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The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. Abrams. 350 pages. [Source: Library]
I loved, loved, LOVED Jonathan Auxier's The Night Gardener. It may just be my favorite new book published in 2014. I loved so many things about it: the atmospheric setting, the creepy world-building, the storytelling, the writing, and the characterization. (Yes, those overlap, I imagine.) I could just say that I loved all the elements of this one; that I loved it absolutely from cover to cover. (Which does more justice for the book?)
Here's how the story opens. I'm curious if it will grab you like it did me!
The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October. A crisp sun shone over Cellar Hollow, melting the final bits of ice from the bare trees. Steam rose from the soil like a phantom, carrying with it a whisper of autumn smoke that had been lying dormant in the frosty underground. Squinting through the trees, you could just make out the winding path that ran from the village all the way to the woods in the south. People seldom traveled in that direction, but on this March-morning-that-felt-like-October, a horse and cart rattled down the road. It was a fish cart with a broken back wheel and no fish. Riding atop the bench were two children, a girl and a boy, both with striking red hair. The girl was named Molly, and the boy, her brother, was Kip. And they were riding to their deaths. This, at least, was what Molly had been told by no fewer than a dozen people as they traveled from farm to farm in search of the Windsor estate.
I loved Molly and Kip. It wasn't that either protagonist was perfect. It was that I felt both were oh-so-human. These two do find the Windsor estate. And they do manage to stay on as help. Even though they don't necessarily receive wages--just room and board. This country estate is...well, I don't want to spoil it. But the people who warned them to stay away from the estate, from the sour woods, well they had good intentions. The book is creepy in all the right ways. It is a WONDERFUL read if you love rich, detailed storytelling.
I also loved Hester Kettle. She is the old woman--Kip thought she was a witch at first glance--who tells them the directions to the estate. She also proves to be a friend and kindred spirit. She is, like Molly, a story-teller.
Hester touched the button, "Funny things, wishes. You can't hold'em in your hand, and yet just one could unmake the world." She looked up at Molly. (214)
"You asked me for a story; now you call it a lie." She folded her arms. "So tell me, then: What marks the difference between the two?" Agitated as she was, Molly couldn't help but consider the question. It was something she had asked herself in one form or another many times in her life. Still, Molly could tell the difference between the two as easily as she could tell hot from cold--a lie put a sting in her throat that made the words catch. It had been some time, however, since she had felt that sting. "A lie hurts people," she finally answered. "A story helps 'em." "True enough! But helps them do what?" She wagged a finger. "That's the real question..." (214)
I loved the story. I loved the pacing. It was a great read!!! Definitely recommended!
Random House has released Margaret Atwood’s new short fiction collection, Stone Mattress. One of the nine tales, “The Freeze-Dried Groom,” has been posted on Wattpad. This particular piece leaves the reader with many unanswered questions.
Some of these queries include “Will Sam be a killer or a victim?” and “What are the other characters’ versions of events?” Fans are invited to take part in a writing contest to answer these questions. Follow this link to learn about all the rules.
The deadline has been set for October 31st at 11:59 p.m. EST and a winner will be announced on November 18th. The grand prize winner will receive a signed Stone Mattress anthology, a tweet from Atwood, and loot from Wattpad. Two runner-ups will also receive autographed of copies of Atwood’s book.
I love October. October 3 (my wedding anniversary) and October 31st (the best holiday of all!) are my favorite days, but today, October 21st, is really giving them a run for their money because not one, but TWO books that I've been eagerly awaiting are coming out. I seriously couldn't be more excited about these books if they were my own: ROOKIE YEARBOOK THREE, edited by Tavi Gevinson, and THIS IS YOUR AFTERLIFE, the YA debut by my hilarious, brilliant, amazing, simply-not-enough-cool-adjectives-exist-to-fully-describe-her critique partner, Vanessa Barneveld!
Let's talk about the amazing Vanessa and her book first. My books would basically not exist if not for Vanessa--well, they definitely would not be as good. We became online critique partners (Vanessa lives in Australia where I really hope to visit her one day!) shortly after I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE sold in 2007. She's read multiple versions of both of my books (and some not-published manuscripts as well) and was a total lifesaver during the revisions of BALLADS OF SUBURBIA in particular, reading and immediately responding to the changes I was making at 3 am (this was where it was very convenient to have an Australian CP). She's got an eye for character and an ear for voice, which have helped me a ton, but those plus her incredible sense of humor have made her manuscripts a blast for me to read over the years and I AM SO FREAKIN' EXCITED that readers EVERYWHERE get to be swept into one of Vanessa's worlds.
Here's the lowdown on THIS IS YOUR AFTERLIFE! When the one boy you crushed on in life can't seem to stay away in death, it's hard to be a normal teen when you're a teen paranormal.
Sixteen-year-old Keira Nolan has finally got what she wanted—the captain of the football team in her bedroom. Problem is he’s not in the flesh. He’s a ghost and she’s the only one who can see him.
Keira's determined to do anything to find Jimmy's killer. Even it if means teaming up with his prickly-yet-dangerously-attractive brother, Dan, also Keira's ex-best-friend. Keira finds that her childish crush is fading, but her feelings for Dan are just starting to heat up, and as the story of Jimmy’s murder unfolds, anyone could be a suspect.
This thrilling debut from Vanessa Barneveld crosses over from our world to the next, and brings a whole delightful new meaning to "teen spirit".
Here's the book trailer:
I devoured THIS IS YOUR AFTERLIFE. It was funny, it was sad, it kept me turning pages, and best of all, it reminded me of my own teenage years when I was obsessed with the Ouija Board and longing for the psychic abilities that Keira has. If you are looking for great ghost story with laugh-out-loud moments and more thrills than chills, this is it.
