a big question though: How do you feel your style has changed in 25 years?
James: I don’t believe I’ve ever had a very identifiable style, and although I’ve sometimes worried about this, because it’s obviously important to have an identity that people recognise, I am also of the opinion that it is dishonest to just fabricate a “style” and apply it to my work in a contrived way. Any identity found in my work has grown naturally out of the way I instinctively draw, and make marks, and how I see the world.
It’s the old adage: be true to yourself. I believe strongly in that. An illustrator’s work should be genuine and honest, a reaction to the text, and response to how we see the world around us, or imagine the world we can’t see. You are sharing a little piece of yourself with the world, why dilute that but trying to be predictably commercial or merely generic?
The irony is that the Katie books are all about imitating famous paintings, and so the argument becomes more complicated. In the very first book, I illustrated in a fairly uncomplicated way, and the world of the paintings becomes closer to the world of Katie (ink line and wash). However, in later books, my ability to pastiche and pay homage to these artists has grown. And as my proficiency at capturing the effects and learning from the techniques of these great masters has increased, my own identity as an artist – or my “style” – has become, I think, increasingly hidden. And that is how it should be with these books. They are not bought because of my name but because people want their children to encounter Monet and Botticelli and Van Gogh etc. So it’s right for the books. But for me, as an artist, it can be frustrating to be honest. Sometimes I sit down to draw and think, “Who am I? How do I – James Mayhew – create images?” it’s hard to forget these artists and just be me. What I must say though, is that I have truly approached the studies of these paintings with real love and integrity. It was a never a gimmick, but always done out of a love and respect and admiration for these artists and a real desire to share that passion.
Although I‘m describing a very particular project and situation, I think this quest for an identity is something a great many illustrators concern themselves with. Certainly at Cambridge School of Art where I teach students on the Masters in Children’s Book Illustration, this is the most common discussion.
And so, to answer your question, my style (such as it is) has changed according to my changes as a person, as an observer and draughtsman and recorder of the world around me, over many years of practise and experience, and according to the artists I have studied. And actually as a tutor as well – I learn as much from my students as they learn from me. As my knowledge of techniques and materials has advanced, so my approach has changed. As my knowledge of picture books and publishing has increased, so has my approach to the craft of utilising those 32 pages to maximum benefit. The whole last 25 years feels like one colossal apprenticeship.
Right now I feel I am at a crossroads. There is a whole side to me as an artist or illustrator that isn’t seen and isn’t published. And I feel very strongly, after a quarter of a century of trying to paint like other artists, that it’s time to be me! So I am hoping to put Katie to one side for a while to find time to begin experimenting and playing with different techniques and materials to see what happens.
Zoe: Do you have any examples of this work that you would be willing to share?
James: I suppose a lot of the Noye’s Fludde art is a case in point [Click here to see a slide show of this project, part of the 2013 Cheltenham Music Festival/zt]. I WAS seen, but only for two days! Then it was gone.
Otherwise, I do sometimes paint in oils, and sometimes use lino, for little one-off pieces.
Zoe: What skills/techniques have you developed the most (or adopted anew) in the past 25 years?…I’m really interested in this from an educational point of view – how we are all lifelong learners…
James: Although I studied Illustration, only one short project looked children’s books, which was when I first created a rough dummy book for Katie’s Picture Show. This was in 1985, and I sorely lacked the necessary skills to make an ideal book. I had very little idea, even when I graduated, about the world of children’s picture books. It was very unfashionable in the 1980s to show an interest in that area of illustration. Besides, “teaching” as such was largely absent. We were left very much to our own devices. Despite my degree, I feel largely self-taught.
In 1987, to my never-ending surprise, my book was taken on by Orchard Books, the first publisher to see it. It was THEN the real learning began.
I must say, they were very patient, steering me carefully through difficult waters, although I think the original student dummy changed relatively little. I guess I had good instincts. But I had no knowledge of how colours reproduce, of the best papers to use, I didn’t know how inks fade with time… and I knew nothing about how to create a character, how to show expression through faces and body language… How to pace a story, or use sequential images…
I learned so much on that first book. It was a wonderful, terrifying, tentative time, and I can now look back at the very first edition with amusement and nostalgia. But I also see so many things I am unhappy with.
