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1. 2014 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 22

For today’s prompt, write a release poem. Maybe somebody’s being released from prison or a contract. Maybe a person is signing a release form. There’s emotional and physical release. Animals capturing and releasing other animals. Trees releasing leaves in autumn. And so on.

*****

2015 Poet's Market

2015 Poet’s Market

Get your poetry published!

Learn how to get your poetry published with the premiere book on publishing your poetry: the 2015 Poet’s Market, edited by Robert Lee Brewer.

This essential resource includes hundreds of listings for book publishers, magazines, journals, contests, grants, and so much more. Plus, there are articles on the craft of poetry, business of poetry, and promotion of poetry. Beyond that, there’s an hour-long webinar, a subscription to the poetry slice of WritersMarket.com, original poems, poet interviews, resources galore, and more-more-more!!!

Click to continue.

*****

Here’s my attempt at a Release poem:

“in words, no”

but I’m afraid your actions have
provided enough reasons that I

feel you could never truly ever
care for more than money. I sought

the city for small examples of your
charity, but I found no release.

*****

roberttwitterimageRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.

His golden shovel today was taken from a fairly popular Christmas story (and since I can’t find the book, it may be slightly paraphrased). If you can name the story, you get one point. Two points if you can pinpoint the exchange.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

*****

Find more poetic goodies here:

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2. Captain No Beard and the Aurora Borealis, by Carole P. Roman | Book Giveaway

Enter to win a full autographed set of the Captain No Beard series, by award-winning author Carole P. Roman; including the newest title Captain No Beard and the Aurora Borealis! Giveaway begins November 22, 2014, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends December 21, 2014, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

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3. Cundill Prize in Historical Literature

       Just three weeks ago I noted that The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and A Forgotten Genocide, by Gary Bass, had picked up the Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Book Award, and now it has picked up the next (and even more remunerative) honor, winning the Cundill Prize in Historical Literature -- a Canadian prize (that pays out in US dollars -- a tidy 75,000 for the winner).
       See the Vintage publicity page for the book, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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4. Windows on the past: how places get their names

Standing underneath the monstrous Soviet statue of “Motherland Calls” looking out over the mighty Volga River, I could understand why the city should have been renamed, rather unimaginatively, Volgograd “City on the Volga”. Between 1925 and 1961 it had been called Stalingrad, and was site of one of the most ferocious battles in the Second World War. By 1925, Josef Stalin was the Communist Party General Secretary, and the trend to rename cities and towns in his honor had begun. Since he had been chairman of the local military committee which had organized the defense of the city in 1919 against the White Russian armies, why not name this city after him? But in the years following his death in 1953, Stalin began to fall from grace and many places named after him were renamed. So what was Stalingrad called before 1925? Tsaritsyn. Something to do with the Tsar, probably, and given this name when it was founded as a fortress in 1589. This is a tempting assumption, but it is an assumption too far; toponymy is prone to such traps. Tsaritsyn is actually a Tatar name meaning “Town on the (River) Tsaritsa” from the Turkic sary su, “Yellow River.” It was given this name because of the golden sands of the Tsaritsa, at the point where it flows into the Volga.

So rivers have played a part in two of Volgograd’s names. Rivers attracted people because they provided fish to eat and water to drink, and facilitated movement and communication. People needed to differentiate between their settlements so they began to give them names: “river” (Rijeka in Croatia), “river mouth” (Dartmouth in England), “fast-flowing” (Bystrytsya in Ukraine and Bystrzyca in Poland), “white water” (Aksu in China, Kazakhstan, and Turkey), the “yellow river” (China).

In due course, something more creative was needed, and somebody trying to curry favor suggested naming their settlement after its leader. Leaders, at all levels, liked this idea and it spread rapidly. It helped to be royal (Victoria appears at least 31 times in 19 different countries), be a person of great power or influence (Washington), someone who had achieved some conspicuous feat (Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut), or explored new territory (Columbus). During the age of colonialism, some senior administrators and generals achieved comparative immortality by having places named or renamed after them, notably in the British Empire (Abbottābād).

A partial view of Aksu Stream nearby Waterfall Kuzalan in Dereli district of Giresun province, Turkey by Zeynel Cebeci. CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
A partial view of Aksu Stream nearby Waterfall Kuzalan in Dereli district of Giresun province, Turkey by Zeynel Cebeci. CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Russian and Soviet leaders were keen to project power or to intimidate. So in 1783, Count Paul Potemkin built a fortress at Vladikavkaz, which he called Vladet’ Kavkazom (“To have command of the Caucasus”). The name is now taken to mean “Ruler of the Caucasus”. In the same way, Vladivostok, also founded as a military post, has the name “Ruler of the East”. Founded in 1818 by the Russians to spread fear amongst the Chechens, Groznyy, capital of Chechnya, was given the name “Awesome” or “Menacing”. As recently as 2008 Vladimir Putin, the present Russian president, conferred the name “Peak of Russian Counter-Intelligence Agents” on a previously unnamed peak in the Caucasus Mountains.

There is no shortage of saints’ or religious leaders’ names throughout the world, particularly in California, Central and South America, and the Caribbean as a result of the earlier Spanish and Portuguese presence. Some may have been founded or sighted on a saint’s feast day (St. Helena), because they were the personal saint of the founder (St. Petersburg in Russia). or because the saint was thought to have been martyred there (St. Albans in England).

Possibly the three most important elements of toponymy are languages — living and dead — history, and geography. Numerous modern names in Europe are derived from their Latin names, since they were within the Roman Empire, and some of these Latin names had Celtic origins (Catterick and Toledo). Many names appear to have barely changed over the centuries (Lincoln and Civitavecchia) and thus their meaning can be deduced with little difficulty. Others, however, might appear to have an obvious meaning, but in tracing their history, it may be found that the origin or present meaning is not as anticipated (New York). It is sometimes the case that the original and modern forms are almost identical, but the meaning of a word has changed. The modern “field” is taken to mean an “enclosed piece of land” whereas the Old English feld meant “open land”. Place names are a window on the past. For example, Scandinavian names in England indicate where the Norwegian and Danish population was concentrated a millennium ago. Birkby, from Bretarby “Village of the Britons”, shows that this was a village inhabited by Britons rather than Anglo-Saxons.

The descriptive element of geography has a role: points of the compass (West Indies, East Anglia), the presence of ports, bridges, or fords (Oxford), the color or shape of a mountain (Rocky Mountains), even market day (Dushanbe “Monday” in Tajikistan).

Toponymy is a bit like astronomy — there is always something more to discover. There is probably no inhabited place on earth without a name. Yet the origin and meaning of some of the best known names are unknown. London is a case in point.