To celebrate her launch, Vanessa is throwing a big, online bash on her blog from tomorrow, October 22nd through October 31st. It will be filled with guests, including me! I'm doing a post and a giveaway (of an anthology featuring a ghost story I've written) on October 30th. I hope to see you there!
And now.... (drum roll)... on to ROOKIE!!!!
I've had the privilege of being a part of Rookiemagazine since it launched in September of 2011. (Remember this super-excited blog post when it debuted?) I'm still in awe of everything that we do. The Yearbooks feature the best of the best of our online pieces for each year as well as some cool added bonuses. This is our first Yearbook with Razorbill and since I'm a Penguin/Random House author too now, I'm think that's pretty awesome. I also have two essays in this one, which feels like a huge accomplishment.
Rookiemag.com is a website created by and for young women to make the best of the beauty, pain and awkwardness of being a teenager. When it becomes tough to appreciate such things, we have good plain fun and visual pleasure. When you're sick of having to be happy all the time, we have lots of rants, too. Every school year, we compile the best from the site into a print yearbook. Behold: our Junior year!
In Rookie Yearbook Three, we explore cures for love, girl-on-girl crime, open relationships, standing for something, embracing our inner posers, and so much more. Featuring interviews with Rookie role models like Sofia Coppola, Amandla Stenberg, Greta Gerwig, and Kim Gordon, and a bonus section chock-full of exclusive content including a pizza pennant, sticker sheet, valentines, plus advice and contributions from Lorde, Shailene Woodley, Dakota and Elle Fanning, Grimes, Kelis, Sia, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer of Broad City, Haim, and more!
I know!!!! Amazing, right? Can't wait to go home and pore over my copy!
And if you are in the New York or Toronto areas, there are events celebrating the release TOMORROW, October 22. There is also an event in Brooklyn on November 5th. All of the details are on the Rookie Events page. Go if you can and tell me how fabulous it was!
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Preparing a new edition of an oral history manual, a decade after the last appeared, highlighted dramatic changes that have swept through the field. Technological development made previous references to equipment sound quaint. The use of oral history for exhibits and heritage touring, for instance, leaped from cassettes and compact discs to QR codes and smartphone apps. As oral historians grew more comfortable with new equipment, they expanded into video and discovered the endless possibilities of posting interviews, transcripts, and recordings on the Internet. Having found a way to get oral history off the archival shelves and into the community, interviewers also had to consider the ethical and legal issues of exposing interviewees to worldwide scrutiny.
Over the last decade, the Internet left no excuses for parochialism. As the practice of oral history grew more international, a manual could neither address a single nation nor ignore the rest of the world. Wherever social, political, or economic turmoil has occurred, oral histories have recorded the change — because state archives tend to reflect the old regimes. War, terrorism, hurricanes, floods, fires, pandemics, and other natural and human-made disasters spurred interviews with those who endured trauma and tragedy, and required interviewers to adjust their approaches. Issues of empathy for those suffering emotional distress increasingly became part of the discourse among oral historians. At the same time, the use of interviewing grew more interdisciplinary, with historians examining the fieldwork techniques and needs of social scientists. Sociologists, anthropologists, and ethnographers have long employed interviewing, usually through participant observation. Many have gradually shifted from quantitative to qualitative analysis, raising questions about identifying their sources rather than rendering them anonymous, and bringing their methods closer to oral history protocols.
New theoretical interests developed, particularly around memory studies. Oral historians became more concerned about not only what people remember, but also what they forget, and how they express these memories. Weighing the relationship between language and thought, and suggesting that that outward behavior reflects underlying signs, narrative theory has challenged the notion of objective history. It sees the past as recalled and recounted as simply a construction, shaped by the way it is told. Memory theories have dealt with the way suggestive questions can reshape memories, and the way recent experiences can block out memories of earlier ones. These theories suggest that people reconstruct memories of past experiences rather than mentally retrieve exact copies of them.
An increasingly litigious culture raised other concerns for oral historians. Lawsuits have alleged that some online interviews are defamatory. A court case with international implications arose when the United States supported British police efforts to subpoena closed interviews that might shed light on a murder case in Northern Ireland, exposing the vulnerability of oral history to judicial intervention. Although the courts treated closed interviews seriously and limited the amount of material to be opened, the case reminded oral historians that they could not promise absolute confidentiality when dealing with sensitive and possibly criminal issues.
It has been breathtaking to document the scope of change in oral history over the last two decades, and sobering to see how dated it made much of the past information and even some of the language. Looking back over the past decade also provided some reassurance about continuity. While it sometimes seems that everything about the practice of oral history has changed, the personal dynamics of conducting an interview have remained very much intact. Whether sitting down face-to-face or using some means of electronic communication, the human interaction of the interview has stayed the same. So have the basic steps: the interviewer’s need for prior research; for knowing how to operate the equipment; for crafting thoughtful, open-ended questions; for establishing rapport; for listening carefully and following up with further questions; and for doing everything possible to elicit candid and substantive responses.
I was glad to see so many of these new trends prominently displayed at the Oral History Association’s recent meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, (October 8-12) where sessions focused on oral history “in motion.” Motion aptly describes the forward-looking nature of oral history, with its expanding methodology and embrace of the latest technology, as well as its eagerness to confront established narratives with alternative voices.
I'm excited to be visiting the Texas A&M. I did a couple of radio interviews in the morning, and then painted this 45-minute gouache sketch of the old clock in downtown Bryan. I used four colors: white, ultra blue, burnt sienna, and cad yellow.
I was thrilled to have a chance to try out the eye tracking tech setup at the Visualization Lab. Here, graduate student Laura Murphy is calibrating the system. She's checking alignment points on stereo images of my face as I look at a test screen.
