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1. Publishing deleted scenes – risky, cringeworthy, helpful? Lari Don

Publishers want lots of ‘stuff’ from authors now. Not just the book, but lots of other stuff. Content, it’s called, for online things.


One of the bits of content I’ve given my publishers recently is a file of deleted scenes, from my new(ish) teen thriller Mind Blind.

It wasn’t hard for me to find half a dozen deleted scenes, because I delete lots from my manuscripts as I rewrite and redraft. It’s not unusual for me to reduce the length of a book by 20,000 words or more between first draft and final publication. Which sounds very inefficient – wouldn’t I be better just writing shorter books in the first place?

But I’m not a planner and plotter. I discover the story as I write, as I follow the characters on their journey, and that means diversions and doubling back. I never deliberately write anything that I know is irrelevant at the time, every word helps me find out about the characters, their reactions to problems and my own feelings about the story. But once I reach the end and get a sense of the main thrust of the story, it’s usually clear that I've regularly wandered off the narrative path, and that some scenes are now unnecessary. They may have been necessary to get me to the end, but they’re not necessary to get the reader to the end. So I'm ruthless in slashing them out. I reckon that if you can slice out a scene without it seriously affecting the rest of the story, it probably wasn’t that important.

And in a thriller like MindBlind, where it’s very important to keep the pace up and the pages turning, I also removed scenes or parts of scenes because they slowed the story down too much. (Here’s an example of one.)

And sometimes I cut a scene, not because it’s slowing the story down or because it’s an unnecessary diversion, but because I come up with a stronger idea once I know the story and characters better. However, the original scene is still part of the way I got to know the character, so it’s part of my history with them. Here’s an example of that – it’s the first scene I ever wrote about Ciaran Bain, the hero (anti-hero) of the book. It’s not in the book, but it’s still the place I first met him!

Of course, it’s misleading to suggest that all this slashing and slicing is my idea. Quite a lot of it is, but some of it is in response to gentle prompts from my wonderful editor.
a mountain of many Mind Blind manuscripts

So, I have no problem removing large chunks of my first draft or even my fourteenth draft, because as I’m writing, I know that I’m just discovering the story, not finding the perfect way of telling it first time around. And I know that it takes a lot of work to make that original mess of scribbled ideas into a book.

But having taken all this stuff out, why on earth would I want to show it to anyone? These deleted scenes have often been removed quite early in the process, so they’re not that polished (why would I polish them, once I’ve deleted them?) So it does feel quite weird and slightly uncomfortable, revealing these unfinished bits of my creative process to the public gaze.

Even if these are scenes that I took out for plot or pace reasons, rather than pieces of writing I don’t like, they are still parts of the story that didn’t make it into the book. So is it a bit of a risk to show less than perfect examples of your writing to the world? And why on earth do it?

The first reason is the pragmatic one of feeding the voracious social media monster. (This is not a particularly good reason.)

But I wonder if a much better reason is that realising how much an author cuts from their early drafts can be useful, especially for young writers. It’s a very practical way to show that published writers don’t get it right all the time, that our first drafts are just the start of the process and that we have to work at them, slash at them, perhaps radically change them, to get them into shape. Deleted scenes are perhaps the online version of showing manuscripts covered in lots of scribbles and scorings out to groups of kids at author visits. ‘Look, I don’t get it right first time, so you don’t have to either. Just write, and see what happens!’

So, while I was wincing and cringing this week as yet another deleted scene appeared on Tumblr, I wondered:
How much do other writers delete?
Are other writers happy to let the world see the bits they sliced out?
And do readers learn anything about the writing process from deleted scenes?


Lari Don is the award-winning author of 21 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers. 

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2. What Fairy Classes do you want to see added for the Fall?

I’d love to hear from you. I am developing the October/November line-up and want to see what kind of classes you would like to take. Please take the poll below and you will be rewarded with virtual fairy dust.

Take Our Poll

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3. Yoohoo Boats!

Love that students from a school in Oconee County, Georgia, made Yoohoo boats after reading The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.





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4. 2014 Reading Challenges: RIP IX

Host: Stainless Steel Droppings, (sign up) (reviews)
Title: RIP (Readers Imbibing Peril) IX
Duration: September and October
# of Books: at least 4, peril the first --

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.

What I Read:

1)
2)
3)
4)
5)
6)
7)
8)

What I Recommend:


I read one book in the spring that I'd definitely recommend to others joining this challenge. The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman. 

What I Plan on Reading:

The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten
The Lost
The Attenbury Emeralds
The Late Scholar
Fahrenheit 451
Northanger Abbey
Death of a Schoolgirl
My Cousin Rachel

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Coming in October! The Heroes of Olympus Book Five: The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

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Though the Greek and Roman crewmembers of the Argo II have made progress in their many quests, they still seem no closer to defeating the earth mother, Gaea. Her giants have risen-all of them-and they’re stronger than ever. They must be stopped before the Feast of Spes, when Gaea plans to have two demigods sacrificed in Athens. She needs their blood-the blood of Olympus-in order to wake.

The demigods are having more frequent visions of a terrible battle at Camp Half-Blood. The Roman legion from Camp Jupiter, led by Octavian, is almost within striking distance. Though it is tempting to take the Athena Parthenos to Athens to use as a secret weapon, the friends know that the huge statue belongs back on Long Island, where it might be able to stop a war between the two camps.