Some places like to draw attention to themselves by having unusual names: Halfway, Scratch Ankle, Truth or Consequences, Tombstone (all in the USA); or by having a name so long that virtually nobody can either remember it or pronounce it. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in Wales has 58 letters, and the Maori name of a hill on the North Island of New Zealand, Taumatawhakatangihangakōauauotamateauripūkakapikimaungahoronukupōkaiwhenuakitanatahu, has 84 letters, the world’s longest place name. Bangkok makes do with Bangkok, but a native of the city might give you its full name, all 60 words of it in English.

Have you voted for Place of the Year 2014? If not, vote now, and follow #POTY2014 to find out which place wins on 1 December.


The Place of the Year 2014 shortlist

Heading image: Monument in Volgograd – Motherland by alex1983. CC0 via Pixabay.

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5. The literature and history of Chaucer

To read Chaucer today is, in some measure, to read him historically. For instance, when the poet tells us in the ‘General Prologue’ to the Canterbury Tales that the Knight’s crusading experiences include service with the Teutonic Order in ‘Lettow’ (i.e. Lithuania), comprehension of the literal sense or denotation of the text requires some knowledge of fourteenth-century institutions, ideas and events. More generally, discussions of whether the Knight’s crusading activities are being held up for approval or disapproval in the ‘General Prologue’ (i.e., of the text’s connotations), are likely to cite the various, and sometimes conflicting, ways in which the morality of crusading, and in particular of campaigns mounted by the Teutonic Order against the Lithuanians, were regarded in Chaucer’s own day.

Certainly modern literary critics, influenced by Marxism, feminism, post-structuralism, new historicism, post-colonialism and cultural materialism, have adopted historical and sociological approaches to literary works from the past and have insisted on the need to read medieval literature in its historical context. Whereas the works of canonical authors such as Chaucer were once admired because they were seen to speak to ‘us’ across the centuries about some timeless ‘human condition’, their works are now likely to be seen as interventions in the social, political and ideological conflicts of their day. Medieval literary texts have thus come to be understood as instances of, in Helen Barr’s words, ‘social language practice’, being to some extent determined by contemporary social structures, institutions, conventions and behaviour but also, in turn, participating in them and even influencing them.

This historical approach to literature has been particularly evident in the field of Chaucer studies. As a result of the influence of scholars such as David Aers, Stephen Knight, Paul Strohm, Lee Patterson, Peggy Knapp, and David Wallace, Chaucer’s work has come to be read ‘socio-historically’, as an engagement with the social and political problems and ideological conflicts of the late fourteenth century. For those who proceed in this way, the context needed for understanding the Canterbury Tales is not only other literary texts of this period, such as Langland’s Piers Plowman or Gower’s Confessio Amantis, but also documentary sources of the day, such as Richard II’s 1387 proclamation against slander or the 1382 letters in which aldermen of the city of London were accused of treason at the time of the Peasants’ Revolt.

Portrait_of_Chaucer_-_Portrait_and_Life_of_Chaucer_(16th_C),_f.1_-_BL_Add_MS_5141
Image credit: Portrait of Chaucer, 16th century by the British Library. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Nonetheless, the popularity of historicist approaches to Chaucer’s work has by no means led to agreement about the poet’s social or moral outlook. On the contrary, as Helen Cooper said, there is ‘probably less of a critical consensus’ about Chaucer’s meaning and purpose ‘than for any other English writer’. Three main approaches to Chaucer’s social meaning can be identified, even though any one of them may be adopted by scholars writing from a wide range of theoretical perspectives and deploying many different critical vocabularies. Firstly, are those critics who regard Chaucer’s views as being essentially in accord with conventional medieval defences of social inequality. Here Chaucer’s crusading Knight would be seen as an ideal representative of the estate of ‘those who fight’ and, along with the Parson and Ploughman, as providing a yardstick by which to measure the other pilgrims and the extent to which they perform their proper social functions, put the common good before their own immediate pleasure or profit, and live in harmony with their fellows. Secondly, there are those who adopt the opposite view, discerning a more radical Chaucer, one who highlights the inadequacies of traditional social morality and who offers a challenge to ‘official’ conceptions of the prevailing order. Here Chaucer’s description of the Knight would be seen as challenging traditional chivalric ideals or as questioning the validity of the crusades. Thirdly, there are those who consider Chaucer’s work to be in some way open-ended and so as allowing the members of its audience to make up their own minds about the moral questions – for instance, about the Knight’s willingness to kill in the name of religion – which it raises.

Yet, despite this well-established ‘historical turn’ in literary studies, medieval historians have generally been loath to turn their hands to interpretation of works of imaginative literature from the Middle Ages. Perhaps it is now time for historians to respond to the interdisciplinary approaches which literary critics have pioneered? If we need an historical approach to make sense of Chaucer’s meaning, perhaps historians themselves have something to contribute to the debates about the social meaning of the Canterbury Tales which have so engaged literary critics? In the past, medieval historians have often taken a rather naive approach to works of imaginative literature, asking to what extent Chaucer’s pilgrims constitute accurate ‘reflections’ of the social reality of the time or seeking ‘real-life models’ for the pilgrims amongst the people with whom Chaucer was (or may have been) acquainted. If they are to contribute anything of value to current debates about Chaucer’s social meaning, they will need a need a sensitivity to the specifically literary nature of his texts, including his medieval conceptions of satire and irony and the ways in which his work adapted traditional literary stereotypes and generic conventions. Literary critics have offered us the possibility of a dialogue between the disciplines; it is now up to historians to respond to this invitation, to familiarise themselves with the scholarship in the field and to offer their own assessment of Chaucer’s engagement with the ideology of his time.

Headline image credit: The Canterbury Pilgrims Copper engraving printed on paper. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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6. Grave Mercy

You know those days/weeks/months that are so bad you just want to go to bed, read a book, and block the world out? I’ve had one/all of those. So, despite having more deadlines than I can actually keep in my head and the reminders of which fair nearly inspire a full-blown panic attack, I took […]

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7. Chicken Cheeks

I took a punt ordering children’s picture book Chicken Cheeks while on my everlasting quest to find great books about chickens. I am, after all, far from being in the book’s target audience. It was the title and the cover image that sold me. I mean, who can go past the words ‘chickens’ and ‘cheeks’ […]

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8. Internet Crevasses


When last we wrote to you, Deedy (that's Dorothea Jensen to most of you) had just managed to post the CD of Frizzy's audiobook for sale on Amazon.com. Much celebration all round!