Below the computer monitor are the two infrared sensors of the FaceLab 5 system. The sensors track both the exact direction of my eyes and the direction of my head so that the system can record exactly where I'm looking within the display monitor.
The monitor has a photo of grocery store shelves crowded with products and overlaid info tags that pop up in response to where I'm looking, part of an augmented reality experiment they presented at Siggraph this year. --- I'll be spending time with students of the Department of Visualization in their classes today and tomorrow, and I'll give a free digital slide lecture about picturemaking and worldbuilding in Dinotopia in the Geren Auditorium in the Langford Architecture Center, Building B, Thursday at 7 p.m.
More than two weeks after Mma has passed away, I'm slowly pulling the threads of my new life together. Traditionally in Phokeng, we pack up the deceased's stuff (clothing, shoes, linen, personal knicknacks etc) immediately after they pass away, even before the funeral. So all Mma's personal things are in storage to later go to the relevant people and the house, which is very big, feels even
Your house always had that spooky charm, what with the old chandeliers, cobwebs everywhere and the occasional knock no one could identify. Well that all came crashing back into your head as you looked down the dark hallway and heard something shuffling towards you in the darkness. Oh and it’s picking up speed. What do you do? What do you see?
Lauren had her first adolescent lit class last night at HGSE (Harvard Graduate School of Education). For last night’s class we talked about How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I love this part of a course when the students go from names and faces on a roster to real people with opinions about books. Lauren gave an excellent overview of literature for adolescents: the history, the jargon, the genres.
For next Monday’s class the theme is Windows & Mirrors and they will all read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. For their second book, they have a choice between Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and Cynthia Kadohata’s The Thing About Luck. Tough choice!
On Friday author Kathleen Hale wrote an article for The Guardian about her experience being catfished. On Monday Twitter, and a number of blogs, got quite excited about this topic and lots of people had lots of opinions. I came upon the article when Jessica Alvarez mentioned it to me and before reading anything about it I went to The Guardian article. I wanted to base any opinion I had on what Kathleen Hale had to say rather than read the opinions of others first.
Even without reading what others thought I know that some people feel that Kathleen Hale was catfished, others feel she crossed a line herself and was not the victim or the only victim and still others wonder if the entire post was made up. After reading just Kathleen Hale's post I do stand behind her in some respects. Not all, but some.
I've been in this business long enough to know the impact a review can have on an author. I've seen smart, successful authors completely lose all self-confidence because of one review or one comment on a writing loop or in a blog. In most cases authors who reacted this way were not the stereotypical "neurotic" or introverted authors. They are almost always people who are successful in various different aspects of their lives. They deal with high stress jobs, families and seem to juggle an entire life on top of a writing life. In other words, these are people who have faced adversity before and wore it well.
In fact, while I'm not an author, I've been one of those people. After six years of blogging about what I really thought it was bound to happen. And happen it did. Time and time again. There were times when the comments on the blog got so contentious I would stop sleeping. I panicked that I had alienated my clients, editors or ruined it for all of us. There were times I would have to shut down the computer and walk away for the day. But each and every time it happened walking away was always the best answer for me.
In Kathleen Hale's case the only story we know is hers. As of yet, to the best of my knowledge, we haven't heard from the reviewer she's charging with catfishing. A term by the way I had never heard until reading her article. Whether or not she was catfished, in my mind, doesn't really matter. Fro a variety of reasons reviewers and bloggers act anonymously. In some ways it's one of the great things about the Internet. It's also one of worst things. Being anonymous allows us to really say what we want to say and what we think. Something a lot of people wouldn't be comfortable doing under their own name or couldn't do (it might hurt a career or their own reputation in some way). True confession here, before starting the blog I used to comment anonymously all the time on writing forums. I acknowledged that I was an agent, but I was uncomfortable giving my real name. I didn't want what I said to bite a new agency in the butt. Was I catfishing? I don't think so, I was just giving an opinion. And certainly there have been a ton of anonymous publishing bloggers and Tweeters, people who just want to say what they believe without facing repercussions.
Did Kathleen Hale go to far? Probably. Personally I think any time you start tracking down someone in person you are probably going to far. But I get how someone can go there. Putting yourself out there, whether its by writing a book, an opinion piece in a magazine, or a blog, is a scary, scary thing. Sure you feel great about saying what you believe or finding others to read your work, but at the same time you know you're going to face a backlash. That reviewers will hate what you write and have an opinion about it that differs from your own and you know they're not going to be afraid to say something. Especially because they have the right to remain anonymous in any way they see fit. And when we or our opinion or our writing is attacked it's hard. It often impacts our psyche in a big way.
Personally I've never gone to the lengths Kathleen Hale did to discover the truth about her naysayer, but I get it. Sort of. When someone says something really awful about you or your work you want a chance to discuss it with them. You want a chance to defend yourself without sounding defensive (which is often what happens when you start that discussion on comments). And probably you want the chance to discredit that person. To say, you are wrong and how would you know anyway because.... When someone posts anonymously she knows a whole lot about us, but we know nothing about her. It takes all the power away from us and gives it to her.
There were times when I have been attacked on this blog. Right or wrong, people came out to do whatever they could to discredit me and attack me and my professional integrity. I was scared, I was angry and I Googled. What I learned early on however, and what Kathleen Hale admits to learning in the long run, is that the best answer is to just sit quietly and, as they say, this too shall pass. Let the topic speak for itself or let the other readers comment and take care of it. Sometimes the biggest mistake we can make is saying something at all. What we're doing in that case is exactly what the naysayer wants. We're giving her attention. It's sort of like when Buford grabs my slipper and runs around the office with it. I have the option to chase him, call him and feed him treats. To give him the attention he wants. Or I can sit and work and watch him slowly drop the slipper, confused about why he's not getting the attention he wants.