The Athena Parthenos will go west; the Argo II will go east. The gods, still suffering from multiple personality disorder, are useless. How can a handful of young demigods hope to persevere against Gaea’s army of powerful giants? As dangerous as it is to head to Athens, they have no other option. They have sacrificed too much already. And if Gaea wakes, it is game over.

Age Range: 10 – 14 years
Grade Level: 5 – 9
Series: The Heroes of Olympus (Book 5)
Hardcover: 528 pages
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (October 7, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1423146735
ISBN-13: 978-1423146735

Pre-order here!


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6. Postage

2014-08-29-2

Postage

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7. Towards the One and Only Metaphor review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Szentkuthy Miklós' Towards the One and Only Metaphor, the second of his works to be brought out in English by Contra Mundum Press, with more to follow (not soon enough !).
       One of these hard to review/get a grasp on titles, but definitely worthwhile.

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8. (Re)membering and (Re)living: Probing the Collective and Individual Past

Calls for Papers and Proposals

The ALAN Review
Summer 2015: (Re)membering and (Re)living: Probing the Collective and Individual Past
Submissions due November 1, 2014

Stories are dynamic, told and heard, accepted and revered, rejected and rewritten by readers who draw from their experiences and understandings to garner meaning from the words on the page.  In young adult texts, fiction and nonfiction, historical and contemporary and futuristic, this dynamism can encourage the critique of our collective past, helping us question assumptions about what came before and reconsider our responsibilities to the present and future. These texts can also help us consider the adolescent experience across time and place and explore the similarities and differences that shape reality as young people navigate and draft their own coming of age stories. This universality can foster a connection to others and reinforce our shared existence as members of a human community.  And yet, these texts can give emotional reality to names, dates, and other factual information, letting us imagine the voices of those who lived in other places and times and have sometimes been silenced in official accounts of history, ideally inspiring us honor these voices and generate a better future. Through these stories, we might come to reject a single narrative and develop empathy for individuals we never knew-and those we did and do and will. In this issue, we welcome articles that explore the relationship between young adult literature, history, stories, and readers.  We acknowledge that “every living soul is a book of their own history, which sits on the ever-growing shelf in the library of human memories” (Jack Gantos, Dead End in Norvelt). And that, “If you stare at the center of the universe, there is coldness there. A blankness. Ultimately, the universe doesn’t care about us. Time doesn’t care about us. That’s why we have to care about each other” (David Levithan, Every Day).  Stories matter in this caring: “I leapt eagerly into books. The characters’ lives were so much more interesting than the lonely heartbeat of my own” (Ruta Sepetys, Out of the Easy). As always, we also welcome submissions focused on any aspect of young adult literature not directly connected to this theme.


Filed under: Opportunities, professional development Tagged: CFP. ALAN

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9. Character description

       A little while ago I flailed about on how I don't much care for/need/get much out of descriptions of characters in fiction; now I find, in Szentkuthy's Towards the One and Only Metaphor (which I just reviewed) a passage conveying exactly what I mean.
       Section 92 reads, in its entirety:

How preposterous it is for a novelist to describe a person even on the very first page: one has already long ago pictured something else -- the tablet of the book, the smell of its print, the letter font, the form of the page numbers, the touch of the paper, a title long retained in the mind, the pressure of the chair in which one is sitting, the shadow thrown by the roller blinds, the wall, door, or picture opposite: these have all once and for all time, absolutely indelibly traced the protagonist's face (even if it is not directly visible).
       Exactly !
       (And you understand now why you really should be reading Szentkuthy, right ?)

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10. ‘The News Sorority’ Tells the Story of Female TV News Anchors

In her new book, Shelia Weller tells the triumphant story of how leading female TV news reporters Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer and Christiane Amanpour achieved success.

The story reveals how these women climbed the ladder to success and uncovers rivalries in the newsroom. The Daily Beast has published some highlights from the book, which is not without its tawdry rumors.

For instance, this excerpt: “When Diane beat Katie on an interview with a 57-year-old woman who’d given birth to twins, Katie mused aloud, according to a person who heard the comment: ‘I wonder who she blew this time to get it.’”

 

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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11. Re-reading Now...The Songkiller Saga

Here I am, in the middle of the Aurealis judging and I'm re-reading. I have read as far as I can with the books I have - I won't read the new Brotherband book till I've caught up with the others, I'm getting there... Still have Brotherband 3 to read before picking up 4. This week a courier left a message on my doormat, so I will have to phone before I can get my next bunch of books.

But I discovered that my old Elizabeth Scarborough favourite, the Songkiller Saga, is available in ebook, only $3.99 a volume. I remember discovering the first volume, The Phantom Banjo, on a remainders table. It wasn't out of print. Ironically, the only volume I had trouble getting was the final one, Strum Again? 

Finally, though, I had the lot, and what a story it was, with Hell deciding to wipe out folk music because it kept humans hopeful. Folk musicians forget the words or are killed off, the entire Library of Congress archive is burned down. It only seems to be happening in the US for the time being, though, so a bunch of intrepid musicians escape to Britain, where their songs came from, to retrieve them. 

