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1. SDCC 14: JMS Shoots Straight While Firing From the Hip

By David Nieves

J. Michael Straczynski isn’t one to mess around. Unless it’s an hour of sarcasm and announcements, which his spotlight panel, Comic-Con Saturday, had copious amounts of.

JMS as he’s know to his friends, enemies, and frenemies had a lot of updates on outhouse projects and something he announced at SDCC two years ago, Studio JMS. No doubt Joe wins the award for the self professed best in the world at being humble.

At the top of his update list was a full colored page from Superman Earth One: Volume 3. Not one of the most exciting pages from the book but it did show Adrian Syaf’s take on Earth One Superman. It doesn’t quite have the pulled back cinematic of previous artist Shane Davis but it looks to blend well with JMS’ direction for the character. The book comes out in February.

Studio JMS is shaping up to be a true multimedia one stop shop for comics, television, and film. This will spin out the “Joe’s Comics” imprint under Image. All the books announced during his stage presentation at a previous Image Expo are still on the way.

Ten Grand is currently in negotiations with a major network to be optioned as a TV show.

Sense8 is in production with Netflix for a 10 episode commitment. He talked about a run of meetings alongside his fellow producers, the Wachowskis’ (Matrix), and on their first one they met with Netflix and had the deal done after lunch. Daryl Hanna will appear on the show. You can see the entire cast list here. Several locations around the world from Chicago to the Arctic are being used. He’s selling it as the largest scope ever on television and it seems like that’s a promise he’ll keep.

JMS is a week away from finishing a second draft of the Shadowman movie

Because he doesn’t have enough to do he’s writing a pilot for Universal based on something by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling.

Two Streets is a TV show he’s doing with Gale Ann Hurd of Valhalla and Universal is also set to produce. There’s nothing to talk about quite yet but he did show a title card for the show. It depicted a golden tinted city alley at night and what looked like a young girl draped in shadow. Could be a new age noir tale, if so I Derek Jeter tip my hat to JMS.

One of the big things he talked about was his current ties to Babylon 5. The original deal with Warner Bros will never show him anymore money from television. However he still owns the rights for a Babylon 5 movie. No studio will take the movie rights with another making money off the deal. The solution, Studio JMS. To the delight of everyone in the room he announced that his initial parlays through the studio would fund a Babylon 5 movie. In 2015 he’ll have a Babylon 5 film script done and WB has a year to make it, IF NOT in 2016 Studio JMS would spearhead the film.

After the announcements he told a story about him fraudulently acquiring his first degree. Apparently he was a terrible student with in his words “negative grade point average”. So in order to graduate from San Diego State he broke into the schools office and put his name on the graduation list. A trend he took one step further on his next academic step. He even put up a slide of his fraudulent Master’s degree.

The chairman of this board opened up to questions from the audience.

First question was about a musical from Studio JMS. He jokingly said, “it’s time.” JMS threw out the idea for Living Dead the musical with Irish step dancers. We’re 90% certain that was a joke but you couldn’t tell from his demeanor.

Another fan asked if anyone like Neil Gaiman would be writing episodes of his upcoming shows. JMS responded by praising Gaiman’s work but said all the episodes were already written by himself and the Wachowskis’.

One of the interesting questions was about if he’d crowd fund at least part of the money for Babylon 5. It took a lot for him to resist that lure. Straczynski joked how he came from “rank fandom and I’m just as rank as the rest of you.” He felt it would be taking advantage of the fans. Personally, I respect that. He even went as far as to say that between all the movies and merchandise, sci-fi and horror fans are the most exploited fans out there.

To close out the panel he gave the crowd some inspiring words of wisdom. “I come from poor, I come from the street, I come from San Diego. I see so many people defeat themselves.” He added, “create the lives you want for yourselves.”

Listening to JMS speak it was clear to hear just who he was deep down. A fan who came from nothing, equipped with some words and passion. Those same qualities that make him the realest guy in comics.

