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The rumbling ramblings of a children's book writer, poet, mom, and Ashevillite. Plus pictures!
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I went to the SCBWI Carolinas conference in Charlotte this September (fun!) and was very fortunate to meet the fabulous illustrator David Diaz. It's taken me awhile to process how seeing his portfolio influenced me. His work (which is not the kitten pictured here!) really blurs the line between illustration and fine art.
What line? some of you may be asking. I've heard the arguments before. But, in my mind, there's a huge difference between creating art based solely on having an artistic experience and creating art for a book. Even a beautiful picture book. I once met a painter at the Vermont Studio Center who said (paraphrasing) painting is like taking a walk in the woods. You know where you're starting, but you don't know where you'll end up.
When you're illustrating, you must have some idea of where you'll end up, right? If the text is about a group of penguins on a journey to Hawaii, you can't do a self-portrait. I mean, I'd like to see your self-portrait. But your art director probably would not.
David Diaz is an illustrator. But he showed us all kinds of art, which looked totally free.
And made me take a closer look at my portfolio. And about how I feel about my portfolio. I think there are some great pieces there. But I want to find a way to feel more free. Have more fun.
So I got out my acrylics and my big brushes. I've been saving them for the day I have time to go into my studio and create art for myself. Which may be a long way off, if I truly want to publish my middle grade novel and my picture books and illustrate. (and I do!)
I used my acrylics and big brushes to paint this kitten for a picture book I'm working on. He's getting ready to leave his basket for the first time. To journey forth to new adventures. And have fun.
Just like me.
Just Imagine..... a time when Dragons roamed the Earth. Sticking its awesome head between two turrets of a woeful castle. Because a Dragon with hideous horns is getting ready to hurl flaming fire at it and do other terrible stuff. But isn't the dragon beautiful.
That's what my daughter did. She drew this picture. She goes into her room, turns on an audiobook (Castle Corona by Sharon Creech is one favorite) and draws these terrible drawings. But great! Because dragons are terrible, but great. (Harry Potter I reference and I hope you all caught it)
She also did this one:
And here comes the peasant girl in rather tattered looking clothes (note the patches on her pants!) who is going to slay the evil dragon.
I wonder if her name is Madeline?
We both write?
We both draw?
True, but that's not what I'm talking about.
We both wrote runaway bestsellers that were made into major motion pictures?
Well, one of us did.
Not me unfortunately.
We both were presenters at the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival in Burnsville, NC last weekend?
Of course, I was there with my FABULOUS critique group, The Secret Gardeners. Our panel was called What Makes A Successful Critique Group. Which was about how, for example, two members of the SGs recently secured wonderful agents. And how we all inspire, cojole and urge each other on to be the best we can be. And how we use incentives for success, such as champagne and chocolate.
My stomach was all jumbly on the ride there while practicing speaking Slowly and Clearly, which is not my forte. I am LEARNING to be more comfortable with public speaking, but I am still in the uncomfortable stage. I was hoping less than 3 people would show up, so as not to be overwhelmed by a huge audience.
Was Audrey Niffenegger experiencing these same emotions?
We arrived in the Courtroom which was our venue in the small, adorable town of Burnsville and sat in what I suppose might be called the Lawyer Table. We did not want to be in the jury box, as one early-arrival audience member suggested. We're not that kind of critique group.
About 15 people showed up. And they all looked nice. I read my intro about our group. People laughed at the appropriate times. We had a lively discussion. Everyone seemed interested. I spoke slowly. Afterwards, many people told us how much they enjoyed it.
And then we all went to hear the brilliant Audrey Niffenegger. And she really is brilliant, her artwork is amazing, her novels are amazing, she read us some wonderful, funny stories. But I noticed one other thing about her.
(This doesn't look like her either. If her presentation had gone on for another two hours, I might have gotten it right)
She is just a person. A sweet, down-to-earth person, from what I could tell after hearing her and seeing her for 45 miniutes, but also just a person. Sometimes her hair escapes from her hair band. Maybe she even sometimes feels nervous.
And once upon a time, she was trying to get published and not wildly famous.