Unfortunately, after that things got a Bit Murky. Deedy did manage to upload listings of Tizzy, Blizzy, and Dizzy's audio CDs, but they kept Slipping Between Internet Cracks. And we all know there are lots of those littering the web. Sort of like Crevasses.

Anyway, after flurries of e-mails back and forth, all the CDs have been found and firmly (we think) attached to the listings for the print and e-book versions. Deedy says that before they disappear again (she's a bit paranoid about the internet) she is posting all the locations to make it easy for people to find 'em.

Here we go: 










Tizzy, the Christmas Shelf Elf CD

 Want to hear an excerpt? Click here:

Santa's Izzy Elves: Excerpt of Tizzy, the Christmas Shelf Elf Audiobook













 Blizzy, the Worrywart Elf CD



 Want to hear an excerpt? Click here:

Santa's Izzy Elves: Excerpt of Blizzy, the Worrywart Elf Audiobook






Dizzy, the Stowaway Elf CD

 Want to hear an excerpt? Click here:

Santa's Izzy Elves: Excerpt of Dizzy, the Stowaway Elf Audiobook















Frizzy, the S.A.D. Elf CD

 Want to hear an excerpt? Click here:

Santa's Izzy Elves: Excerpt of Frizzy, the S.A.D. Elf Audiobook







Love from the Greatly Relieved Izzies!


Santa's Izzy Elves: Trailer for Grownups

Santa's Izzy Elves: Trailer for Kids



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9. 'Grow'vember day 22 - stegosaurus

drawings of stegosaurus dinosaur

Day 22
Topic - stegosaurus

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10. Captain No Beard and the Aurora Borealis, by Carole P. Roman | Dedicated Review

In the latest installment to Carole P. Roman’s award-wining series, Captain No Beard and his crew are heading in the direction of the North Star. This time they’re on a journey that the captain’s team is not so keen on joining—Captain No Beard has plans to take something without asking permission.

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11. Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature

       Yes, "Major New Prize for African Literature Announced", the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature, and that's certainly very welcome.
       Apparently:

The prize recognizes excellent writing in African languages and encourages translation from, between and into African languages.
       Which is certainly admirable -- though excellent writing in African languages might be easier to recognize if the prize weren't restricted to just one of them ... (as the prize is for: "the best unpublished manuscripts or books in Kiswahili published within two years of the award year").
       Still, as (Gikuyu-writing author) Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o notes:
Prizes have generally been used to drown African Literature in African languages under a Europhone flood. [...] I hope that this prize becomes an invitation for other African languages to do the same and much more.
       (There are/have been some (generally regional/national prizes) honoring work in African languages, but this looks like the grandest in scale to date; the money is good too)
       Let's hope prizes in other major African languages follow suit -- though the real dream is, of course, to finally see a truly pan-African prize in which submissions can be in any language.

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12. PiBoIdMo Day 22: Diana Murray Brews Up a Character-Driven Story (plus a prize!)

DianaMurrayBioPhotoby Diana Murray

Picture books are as varied as the potions in a witch’s cupboard. Some are spicy and bubbly, while others are mellow and sweet. So which kinds of stories are editors and agents clamoring for? Well, their tastes are just as varied. But one thing that seems to be on everyone’s wish list is this: character-driven stories. A few examples include FANCY NANCY by Jane O’Connor, LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA by Anna Dewdney, PINKALICIOUS by Elizabeth Kann, RUSSELL THE SHEEP by Rob Scotton, SKIPPYJON JONES by Judy Schachner, PETE THE CAT by Eric Litwin, LADYBUG GIRL by David Soman and Jacky Davis, MAX AND RUBY by Rosemary Wells, and SCAREDY SQUIRREL by Mélanie Watt. As you can see, character-driven books have great series potential and overall marketing potential. When readers fall in love with a character, they want to read more about him/her, and it’s fun to visualize what other sorts of situations the character may get into.

This doesn’t mean that character-driven stories are the only kinds that sell or do well in the marketplace. Nor does it mean that writers should focus primarily on pleasing editors or following trends. The best writing comes from the heart! But with that in mind, if you want to explore the possibilities of a character-driven story, here is one quick and easy recipe for brewing up a strong concept. Two ingredients are all you need!

  • Personality Trait
  • Conflicting Goal

I recommend you start off with a list of your own personality traits. This will make it easy for you to feel an emotional connection with (and understanding of) the trait.

My list might look something like this:

  • introverted
  • joker
  • nerdy
  • perfectionist
  • quiet
  • creative
  • analytical
  • messy
  • quirky
  • worrier

DianaMurrayBlogArtBG

Pick one trait (or several, if you’re feeling bold!). Next, choose a goal. Not just any goal, but specifically a goal that is in opposition to the trait you selected. When I wrote GRIMELDA, THE VERY MESSY WITCH, I chose the trait of being “messy” and made the goal “to find an item the character desperately wants/needs.” Or let’s say, for example, I choose “quiet”, then perhaps the goal would be to sing on stage, or speak out against something, or win an international yodeling contest. Sprinkle the goal in with your trait and–POOF! Instant conflict. And the conflict is intrinsically related to the essence of the main character. Adding conflict to a story is one way of encouraging readers to keep turning the pages. They’ll want to find out what happens next! Now, how will your character attempt to reach that goal or face that problem in his/her own unique way?

Feel that story bubbling to life? Now all you have to do is write (and revise, and revise) the rest. Of course, that’s the hard part. But a little inspiration magic can go a long way!

guestbloggerbio2014

Diana Murray is the author of several forthcoming picture books including, CITY SHAPES (Little, Brown, Spring 2016), NED THE KNITTING PIRATE: A SALTY YARN (Roaring Brook Press, Winter 2016), and GRIMELDA, THE VERY MESSY WITCH, plus a sequel (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, Summer 2016, 2017). Diana is the recipient of two SCBWI Magazine Merit Awards (2013 and 2014) and an Honor (2013) for poetry. She also won the 2010 SCBWI Barbara Karlin Work-In-Progress Grant for a picture book text. Diana is represented by Brianne Johnson at Writers House. She was raised in New York City and currently lives in a nearby suburb with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. Diana’s character GRIMELDA was brewed up during the first official PiBoIdMo, back in 2009! You can read more about that experience here.

For more information and news, you can visit DianaMurray.com or follow Diana on twitter: @DianaMWrites.

prizedetails2014

Diana is giving away a picture book critique!

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!


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13. Slowly learning to use new features

Some attempts at a playful use of new options in SA V5
The hillside scene represents a whole different approach to vector art for me.





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14. Tiberius on Capri: in pursuit of vice or just avoiding mother?