You can listen to the entire panel below




1 Comments on SDCC 14: JMS Shoots Straight While Firing From the Hip, last added: 7/28/2014
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2. Illustrator Saturday – Angela Padrón

angelapicAngela was born and raised in Freehold, NJ but moved to Florida in 2002. For over 15 years, Angela taught bilingual, ESL, Spanish, and Art in public schools before becoming a freelance writer and illustrator. She writes and illustrates board books, picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels, and loves to include humor, characters of color and cultural themes in her stories. She’s a big fan of Bruce Coville, Mary Pope Osborne, Alma Flor Ada, Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, Mo Willems, Bob Shea, Mark Teague, Jarrett Krosoczka, David Shannon, Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, and Amy Bates, among others.

Angela also writes and edits content for educational publishers and works as an adjunct professor at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. She holds five college degrees, including an MFA in Illustration from Academy of Art University in San Francisco. In addition, Angela has been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators SCBWI since 2004 and is one of the artists at Studio 18 in the Pines in South Florida.

HERE IS ANGELA explaining her process:

The idea that I had for “The Hero in You” (written by Ellis Paul) was to have the historical figures in the songs portrayed as children. So here’s how I completed the Jackie Robinson illustration for “The Hero in You”


I wanted Jackie to be hitting the ball so I initially came up with this sketch.


The art director liked the pose but wanted the uniform to look more of the time period of Jackie Robinson rather than a modern look. Also he wanted a crowd and stadium in the background and a more humble rather than determined look on the face. Here is the adjusted sketch.


Next I recopied each part of the sketch so the lines were clean –the stadium/crowd, the ball, Jackie, and the ump and catcher are all drawn separately so I can work with each component individually in the final illustration. I use vellum because I think it’s the best way to see through to your sketch. Also the pencil goes on real smooth and it’s easy to erase on.

I scan in each part, change the outline from black to brown, reconstruct the sketch in Photoshop and change each layer to multiply so I can see through them.

I like to fill my sketch with textured papers, either ones that I have painted with acrylic or gouache or printed papers from Michael’s scrapbooking section. I can scan a bunch of different colors or textures and adjust the colors in Photoshop which gives me flexibility when completing the illustration.


I started with the background – the bricks of the stadium. I added the lines of the bricks and used a slight drop shadow to get the indentation in the bricks.


Then I worked on the stadium and the crowd, using textured papers to fill the areas rather than digital paint.


I lightened the background so that it wouldn’t overpower Jackie.


Then I colored in baseball and added shadow, followed by Jackie, the ump, and the catcher.


I added some shadows and highlights to the figures, texture to the bat, and rosy cheeks to finish the illustration.

angelaprocess9Final Illustration


How long have you been illustrating?

First I want to say thank you, Kathy, for interviewing me for your blog. It’s my first blog interview and I’m super excited to share my background, work and ideas with you and your readers. I applaud you for having the blog and taking the time to showcase illustrators’ work.

So let’s get the interview started… Technically, I’ve been illustrating since I was about seven years old. Somewhere in storage there is a Snoopy book written and illustrated by me that I did in first grade! However, I started developing a serious interest in illustrating children’s books when I joined SCBWI in 2004.

Angela Padron NJ SCBWI art show FINAL

You bio says you have five college degrees, could you tell us about the four you worked for before you decided to go for your MFA?

I’ve always loved school. As a kid I couldn’t sleep the night before the first day of school because I was so excited to go. That passion for learning carried over after high school (if I could earn a living being a college student I would take that job in a heartbeat!) Even though I initially studied Art and Education, at some point I felt like taking music classes and earned an A.A. in Music. Then I finished my B.A. in Art and began teaching Art. Soon after I found an interest in English as a Second Language (ESL) Education and Bilingual Education. I received a grant to study at graduate school and earned a M.A. in Instruction and Curriculum with a focus on Bilingual/Bicultural Education. Although I loved teaching students English, I put Art on the back burner for almost 10 years to focus everything on my job. When I moved to Florida, I had in mind to become a Reading Specialist for ESL students, so I completed another graduate degree, an Ed.S. which is a Specialist’s Degree, in Reading Education. Although that goal didn’t work out, while studying Reading Education I fell in love with children’s books. It finally hit me that I could use my love for creative writing and art to write and illustrate books – I felt like it was a roundabout way to teach students. Finally I had found the right professional focus for my talents. So I took the plunge and enrolled in the online MFA program at Academy of Art University in San Francisco to study illustration.