I have always loved folk music, but this trilogy opened my eyes to just how much there is out there, including some songs that I hadn't realised were traditional or that were from places other than the British Isles. The books of Charles De Lint have also done this for me, and he gets a brief mention in this series. I ended up buying a lot of CDs as a result of reading these books - Songkiller and De Lint alike(I had the privilege of doing a panel with him once, at a Swancon, and hearing him and his wife jamming with Anne Poore, a local harpist)

So now I'm re-reading and loving it just as much as the first time around. I may just download some more  Scarborough books when I've finished. She's written some lovely stuff over the years and I haven't read all of it. 

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12. When Agents Go Bad

How do you know if your agent has gone off the rails? 

http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2014/04/agents-going-off-rails.html

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13. Tagged

Admired some artwork on somebody’s walls
And noticed that tags were attached.
I thought that the gallery’d left on the price,
But an answer was quickly dispatched.

No, those paintings have claimants, so after we’re gone,
Our grandchildren know what they’re getting.
They’ve made their selections so no one will fight –
On that outcome, at least, we are betting.

Though I like the idea and have heard it before,
I had never seen tags on display
And I’d worry that each day I didn’t drop dead,
All my grandkids would mourn the delay.

So perhaps if their choices were part of a will
Or were logged in a ledger or binder,
Then mortality’d keep himself hidden from view
And that art wouldn’t be a reminder.

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14. Illustrator Saturday – Annie Wilkinson

imageAnnie Wilkinson is the youngest of eight children and the mother of two. She works in a variety of mediums including traditional and digital, creating bright and whimsical illustrations for both books and products. She also has a background in design and as a fine artist, two skills that she calls upon quite frequently when illustrating. She is currently working on her own picture book.

Clients include:

Simon & Schuster –  Macmillan
LadyBird Books –
 Hallmark 
CJ Educations – American Greetings
Oxford University Press – Hasbro  
Yeowon Media – National Geographic

HERE IS ANNIE  EXPLAINING HER PROCESS:

All of my work is done on the iPad. For the project for Story Corner, the guidelines were really loose – the story was to take place in outer space, after that I had a lot of free reign to draw whatever I like.

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So I started with some quick thumbnails, using the app Paper by 53. I had some loose concepts – riding space beasts, hanging out in a space garden, swimming with ‘star fish’.

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I like to share the thumbnails with the client to see if they’re happy with the general idea and composition, and if they are I then work on more refined sketches. Mostly I use the Vellum app to create my sketches.

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There’s also an app called Art Studio that functions like Photoshop, I can make selections and move things around if I need to refine the composition a little.

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When the sketches are finalized, I create the colour versions in Paintbook, which is a vector drawing app.

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Sometimes at this stage, depending in the spread size, I might have to export the pdf file to my computer and add textures in photoshop.

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Since these we’re going to be playing cards, The iPad could actually handle their print size, so I added my textures using iColorama.

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If I find the textures wash out some of the details then I will paint over some of the edges and add more shadows and highlights using either Photoshop or procreate.

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How long have you been illustrating?

I have been illustrating as a job for about 6 years, but for about 5 of them I was also working as a web & graphic designer . This is the first year that I am solely illustrating. I have always loved drawing!

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Where do you live?

I live in Vancouver, BC Canada

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Did you go to school to study art?

I have not. I am completely self-taught, but I do dream about going to art school some day – maybe when the kids are old enough.

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What area of art did you study?

I took an independent course with Geraldo Valerio “http://www.geraldovalerio.com&#8221; a Brazilian illustrator who was for a time living in Vancouver. I had belonged to a drawing Meetup group, and on a message board there, several people had mentioned taking his course on illustrating children’s books and how it was better than anything offered by the universities or libraries.

After my first illustration job, when I started to realize it was something I might really like to do, I thought I should learn more about it and enrolled in his course. It was extremely helpful to have someone with experience to turn to! Even though he’s no longer in Vancouver, we still email every now and then and I still ask him for advice.

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What was the first art related work that you did for money?

Prior to working as an illustrator, I played in bands for many years, and toured a lot. These would have been my first paying art jobs.

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What was the first job you took after you graduated from school?

I did take a multimedia course about 15 years ago that was a very basic introduction to Adobe & Macromedia (who originally created Flash) software – it was just enough to get you going on everything and it was up to you if you wanted to take it further. I had expected that I would move into web design from there, but my first job after finishing that program was illustrating and animating Ecards in Flash for a Toronto company. It’s funny now that I think about it, it didn’t give me the idea that I would be an illustrator! I think probably because looking back at it my illustrations were fairly crude!

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How did you find your first illustrating work?

Robeez Baby Shoes gave me what I consider my first real illustration job – they had a job posting for a web designer, and I applied and sent them a link to my online portfolio, which also contained some of my artwork. They got back to me saying the job had been filled but would I be interested in doing the illustrations for their shoes. Prior to this it hadn’t even occurred to me to be an illustrator! (Robeez shoes designs)

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Have you done any illustrating work for a US publisher?

I have done work for a few publishers, including Simon & Schuster, National Geographic, as well as a handful of educational publishers.

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How did you start doing greeting cards?