She might have once been in a critique group, sharing her work and dreaming of the day when her work would be out in the world for everyone to see.
So, if I could be a time-travelling writer and could go back to that time when she was working and hoping and not knowing if one day....Well, then maybe we actually have two things in common.
For years now, I've been getting older.
We're all going through it, right? Though before I turned 40, I didn't give it much thought. Now I get out my mirror for a self-portrait and have to decide how many wrinkles to include. How dark to make the darkness under my eyes.
Include it all, I say! Because aging is what I plan to keep doing, as long as possible.
Acceptance is one thing. But how can I embrace the fact of getting older? Well, one way is to look at this drawing I just did, look beyond the wrinkles and see an accomplished artist with a strong line and a strong sense of rendering. There's real feeling here, the result of years of honing my skill, through many hundreds of drawings. And I can only get better, as I continue to work on my art (and my writing.)
So is it aging or is in improving?
I guess it's all in how you decide to look at it.
I've drawn a multitude of self-portraits. Many portraits. Some street scenes. Millions of cats. But there's another kind of drawing I want to do more of.
End-less drawing. Not sketching from life. Not attempting to be an illustration. Not even a brainstorm for an idea for an illustration. Nothing to sell.
There's a great song called Doodlin' with the line:
Cause when you doodle, then your noodle's flying blind....
But I think it's more than that. Sometimes I have to draw without a goal, maybe for fun, maybe to access the strangeness in my mind. So I can see what's happening up there. Clear out the junk. Bring the real stuff out into the light.
I love the interaction between my brain and my hand which comes out through my pencil, pen or brush. Which I don't know what it will be until it's there in black and white. Surprise!
Can we ourselves surprise ourselves? I like to try.
Because it feels awesome when my noodle's flying blind. I need more of that freedom. Stream of consciousness. That's what Jackson Pollock was doing, right? I need to let my pen play. Just go. Just do it. Endlessly.....
From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg is one of those hugely important, unforgettable books from my childhood. Two smart, funny kids run away to live for a week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art- what could be better?
Now one of my happy mommy moments is sharing favorite childhood books with my daughter, and did we have a great time listening to the audio book of The Mixed-Up Files! (yes, we did)
So when planning a trip to NYC, of course the Metropolitan Museum was part of the plan. I knew the fountain described in the book was no longer there- was it ever? I didn't think Michelangelo's Angel was real- was there a similar statue?
The first person at the Information Desk didn't know anything about the book. The second person smiled and handed us a pamphlet called "The Mixed-Up Files" Issue." We found out there's no statue such as described in the book. "The Fountain of the Muses" was once on display, but now you have to imagine it while looking at other museum fountains. The bed they slept on isn't on display, but similar ones are. We went into the Annie Laurie Aitken Galleries looking for a similar bed. We found a guard. "We read 'The Mixed-Up Files...' I said." She smiled and said, "That is a work of fiction, you know."
The Fancy beds and writing desks were fabulous. "Let's run away," I said to Madeline. "No," she said, "but if you do, I'll know where to find you."
We had a wonderful time walking around the museum (and especially the Egyptian wing) thinking about Claudia and Jamie's adventure. We had our own adventure. We went to the cafeteria, of course. Madeline had a kids meal in a cardboard taxi cab.
"This is silly," she said. "I'm a little old for this kind of thing." Sounds like something Claudia would say. I only wish we could've ordered a sandwich from the Automat.
Looking over the pamphlet, we saw an insert: draw the room you would run away to and write a few lines about it, turn it in to the information desk and get a 'museum goodie.' Madeline drew and wrote about a room with a comfy bed and a cat. We went to turn it in.
The first person at the information desk didn't know what we were talking about, but she spoke to her supervisor. Now Madeline is looking forward to receiving her 'goodie' in the mail.
I spent a day with my daughter in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, reliving one of my favorite books. I guess I already got my goodie.
Because life is so precarious... like a birthday balloon about to get popped by a cat's claw.
Because balloons are so colorful... reminding us to take joy in the everyday.