I'm actually pretty impressed that Kathleen Hale wrote the article at all. Maybe she did it to finally get back at the reviewer, or maybe she just decided to put it out there and get rid of her moment of weakness once and for all. Either way it took bravery. Once again she's getting hit with a lot of opinions from a lot of people who don't know her. Sure its a choice she's making, but as writers I think we all know how difficult it is to face the opinions of others.
As I streamline my biz, I realize I don’t have time for making the flower essences, so I am having a BIG SALE all this week. All essences are $5.00 each only this week. Tell your friends, grab a bunch before they are gone for good. All essences are formulated for the sensitive made with Apple Cider Vinegar instead of alcohol.
This young adult novel is full of the paranormal and thrilling suspense. Once you enter into the story you find yourself, along with the main character, Iris Brave, trying to figure out who are the courageous heroes and who are the evil villains.
Iris is a young, brave, skeptical girl whose father Micah is a soul jumper. What is that you may ask? A soul jumper is someone who does not die with their bodies but lives on in the bodies of others. Iris makes the startling discovery that her dad is still alive, living in a teen age boy's body, and that he has been kidnapped by the villainous Council. He needs her help to rescue him. She, along with sixteen other soul jumpers, carefully create a plan to do just that. Iris is about to have her reality turned upside down as she agrees to partake in an adventure that literally will change her life forever. Along the way as this plan is implemented, she must discern who is on her side and who are her enemies. She is in constant danger and the cruelty and abuse that she suffers by the hands of The Council only makes her more determined to defeat and eradicate them.
Young adults readers will be enthralled and totally enjoy the fantasy and mystery that the author has woven throughout this novel from the very beginning to the very end. I, myself, as an adult (I think I am) enjoyed the book a lot.
About the author:
I can't remember a time when I wasn't reading. I love books! My mother was an incredible librarian and she always had a stack of books by her chair. Now I have my own stack. I also have a lengthy library queue, a To Be Read list on Goodreads, and a virtual online shopping cart full of brilliant titles. I love writing too. I love creating characters. I love giving them lives, adventures, challenges and quirks. For me, writing is about developing characters that are worth knowing, throwing obstacles in their path, and then sitting back and watching them grow. And typing. Lots and lots of typing.
Last weekend my friend Lori was in town and we took the dogs for a walk in the schoolyard across the street. Three tween girls were hanging out on the jungle gym and as we passed they started whispering ostentatiously in our direction and laughing meanly. ‘Girls that age” said Lori, a middle-school math teacher in the Bronx, “are the worst.”
That encounter stayed with me as I started exploring the saga of YA author Kathleen Hale and the Goodreads troll, which Hale described at great, great length in the Guardian. What did the editors think to let her go on for 5000 words? Perhaps they are part of the great catfishing* conspiracy erected to oppress Ms. Hale, because while you begin the essay thinking “poor her,” as Hale unravels you start to smile nervously and look for an exit. It’s far away.
Then I went to a blog that Hale cited as an ally in her fight against the Dark, Stop the GR [Goodreads] Bullies, which I thought would be, I don’t know, some kind of manifesto about maintaining decency in book discussion. Instead I soon felt like Jennifer Connelly discovering Russell Crowe’s crazypants chalkboard diagrams as pages of scans and proofs and links and trolls and catfish whirled about each other with manic glee. Here, as in Hale’s confessional, I saw no victims, just bullies on all sides.
I know it’s unlikely–or NOT, he adds, as the madness infects him–that any of the participants in this circus are twelve-year-old girls, but watching the accusations fly and the drama being whipped up reminded me of those kids at the school, a big helping of attention-seeking with a side of hostility. I’ve avoided Goodreads only because it was too much like work, but it always seemed like such a nice place. Now it looks to me like those spy novels I love, where the apparent placidity of daily life and ordinary citizens is completely at the mercy of the puppet masters. If you want me, I’m in hiding.
*as Liz Burns points out, that word does not mean what Hale thinks it does.
C.D. Baker's first novel, 'A Journey of Souls,' was released in 2000 and re-released in 2004 as 'Crusade of Tears'-- a Christee Award nominee. He has written seven historical novels, two books of spiritual reflections, and one children's book published variously in the U.S., the U.K., Ukraine, and Germany. He has a Master's degree in Theology from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Baker's specialty is the discovery of the untold story.
Baker writes from his small farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he raises livestock with an interest in natural/organic methods and a passion for humane treatment.
Fun fables from the forest for readers 4 - 8. Author C.D. Baker invites children to discover five virtues of a happy life through stories told by trees. The power of gratitude, humility, selflessness, kindness, and forgiveness are revealed in memorable tales that children are sure to love...and to remember.
Five virtues of a happier life are introduced to young readers through stories told by trees. The power of gratitude, humility, selflessness, kindness and forgiveness are shared by such memorable Tree ‘friends’ as Shady Maple, Slope-Oak, Blue Spruce, and others. The author brings trees to life in these stories, mirroring what some people often feel or believe. Blue Spruce feels she is not big enough, that she is missing something and needs to become better in some way. She accumulates more nests, grows taller, becomes bluer, but she is still not satisfied with herself. She comes to realize through a close friend that the only thing she was missing was just being thankful for what she already had. Once she was able to do that she became more content with who she was and not what she felt she needed to be. This is just one example of the great messages this book contains.
This book is a group of stories where children from 4-8 years of age will learn some great lessons. Questions at the end of each chapter invite children to consider their reactions to the story…and to themselves. The illustrations are amazing and complete the story. They are whimsical and creative. Children as well as parents will love this delightfully told book.