Not long after the Robeez job I was contacted by the Bright Agency in the UK http://www.thebrightagency.com, and I have been with them ever since. Another illustrator who was also working for Robeez, Ken Gamage http://www.sparklefishworld.com told me about http://www.childrensillustrators.com which is based in the UK, and I believe this is where Bright found me. Bright works in both publishing and art licensing, so my greeting card work was through them.

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What made you want to illustrate children’s books?

I had not thought originally that I could even be an illustrator! I was always drawing but in my mind it was just a hobby. I met another illustrator when our bands played a show together, Jenn Playford, http://www.jennplayford.com, who I think at the time had just got her first illustration job, and her telling me about it put the idea in to my head. I didn’t really do anything about it until I got the Robeez job though! I guess children’s books seemed the best fit for me, given the way I draw, which tends to be cute and colorful.

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How many books have you illustrated?

I’m not sure I can count them all! I’ve done around 4 books for the Korean market, 1 in New Zealand, 3 in Canada, a few in the UK, and maybe 10-15 for the US market, which would mostly include the educational market.

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What was your first picture book?

My first picture job was with Rubicon Publishing in Canada, with AD Rebecca Buchanan, now over at Pajama Press, she was lovely to work with.

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When and how did that happen?

They found me on a portfolio site, practically the day I finished my How To course with Geraldo, so I was pretty glad I’d taken the course. It was called “Splish-Splash” and had 4 illustrators illustrating about 4 pages each, so it was the perfect job to start with.

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Of the picture books that you have published, which one is your favorite?

It may be because it was the most recent one I illustrated and so am not tired of looking at it yet! I’m actually still working on it, but it’s called Nanna’s Magic Globe for Benchmark publishing. Another favourite I did recently was for Story Corner, which is a brand new company in the Uk – not a picture book but illustrated story cards, where the child lays out the cards and then tells their own story – that was a particularly fun job for me because I was allowed input in what happened in the story, and also because it involved telling the story in a non-linear fashion. (Thumbnails in paper by 53, Sketches in Vellum, final art for Story Corner)

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When did you decide to get involved in children’s illustrtation?

A big thing that happened was having kids of my own, and reading books to them – there are so many beautiful picture books out there! I particularly love Isabelle Arsenault and Oliver Jeffers, whose work really borders on fine art. I also am a big fan of Sophie Blackall, Peter Brown, Giselle Potter – there’s so many!

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How did you connect with LadyBird Books?

This was a job through my agent – I had done a test illustration for The Secret Garden (which also happened to be one of my favourite books as a child!) and my AD thought my rendition of Dickon made a good Peter Pan, so I got to do both books.

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(The Secret Garden, Ladybird Books)

How did the get the contract to do My Wonderful Clothes for Korean Publisher, English Hunt?

I was approached by them, this book was slightly different than the other books I’d done in the Korean market as it was an English reader. I love working with Korean publishers as they are so invested in picturebooks!

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(My Wonderful Clothes, EnglishHunt)

What do you consider is your first big success?

Getting paid to draw! To be honest, it’s still an ongoing thing – I’m one of those people who can be their own worst critic, and I’m still trying to make art that impresses me as much as other illustrators work can.

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How did that come about?

Luck :)

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How do you promote your work to get more business?

I have a few portfolio sites that I try to keep updated regularly, and most of them have news sections which I find helpful. I also started sending out email newsletters to keep in touch with previous clients, I do one every 6-8 weeks or so. When things are slow I remind my agent I need work.

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What materials do you use to paint your color illustrations?

All my work is done digitally. Originally it was done traditionally because I was never comfortable drawing with a graphics tablet, where your hand is drawing in one place and your eyes are somewhere else. In the beginning I would have loved a Cintiq but couldn’t afford one, then I got an ipad. I went from oil pastel drawings to vector illustrations, because the limitation of the iPad is the print size of your drawings. I grew to love it so much that I only occasionally think about the Cintiq still.

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(Personal work, ipad)

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Do you use do any black and white illustrations?

I have not done many, except for the comics I like to do in my spare time.

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What type of paint and other materials do you use to when illustrating a picture book?

Everything is done on the iPad, even sketching. I discovered I hate the tedium of scanning! I tend to do thumbnails first, generally in Paper by 53 or a Bamboo Paper, sketches in Vellum, and color in Paintbook, which is like Adobe Illustrator except that it behaves much like a pixel based painting app, rather than making shapes. I usually export this as a pdf and then do final touch ups in Photoshop on my mac. The funny thing is that I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with digital – it certainly makes it easier to make amendments and clients love layered files, but I just love the look of traditional materials. So I’m always trying to make that aspect better. Ultimately, a good drawing and good composition is the most important thing!

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Has your style changed over the years? Materials?

I’m really hoping it’s getting better! I am always, always trying to make my work better. I’m getting in to using textures a lot lately. There’s a great ipad app called iColorama which let’s you paint your textures using masks, and then I usually do a little finishing work using Procreate, which is a great painting app but can only print up to around 10-11 inches, which makes it difficult to do spreads. I have been known to deal with single pages when the app can’t handlethe spread size and then stitch them back together in photoshop.

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Have you done illustrations for any children’s magazines?

I have done work for Laybug and Cricket in the US.

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(Cricket Magazine Nov/Dec 2013 issue)

Have you done any work for educational publishers?