I suppose the principle learned skills have been practical ones, like drawing children over and over to get a character right, and finding tools, nibs, inks, paints etc that I feel confident about using. Every artist or illustrator will find tools that suit them and tools that don’t. I’m not a pencil person particularly. I fell in love with ink quite early on, but had to develop how I use it over many years. I get quite fixated about nibs (I buy boxes of antique nibs on ebay), and different inks, which I mix, dilute and play around with.
More recent Katie illustrations are very mixed media. I’ve developed quite particular methods, especially for scenes where Katie is inside a painting. To replicate the effects of oil paint, I use emulsion paint, which dries matt, waterproof and is and good surface for many other tools, like pastels or pen and ink and watercolour. The illustrations are built up in many complicated layers over some time.
But there are other less tangible skills too… the ability to let go of ideas, to self edit texts that are too long, to appreciate better the inference of words to children, to ruthlessly recognise a failing illustration and just do it again. And the ultimate ongoing chimera: self-confidence! I am incredibly critical of everything I do – it’s just a bad personality trait (although I see it in a lot of illustrators!). I suppose I will never ever be entirely happy with anything I do, but I hope I might get a little closer as I get older. The learning never stops, and I think you need that to motivate you. If I had all the answers, what would I do tomorrow? Some very successful illustrators do come up with a technique – a “style” – that they feel confident about and they use that all their lives. It’s commercially sensible as they are instantly recognisable. But it’s not for me. This is a journey and I’m always searching, evolving, exploring and experimenting. I feel I still have so much to learn, and I’m glad of it. There are materials and techniques that I would love to explore more, printmaking most especially. I would love to illustrate a picture book in lino cuts!
Zoe: Why does printmaking particularly appeal to you?
James: With printmaking there are always little mistakes, mis-registered things, or unexpected results that really push an artist in new ways.
It’s the opposite of how I work on illustrating a book with ink and wash, where one has so much control and a particular expectation (ie, to produce something in a particular way for publication; there is little room for serendipity).
With lino, for example, I need to think entirely differently. I need to think in terms of shape and layers rather than just colouring in a line drawing. And because it looks so different my expectations of myself change. I find that incredibly liberating. I can surprise myself.
Having said all of this, I rarely have to time to play and print. I’m usually tied up with Katie or Ella Bella, where the established methods mean I have to return to my usual tools…
There are many forms of printmaking – screen printing, lithography – that I’ve never tried. I admire what others achieve with it and I hope I’ll find the time one day.
Zoe: And are there other techniques /materials you’d like to try out?
In general, I am very attracted to traditional methods of all kinds. I’m very keen to explore collage too, having dabbled recently for the Birmingham Festival Sword in the Stone poster and for Noye’s Fludde. I am sneaking a tiny bit of collage into the new Ella Bella book (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream – after Mendelssohn) and I think I will take it further in the future.
Zoe: Talking about being in control, and also about creating spaces (physical, emotional, mental) to try new things… this makes me think of your events where you illustrate live to music – something I think is incredibly special to witness…
James: Yes, in relation to experimenting, the events with music challenge and push me also, of course. Partly because of the speed, but also because I use materials and methods I wouldn’t ever have tried otherwise. The transitory nature of painting live and moving on is absolutely the opposite of the psychology behind making a book, especially a series, where everything is about “getting it right for posterity”. Painting live is about that moment. Nothing is preserved.
Zoe: Perhaps this is a good point to ask about the new text in Katie’s Picture Show. Was as the decision to change the text yours and what was the rationale for doing so?
James: The new edition of Katie’s Picture Show was triggered by the dissatisfaction I always felt for my very first book. Because I learned so much in the process, and other books benefited from that knowledge, I always felt it didn’t match the series so well. When Orchard proposed a new bigger format for the series, I was unhappy to begin with, as I knew those early illustrations would look even more coarse and crude when enlarged. And so I requested to illustrate it again, for no fee, just for the love of it.