Gerardo Suzán is an illustrator working professionally since 1985. He focuses mainly on books for young people but his work also appears in advertising, posters, magazines and newspapers. He has won several prizes in Mexico, Japan and USA.
Migration has always been a central topic throughout Gerardo Suzán’s artistic career. The work shown above from one of his children’s books speaks of the importance of self-identity and cultural roots.
Suzán’s formal education includes graphic design at the National School of Visual Arts in México, as well as etching and drawing at the Centro dell’ Incisione with Gigi Pedroli and with Giuliana Consilvio in Milan. He attended the Illustration Seminar organized by the UNESCO and the ACCU (Asian Cultural Center for the UNESCO) taught by Dusan Kallay in Moravany, Slovakia.
You can see more of Gerardo’s work on his website.
Autumn is in full swing! Don’t feel like going to the craft store? YouTuberJenna DeAngeles shares her design for a door wreath using old books.
If you want to make this seasonal decoration, watch the video tutorial embedded above. Follow this link to learn how to make a DIY book-themed pumpkin statue. What Fall decor pieces do you enjoy making?
Is it possible for a guy who has won three BGHB Honors, four Coretta Scott King Honors, and one Caldecott Honor (in 1998, for Harlem) to be underrated? Why yes, yes it is. Christopher Myers continues to fly under the radar every year when it comes to Caldecott buzz, but I’m guessing the real committee will take a good look at this one.
Julie Danielson interviewed illustrator Myers and author/ballet dancer Misty Copeland at Kirkus a while back; it’s a great piece that is definitely worth a look. In it, Myers talks about how he decided on collage because it allowed him to “choreograph across the page,” using color and texture to reflect the juxtaposition of the “riotous energy” and “careful attention to detail” that constitutes the essence of dance. Keeping this in mind when reading Firebird, I would contend that Myers nailed the “appropriateness of style” criterion…but I would argue that he scores nearly as well with the other criteria, too.
Myers’s illustrations are like intricate puzzles for the reader to take apart and put back together, over and over again. For instance, look at the first full-page spread: the young, unnamed dancer gazes up from the bottom left corner as adult ballerina Misty leaps across a night skyline. In the background, buildings twinkle above a frothy-looking river spanned by a bridge. Misty’s white outfit makes a striking contrast against the lovely midnight blues and deep purples of the sky and river. But don’t stop there: look closer. Note first the texture of the collage, the overlapping pieces of cut paper used to make the night sky, the white-washed blues and blacks of the river below. Now zero in on that skyline. The building above Misty’s outstretched right calf…is that a picture of someone’s hand resting on a gray table, cut into a building shape? And the building above her right knee looks to be a shadowed photo of a brick wall… or is that a fence? All of this is barely noticeable when viewing the spread as a whole, but the bizarre (yet lovely) details become apparent when you lean in for a better look.
In Jules’s piece, Myers talks about how he focused mostly on color and texture to show emotion, and to my mind he succeeded completely. To give just one example, the endpapers are a fiery mix of reds, golds, and oranges, extending that Firebird motif from the front cover. This is some abstract stuff, but young readers will no doubt respond to the hot colors (forget that they are normally referred to as “warm”; these hues are habanero-smoking hot) and texture. To be sure, reading Firebird is an extremely tactile visual experience. Looking closer at the endpapers, I see feathers, the bumps of a diamond-studded (I think) strawberry, a fabric of some sort, and either a shag carpet close-up or a sea anemone. And here, as throughout the book, the reader can clearly see where each piece of cut paper ends and the next begins.
I hate to bring up the typography because I find the book to be practically perfect in every way, but the two fonts are not perfectly chosen. The text is a dialogue between the two characters, with the young girl’s words appearing in a bold italic font and Misty’s words appearing in a bold Roman font. I wish there was more differentiation between the two type styles, because I had to look twice on many occasions to see who was talking. It’s a lovely text, though, and Myers does a fabulous job with his interpretation.
Speaking of interpretation, my own interpretive skills aren’t terribly great, so I’m always curious to hear what others think. What do you all think is going on in some of those spreads? Especially intriguing to me is the final spread, where Misty and the young girl dance together wearing matching white tutus. Silhouetted dancers leap and twirl in front of multi-colored backgrounds, including what I believe is a male dancer to the extreme right. The spread itself is a stunner — it’s absolutely gorgeous — but I don’t completely understand it. Thoughts? And in more general terms, what does everyone think? Are you all high on Firebird, too?
Pictured above is the title page illustration from Nancy Van Laan’s Forget Me Not, released by Schwartz & Wade Books in August. This is the poignant and lovingly-rendered story of a young girl whose grandmother is experiencing significant memory loss. It slowly builds in the story — to the point where she is placed in an assisted living center, while her granddaughter watches with concern. The illustrations were rendered by my visitor today, Stephanie Graegin, pictured below.
As you’ll read below, this is Stephanie’s fourth picture book. (Three were released last year.) She’s also illustrated middle grade novels and is working on her own picture book. Graegin’s warm palettes capture the small moments of life, and I wanted to have her over for a cyber-breakfast to discuss her work and see even more art. Normally, she tells me, she’d have a bowl of cereal. But today we are going to splurge by taking a walk to pick up a bacon and egg dub pie from the Dub Pie Shop across the street, along with a coffee.
I thank her for visiting.
* * * * * * *
Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?
I am in the early stages of working on a picture book that I also wrote (although it has no words), but it feels too soon to call myself an author.
Chicken Soup with Rice Sendak tribute
Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?