Tons! A lot of my work comes from Educational publishers and so for that I am grateful :)

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What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

Given that I work on an iPad my studio is not one specific location, but I like it best when I have my ipod and dock to listen to music or podcasts while I work.

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Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

Yes, but I don’t think of it so much as that. I love drawing, so I have my work drawing, and my hobby drawing, which is usually playing around with different apps or doing comics. Another fun aspect if doing greeting card work or licensing art is just drawing whatever you feel like and maybe someone can turn it into a card. So I’m not consciously trying to improve myself unless I’m in the middle of the job, and mostly this happens at the sketching stage – can I make this drawing better, more visually interesting? Sometimes that is constrained by deadlines, though!

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(illustration of Mary Anning for http://www.coolchicksfromhistory.tumblr.com

Do you have an agent? 

I work with The Bright Agency, who are based in the UK but have offices in New York also.

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Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?

Yes, lots on internet research. I’m currently working on a book that takes place in Kenya. I’m always looking at images of how things look, their clothes, their houses, vegetation, etc. Some clients want the pictures of trees, for example, to look like actual trees you might find in the area, some don’t mind if you make everything up.

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Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Absolutely. If it wasn’t for the internet I would probably have to move to New York and walk around every day with a hard copy portfolio.

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Do you use Photoshop or Corel Painter with your illustrations?

I use Photoshop along with a hundred ipad apps :)

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Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?

I have an old Wacom Graphire tablet that I use for photoshop touch ups. I’ve tried all kinds of styluses for the iPad, but the ones I like the best are the microfiber tipped ones,as there is no drag whatsoever. I suffer from tendonitis, so when it gets bad I just start drawing with my finger!

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Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I’d love to do more picturebooks, and maybe write one of my own.

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What are you working on now?

I’m currently working an interactive iPad storybook, which is my first. I’m also doing a small job for a family in the US who are doing a book as a gift for their daughter. I’m working on a second book for Benchmark while waiting for feedback on the final artwork for the first. And I have a couple more books coming up very soon with Cantata Learning, who are a new Educational publisher in the US.

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(Illustration for the Boston Family)

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

For traditional materials, I love Koi watercolours and Holbein Acryla Gouache. Also I’m a fan of Caran D’ache oil pastels.

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Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

All the old stuff is true! Keep drawing as much as possible. Go to the library and find those illustrators that inspire you!

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Thank you Annie for taking the time to share your process and journey with us. We look forward to hearing about all your future successes.

To see more of Annie’s illustrations visit her at:

Website: http://www.anniewilkinson.com/  

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/anniewilkinsonillustration

Please take a minute to leave a comment for Annie, I know she would love to heard from you and I always appreciate it. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: authors and illustrators, illustrating, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, Process Tagged: American Greetings, Anne Wilkinson, Hallmark, Illustrator Saturday, Simon & Schuster

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15. SEPTEMBER UPDATE!

COMIX! One of the real fun things about my last year in Paris was being able to share sketches, gags, and photos from the trip on uclick as a comic strip called PARIS DOODLES. In fact, it was so fun, I've decided to keep sharing drawings and ideas on uclick with a new strip called FROM THE MO WILLEMS SKETCHBOOK.   I'll be sharing drawings from my sketchbook, dining room dinner doodles,

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16. Eight years ago this week

Found on my old private family blog, dated August 27, 2006. Scott was out here in San Diego, a month into the new job. I was back home with the (then) five kids, trying to get the house sold. Rilla was only a few months old. Rose would have been eight, Beanie five. Scott and I did not bear the separation easily. I created a little daily-snippets blog just for him so he wouldn’t feel like he was missing everything. At night, after the kids were in bed, I had a gig writing parenting articles for a medical website. Scott and I would keep a chat window open and ping each other back and forth as we worked away on opposite coasts. Sometimes we’d go to audio and listen to the sound of each other typing. Four months, and it felt like forever.

***

August 27, 2006

The Conversation Went Like This

Bean: Why did SHE get to sleep in your bed last night?

Me: Just because. You may tonight, if you wish.

Rose: But won’t she be lonely, waiting for you to come to bed?

Bean: What?

Rose, breaking it to her gently: If you sleep with Mommy, you have to wait a long time in the dark before she gets there.

Bean, brow furrowed: Oh…

Rose, kindly: Do you want to sleep in Mommy’s room, or do you want to snuggle up with me?

Bean’s reply? She threw her arms around her sister. The hug went on long enough for me to snap it.

2006sisterhug

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17. Jamie Marks Is Dead

  
Jamie Marks Is Dead is based on a book I love by a writer I love: One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak. I realized recently that I think of it as the first novel of "our" generation/group of writers — Chris is a few months older than me, and originally introduced me to probably half the writers and editors I know. I read One for Sorrow in manuscript, exhorted Juliet Ulman to buy and edit it for Bantam, and celebrated its publication. Chris sent me a copy with the kindest inscription penned onto its title page that any writer has ever given me. I feel like a kind of distant (crazy) uncle to the book, and thus also deeply protective toward it. I didn't read most of the reviews when it was released for fear that I would seek out any negative reviewers and do terrible things to them that would get me arrested.  When I found out it was being made into a movie, I was both excited for Chris and for the higher profile the book would likely gain, and terrified that the movie would just be awful. I mumbled to myself for weeks about the change of title before coming to accept it.