In AD 14, two thousand years ago this summer, the emperor Augustus, having dominated Rome for over forty years, finally breathed his last. The new emperor was his step-son Tiberius. While Augustus’ achievement in ending civil war and discreetly transforming a republic into one-man rule provokes grudging admiration even from those who aren’t keen on autocracy, Tiberius has very few fans. Suetonius’ biography, the third in his twelve Lives of the Caesars, offers some intriguing insights into why this might be.

Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar (42 BCE - 37 CE)
Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar

Descended from one of Rome’s most noble families, Tiberius, in his mid-50s when he came to power, had led a series of enormously successful, if unshowy, military campaigns, securing Pannonia (roughly modern Hungary) in the east and doing much to stabilize the troublesome area around the Rhine in the north. He loved literature, philosophy, and art. He was just the kind of man who had dominated the senior echelons of the senate under the republic – a very traditional kind of Roman leader, it might seem.

But among ancient commentators only Velleius Paterculus, who wrote during his reign, has much good to say. Suetonius, in his biography, and Tacitus, in his Annals, offer a litany of damning criticisms. Tiberius, himself a great respecter of tradition, a stickler for proper procedure, seems to have found his position – as not quite fully acknowledged autocrat, expected to exercise personal dominance through what purported to be the old republican framework – deeply uncomfortable. Unlike Augustus, he had no desire whatsoever to develop a warm relationship with the common people of Rome. (Suetonius makes clear his total lack of interest in the games – a telling indicator.) No money was spent on public works. He veered between insisting the Senate behave independently and dropping cryptic hints as to how he wanted it to vote. Yet his chief crime, in the eyes of some ancient critics, was deserting Rome.

Tiberius' Villa in Capri, Italy. Photo by Tyler Bell. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Tiberius’ Villa in Capri, Italy. Photo by Tyler Bell. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In 26 AD, twelve years into his reign, Tiberius withdrew to the island of Capri, never to return to the city. Was this meant to look like a return to senatorial government? For the next eleven years, imperial control was exercised remotely, for the most part through Sejanus, prefect of the praetorian guard. Among the many prominent Romans convicted of treason in those years were members of Tiberius’ own family, including the widow and two elder sons of his nephew Germanicus. Eventually Sejanus, too, ended up a corpse in the Tiber, taking with him as he fell many who had hoped to profit by associating with the emperor’s henchman. This bloodbath reflects Tiberius’ innate cruelty, as well as his insecurity – but Suetonius highlights other vices, too.

His biography begins with some family history – a mixed bag of earlier Claudians, male and female, some famous for their virtue, others notorious for their arrogance and depravity. Suetonius then charts Tiberius’ early life, his distinguished military career, his accession and the largely positive measures he undertook in the early years of his reign. But chapter 33 hints darkly at the character assassination, which is to follow: ‘He showed only gradually what kind of emperor he was’. This move prefigures the comments Suetonius makes in his Lives of Caligula (ch.22: ‘The story so far has been of Caligula the emperor, the rest must be of Caligula the monster’) and Nero (the end of ch.19 prepares the reader for ‘the shameful deeds and crimes with which I shall henceforth be concerned’). For Suetonius, character, though it may be temporarily masked, is not subject to change or development.

Suetonius does note that Tiberius’ withdrawal meant provincial government was neglected but stories of the emperor’s depravity get much more attention. Once on Capri, Tiberius ‘finally gave in to all the vices he had struggled so long to conceal’. His drinking was legendary, his sex life exceeded the worst imaginings. Surrounded by sexually explicit art-works, Tiberius was addicted to every kind of perversion, with boys, girls – even tiny children. The accusations relating to oral sex would have aroused particular loathing on the part of Roman readers. Tiberius’ appetites were hardly human; ‘people talked of the old goat’s den – making a play on the name of the island’. What did Tiberius really get up to? Stories of this kind were part of the common currency of Roman political discourse. Suetonius devotes similar space to the sexual transgressions of Caligula, Nero, and Domitian – such behaviour is to be expected of a tyrant. The remoteness of the emperor’s residence itself must have fuelled the most lurid imaginations back in Rome. Emblematic of Tiberius’ impossible position is his relationship with his mother Livia. Had she not been Augustus’ wife of many decades, Tiberius would never have succeeded to power. Suetonius repeatedly underlines Livia’s key role in promoting her son. She persuaded Augustus to adopt him, following the deaths of his two adult grandsons. She helped to ensure a rival candidate was eliminated. Even after Tiberius succeeded to Augustus, Livia remained a force to be reckoned with: ‘he was angered by his mother Livia on the grounds that she claimed an equal share in his power’. Yet we should perhaps be just as wary with regard to these stories as with those about Tiberius’ sexual tastes. What better way for Tiberius’ critics to undermine him than to allege this experienced military man in late middle age needed advice from his mother? Such claims would perhaps have been especially offensive to someone of Tiberius’ ultra-traditional outlook. The senators who proposed to honour him with the title ‘Son of Livia’ knew how to torment the emperor. Indeed Suetonius reports stories that the main reason Tiberius left Rome for Capri was to get away from his mother.

Image credits: (1) Siemiradzki Orgy on Capri by Henryk Siemiradzki, 1881. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons (2) Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar (42 BCE – 37 CE). From: H.F. Helmolt (ed.): History of the World. New York, 1901. University of Texas Portrait Gallery. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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15. FINDING MY VOICE by Adèle Geras

(This post appeared first on a blog called The Great British Bookshop. I'm very grateful to them for permission to publish it here again. Adele Geras)