In the process, I changed the page turns, in relation to the story, to make better use of the pages in narrative terms. At least, I think that’s what I’ve achieved. I wanted each painting, when coming alive, to be a double page spread. This necessitated some text changes. Also, certain updated information had to be incorporated – changes to painting titles (‘Tropical Storm with a Tiger’ is now ‘Surprised’), spelling or artists names (Kasimir is now Kazimir). Beyond that, as a more experienced storyteller, there were just a few things that didn’t really feel right to me now. Reading the story out loud in schools, there was always a sentence or two I winced at, some turns of phrase that felt a bit dated to my ears now. I am absurdly self-conscious about my writing. So I tried a few slight changes. It was really hard to feel I had “permission” to do this. I agonised. Then Orchard Books emailed me with changed THEY wanted, and I suddenly thought: yes, it’s OK. I can let go. If it is a change for the right reasons, it’s allowed. I wanted the text to be newly minted for another generation.
Zoe: How do you think the role of being an illustrator has change in the past 25 years?
James: When I graduated, children’s book illustration was scorned upon. No-one else on my course was interested in pursuing it. It was considered beneath them. Art schools had no time for it at all. Back in the 1980s everyone wanted to work in advertising where there was big money. My lack of a “style” and my traditional methods and temperament meant I simply wasn’t suited for the advertising world. I wasn’t trendy enough. I loved books, so I was the odd one out really.
Now, there are many courses that focus on children’s book illustration. The MA in Cambridge is the most celebrated and expands year on year, but there are several others. There are more prizes, more publishers, more festivals than ever before. There are dedicated centres (like Seven Stories) and galleries now. I think, despite all the prophecies of doom about the publishing industry, that this is a new golden age. Books are become more beautiful than ever before to justify being in print.
This new age of celebrating children’s book illustration, and the advantages of the internet, provide a great spring board for illustrators today. 25 years ago one simply had to trudge the streets of London and knock on doors. It was time consuming and expensive especially if, like me, you lived in the country. Now with emails and websites and so on, you can easily follow and contact publishers, send work, keep in touch and hopefully get the chance you are hoping for. I think it’s simply a more recognised area of specialisation now and that illustrators are more pro-active. Perhaps the next generation are just a bit more confident. They all seem to go to the Bologna Book Fair to try their luck. Do you know, I’ve never once been to Bologna?
On the other hand, with children’s illustration now a rather fashionable career, it does mean it’s very competitive, and publishers take fewer and fewer risks these days I think. The way books are acquired has changed too. Once upon a time a publisher would fall in love with, and then just publish, an idea. Now it has to go through a long acquisitions process and be approved by committee. It’s much harder in that respect. Publishers are always looking for a commercial artist they can develop as a “brand”. I’m not interest in that side of things, Money doesn’t motivate me in the least. Never has.
As for the role of the illustrator, I think that the fundamental need to serve a text (either your own or someone else’s) should not have changed, but I think the need to promote, market and sell yourself as a brand most certainly has, and for the worse. This is now a big part of the illustrator’s role. Through events, social media and websites we are expected, by publishers, to tell the world how wonderful we are. It’s a development I personally feel very ambivalent about. Of course it’s great to be able to meet your readers – I enjoy events very much. And one needs to tell people an event is taking place. It’s great to share information about materials etc. with colleagues and students online. But the endless self-promotion I see is really quite off putting. I guess I come from an earlier generation, with different ideas about social interaction, decorum, good manners. And the boundaries have shifted. I’m finding it hard to adjust to that.
I think it is also worth mentioning digital media, as that has definitely influenced the general look and style of books being produced and our expectations of illustrators. There is some sensational stuff being produced digitally, and the computer can be a marvellous tool (although I always remind my students that it will never make a silk purse out of a sows ear!).
Publishers now expect that about 80% of books submitted will be created digitally. Certainly at Cambridge School of Art the huge majority of students use digital media at some level. I suppose the danger is that we move away from the sense of hand crafted imagery, and expect a level of perfection (whatever that means) in the work. No blemishes, no happy accidents; we have complete control at our finger tips. I think a lot of digital illustration is outstanding on its own terms. But just sometimes it lacks the personal touch. Then, there is no humanity. It can feel a little cold. The flaws of something made in the real world can be inspiring. In the same way I know many who prefer the stop motion effects of Ray Harryhausen to the CGI of modern cinema, the analogue world, for me, is important, because – to a child – it can be an inspiration. I grew up believing I could make dinosaur movies. It was a tangible possibility. I grew up believing I could paint. But if everything is passed through a computer, it rather takes that away. Certainly, for the Katie series, it’s important for the illustrations to be real paintings, with a real sense of mark making by a real person.