The movie was officially released in some major US cities today, and the distributor is also doing a simultaneous release on video-on-demand (Amazon, iTunes, etc.), so those of us, at least in the US, who can't get to one of the cities it's playing in can still see it. I watched it this morning.

The movie is not awful — far from it — and though at first I had my crazy-uncle fists clenched, ready to pounce on anything that even touched a hair of my beloved nephew's head, it was soon clear that this was a movie made from not only a general understanding of the book, but a profound sympathy with it. They're very different creatures, but if you love One for Sorrow, I think you're likely to love Jamie Marks Is Dead, too.



It begins in a style I've come to think of as "digital somber", a style common to a lot of artsy low-budget movies these days: muted colors; the clarity of light peculiar to a certain kind of digital lensing; long takes and fluid camera movement; dreamy music. It's become a familiar enough style that I now find myself skeptical of it at first, because too often it screams out, "Serious Movie!" before it earns its mood. (But at its best it can be devastating. See, for instance, The Snowtown Murders.)  In this case, it's a good fit to the material, and director Carter Smith, cinematographer Darren Lew, and the various designers and decorators (Amy Williams, Steven Phan, Nora Mendis, Rachel Dainer-Best) do a superb job of uniting the elements into a whole that sustains a mood impressively. The production design and decoration in particular deserve notice, because the details are exquisite — though the movie makes absolutely no effort to drawn attention to it, the setting is not contemporary, but rather seems to be late '90s, early '00s (the time of the book). Further, though the novel is explicitly set in and around Youngstown, Ohio, the movie is more general in its setting: somewhere northeastish, somewhere working class, somewhere rusty and full of industrial and commercial ruins. (It was shot in New York state. Chris says it looks plenty like Ohio. It looks plenty like places I know in New Hampshire, too, the places the tourists don't go.)

Smith's background as a photographer serves him well, as he and Lew sustain a difficult look for the film without strain. Shot after shot is evocative but not ostentatious. One example (a screen capture doesn't do it justice, or I'd place a picture here): a high-angle long shot of a yellow ribbon of crime scene tape snaked across the wet ground of a grey riverbank on a moonlit night. The tape, though muddied, is the brightest object in the image, rivalled only by the white of driftwood and fragments of light rippling on the water. The image evokes mood and meaning, but most importantly it provides a perfect introduction for a ghost.

I wasn't sure if I was going to like Noah Silver as Jamie, because I had such a clear idea of Jamie in my own mind, an idea that has congealed over a decade of living with the novel, and the soggy-Harry-Potter styling of the character was very different from the lighter, whispier Jamie in my head. (Adam was always less defined for me, more an aural than physical image, since the novel is written from his first-person POV.) But Silver's performance won me over, especially in the second half of the film when he must be alluring, mysterious, innocent, and menacing all pretty much at the same time. In his first scenes, the lighting and make-up make him seem almost like a plastic mannequin, but as the scenes progress, he becomes more and more human — an odd and very effective choice for the representation of this ghost.

All of the performances are strong, and the film demonstrates quite well the adage that finding the right cast (and crew) is 90% of the success of a production. In pre-release photos from the film, I thought Cameron Monaghan as Adam looked a bit too much like a human Kewpie doll, but he gives an impressive performance. His physique is remarkably variable — he can play vulnerability and sensitivity as well as sharpness and hardness, with his face seemingly changing shape depending on the needs of the scene: at one moment, his face is soft and a bit round, at another, it's all cold angles. (Some of this is also the responsibility of the cinematographer and his lighting team.) Monaghan has excellent instincts, and Smith is smart enough to bring those instincts to fore by encouraging him to hold back: Monaghan's eyes tell entire stories.

Where Silver and Monaghan were not immediately in sync with how I'd imagined the characters, and thus had to (and did) win me over, Morgan Saylor was the Gracie in my mind's eye. I've rarely seen an actor so perfectly fit how I'd imagined a character when reading the original material. A big part of it is her voice, which is deeper and huskier than you might imagine if you just looked at her. It would be easy to make the character of Gracie into a cliché of the adolescent "bad girl", but the movie thankfully doesn't do that — as Saylor plays the role, Gracie is very much an individual, not a type. We don't actually learn a lot about her in the movie, but there is a richness to the performance that allows us to imagine so much that the film itself doesn't have time to convey.

Smith made some excellent choices with his screenplay and direction, particularly in how he focused the story. There's an epic quality to the second half of the novel that just couldn't be conveyed well in a 2-hour movie, never mind a 2-hour movie without a big budget. As any good artist does, Smith turns his limitations into opportunities. The close focus on Adam, Jamie, and Gracie (with some other folks wandering in and out of the story to create and complicate tension) allows the film to build a slow, careful emotional resonance. It's seductive, this movie, and it sticks its hooks in when you're not expecting it. Partly, this is because Smith decided to keep the dialogue to a minimum and to not explain everything. It's a movie of glances and glimpses, of possibilities more than answers. That will, I'm sure, bother plenty of viewers, viewers who want explanations for the logic of the ghost world (as if the supernatural must follow a logical system!), who will want some of the plot's mysteries solved more neatly, who will want some of the side stories tied up or justified — but this is a different sort of film, and its commitment to suggestiveness, its willingness to allow possibilities to linger, enhances the fundamental effect. Give yourself over to it, and this is a movie that will haunt you. The novel does this some, but as a novel it has the space to answer questions without closing off possibilities. Two-hour movies are more like short stories, and at its best moments this one reminded me of the effect of reading my favorite writer of ghost stories, Robert Aickman.