Because cats are so in the moment... reminding us to live in the present (and maybe you'll get a present.)
Because balloons are transparent... letting light in is how they shine.
Because cats are silly!
Because I like cats.
What's your favorite reason for balloons and/or cats?
...since I made some art for art's sake... or for my own sake... or for, dare I say it, FUN! I've been so caught up in trying to get published, finish another portfolio piece, working on my latest PB dummy, etc, I almost forgot.
I forgot that I love to draw and paint and sometimes it has to be:
FOR NO PURPOSE WHATSOEVER!
So when I was deciding what to do with my daughter today- thinking we should go on some meaningful memorable mother/daughter hike or something- I instead said, "How about we take some watercolors outside and paint in the yard?"
It was a beautiful day. I wanted to do a self-portrait (for fun!) When she saw me get out the mirror, she said, "What? You're not painting something in the backyard? Then I won't either." So she painted a dinosaur, asking alot of questions, such as 'how do they know what color dinosaurs were?' They probably guessed, I said. Then she asked why I put blue in my face, when there isn't any blue there. I see every color in my face, I said. (she'll understand when she studies the Impressionists)
Her painting time was much shorter than mine, so I had some guilty feelings when she was running around trying to get my attention and my attention was elsewhere. But that's okay! I don't feel guilty anymore. I did this painting (this is the part I could fit on my scanner) and I'm happy.
Next time I might paint dots, or swirls, or get really wild and do a totally blue self-portrait.
The important thing is: I'll have fun doing it.
This is the illustration that's in the May/June issue of New Moon Girls, a very cool magazine that's all about empowering girls.
And, in honor of poetry month, which is almost over but we've enjoyed you and look forward to having you back next year, here's a post-Easter Egg poem.
THE BAD EGG
Something’s rotten at my house,
I mean, it really stinks,
a tell-tale and unwelcome smell:
an egg’s gone bad, methinks!
We search throughout the kitchen,
desperate to locate it,
I find a mushy chocolate bar,
(my little brother ate it.)
Our quest continued through the house,
it lead us to the den
the smell got even smellier,
My father found it then.
And yet, my mother wondered,
how did it rot so fast?
That egg took time to fester,
but Easter had just passed.
We saw the egg so moldy,
twas then the truth came clear,
this was the one stayed hidden,
from our Easter egg hunt-last year!
I haven't posted in awhile partly because I just reentered the (paid) workforce- at my local library in the children's section! I am shelving books which is similar to housework only someone's paying me to do it. And now I get to be around children's books alot!
But also because I've been illustrating more than writing. Which seems to use a different part of my brain.
But I'm back. (big sigh of relief, right?!)
I'm working on a PB about cats. And so I'm looking at some of my favorite cat artists.
Starting with Arthur Howard- (and I would post his website, but I can't find one) He illlustrated all those fabulous Mr. Putter and Tabby books by Cynthia Rylant (along with tons of other great books including some he also wrote.) And talk about excellent writing and amazing illustration perfectly wed! Don't you love Mr. Putter and Tabby- and not a kid in sight. And, no, Tabby is not the kid- she's an old cat who mostly snacks and sleeps. Just lovely, fun books about friendship. And napping.
Anyway, Arthur Howard's (my hero) cat illustrations. Here are two. I love tabby. And I love his style- loose and lively, but also right on the money cat-wise. I mean, this guy can draw! But he's having fun doing it. And we have fun just looking at it.
I guess that's what great picture books are all about (ok, they're easy readers, but you know what I mean....)
I try for a line a day- or two or three - some bit of sketching, doesn't matter what.
Actually, I don't even have to try, because I doodle. But I also do self-portraits, or draw Madeline while she's drawing or reading, draw in the cafe. And don't forget the cats.
Sometimes I go out and listen to Hank playing music- this time with fellow guitarist John Corbin at a fabulous wine bar in downtown Asheville- and I draw the musicians. They're hands are in constant motion and they make weird faces. My hand moves quickly, too, trying to capture their energy.
This one's got a little something never before seen in any Hank rendition- his tattoo. He insisted I include it, even though it's actually on the other arm. Poetic license, he said.