Angela Padron illustrator intesive FINAL

What made you choose to get an MFA in Illustration from Academy of Art University in San Francisco?

When I finally knew children’s book writing and illustrating was where my true passion resided, I researched different ways to learn more about this field. I joined SCBWI and read lots of information online, read books, received critiques, etc. But since I am a nerdy student at heart, I knew that attending a class and having an instructor and classmates to provide insight, advice, and critique was the best thing for me. There were not many options when it came to studying illustration on the graduate level because I was married with two stepsons and a baby on the way. So the only option for me was to study online. Academy of Art University was the only school I could find with a legitimate MFA program in illustration. I enrolled in my first semester in 2007 and actually took a trip out to San Francisco to check out the campus. I fell in love and knew it was the right decision. I wish I could have studied there in person – maybe one day I’ll be able to live out there and take or teach a class. It took me four years to finish but it was worth every minute (and every penny that will take me 30 years to pay off!)

angelaapadron illus 5

What were you favorite classes?

One of my favorite classes in college was actually Physics of Exploration that I took as an undergraduate. We learned how the Space Shuttle and Hubble Telescope worked as well as some really cool stuff. But of course I loved my creative writing classes and illustration classes the most. I had a few courses just in Children’s Book Illustration and Narrative Illustration. Those two really helped me a lot with the storytelling aspect of illustration as well as the right steps to take when illustrating (from research to thumbnail to rough sketch, to final sketch, to value rough, to final art). I also took some Animation classes, which were fabulous for character development and storyboarding/sequencing illustrations.


Did the School help you get work?

No, I was lucky enough to develop a freelance business doing writing and editing for educational publishers as well as teaching part time at some community colleges and elementary schools. Being an online student, AAU as well as most schools doesn’t really have career services for online students.


What was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

In 2012 I received an email from TSI Graphics, a company that was hired by McGraw-Hill to find illustrators for some leveled readers in Spanish. I completed three illustrations for the first book and then eleven illustrations for a second book.


What type of job did you do right after you graduated?

I was still teaching part time and working as a freelance writer and editor for educational publishers. I was lucky enough to get some freelance work in 2007 and it developed into more work throughout my studies and continues until today. I also continue to teach at the college level on a part time basis.


Do you think the classes you took in college influenced your style?

I was very confused with “style” as a student. I knew the illustration styles of others that I liked but I didn’t want to copy anyone. It took me a while to develop a style that was a bit different and stood out over the traditional style of illustration. However, I’m now experimenting with some new techniques that are affecting/changing my style a bit. So I feel like I’m in between finding a signature style and one that can get me some work.


When did you do your the first illustration for children?

After the McGraw-Hill job, I didn’t get any other work until 2013.


How did that come about?

Right after graduating with my MFA in 2011, I prepared a TON of promo packages and sent them out to different Art Directors at publishing companies. It wasn’t until 2013 when I received two emails within a span of a month to illustrate from two different companies to illustrate books. They both told me they received my information in 2011 and held onto it for two years. Wow!


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate books?

After completing my degree in Reading Education in 2005, I fell in love with children’s books. It finally hit me that I could use my love for creative writing and art to write and illustrate books – I felt like it was a roundabout way to teach students.


Was MY BODY BELONGS TO ME the first picture book that you illustrated?

Yes, it was.


How did that contract come your way?

One day in 2013 I received an email from the Art Director at Free Spirit Publishing asking if I were available to illustrate a book. I said “Absolutely!” That company was one of the companies to whom I sent promo material in 2011 and they finally contacted me two years later for a project.