It's been nearly eight years since I published a novel for adults. This is not because I've been lying around on sofas, eating peeled grapes, but because things have got in the way of my writing. These are both personal (moving from Manchester to Cambridge after living in the former for 46 years, my husband's last illness and death and so forth) and professional.
I haven't been idle.  Children's books have appeared during this time, but since A Hidden Life, I haven't published a novel for adults. And that's mainly because this particular novel, Cover your Eyes, has given me more trouble in the writing than any other of my books.  On the face of it, there's no obvious reason for this. I had the germ of the story right from the beginning, but in the first and second drafts and the subsequent fiddlings and fossickings that went on once the novel had actually been written, there were many different things to get right.
The first was that I needed to create convincing voices and stories for each of my heroines.  I like having more than one heroine in my books, and I enjoy going from one point of view to the other. Perhaps this is to stop myself from becoming tired of the single vision throughout, but it's also I think, (and hope!) a way of appealing to readers of different ages. The first thing you have to get right is the language. I made the decision early on to have Megan's sections in the first person, and that meant that the words had to be ones that were suitable for a young woman of 29. Eva's part of the story is in the third person, (a sort of modified form, which is really her point of view).
Also, I enjoy writing about the past. I blog on a site called The History Girls, which is for writers of historical fiction, and I count myself as one of those.  I like going back in time and to this end, I have always put a character who is about 75 or 80 years old in my novels to provide a view of the past. In my first adult novel, Facing the Light, (now only available as an e book from Quercus) the whole action of the novel takes place during the 75th birthday celebrations of my heroine, Leonora. Her memories of childhood, and of being young and middle-aged were layered into the narrative, and I wrote all seven of these 'past' bits first, before writing the rest of the book. I then slotted them into their appropriate positions at the end.
In Cover your Eyes, my elderly heroine is Eva, and she came to England in 1938 on the Kindertransport.  She has a secret that she has revealed to no one, and she is haunted, quite literally, by a ghost about whom she has never said a word.  She used to be a famous dress designer and she meets the other heroine of the novel, who's a journalist, when the latter (Megan), comes to interview her for a fashion magazine.  Eva's narrative is intercut with memories of times from her past, in the manner that I used in Facing the Light, but in this novel, I wrote the sections in the past as I went along.  Megan is recovering from being dumped by her married lover. Eva is sad because her beautiful home, Salix House, is going to be sold.  Stuff happens, and Megan ends up living in Eva's house, where she becomes aware of a certain strangeness - she sees and hears things that she can't explain.
I won't say more; I don't like spoiling the plot, but I hope that everyone who reads the book enjoys it. It went through several incarnations because it's very hard to weave a supernatural element into a typical 'women's fiction' story. I hope that there are things in this book which resonate with lovers of historical fiction* too. Even though only small sections of the actual story take place in the past, I like to think that what happened to Eva when she was four and came to England for the first time, tinges the book and gives it its flavour, rather like the Angostura in a drink of gin and bitters.
 * I have also written a children's book about the Kindertransport, called A Candle in the Dark, published by A&C Black, which is suitable for readers of seven and upwards.

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16. #TWTBlog Session at #NCTE14: Live Tweets from the Event!

Live tweets from #NCTE14! Join us at 9:30EST at #TWTBlog.

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17. Feedback Request


The author of Kingdom of Fire (Face-Lift 1237) has sent a new revision, and requests our input.

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18. Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Whittling

As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. 

When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story. 

WHITTLING

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Andrea Parrish-Geyer @ Creative Commons

Description: To shape a piece of wood by chipping or cutting small pieces from it

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: good hand-eye coordination, dexterity, a steady hand and firm grip, the ability to sit for long periods of time without getting stiff or sore

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: imaginative, artistic, patient, calm, resourceful, meticulous, focused, obsessive

Required Resources and Training: Whittling is a time-consuming activity that takes much practice to master. It can be learned with little or no teaching; all you really need is a sharp knife, a piece of wood, and lots of time. It helps to have a basic understanding of wood types, so you can choose the type of wood that will yield the best result for the project. And while you can whittle with any knife, smaller ones work best, and different kinds of blades can help with different cuts.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions: The most common stereotype associated with whittling is the country bumpkin (usually male) sitting on the front porch whittling sticks down to toothpicks. While it makes sense that an avid whittler needs access to wood, he doesn’t have to live in the actual woods. Items can be whittled from wood chunks or twigs found in a park, or even from lumber bought at a hardware store.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • for relaxation or stress relief
  • as a way of passing the time when one has excess time on one’s hands
  • coming up with a new product or technique that can be turned into a much-needed money-making venture for the hero
  • when a small, secretive item is needed to help save the day (a lock pick, wooden coin, weapon, etc.)
  • when it’s necessary to camouflage something important as an everyday object

Stories Where Whittling is Used As Part of the Plot Line

  • The Shawshank Redemption—though Andy Dufresne whittled soapstone instead of wood
  • Spindle’s End (Robin McKinley)

Related Talents and Skills: Carpentry

Resources for Further Information:

Whittling 101

A Beginner’s Guide to Whittling 

Getting Started in Woodcarving and Whittling

You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.

The post Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Whittling appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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19. Music and Movement at the Library

This past summer, the Fayetteville Free Library (FFL) offered several new early literacy programs targeted at improving family health and nutrition. Perhaps the most popular of these were our “Music and Movement” programs for infants through preschoolers. We know that music and movement are important at every stage of a child’s development, and can be made applicable for children who are at different stages. We were especially interested in creating new ways to engage families with babies and toddlers, and this series provided a fun, dynamic way to do that. In fact, libraries are well positioned to provide access to music and movement opportunities for children. As children’s librarians we already sing, clap, and engage in dramatic play through action rhymes in our storytimes. And while there might be other businesses that offer these types of programs, we found that they are often expensive and cost prohibitive to some families. I don’t claim to be a music educator, but I do think that, as librarians, we can instill in children a love of music in much the same way that we encourage a love of reading.

So why is it important to offer a music and movement program? Research shows that “movement education is basic physical education that emphasizes fundamental motor skills and concepts such as body and spatial awareness, but that it is also a philosophy of physical education in that it is success-oriented, child-centered, and non-competitive”  (Pica, emphasis mine). We also know that childhood obesity rates in American are at an all time high. Music and movement programs not only aid a child’s physical development, they help children “feel good about their movement abilities, [thus] they are more likely to make physical activity part of their lives” (Pica). An active lifestyle is essential for a child’s overall physical fitness and health.

Benefits to Movement

  • There are many obvious physical benefits to movement, including cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition.
  • Children need 60 minutes of play with moderate to vigorous activity every day to grow up to a healthy weight (letsmove.gov).
  • Movement also has social and emotional benefits, as it helps children unleash creativity through physical expression like dance. Certain games and activities can also teach them cooperation and help them work together with peers and adults.
  • Finally, movement also helps children develop cognitively; “studies have proven that they especially acquire knowledge experientially–through play, experimentation, exploration, and discovery.  Though a developmentally appropriate movement program, instructors can help nurture the bodily/kinesthetic intelligence possessed in varying degrees, by all children” (Pica).