I'll call it a few extra lines. And, bam!, there's your tatoo.
Well, maybe not a self-portrait in the strictest sense, but I think it captures my essence.
Because sometimes I feel like flying off on my broomstick beneath a crescent moon. Feeling the wind rushing through my hair. Turning people into toads.
So I guess I could call this a self-portrait of my alter ego. Because, when I'm not busy being a wicked witch, I'm an illustrator. Or a writer. A mom, of course. Sometimes I'm even a good witch.
I thought I'd share my Ode to Spring. A little early, but I know you want it....
Plus March is my birthday month, which means I get to do anything I want.
What is this thing called Spring
that makes the sparrows sing,
the crickets crick,
the chickadees chick,
the hummingbirds hum,
the grasshoppers strum,
the pigeons coo,
the owls Who.
I hear them all conspire,
to form a backyard choir,
where peepers start to peep...
Don’t they know I’m trying to sleep?!
Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!
Recently, I decided to enter a regional illustration contest. So I did some sketches, based on a doodle, based on a glint of an idea...you know how that works.
And I came up with this girl. Wow! So much personality. She even has a fabulous cat sidekick. But she does not have a plot. She does not even have a name.
Because I wasn't working on a picture book. I was merely thinking, doodling and sketching for a contest.
But now she's in the world, and, I think, she's begging for her story to be told.
I usually start with a basic (written) idea when I'm working on a picture book. Or a plot. Or at least a title. I've never started with a drawing. But I'm willing to try something new!
How do you get started on a picture book? Have you ever had a Character in Search of a Plot? Tell me- how did it end?
Recently, I received a bit of disappointing news. Yes, I've gotten a steady stream of rejections for the past several years. But this was one of those situations where you seem to see a glimmer of light at the end of your alarmingly dark tunnel and say... oh, could it be....might it be....? And then just as the light grows a bit brighter there's a cave-in and the darkness descends even darker than before. And you wonder if anyone's going to dig you out. Or are they all having one of those great potlucks that ends in a rousing game of pictionary? Without me?! It's just too cruel!
So what did I do with my bit of depressing news? Why, I contacted my writers group, the Secret Gardeners. And they, of course, all hastened to remind me that I am, in fact, fabulous, and I have to keep writing and my day will come and those who've eschewed me will be sorry, etc.
So turns out I'm not giving up. Of course I'm not giving up! I'm not the type of person who gives up. I'm the type who has to keep writing, drawing and submitting. Plus I've come too far to give up. I can dig myself out of this eensy-weensy cave-in. I can keep going.
I have to. The Secret Gardeners are expecting me.
Madeline and I drew these cats. Two are copied (which makes us copycats) from Nick Bruel's (http://www.nickbruel.com/) wonderful Bad Kitty books. (and he is a very nice guy in addition to being such a great writer/illustrator, I know because I met him here in Asheville!)
She starred the ones she likes best. I like the two that seem to be sitting on top of each other best.
Those cats have attitude.
Bad cats are fun to draw. Playful cats are fun to draw. Curious kitties, fancy ones and very alert cats, like the ones Madeline drew here. These rather serious cats right here:
Sometimes you have to wonder why you would draw anything but cats.
I'm just glad Madeline and I can be artists together.
I admit it. Snow days have got me down. Feels like I should love nothing better than more time to hang out with my beautiful daughter.
Well, yes, we've had some fun. But mommy's getting antsy. And what I realize is, I Need My Alone-Time. I'm feeling transported to when she was a baby- which I loved so much, of course, cuddling that little bundle of sweet-smelling sweetness. But it also brought out a restlessness in me that made me wish I was a seahorse or a penguin, and the guy was in charge.
Then we scored a playdate at a friend's house. I thought I should write, but I felt so emotionally discombobulated. So I did this self-portrait.
Centering, that's what it is. Art that nobody's going to buy. Because it's just between me and my sketchbook, myself and I.
When she came back from the playdate, we had a good, long cuddle session on the comfy chair. Because she was back. And so was I. Know what I mean?