Congratulations in your new book THE HERO IN YOU coming out the 1st of September.

Thank you!I did love illustrating MY BODY BELONGS TO ME but I’m even more excited about THE HERO IN YOU, mainly because it’s about famous people in history and to this nerd learning about history –or pretty much anything – is my cup of tea!


How did you get the contract with Albert A. Whitman?

It happened the same as Free Spirit Publishing – out of the blue I got an email asking if I were available for the project. So I was working on it the same time I was illustrating MY BODY BELONGS TO ME. I actually had to make the tough decision to quit a teaching job in an elementary school in order to pursue these projects. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get my name on a book. I mean, two books!


Have you worked with educational publishers?

Yes, as an illustrator, writer, and developmental editor.


Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own book?

Absolutely! I would love to be known as an author/illustrator. Besides picture books, I also write chapter books and middle grade novels. I hope to illustrate my chapter book if it ever gets published, as well as the cover for any middle grade novel. However, I do feel that my illustration style may not fit some of the stories I write. So I am open-minded to the idea of someone else illustrating my books if an editor/publisher felt strongly that another person’s style would suit the book better. Very much like David LaRochelle has done with some of his stories.


Do you have an artist rep.? If so, who? And how did you connect with them?

At this time I don’t have an agent. However, I did have an agent in 2012. I can explain how I landed that contract… I subscribed to agent Jill Corcoran’s blog. At the time, she was working with Ronnie Herman at the Herman Agency. On her blog she posted that Ronnie was looking for an intern to help layout some books in Photoshop to make some book trailers. It was either in house or remote. I applied for it and didn’t get it but I asked Ronnie if I could submit my stories and portfolio to her and she said yes. At the time, I had an editor interested in one of my stories. Long story short, Ronnie liked my work and signed me for 18 months. I had never met Ronnie and only spoke with her one time on the phone during the 18 months. We got along fine, but for one reason or another, it didn’t work out with Ronnie and I chose not to renew the contract.

If not, would you like to have one? After already having had an agent, I learned that you can have a good rapport with your agent but he/she may not be the best fit professionally. So as much as I would like to have another agent in the future, right now I’m patiently taking the time to research agents more than I did before in order to find the one who is the perfect fit for my personality, interests, writing and illustration styles, and professional goals. In the meantime, I am sending out my stories to editors that I’ve met at conferences to try and get some interest. When looking for an agent, it can really help you if you can tell him/her that you have an editor interested in your work already.

AngelaPadron Little Nose2

What types of things did you do to market your work?

I have a website, a facebook page, and a blog. I’ll be preparing some promo packages again in the next few months with some tear sheets and postcards to mail out to art directors as well as editors – last time when I sent out packages I only targeted art directors, but this time I’ll be sending out to editors as well, especially those I’ve met at conferences.


What is your favorite medium to use?

Anything messy like charcoal and pastels are my favorite. I also love collage and have developed a “digital collage” style where I paint tissue paper or other textured paper with gouache or acrylic paint. (I’m a huge fan of Eric Carle and Leo Lionni and the textured papers they used.) I then scan those papers into the computer and use them to fill my sketches. In the past I’ve added drop shadows to make the pieces look like cut paper. That works well if you’re looking for a graphic style of illustration. For looser, freer work, I use watercolor, pastels and colored pencils combined with some digital collage. In addition, I love to create batiks (wax resist and dye on fabric) and am trying to figure out a way to be able to use a batik combined with Photoshop to create some illustrations. No matter what technique I use, though, my sketches are all done by hand in pencil and scanned in. I don’t like drawing with the tablet; I only use the tablet as my tool to fill in my sketches.


Has that changed over time?

Definitely. Towards the end of my MFA, I had developed the cut-paper digital collage style with drop shadows and stayed with that for a while. Then I began using the textured collage papers with my outlined sketch just for a different (and quicker) spin on the technique. About a year ago, I was experimenting with watercolor and pastels on printmaking paper and found a softer look was better for some of my illustrations. That combined with using Photoshop to overlay my sketch and some textures gave a nice look that I’ve been using a lot more lately. It gives me the flexibility to use my favorite medium – pastels – with my second favorite medium – the computer (or as I often call it “the machine that helps me fix any errors much quicker than redoing the entire illustration over again.”)