2014 — Forget Me Not, written by Nancy Van Laan (Schwartz & Wade/Random House)
Stephanie: I draw in pencil (mechanical 2B .5) on paper (Moleskine sketchbook, usually). I draw very tiny and scan the drawing in very high-res to blow it up larger, as I have found I just can’t draw as well large. I make many layers on duralar (a clear paper) of texture, shading, and patterns — using colored pencil, watercolor, and ink. I scan everything into the computer, then compile and color everything digitally in Photoshop. Drawing in pure pencil is my absolute favorite, though.
From the sketchbooks (Click third image to enlarge)
Jules: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?
Stephanie: I have done both picture books and middle grade novels. While I love both, I’ll admit that illustrating a picture book is more challenging — but also more rewarding. A picture book’s text is less specific than a novel, and you are given much more room to explore and to create the world inside the book. A picture book is wide open; almost anything can happen. At times the multitude of options for a illustrating picture book can be overwhelming, but I love the challenge of it. It can be a nice balance to be working on both formats at once — to be able to go back and forth between working in color and in black & white.
Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?
Stephanie: I’m in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY, right outside of Prospect Park (the park the book Water in the Park was inspired by). I lived in various neighborhoods in Brooklyn for the last 10 years. I came to Brooklyn to go to graduate school at Pratt Institute. Before I lived in Brooklyn, I lived in Austin, Texas, and Baltimore, MD (where I went to undergrad at The Maryland Institute College of Art). As a kid I lived in Houston, TX; Fort Wayne, IN; and Chicago IL.
“But ever so slowly, like a low tide leaving the bay, a change came along. Grandma was becoming more and more forgetful. First, it was names—of places she’d been or books she’d read or people she knew. Even us. We would joke and tell Grandma she liked to scramble our names for breakfast instead of eggs. And she’d laugh as much as we did.” (Click to enlarge)
“When she called me Sally or Harry instead of my real name, Julia, I pretended it was a game that Grandma liked to play. After she called out all my wrong names, I’d say, ‘No, silly, my name is Julia!’ Then she’d laugh and clap her hands and say, ‘Oh, silly me! Hello, bright-as-sunshine Julia!’” (Click to enlarge)
“‘Smells like rain,’ Grandma would say sometimes on a perfectly clear day. ‘Better get out the umbrella.’ Then, a couple of minutes later, she would say, ‘Smells like rain. Better get out the umbrella.’ And Grandma’s head kept getting worse.” (Click to enlarge)
Jules: Can you tell me about your road to publication?
Stephanie: I studied Fine Arts, focusing on printmaking in college and graduate school. I made a lot of artist’s books with etchings, which looking back, were essentially hand-printed picture books. Illustrating children’s books was something I have wanted to do since I was about five, but it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I focused all my energy on making it a reality. Everything fell into place around the same time. I changed the way I was working — I had been making Edward Gorey-inspired work using pen and ink, but it wasn’t right for me. I started drawing only in pencil and adding the color digitally. Something clicked, and the work became so much better.
When the work was in a place where I felt ready to show it, I spent about a year making children’s book portfolio pieces and then about three months putting together a hand-bound mini portfolio booklet, which fit into a 4×6 envelope.
(Click to enlarge)
I sent these out to around 250 editors and art directors, and the calls for book work started happening. Around this same time, I was extremely fortunate that Nate Williams posted a blog post of my work on illustrationmundo, and literary agent Steven Malk at Writers House saw it. Steven reached out to me, and he’s been my agent since then.
“Very early thumbnail sketches of the first two spreads in the book.” (Click to enlarge)
“An early sketch of the playground scene.” (Click to enlarge)
“A later sketch of the same spread, with a new composition and lots of people added.” (Click to enlarge)
Sketches that became part of the final artwork … (Click each to enlarge)
“On very hot days, as the sun rises, an orange glow shines in the water of the pond. Just before six o’clock, turtles settle on rocks. They warm their turtle shells in the light. Good morning, park!” (Click to enlarge spread)
“By seven o’clock, two babies have come to the park. One has a bagel in a brown paper bag. The other has a plastic box of apple pieces. The babies want drinks from the water fountain. They point their baby fingers and jump. Their grown-ups lift them. Up and up.” (Click to enlarge)
“It is seven o’clock. A stripey cat creeps from beneath a bush and laps a quiet puddle. Tup tup. Tup tup. And now the dogs come. Rouw! Rouw! Rouw! Time for an evening swim.” (Click to enlarge)
(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)
Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?
Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?
Stephanie: I’m very thankful that there are a lot of books on the way!
I illustrated a picture book for Penguin (Dial), titled Peace Is an Offering [pictured below], coming out in March 2015. Written by Annette LeBox, the text is a beautiful poem about finding peace in your community.
(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)
I’m currently working on a second picture book for Farrar, Straus and Giroux about two young, adorable brothers. The first picture book in the duo is titled How to Share with a Bear and was written by Eric Pinder. It comes out in Fall 2015.
There are three other picture books I am newly working on, including the book I am writing — but its still too early to give details on those.
Character studies and sketches from Nancy Van Laan’s Forget Me Not (Click each to enlarge)
Okay, we’ve got more coffee, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Stephanie again for visiting 7-Imp.
1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?
: The very first thing I do when given a manuscript is break up the text into pages. When I’m given a manuscript, it’s a Word document with no page breaks. I make very tiny thumbnails (about an inch big) to figure out the page count (32 or 40 pages) and what goes where.
Early sketch (Click to enlarge)
I keep working slightly bigger as I revise. In the early rough sketch phase, I draw the whole book around 3×3 inches a page. After revising these, I draw larger, more refined sketches. I then send these sketches to the editor or art director. They make suggestions, and then I revise again — usually, a few times before going to final art. During the initial sketch stage, I also do a lot of character studies, drawing them in my sketchbook, which I take everywhere, to get to know what these characters look like before I start the final sketches.