Because I can't take the pressure. And I refuse to resolve to eat healthier, exercise more, spend less time daydreaming, be more disciplined, etc.
But I could make myself some goals for 2011.
1. Sing in the grocery store more often. And louder.
2. Talk to strangers. Even if they don't appear interested.
3. Buy more glitter glue. It's glue, and it glitters!
4. Paint pictures that nobody will want to buy or hang on their walls.
5. Go to a movie by myself. Talk to myself during the movie. And shush myself.
6. Laugh more. Nap with the cat more.
7. Wear my favorite sweater daily. Even if it doesn't smell very nice.
8. Have a cup of hot chocolate at least once a week. Don't spare the whipped cream.
9. Wear all my necklaces at once. Put on too much perfume and dance.
10. Play with my daughter, rolling in the grass and/or snow. Don't think about laundry.
11. Bonus goal: find an agent who appreciates me, whom I will appreciate. Work together to get one of my amazing stories published. Let 2011 be a fabulous year.
Happy New Year, everyone!
With all the buzz about that darn NYTimes article on the demise of the picture book and the great rebuttals-- (http://www.philnel.com/2010/10/08/picture-book-is-dead/ )
I decided I too shall rebut.
Because I love picture books. I adore picture books. I lurve them.
So I thought I'd post this fabulous Maurice Sendak illustration from Ruth Krauss' A Hole Is To Dig. One of the all-time great picture books, in my estimation. And it doesn't even have a narrative arc!
Subtitled "A First Book of First Definitions," the author thanks some kindergarten children, who I assume provided the amazing text. Words like 'A face is something to have on the front of your head' and 'The sun is to tell you when it's every day' and 'Cats are so you can have kittens'
Had to be written by kids. I just don't know any adults who are that perceptive. So let your kid be a kid and let your kid use her wonderful visual thinking to understand the concept of story and let your kid read picture books! As long as they want to, even when they're all growed up.
Because, like the final page of A Hole is To Dig says, "A book is to look at."
On Sunday, my husband and I brought our daughter to hear this UNCA concert. What a lovely idea!
But then the squirming started. I'd brought papers and markers along to draw the musicians (like mommy!) Her and her little friend drew doggies and superheros instead and made each other giggle. Shhhh!
The friend had a very squeaky seat, especially if you rocked it back and forth just so, which no amount of shushing could stop.
Then my daughter started whining.
"I'm hungry, mom!"
Shhh! (frantic pointing at the numerous serious musicians)
"But I'm really hungry, mom!"
Shhh! (point, point)
"Why did we have to come here? It's so boring!"
(shocking, I know)
What's wrong with today's seven-year-olds, I have to wonder. Don't they know culture when they see it? :)
It was hard not to feel disappointed that my daughter wasn't a perfect angel during the concert. Unlike the time I took her to the ballet when she was six months old (she cooed adorably for awhile, then fell asleep)
All she wanted to do when we got home was play 'Avatar: the last airbender' with her friend. They were both the Avatar. And neither one was hungry after I threw together a quick dinner. What's wrong with these kids, anyway?
Hey, anyone want to play Avatar with me?
Ready or Not.
Here's what I'm feeling about NaNoWriMo
(National Novel Writing Month)
1. 50,000 words in one month? What?
2. That's like a million picture books. Or something.
3. If I make it to 50,000 words (the linguistic equivalent of one million picture books) it'll be a mess.
4. A big unedited mess.
5. Then what?
I've been thinking about taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge for awhile. And this character from a novel that's been in my head awhile is hinting very heavily that he's ready to come out. Breathing in my ear, actually.
But his story breaks my heart.
Picture books are nice. They don't break my heart.
Too late. I already signed up.
She's pulling her hair.
She's wondering why.
She's banging her head against the cafe table.
She's been sitting in front of her computer for two hours, and all she ordered was a small coffee.
"Are you sure you don't want anything else?" asks the waitress, with a barely concealed snarl.
"Yes, I do want something else," says the NaNoWriMoer. "I want it to be over."
She leans over her keys.
She types some words.
She counts the words.
She realizes they are not enough.