Do you have a studio in your house?

My dining room table is often my “house studio” these days. However, I do have a studio space near my house. It’s called Studio 18 in the Pines – it has about 20 studios for artists and a large gallery for exhibitions. I use it when my son is in school or camp as well as sometimes on the weekends.


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

My laptop and Intuos tablet for sure. But also my Nu-Pastels by Prismacolor – love them! I have my studio space mainly to do my batiks, however. I can’t melt wax or hang dripping dyed fabric in my house that’s for sure!


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

I write and illustrate whenever I can between my freelance projects and life. I’ve been trying to commit a certain number of hours per week for just writing and illustrating but something always comes up and reduces that time. Each Monday I try to restart the week with that thinking – I know one of these days I’ll figure out how to do it.


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

Yes! I have people pose for me or I go to places like the beach or zoo to take pictures. I also do some research online for photos if I can’t take the photos myself; I copy and paste every relevant image I can find into a Word document, then narrow them down to the ones I think will be most beneficial and print them out. I refer to photos all the time when illustrating.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

It’s my best friend! Without it, I couldn’t have studied for my MFA at Academy of Art University. I wouldn’t be able to research photos or companies to send my illustration samples to, and I wouldn’t have email to get offers for projects. And of course reading fantastic blogs like yours helps inspire and teach me, too!


What do you feel was your biggest success?

Illustrating THE HERO IN YOU so far has been the best illustration experience of my career. I would love to work with the art director at Albert Whitman & Co. again – he was a real cheerleader when I got stuck on an idea or was struggling to get one of the illustrations done on time. He also gave me a lot of creative flexibility to come up with the idea for the illustrations. I really think the book is going to sell well because of the content, the songs, and the ability to relate the book to the Core Curriculum Content Standards in schools.


Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?

Photoshop is my lifesaver. I use it to touch up illustrations so I don’t have to redo anything. I also love to illustrate in pieces – meaning, I usually illustrate each character separate from each other and the background, then scan them all in and place them together in Photoshop like a puzzle. It allows me the flexibility to move things around and resize them if necessary.


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

Yes Intuos tablet – I’d be lost without it.


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

I definitely want to have books published that I have written and illustrated in all types of genres – board book, picture book, chapter book and middle grade novel. That would be my dream.


What are you working on now?

The question really should be what am I NOT working on now – my SCBWI critique group members can attest that I am non-stop at trying to write a good story. I have a few book dummies to touch up and finalize to have ready to submit to agents and editors. I also am finishing to write my first chapter book and then would like to draw some black and white illustrations for that book. I actually came up with another picture book idea this morning while walking my puppy so I hope to get the idea down in writing this week.

angelalittle annie

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

I water down gouache and acrylics to paint on tissue paper – very carefully as to not rip it. Scan those into Photoshop and use them to fill your sketch – you get the same effects if you were to paint the textures right on your illustrations. I love to paint watercolor on Rives BFK paper – very heavyweight printmaking paper that absorbs the watercolor with a soft texture. I also love Arches hot pressed watercolor paper for more detailed work. Nu-Pastels by Prismacolor are so great – the feel like hard pastels but go on like soft pastels – they still smudge but not as much as very soft pastels. Prismacolor colored pencils are my favorite – love the soft leads. And finally Prismacolor Col-Erase pencils. They’re colored pencils that can be erased pretty well – they’re great for outlining or sketching. Some animators use the different colors to show the progression of their sketches.