Final art: “And she still smelled like cinnamon and lilac when we cuddled up close.”
The final art stage is the most time-consuming but can be the most rewarding — with the book finally coming to life in full color. I usually spend three months on final art. Those three months are filled with very late nights working, and I pretty much become a hermit. I start with very loose color studies over the final sketches in Photoshop to get an idea of the palette for the entire book. Nailing down the perfect palette for the mood of the book, for me, is one of the more difficult steps in the finals process. Once I have a palette that I’m comfortable with, I start making the layers of texture and shading with watercolors and colored pencil. Those are scanned in, and I start the assembly and digital coloring process. I pretty much keep working and reworking the art until the deadline day.
Studio sketchbooks (Click to enlarge)
2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.
: I work out of my apartment, and it’s small. So really my whole apartment is my work space. My favorite spot to draw is at my kitchen table.
As for novels, I loved Beverly Cleary, especially the Ramona books. I had the same haircut and attitude as Ramona and felt she was written just for me. One of my prized possessions is a postcard Beverly Cleary sent me when I was six. My older sister and I had written to her to tell her how much we loved the books.
4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)
6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?
Stephanie: My family called me “Bird,” instead of Stephanie, until I left for college. My older sister gave me the nickname when I was a baby, and it stuck for 18 years.
(Click to enlarge)
7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.
Stephanie: I think I’ve been asked this before, but its something I’m asked often by students, so it’s good to repeat.
Advice to students/young illustrators starting out? Keep drawing and drawing and drawing. Practice is the only way to get better. Drawing skills are really the most essential thing to being an illustrator; there’s no way around that.
Also, don’t give up! The road to becoming a working illustrator is a long one — expect to still have work a day job for a while, even after you get those first projects.
(Click to enlarge)
* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *
Jules: What is your favorite word?
Jules: What is your least favorite word?
Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Stephanie: A great story, a new sketchbook, a long walk.
Jules: What turns you off?
Stephanie: Negative people.
Jules: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)
Jules: What sound or noise do you love?
Stephanie: My cat Bustopher’s happy meow.
Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?
Stephanie: Annoying street noise I can hear from my apartment — sirens, car alarms, car horns, and the loud movie theater air conditioner next door to me.
Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Stephanie: Something outside — gardener or vegetable farmer.
Jules: What profession would you not like to do?
Stephanie: Retail. I spent too many years doing that already, and I’ve had my fill of it.
Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
I was just speaking with a colleague about the need to incite curiosity as the basis for research. Questioning, wondering and imagining are essential real life skills that are certainly nurtured in speculative fiction.
IBI: My first contact with speculative fiction was the stories I would hear my family tell. They
happened in Haiti—political stories intermingled with loogaroo stories, which is like a vampire-type figure in Haitian folklore. There was always a sense of magic and darkness and fear in those stories. There was always somebody who didn’t come home and it was usually associated with the tonton macoute (a bogeyman with a sack), or a loogaroo who came to get somebody’s child. I had two mystical, folkloric figures woven into these political stories about family and friends, so that line between what was real and what was not was never clear.
ZETTA: In my childhood, that line between fantasy and reality was very clear because I was reading British novels in Canada—C.S. Lewis and Frances Hodgson Burnett, which isn’t
exactly fantasy. But her work featured these wealthy, white children living on the moors in England and was so far removed from my reality. And because those books didn’t serve as a mirror, fantasy was very much something that happened to other people. I didn’t really imagine magical, wonderful things happening to me because everything that I read said it only happened to kids of a certain color or a certain class. In terms of gender, at least girls were having adventures, too, so that was a good thing.
You and I are both writers and we’re obviously trying to generate our own stories. Is there a way for us to make an intervention in the field of YA fantasy? How do our stories reach our kids? MORE
When George was 15, he lost his central vision and started seeing things that weren't there—eyes floating in the air, extraordinary colors, objects multiplied and reflected back.
George describes this condition as having "kaleidoscope eyes."
He triumphed over his blindness by setting the world record in the mile for blind runners, and later competing in both the 1980 and 1984 Olympics for the Disabled.
Now a full-time artist, Mendoza's collection of paintings, also titled "Colors of the Wind," is a National Smithsonian Affiliates traveling exhibit. His artwork has also been printed onto fabric and is now sold internationally by Westminster as cloth for clothing and quilts.
Ironically, George paints what he “sees,” an entirely unique phenomenon among painters.
Colors of the Wind is George’s story, illustrated with his paintings (and supplemented with line drawings by Haley Morgan-Sanders).
"Flight of Feathers"
I sat down with George and asked him about the process of becoming a children’s book illustrator.
Powers: What is it like to go from fine artist to illustrator of a children’s book?
Mendoza: Because of my vision problem, being legally blind, I was unable to illustrate the book. But ironically the words that you wrote fit into my paintings. It was kind of a miracle in a way.
Jill Morgan selected those paintings very carefully. And it saved me a lot of trouble because I couldn’t really put paintings to the words.
Powers: What is it like to have your art used to depict the journey to becoming an artist?
Mendoza: Well, I’ve had great success with painting and having Westminster Inc. do the fabrics, quilts, clothing based on my artwork.
I never thought of doing a children’s book. I think because we’re in a digital age, I thought of doing book covers and CD covers—but never a children’s book.
To have my artwork reproduced digitally on books and fabrics is just a beautiful feeling, to know that people look at my art.
In the beginning, when I first started painting, people said, “Oh, wow, that’s amazing because he’s blind.”
Now they don’t even know that I’m blind because they’re introduced to my artwork only as its reproduced digitally on different types of products.
Powers: Have you ever had art used as covers for CDs? Because I love that idea.
Mendoza: I have actually been contacted by some no-name bands that have put my artwork on their CD covers….and it’s fine with me.