They will never be enough. Not by November 30. Impossible.
She orders a mocha, hoping that will placate the waitress.
And help her come up with more words.
She wonders if she can find a way to write on Thanksgiving.
Or the day after Thanksgiving.
She wonders why they didn't pick a month with 31 days.
On Sunday, November 14th, at the very groovy Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar (and Champagne!) in very groovy downtown Asheville, we schmoozed like we've never schmoozed before. Okay, I didn't have champagne, but I did have a lovely glass of Shiraz.
We chatted, enjoyed the ambiance, snacks and a gorgeous autumn day outside the big plate glass windows. It was simply fabulous to be among all these great writers and illustrators. All these people who are so dedicated to children's lit. I truly had a great time and I think everyone else did, too! Hooray!!
So much talent in that place, I could've plotzed. We listened to the wonderful Beth Revis http://www.bethrevis.com/
(there she is, just over my fabulous new hairdo as seen from the back) talk about her journey to publication and her upcoming Sci-Fi YA novel ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, (Razorbill/Penguin, January 11, 2011- we can't wait!) What struck me the most about her presentation was when she told us how many books she'd written before finding an agent with this one (I think it was 11!) Wow! Beth definitely gets the prize for Stick-to-it-iveness (as well as many other prestigious prizes!) How do you keep writing and submitting after those first 11 novels don't sell?
Because you have to!
Gotta write! Gotta Schmooze!
NaNoWriMo's making me crazy, by the way! just saying...
My favorite part of the whole wonderful Schmooze was going around the room with brief introductions and hearing all the beautiful-est people there (meaning, my pals) introducing themselves as Secret Gardeners. Like we're this very fascinating underground cult and now we're coming out to the world. I'm a Secret Gardener!
Plus I got a groovy pin with a photo from the cover of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. And I love to chat.
Thanks to (superstar) author Beth Revis for some of these pix and for being so great and telling us all about your work and your process and encouraging us to keep going!
And thanks to (superstar) author Alan Gratz (http://www.alangratz.com/
) for the other pix and for being part of the funnest day I've had in awhile.
Hope to see you at the next Schmooze!
Yes, I did NaNoWriMo this year.
No, I didn't NaNoWriMo.
Why am I being so self-contradictory?
Let me explain.
I did sign up for NaNoWriMo.
I did not write every single day (who wrote on Thanksgiving? Show of hands?)
I did write as often as I could.
I did upload a photo and record my word count.
I did not chat or forum.
I did attend one 'write-in.'
I did not write 50,000 words.
I did not write 40,000 words.
I did write 20,000 words.
So why do I feel so wimpy?
20,000 words is pretty good.
It is not the NaNoIdeal.
It is not enough to get the NaNo Medal of Honor, or whatever it is.
And I don't want to compare myself to friends with full-time jobs whose houses are cleaner than mine who DID write 50,000 words.
Before the deadline.
I really don't.
I do have a first (very short) manuscript I'm excited about.
I am thinking of it (as, I believe, John Green suggested) as a long outline of my novel.
I have barely worked on it since November.
I am consumed with holiday madness (but only in my dreams.)
I will finish this novel (I hope)
I did enjoy the challenge, even if I failed :(
I will miss saying NaNoWriMo.
I did just complete this self-portrait, showing how I feel
about not finishing NaNoWriMo (ambivalent?)
How are you feeling?
View Next 25 Posts
AN ADULT PROTAGONIST
Kids like to read about kids. Cindy-Lou Who, the only child mentioned, is never truly developed as a character. Has she learned anything by the end of the story? Where is her arc?
SLOPPY USE OF LANGUAGE
Chimbley? I mean, really!
Besides, does anyone use the word nimbly? Certainly not any members of the target audience!
A SCARY SANTA CLAUS
Children need to trust that the fat man breaking into their house on Christmas Eve is completely harmless.
Hearts cannot grow three sizes in one day. Did he do any research for this book?
Clearly, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! never should have been published.
But aren't we glad it was?
Thank you, Dr. Seuss. And Merry Christmas, everyone. Enjoy your roast beast!