For all its many great moments, the most extraordinary is the very last. Since the movie goes in a different direction for some of its later parts than the novel does, I had no idea how or where it would end. (Figuring out the end was, I know, one of Chris's biggest challenges when writing the novel.) What could it possibly do? How could it find the resonance it needed to be satisfying?

I'll just say this: the moment the credits started rolling, I was in tears. Tears not only because of the profound effect of the absolutely perfect choice of ending, but also of relief that this beloved novel had been translated with such care and love to a very different medium.



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18. Read Russia finalists

       The Read Russia Prize for translations of Russian works into (selected) foreign languages will be announced 6 September, and at Russia Beyond the Headlines they have all the information and the finalists -- seventeen titles (only three of which are translations-into-English), selected from 112 nominations from 16 countries.
       This seems a great way to encourage translation, with both the translator(s) and the publisher getting decent prize-money -- and it's great that it's not limited to translations-into-English.

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19. Books by Cherokee Mystery Writer, Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

Some months ago I was asked if I could recommend a Native mystery writer. Because my area of expertise is books for children and young adults (and not adult mysteries), I asked colleagues in Native literature for names and learned about Sara Sue Hoklotubbe.

Right away I downloaded an e-copy of Hoklotubbe's American Cafe. Published in 2011 by the University of Arizona Press, I liked it a lot and passed her name along. American Cafe is the second book featuring Sadie Walela, a Cherokee woman trying to find her way in the world.

Hoklotubbe's writing is the real deal. Her Cherokee identity and knowledge are the foundation of her books. As you read, you'll be drawn into Sadie's world. There's no romanticizing, no stereotyping, and no mis-steps either like those you'll find in books by Tony Hillerman or Sandi Ault. Their books make me cringe (and yes, I did read some of them.)

Hoklotubbe will be reading tomorrow in Washington DC at the National Book Festival. For the last few weeks, I've been recovering from a broken ankle. Among the books I've read is the first Sadie Walela book, Deception On All Accounts. I like Sadie and want to read more of her. I'll turn, next, to Sinking Suspicions. 

Though it isn't marketed to young adults, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Hoklotubbe to older teens (or adults) looking for books--especially mysteries--by Native writers. I encourage you to get her books for your library and take a look at her website, too.  

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20. Illustrator Saturday – Annie Wilkinson


Filed under: Uncategorized

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21. ‘Dripped’ by Leo Verrier

Jack is a strange character. He steals paintings from museums to eat them. He feeds himself with the artistic process of the painter. But one day, the museums are closed and he will have to paint by himself to survive... Read the rest of this post

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22. On Machado

       At the Times Literary Supplement site Peter Robb's piece on the truly Magnificent Machado -- Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis -- is now freely available. It's a review of two recently published-in-translation story-collections, but (except for the odd John Updike references ...) is also a good overview/introduction to the great author.
       Only The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas is currently under review at the complete review, but I've been a huge fan over the years; my review of one of these collections, Dalkey Archive Press' Stories, should be up soon as well (meanwhile, see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
       The other collection Robb discusses is a bilingual edition from new-to-me New London Librarium, Ex Cathedra; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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23. giving thanks

To John Warner, who writes Biblioracle, for listing Handling the Truth on his Recommendation list. I read Mr. Warner's smart books essay every week in Chicago Tribune's Printers Row Journal. I learn whenever I do:
The Biblioracle offers his recommendations

1. "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt

2. "Love and Shame and Love" by Peter Orner

3. "Handling the Truth" by Beth Kephart

4. "J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist" by Thomas Beller

5. "Carsick" by John Waters

To the American Bookselling Association, for including Going Over in the 2014 Best Books for Children & Teens, Too. Honored to be there. Grateful to be listed alongside my friend, Amy King.

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24. Youth Services Basics: Cross-Training by Building Confidence

Are staffers outside of youth services ever responsible for staffing your children’s desk in a programming pinch?  Would employees outside of your department feel comfortable and confident in providing this service or would they feel stunned like a deer caught in the headlights?

At our community branch library, information services staff members also staff our children’s services desk, and we receive a great number of children’s reference questions at our adult information services desk.  Staff members outside of youth services must be familiar with the needs of children and those that work with them. Being cross-trained to provide customer service to customers of all ages is a necessity, but how do we ensure that staffers receive the training necessary to handle the unique needs of our young customers?

My colleague recently presented training for library staff outside of youth services. Not meant as a substitute for advanced youth services training in reference or readers’ advisory, this overview highlighted many of the traditional questions staffers receive when they work in the children’s services department. This training served as a perfect introduction for those employees who may occasionally need to staff this service desk.

Where are the BOB books?     