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

You have to be a student of the business. Research research research – not just for photo reference but also look at the new books that are out. Go to the library and spend an hour or two a week just looking through books and studying others’ illustrations – their techniques as well as their compositions. See what types of stories are selling. Read lots of books – reading with my son is the biggest help when learning about books. Go to conferences and workshops. Take online classes. Join critique groups and embrace feedback and different points of view. Have a style but be flexible so you can get work if you’re just starting out, like me. Always be drawing and illustrating something to keep your skills and ideas fresh. And never stop dreaming!

angelaNEW monkey graphic small

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

To see more of Angela’s illustrations you can visit her at: http://www.angelapadron.com/

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

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, picture books, Process Tagged: adjunct professor at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Angela Padron, Studio 18 in the Pines in South Florida.

10 Comments on Illustrator Saturday – Angela Padrón, last added: 7/19/2014
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3. Logistics

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Biljana Likic

biljana new picStories often begin with a lone kernel of an idea. Mine tend to begin when a few characters appear in my mind and don’t want to leave me alone. A single interaction between them can cause an entire book to be built around it. Generally, that’s how I plot, too. My process is basically just me figuring out how to construct a story around scenes that must happen.

But when I first started writing seriously, it would trip me up. I’d be writing the scene I’d been waiting a year to write, and all would be great. I’d create a setting in which the interaction would take place and go nuts pounding out the words that had been living in my head for so long. It’d be done before I knew it and after a night of sleep and letting it rest I would come back to it and realize I’d made a grave, grave error.

My characters would be so influenced by my neurotic imaginings of their interaction that they wouldn’t at all be influenced by the actual environment in which they were. Outside the sky would be heavy with clouds but they would still squint against the sun to see things better. Loud music would be playing but soft conversations from across the room would still be overheard. The room would be so dark only silhouettes should’ve been clear but for some reason the colour of the wallpaper would be discernable.

It was a result of the scene not evolving in my mind along with the rest of the story. I would have strong plot reasons for it to be a very cloudy day, but because the scene in my mind had always been an arbitrarily sunny one, I would subconsciously impose a completely different kind of weather. It was an issue of continuity.

Since becoming aware of the issue, I came up with a way to resolve it. It’s juvenile in its simplicity.

Keep a list of logistics. These can include light quality, temperature, weather, sound, and architecture.

Here’s an example. First, the wrong way to do it.

Cold rain came down in sheets, gathering on the leaves above and falling in big fat splotches onto his head. He was soaked in seconds. He fled, deafened by the sound of the storm around him and blinded by the darkness. He tripped and tumbled to the ground with a grunt of surprise. He heard her approach quietly behind him.

“Are you alright?” she whispered. She was probably afraid they’d hear her. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine,” he said.

She hurried to him and helped him up before he could stop her. Prompted by an ingrained memory of his strict mother, he automatically brushed dirt off his knees.

“Leave,” he said.

He went to keep going but was stopped by her tugging on his sleeve. His breath caught at her beauty. Tears streaked down her flushed cheeks, and her dark hair billowed and flowed in the breeze. Before he could change his mind, he shook off her grip, and ran.

There are a number of problems here. Taking the first paragraph where I describe the environment, these are our logistics: it’s a dark forest, it’s wet, and the pouring rain is loud and cold. So how does he hear her approach quietly? How does he hear her whisper when she’s nowhere near close enough to be heard through the storm? How can he brush dirt off his knees when he was soaked in seconds? It’d be mud and it would seep into his clothing. When he sees her beauty, how can he see? He’s blinded by darkness. On that note, how does she even see him fall? And why is her hair billowing and flowing when it should be slick against her head? How does he know those are tears on her face when it could just be rain?

These are the kinds of continuity errors that come up very often in first drafts, but they’re easily avoidable. All you have to do is keep in mind the main aspects of the environment. It’s a dark forest, it’s wet, and the pouring rain is loud and cold. Add occasional lightning to the storm and suddenly you have a source of light. It does nothing to change your actual story; the weather’s already bad. If she approaches him quietly, have her surprise him with a hand on his shoulder while he’s still on the ground. Now she’s close to him, which means he’d be able to hear her even if her voice isn’t very loud. When she helps him up, have him wipe his muddy hands on his pants and cringe at his mother’s memory instead of trying to respect it.