Benefits of Music

  • Music is vital to the development of language and listening skills. We know from Every Child Read to Read that singing is an important early literacy practice, and is a key way children learn about language.
  • Music’s melody and rhythmic patterns help develop memory, which is why it’s easier to remember song lyrics than prose text. This is why we learn our ABC’s in a song.
  • Music engages the brain, stimulating neural pathways that are associated with higher forms of intelligence such as empathy and mathematics. (National Association for Music Education)
  • Music and language arts both consist of symbols and ideas; when the two are used in combination, abstract concepts become more concrete and are therefore easier for children to grasp. (National Association for Music Education)

Program Plan

MusicMovementblurred2Hopefully, now you’re convinced and wondering how to implement a Music and Movement program of your own. Chances are you already have most of the ingredients! I used a combination of acapella singing and children’s CDs for the music. I then broke the 30-45 minute program down into different activities and skills, for example, exploring up and down/ stretching and jumping; clapping and rhythm; clapping/singing and tempo; etc. Many of the songs and rhymes I used to correspond to these activities are familiar and beloved: “Pop Goes the Weasel” for jumping, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” for clapping, “Row Your Boat” for rhythm. For each song we sang as a group, I also played a song from the CDs. Other favorites included stop and go, or statue games. Children dance and move until the music stops and then have to freeze in place! Playing “statue” develops listening skills and helps children distinguish between sound and silence. It also helps them practice self control, starting, and stopping. “Stop and Go” by Greg & Steve and “Bodies 1-2-3” by Peter & Ellen Allard are perfect songs for this activity, but you can really use any song and then manually stop the music unexpectedly!  

In the second half of the program, we explore an instrument. Shakers and bells are perfect for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, and rhythm sticks are fun for older groups. There are tons of great shaking songs, including “Shake Your Sillies Out” by Raffi, “Shake, Rattle & Rock” by Greg & Steve, “Shaky, Shaky” by the Wiggles. “Frere Jacques” is a classic if you’re using bells. If you can’t afford a large set of instruments, you can also make your own and explore the sounds of common household items. I sometimes intersperse this half MusicMovementBlurredof the program with movement activities like jumping jacks and toe touches. Finally, we end with the parachute activities. We bought a 12’ parachute for $25-30 and a smaller 6’ one for use with the babies and toddlers. Not only are the parachutes endlessly entertain to children of all ages, they have a myriad of uses and promote teamwork and coordination. If you have bean bags, small balls, or a beach ball to add, even better.

Our Music and Movement Program at the Fayetteville Free Library was wildly successful with 40-50 attendees at each session. It was the perfect way for us to reach families with young children of all ages and support family health and an active lifestyle at the same time. Do you offer a music and movement program at your library? Tell us about it in the comments!

Resources for Music and Movement Education

  1. Pica, R., & Pica, R. (2010). Experiences in movement & music: Birth to age 8. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.
  2. Early Childhood Music and Movement Association
  3. LetsMove.gov
  4. National Association for Music Education

(Photos courtesy guest blogger)

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Stephanie Prato is a member of the ALSC Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee. She is the Director of Play to Learn Services at the Fayetteville Free Library in NY. If you have any questions, email her at sprato@fflib.org.

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20. Representations of purgatory and limbo in popular culture

In the Catholic tradition, purgatory is an afterlife destination reserved for souls who are ultimately bound for heaven. It is still a doctrine of the Catholic Church, despite confusion about its status. In 2007, the residing Pope Benedict XVI asked Church theologians to reconsider another Catholic afterlife destination: limbo. Limbo was traditionally thought to be on the “lip of hell” or the edge of heaven (hence the name limbo, which derives from the Latin limbus, for edge). Limbo was believed to be the final destination for the souls of unbaptized babies. The unsettling implications of belief in limbo, in part, was what motivated Pope Benedict and contemporary theologians to conclude that Catholics should hope for God’s mercy for deceased unbaptized babies—that no, they probably didn’t end up in limbo. The popular press interpreted this move as the abolition of limbo, which never was, ironically, a Catholic doctrine, although certainly lots of influential Catholics believed in it and wrote about it, like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. With limbo off the table, public discussion focused on the status of purgatory.

Popular headlines reflected confusion: would purgatory be next? Unlike limbo, purgatory is a doctrine of the Church, yet its representations have undergone significant modifications. Historically, the diversity of conceptions of purgatory boggles the mind. An entrance to purgatory was once thought to reside in Ireland on a rocky island; it was also considered to be a punitive “neighborhood” to hell; in the 1860s a cleric in France wrote that purgatory was in the middle of the earth; and more commonly after the nineteenth century, it is conceived of as a purifying “state” or condition of a soul, and not as a place at all. The common thread running through each of these descriptions is that they all derive from Catholic culture, although each was advocated in different eras and within unique contexts.

Molloch and Henry in Purgatory. (c) Sleepy Hollow, Fox.
Molloch and Henry in Purgatory. (c) Sleepy Hollow, Fox.

Today, one is more likely to find representations of purgatory and limbo in virtual reality and popular culture than in the local Catholic Church. In particular, the creators of video games and online role playing environments incorporate stereotypical images that reinforce particularly punitive versions of these post-death destinations that are usually associated with the late medieval era. The somber, award-winning video game LIMBO features a narrative story line similar to the “edge of hell” version of limbo rather than its representation as the edge of heaven. Released in July 2010 by the Danish game developer Play Dead, the game follows a young boy in search of his sister. LIMBO’s environments are entirely black, white, and shades of gray, featuring fear factors like giant shadowy spiders, eerie, lonesome forests, and cold industrial landscapes. The game’s creators state that they intentionally kept the storyline minimal, with no inherent meaning so that gamers can speculate on their own as to what is the ultimate meaning.

Purgatory is the main theme of an anticipated 3D role-playing game called Graywalkers: Purgatory. The game environment is a post-apocalyptic world where the afterlife merges with human lives. Demons and angels war with each other over the fate of humanity. Thirty-six heroes called Graywalkers emerge to assist the angels. Creator Russell Tomas of Dreamlords Digital stated that Purgatory is a game of action and consequence, where player’s actions will directly impact the results of the game. Characters like Father Rueben wear traditional Catholic vestments with the additional innovation of weapons and religiously themed tattoos.

Purgatory also figures in the popular television show Sleepy Hollow, which premiered in 2013 on the Fox network. Protagonist Katrina Crane is relegated to purgatory, which is imagined as an eerie waiting area for souls who are destined for either heaven or hell. This is obviously an alternation from the doctrinal version of purgatory—imagined as a place where souls are destined for heaven—and it has spawned online conversations focused on whether or not the version of purgatory represented in the show is actually correct. It is not, of course, but in this respect it conforms to other, much older versions of purgatory that were ultimately considered to be erroneous, such as those that placed it in the middle of the earth, or on a rocky island in Ireland.

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21. Six questions with Amy DeRogatis

In her new book, Amy DeRogatis explores a relatively untouched topic: evangelicals and sexuality. While many may think that evangelicals are anti-sex, DeRogatis argues that this could not be further from the truth. We sat down with the author of Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism to learn more about her research into the topic.