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

During this youth services basics training, my colleague used questions that have been previously asked by customers as training examples. Just as when working in the information services department, training participants realized that questions are often not as simple as they appear.  The question, “where are the BOB books?” is a perfect example.  The answer could mean numerous things in our library system, depending on the needs of the library user, and could include a request for a standard beginning reader series; it could also serve as a request for the TV inspired books based off the popular Bob the Builder character, or the extremely popular Battle of the Books (BOB) competitions sponsored by our public school system.  Understanding how this one type of question, “where are your BOB books?” could mean various things to different people, was rated by attendees as one of the most valuable pieces of information they learned during the training.

Let’s Take a Tour

As part of the training, participants toured our children’s department at our Headquarters Library.  This touring component provided staffers with a close and personal look at our collection and was helpful to staffers from each of our branches as our youth services departments are structured similarly in each of our eight library locations.  By including this hands-on training component, participants were able to view exactly where items were located, from the juvenile biographies placed at the end of the children’s nonfiction collection to the difference among board books, picture books, and beginning readers.  Knowing our collection is critical in providing excellent customer service, and this tour helped our trainees gain confidence in providing that service for our young patrons.

Priorities of Programs and Services

Questions about children’s programming, and the specialized services offered within the children’s services department, are often questions asked by patrons.  Adults may frequently register their children to attend special programming, request information on how to duplicate the story time experience at home, or request tutoring resources. Staffers must be able to quickly address these questions while also being aware of the unique services offered within the children’s department, such as our picture book bundle service, where customers may check out a group of books organized by a specific theme. Children’s unique interests and needs must be understood by all staff, not just those librarians specializing in children’s services.

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

This training helped staff members without a background in children’s services to gain a better understanding of the interests and needs of our young patrons. Our goal is to prepare our colleagues to feel as comfortable and confident as they can when working with children and their families, instead of feeling caught like a deer in the headlights! What topics do you believe are important to introduce to staff members outside of your department if they were to staff your children’s desk? How do you ensure staffers are most effectively able to reach out to your customers?  Please share in the comments below!

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25. From the Heartland: Mari Evans

thMari Evans was born in Toledo in 1923. I first encountered her works while in college. I needed a poem and, there she was. Upon discovering that Evans shared my hometown, I tucked her in my memories. After all, who in the world is from Toledo??

Like me, most know Evans as a poet. Her poetry is accessible to almost grown to full grown.

 

Where Have You Gone by Mari Evans
Where have you gone
with your confident
 walk with 
your crooked smile
why did you leave 
me
when you took your 
laughter
and departed
are you aware that 
with you
 went the sun
all light
and what few stars 
there were?
where have you gone
with your confident 
walk
your 
crooked smile
the 
rent money 
in one pocket
and 
my heart 
in another . . .

And, her poetry is timeless

We have screamed
and we have filled our lungs
with revolutionary rhetoric
We sing
the sorrow songs and march
chest tight and elbows
locked
yes
We have learned to mourn
Our martyrs and our children
murdered by our Greater Love
and strewn
like waste before our pious disbelief
What tremors stay our heads?
The monster still contains us!
There is no better time no
Futuretime
      (from “The Time is Now”)

Evans often visited Indianapolis as a child and moved to the city in the late 1960s to serve as writer in residence at Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI). Shortly after her arrival, she became the writer, producer and director of the television show “The Black Experience”. Evans writes about her experiences in and with the city in her essay “Ethos and Creativity: The Impulse as Malleable” (1989).  She describes with vivid examples what it is to be Black in Indiana. She writes of an attitude I’ve heard people from outside Indiana try to explain.

“Many Black folk thought of Indianapolis as urban, “up South.” It was better than being “down South,” but it retained many of the negative propositions of the deep South, and was not yet as enlightened or “progressive” as its West or East Coast counterparts. Conservatism and racism were alive and compatible.

To our discredit there is, even today, an amazing retention of that early sensibility. It is expressed, however, with much more class, much more élan, and many Black folk are so enthralled by the smiles they do not read the eyes nor understand psychological “locking out.”

Not too enthralled though, to not be angry even then at police shootings of young black men and at economic racism.

As a prominent member of the Indianapolis Black arts community, her memories are of a thriving Indiana Avenue, then the heart of the city’s black community and she grieves the impact of the destruction of the surrounding area on the black community. Evans writes of few opportunities for black artists in the city and understands why many leave.

Evans also taught at Purdue, Washington University, Cornell and the State University of New York. Her poetry collections include Night Star, Where is the Music and I am a Black Woman. Her children’s books include Dear Corinne, Tell Somebody! Love, Annie, A Book About Secrets; Jim Flying High and J.D.+-+64527191_140

In 2006, Evans published her first YA novel, I’m Late: The Story of Lanesse and Moonlight and Alisha Who Didn’t Have Anyone of Her Own.

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 1.46.51 PM

 

They need something to believe in
the young
a joy exploding an
ecstatic peace to hide them in
a strengthening

They must leap miles into the stratosphere
clicking heels
and a half gainor backwards
free fall
We have taken the gods of Big
Bethel Mount Pilgrim and
Blessed assurance and walked
just part of the Way
with Damballa
Go on and do it Jim, we said
Boogalooing in the other direction

They need something to believe in
the young
That is only part of the truth
They need a map and a guide
to the interior

If we have the Word let us
say it
If we have the Word let us
Be it
If we have the Word let us
DO
They need something to believe in


Filed under: Authors, Uncategorized Tagged: african american, Indiana YA author, indianapolis, Mari Evans

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