Powers: That’s cool. Anything else you want to say about your journey as an artist and this foray into children’s book publishing?
Mendoza: I grew up with children’s books because my father was a children’s book writer, a very famous children’s book writer. He published over a hundred books with major celebrities like Carol Burnett, Frank Sinatra, celebrities like sports figures. He’s got a classic out called Need a House? Call Miss Mouse (by George Mendoza, illustrated by Doris Susan Smith (Grosset & Dunlap, 1981)).
Jill Morgan (publisher at Purple House Press) wanted to buy the reprint rights for my dad’s book.
She was like the hundredth publisher—email or phone--that I had received over a two-year period so I finally said, “What about our children’s book, Colors of the Wind?”
Thanks so much to CANSCAIP for inviting me to be a speaker at the Packaging Your Imagination conference at Humber College this past weekend. I had a fantastic time and once again appreciated what a wonderful kidlit/YA community we have here in Canada.
Kate BlairThanks to Kate Blair for being my "shadow" during the event; Kate helped get me find the right rooms, introduced me at my workshop, made me feel welcome. Kate is a middle grade and YA writer, and placed 2nd in the 2010 Toronto Star Short Story Contest (out of 1800 entries!) as well as being longlisted for the CBC short story contest in both 2011 and 2012. You can find out more about Kate and her work at Kateblair.com.
Anyway, the subway was shut down between Eglinton and Bloor so I ended up taking a cab and arrived way early! The organizers were still setting up. I think I was one of the first to pick up my speaker badge:
Ran into my Torkidlit friend Karen Krossing, who helped distract me from my pre-talk jitters by walking around the venue with me, figuring out where the speaker coats could be stored, etc. Here are CANSCAIP Administrative Director Helena Aalto and PYI Co-Director Lorna Poplak, just before the conference officially opened:
I also had time to check out the art show. So much wonderful children's book art, and I also loved the process sketches that some people included. I'm new enough that I also got a thrill to see my own art up on display...and also very cool to see my sister's art right beside it:
Teresa Toten's opening keynote was inspiring! I've just started reading THE UNLIKELY HERO OF ROOM 13B, Teresa's novel that won the 2013 Governor General Literary Award For Children's Literature, and am loving it so far.
Teresa Toten, giving her inspiring opening keynote
After that were the first set of workshop sessions, including mine! Thanks SO much to the Humber AV crew, who did a fantastic job at PYI:
and the E-Learning team in my session, who helped the streaming portion run smoothly for virtual attendees:
The photo at the top (courtesy GABBY author Joyce Grant) is from the beginning of my session. Here's one from GRACE author/illustrator Kate Parkinson, who was a virtual attendee:
And here's her screen with the live video in the top left and my current slide on the right:
After the conference, I asked Kate how the streaming went and she reports it ran smoothly, thanks to the Humber College tech crew. You can also read Kate's report about being a virtual attendee at CANSCAIP's event on her blog. Kate's FIRST children's book (she's author/illustrator), GRACE, comes out from Holiday House Books early next year!
Back to PYI. My session seemed to go well, yay. I was still really nervous, but it was a bit easier than last time I gave a talk, plus the attendees were enthusiastic and asked interesting questions. After my session, I stayed in the room so I could hear Ashley Spires talk about her work:
Ashley Spires during her session at PYI
I so love Ashley's bubbly enthusiasm and energy! Ashley talked about the creation process for Binky The Space Cat series of junior graphic novels, which I found fascinating, entertaining and informative. Did you know that Ashley initially drew all her herringbone and other intricate textures by HAND? Wow. I think Ashley noticed the look of awe (ok, maybe more like horror :-)) on my face when she told us this.
Anyway, finally getting to meet Ashley Spires in person was one of my personal highlights at PYI.
With my talk over, I could relax at lunchtime and just chat. Thanks to my lunchtime companions for some great kidlit/YA conversation (including my Torkidlit pal Nicole Winters in the bottom right):
I looked around for my MiGWriters critique partner, Andrea Mack, but missed seeing her! Happily, we ran into each other later in the conference. Here are Lana Button, Jan Dolby (so great to finally meet Jan in person!!) and Joyce Grant:
Lana Button, Jan Dolby and Joyce Grant at PYI 2014. Joyce and Jan are the creative team behind the GABBY series from Fitzhenry and Whiteside Publishers. Finally getting to meet Jan Dolby in person was another personal highlight during the conference. Lana's WILLOW FINDS A WAY was just nominated for a 2014 Blue Spruce Award, by the way!
In the afternoon, I was faced (again) with an impossible choice: I wanted to attend all the workshops! I ended up opting for the industry panel with Susan Rich (Editor-At-Large at Little, Brown) and Tara Walker (Editorial director at Tundra Books):
An excellent panel, so informative AND entertaining. :-D Teresa Toten was a fabulous moderator.
I stupidly missed getting a photo of Susin Nielsen, who gave a wonderful closing keynote (see audience above). We even got to see a clip of her acting role in the original Degrassi Junior High (she was a screenwriter)!
Plus LOOK, I won a prize in the raffle! I never win anything but thanks to CANSCAIP and the Vermont College Of Fine Arts, I won this bag of goodies:
Thanks to Lena Coakley for giving me a lift to a small gathering hosted by Sharon Jennings afterwards. Sadly, a bad headache prevented me from staying as long as I had wished but it was fun chatting with some of the others who came. Thank you, Sharon!
And again, THANK YOU so much to CANSCAIP and all the volunteers and organizers. Everything went so smoothly and I had so much fun, plus came away super-inspired.
If you're a Canadian children's book author, illustrator or performer, I strongly recommend you checking out CANSCAIP's website....and do consider attending next year's PYI event!