How did you become interested in this topic?

My interest in this topic began when I was asked a question by a student in my Religion and Gender class at Michigan State University (MSU). In the course we had been reading a book that discussed some ritual practices around marital sexuality in Orthodox Judaism. One student raised her hand and asked, “Where do Christians go to read about the proper ways to have sex?” Knowing the student, I understood that she didn’t mean all Christians; she was referring specifically to evangelicals. I made a quick reply about evangelicals publishing lots of material about how not to have sex and returned to the topic of discussion. The question stuck with me and after class I ran a few Internet searches for Christian sex manuals, and I found some Catholic writings. I then refined the search to evangelical sex manuals, and although I was unable to find any secondary material, such as a scholarly article that surveyed and analyzed the literature, I did eventually find lots of primary sources. I was astonished to discover that Special Collections in the Main Library at MSU had a large collection of these publications. Within a week of hearing the student’s question, I was in the library reading evangelical sex manuals, and I was hooked.

How do you define “evangelical” in this book?

That is a great question. There has been much debate among scholars about how to define evangelicalism and whether there is even a cohesive category under which we can talk about and study evangelicals. I adopt a very broad definition. I define evangelicals as Protestants who affirm the necessity of individual spiritual rebirth. Evangelicals emphasize personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, the imminent return of Christ, and the desire to spread the gospel. Evangelicals express their theological beliefs through daily practices such as prayer, Bible study, refraining from sinful behavior and furthering what is often called “their walk with Christ.”

Sexuality is a huge topic. Is there anything you planned to write about that you didn’t include in the book?

Yes, of course. The first question I usually am asked about is why I focus on heterosexuality in my book. Originally I had planned to write a chapter on prescriptive literature about same-sex desires and practices. There are a few recent books that do an excellent job of examining this issue (here I’ll just mention two: Tanya Erzen’s, Straight to Jesus and Lynne Gerber’s The Straight and Narrow) and I felt that I did not have much to add to or improve their excellent analyses. When I wrote the book proposal I was imagining a chapter on LGBTQ evangelicals and their writings about sexuality. But, as the project developed, I focused in on conservative evangelicals, and to me, what is one of the fascinating points that evangelical sex writers are deeply concerned with monitoring and regulating heterosexual sex.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about evangelicals and sexuality?

The biggest misconception is that evangelicals are anti-sex. They are not. Contrary to popular stereotypes that characterize conservative Christians as prudes, since the 1960s evangelicals have been engaged in an enterprise to claim and affirm the joys of sex for married born-again Christians. Rather than turning away from the sexual liberation movement, they have simply made it their own by publishing sex manuals, running sex workshops, and holding counseling sessions to aid married evangelicals achieve sexual satisfaction. The sex publications are distinct from secular sex manuals in their exclusive focus on heterosexuality, the assumption of virginity prior to marriage, the role of the Bible as a reliable guide for sexual pleasure, and the emphasis on understanding and maintaining traditional gender roles as a requirement for “true” sexual satisfaction. The authors go to great lengths to suggest techniques for sexual pleasure and argue that marital sexual pleasure is biblical and good marital sex is a sign of faithfulness and a testimony to others. It is true—evangelical publications do not promote all forms of human sexuality. It is also true that within heterosexual marriage, sexual pleasure, according to these manuals, is part of God’s plan for humanity. So, no, evangelicals are not anti-sex.

How do you think this work will influence your scholarly field?

First and foremost, I hope that my book will put the study of evangelical sexuality on the scholarly agenda. Before I began publishing my research on evangelicals and sexuality there were very few scholarly essays about evangelicals and sexuality. The most compelling writings were focused on evangelical responses to same-sex desires and practices, not on heterosexuality. There were some popular magazine articles and a couple of books written by scholars outside of the field of religious studies that primarily focused on gender or sexuality and discussed evangelical sexual writings and practices as part of a larger project. While there are numerous excellent monographs on American evangelicals and gender, I am not aware of anyone who has written a scholarly study of American evangelical popular prescriptive literature about heterosexual practices. The one exception would be a few monographs that examine adolescent sexuality and the purity movement. I hope that my book will influence future scholars to take up the topic and investigate areas that I do not consider in this book. I know that there are a few dissertations in the works that focus on social media, more controversial sexual practices, a specific figure (Mark Driscoll currently is a favorite), as well as a few sociological and anthropological studies that consider the effects of the prescriptive literature I examine on the lives of everyday believers. Beyond my topic, I hope my book will inspire other scholars who study religion to take seriously popular literature about embodied practices and the role of the senses in the construction and maintenance of religious identity.

What was the last book you read for pleasure that you would recommend to others?

Dear Committee Members: A Novel by Julie Schumacher.

Image credit: “Chastity Ring” by Rlmabie. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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22. My tweets

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23. SkADaMo 2014 Day 18

stink 2


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24. In a Puddle


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25. Illustrator Saturday – Leeza Hernandez

leeza_johnlithgow

Leeza Hernandez is an award-winning illustrator and children’s book author, hails from the south of England, but has been living in New Jersey since 1999. In 2004 she switched from newspaper and magazine design to children’s books, and hasn’t looked back. With a few books now under her belt, she’s currently working on three new projects: a follow up to Dog Gone! called Cat Napped; a sequel to Eat Your Math Homework called Eat Your Science Homework, other released this year. In 2013 she illustrated a picture book written by acclaimed actor and author John Lithgow. Follow Leeza on Twitter @leezaworks. She also took over my place as the Regional Advisor for the New Jersey SCBWI chapter and is doing a great job.

Below is Leeza at six years old with her cat Minnie Weasle!

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Here is Leeza explaining her process:

The cover of Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo took a fair amount of working out—between not giving too much away and showing to little that it looked too vague. The images show a handful of the different covers that were sketched up, then the progression of the final color cover.

Adobe Photoshop PDF

These are the thumbnail sketches for the book layout.

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Because there were so many animals in Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo, I kept all my research pictures organized in a jumbo ring binder.

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But, no matter how hard I looked, I just couldn’t find an image of a yak playing a sax so had to use some creative license!

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Below you can see the process of the cover art.

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Below is an up close look at the final cover.

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What caused you to move from the UK to the US?

Work. I took an art director position at a newspaper in the late 90s which was the field I worked in back then.

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When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

It wasn’t a conscious decision really, but in the early 2000s I discovered Illustration Friday (www.illustrationfriday.com)—a great source of inspiration but also a way to help you create illustrations for yourself based upon a weekly word prompt. Browsing through the site, one link led to another and I eventually landed at SCBWI (www.scbwi.org) and that was that!