In any case, I enjoy the process. I like to get my hands dirty!
Zoe: If you could step inside any painting (anywhere in the world, not limited to those you’ve included in the Katie books), which one would it be, and why?
James: So many paintings! It is tempting to choose something famous and wonderful, like a Turner painting perhaps. I could experience a shipwreck, a volcano, all sorts of things that way. But actually I will choose a painting I’ve never used in a Katie book, by Samuel Palmer: The Gleaning Field. I love his visionary work, with moons and stars and curious, living breathing trees, and voluptuous hills. This is less rhapsodic, but I find it incredibly comforting: the harvesting, the welcoming light in the window of the cottage. It reassures me, welcomes me, and I have an almost pantheistic response to it: the spirituality of nature, harvest and ritual.
Zoe: Apart from reading the Katie books with our kids, what other top tips do you have for instilling a curiosity and excitement about art in our children?
James: I actually think there is too much emphasis on looking at artists and not enough on being an artist – one of the reasons the final pages of the Katie books, which used to have info on the artists, now invite children to be creative. In schools too much of the curriculum is about copying artists. I know that is ironic, given the nature of the Katie books, and obviously it IS important to look at art. But that is only part of the learning journey, and is really “Art History”. I think to really instill a love of art, children need to be encouraged to have a go and be creative themselves, and I don’t see enough of that happening, in general, at school or in the home.
I am desperately saddened at what I see in many schools. Partly this is to do with the curriculum, and here I must emphasise that there ARE some fabulous teachers and brilliant schools that rise triumphantly above the routine and DO get fantastic results. But in very many schools I see the same old projects repeated. And I must also mention the quite disgraceful lack of materials. Very often I have turned up to run a workshop to be confronted with cheap copy paper, tired old tins of watercolours that look as though they’ve been stuck in the back of a cupboard since about 1967, and useless brushes like startled hedgehogs, messy mixed up pastels. It’s absolutely disgraceful. How children are expected to get good results with such tools is beyond me. It’s a national scandal, quite frankly.
I implore teachers and parents to go into an art shop and buy some decent materials. It needn’t cost the earth. In terms of a school budget it would be a very small investment. For a parent, make it a Christmas or Birthday treat. The best Christmas present I ever got was a box my father made (I still have it) filled with paper, paints, brushes, transfers, stickers, pens, pencils… everything an artist could want. Now THAT’S how to encourage an interest in art!
Beyond that – visit a gallery or museum. Show children what art CAN be. It’s not all just pretty pictures. Modern art can be liberating, or confusing. Or look at really old art – medieval images are often fascinatingly dark and peculiar, full of narrative.
And that’s what works for many children – the story in the picture.
Zoe: Thankyou, James, thank you. What an enthralling insight into Katie’s 25 years, and your wonderful work. Here’s to the next 25 years!
James has some very special forthcoming events:
“Come to the gallery with Katie”
A 25th anniversary exhibition of the original Katie art, from the first pictures to the latest at the Scottish National Gallery, The Mound, Edinburgh. Opens November 4th. (As yet there is no web link but rest assured, it is taking place!). The exhibition will be free, and there will be linked events taking place in November and December.
Illustrated concert featuring music by Rimsky-Korsakov performed by the Saffron Walden Symphony Orchestra. October 19th @3pm. Part of the Words in Walden festival.
“Heroes & Villains”
Illustrated concert featuring music by Grieg, Rossini, Copland performed by The de Havilland Philharmonic Orchestra. November9th @ 2pm and 4.30pm. Weston Auditorium, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield: http://www.herts.ac.uk/about-us/arts-and-galleries/whats-on/music
"Review My Books" Review by Erin FIREBUGHardcover: 336 pagesPublisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) (September 23, 2014)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon Ava is a firebug—she can start fires with her mind. Which would all be well and good if she weren’t caught in a deadly contract with the Coterie, a magical mafia. She’s one of their main hitmen . . . and she doesn’t like it one bit. NotAdd a Comment
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