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This image was created for the Illustration Friday prompt “Wisdom” and received an American Illustration selection back in the early 2000s. I added it to my portfolio among a handful of painted images and it was what art directors responded to the most. I was encouraged to create more!

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What was the first picture book that you illustrated? And how did that contract come your way?

Eat Your Math Homework was the first trade picture book I was hired to illustrate, which came about after attending a Rutgers One-on-One Plus conference (ruccl.org). I met an editor at the luncheon who took my promo postcard away with her and about six months later the designer reached out to my agent asking if I was available-yay!

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How did you connect with John Lithgow to illustrate his book, Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo ?

I was asked to do some samples (along with some other illustrators) for a book written by a ‘high-profile’ author but I didn’t know who it was until I found out I was picked for the project. It was all very mysterious and exciting!

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Have you met John Lithgow?

Yes, he’s lovely. We launched the book together in New York, it was so much fun. He sang his songs. I spared the audience and did not sing!

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How long did you have to illustrate Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo?

This was one of the quickest turnaround books I have worked on and it was 40 pages. From initial sketches, through revisions and to final art was a little less than eight months total.

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I see you illustrated a second book with Ann McCallum this year, titled Eat Your Science Homework. Did you sign a two-book deal when you illustrated Eat Your Math Homework in 2011?

No two-book deal. It was simply an organic progression. Ann had an idea and submitted her proposal for the science book and a few months after they acquired the manuscript, Charlesbridge asked if I’d
illustrate it.

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Will there be a third book with Ann?

Yes! Eat Your U.S. History Homework is due to release in late 2015.

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I am assuming that Cat Napped! published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons came about due to the previous book you wrote and illustrated titled, Dog Gone! Can you tell us the story behind these two books?

Back in 2009 I won the Tomie de Paola portfolio award at the New York SCBWI conference—which was amazing. As a result, I was invited in to the Penguin offices to meet with an editor, publisher and art director and they looked at my work as well as a sample and manuscript for Dog Gone! and they took it. I was beyond thrilled and so, so grateful for the opportunity.

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During the time I worked on Dog Gone! I had this idea that I wanted to create a cat book in the same vein and I already had the title Cat Napped! noodling around in my head, but it took a while to flesh out the story. I remember having submitted the story along with a couple of other ideas to the editor and right after Dog Gone! released they took it.

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Have any of the books you worked on won any awards?

Eat Your Science Homework was awarded a 2014 Junior Library Guild selection—awesomesauce!

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Do you have plans to write and illustrate another book?

Hahaha, yes of course! I hope I never stop.

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What do you consider your first big success?

Wow, that’s a tough question. I’m not sure I can measure one big success that easily. Having a book published is amazing, but I also consider the ever-evolving process as a series of successful stepping-
stones and I do a little happy dance each time I move to the next one—because they all teach me something about myself and/or my work. Creative folks are such sensitive creatures and it can be
intimidating to put our work out there in front of people, so each time we are brave and face our fears head on, that’s a success. Actually, when I attended a SCBWI conference for the first time, I was so overwhelmed I almost didn’t go back the next day—so I’d say not giving up right off the bat was my first big success!

PencilOnArches

For pencil work, I use 2H, HB, 2B and 5 or 6B pencils on Arches hotpress 140lb paper.

PencilOnArches2What is on the drawing board now?

My schedule has been a little nuts lately so I am taking a rest-of-the-year break and finally getting around to updating my website, which has been somewhat neglected.

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Do you ever use Corel Painter or Photoshop when illustrating?

I ‘collage’ in Photoshop. I take all the pieces that I create by hand, scan them in, then slice ‘n’ dice them into a final illustration. I think of Photoshop as my digital scissors and glue, but I don’t actually illustrate with Photoshop if that makes sense, like, I’m not drawing or painting digitally using brushes and filters.

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Do you own a graphic tablet?

No. If you mean a Cintiq or Wacom, that is. I’ve seen them in action though, wow!

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Is there one thing that you did or happened that you feel really pushed your career to the next level?

I joined SCBWI. So far, this has been an amazing journey of education, connections, opportunities, projects and rewards, but it all started with this incredible organization that continues to play a role—LOVE SCBWI!

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Do you take pictures or other research before you start a project?

Before and during—yes. Having reference material gives me a much better understanding of what I am drawing than simply imagining. I like to begin by drawing realistically before I think about characterizing for a book because it gives me an accurate sense of anatomy, behavior, body language, etc., even though they’re very loose drawings. There were a number of animals in Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo that I hadn’t drawn before, so I filled a ring binder with reference just for that project.

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The original pick-up truck for Cat Napped! was a struggle, but after sharing with my editor, we realized it was too square and modern, so I went back and researched vintage trucks from the 40s and 50s. The end result was a bit of a hybrid but its softer, curvier edges suited the tone of the book far better than the angular truck I had originally drawn.

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The internet is a powerful tool—National Geographic (nationalgeographic.com), Nat Geo Kids (kids.nationalgeographic.com), NASA (nasa.gov), and Pinterest (pinterest.com) are some of my favorites but discipline is key. The amount of research I do depends upon the project but I have to be careful with the amount of time I spend researching versus creating the art.

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I use a timer to stay on top of it. And even if I am not researching for a particular project, I carry a sketchbook with me and either have my phone or camera for taking any pictures. Inspiration strikes when I least expect it so I like to be as prepared as possible.

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Have you found most art directors and editors give you a lot of freedom when illustrating a book? Do they want to be involved all the way through the process?

Once, I was given very specific art notes for an educational book but the turnaround time was tight, so the notes were helpful for me to jump right in. I’ve received minimal notes for nonfiction projects if there was a point that needed to be demonstrated visually for some specific text. For example: the Homework books sometimes have charts.

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For the fictional projects, I’m pretty much left to it for the first round of sketches, then the art director and/or editor and I discuss together. Sometimes, I’ll offer up additional sketch options for a handful of spreads if I have lots of ideas and can’t decide which direction to go. There can be a lot of back and forth on the cover, though.

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

My art materials—pencils, brushes, paper, inks, sketchbooks—I’d be kinda lost without them!

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

Yes, even if it’s only for ten minutes, that’s my rule.

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

To travel, keep making art, and continue creating books for young readers—that would be lovely!

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Thank you Leeza haring your journey and process with us. Can’t wait to see your career go forward. You can visit Leeza at her website: http://www.leezaworks.com to see more of her work.

If you have a moment I am sure Leeza would love to read your comments. I enjoy them too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, How to, illustrating, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, picture books, Process Tagged: John Lithgow, Leeza Hernandez, Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo

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