Cold rain came down in sheets, gathering on the leaves above and falling in big fat splotches onto his head. He was soaked in seconds. He fled, deafened by the sound of the storm around him and blinded by the darkness. He tripped and tumbled to the ground with a grunt of surprise. Lightning flashed weakly and the forest floor glowed, tangles of vines and roots glistening.

He felt a hand on his shoulder and jerked away. He stilled at the familiar voice by his ear.

“Are you alright?” she whispered, voice carrying over the din of the rain, her warm breath puffing against his skin. She was probably afraid they’d hear her. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine,” he said.

She hooked an arm under his and helped him up before he could stop her. He wiped his muddy hands on his wet pants with a grimace and a silent apology to his mother.

“Leave,” he said, raising his voice to make sure she could hear.

He went to keep going but was stopped by her tugging on his sleeve. Lightning forked across the sky and his breath caught. Even with her hair plastered to her head, cheeks wet with what he told himself was only rain, she was beautiful. Before he could change his mind, he shook off her grip, and ran.

Fundamentally, the scene hasn’t changed. All I did was tweak a few actions to make it plausible. But another thing you’ll notice is that the scene was actually made more intimate. He heard her whisper above the rain because she was so close to him, which wouldn’t have had to be true if it hadn’t been raining or if, as in the first attempt, I hadn’t followed the rules of the logistics I’d set. What I’m left with is a scene that not only takes into account the environment so it can play out naturally, but also gave me an opportunity to flesh out a more meaningful interaction.

And it doesn’t stop there. This scene could be even more tellingly intimate. Again, it comes down to logistics.

The rain is cold. She puts a hand on his shoulder. Her hand is warm. Instant awareness. Even if he jerks away, maybe the warmth could be familiar. Of course, warmth in and of itself isn’t only applicable to humans, but having him think of a certain someone in the moment of that warmth tells quite a bit about his psychological state of mind. When she’s that close to him, does he really want to run? What is he remembering when her breath is puffing into his ear? When she hooks an arm under his to help him, that human contact in a time of desperation would maybe be comforting. When she tugs at his sleeve, do her fingers graze the skin of his wrist?

We know how the environment affects him. How does she affect him? How do her actions impact his state of mind?

Cold rain came down in sheets, gathering on the leaves above and falling in big fat splotches onto his head. He was soaked in seconds. He fled, deafened by the sound of the storm around him and blinded by the darkness. He tripped and tumbled to the ground with a grunt of surprise. Lightning flashed weakly and the forest floor glowed, tangles of vines and roots glistening.

He felt a hand on his shoulder. It was nearly hot in contrast to the rain. In the split second before he instinctively jerked away, he thought of her. He froze when she spoke into his ear.

“Are you alright?” she whispered, voice carrying over the din of the rain, her warm breath puffing against his skin. She was probably afraid they’d hear her. She’d always been afraid they would hear. He shivered when she spoke again and blamed it on the wind. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine,” he said and quickly bowed his head away from her.

She hooked an arm under his and helped him up before he could stop her. The contact made his knees weak with longing. He needed comfort, wanted heat, and at that moment he felt she was the only thing that could banish the damp from his bones. He stepped away and wiped his muddy hands on his wet pants with a grimace and a silent, desperately out-of-place apology to his mother for dirtying his clothes.

“Leave,” he said, raising his voice to make sure she could hear. He hoped she hadn’t heard it crack, too.

He went to keep going but was stopped by her tugging on his sleeve. Lightning forked across the sky and his breath caught. Even with her hair plastered to her head, cheeks wet with what he told himself was only rain, she was beautiful.

The night succumbed to darkness once more and his only awareness of her became the brands that were her fingers brushing against the skin of his wrist. Before he could change his mind, he shook off her grip, and ran.

The people around your main character are also part of the environment. So now, your new logistics are: it’s a dark forest, it’s wet, and the pouring rain is loud and cold. He is greatly in love with the woman, and she keeps touching him.

Keeping all this in mind is how you go from point A to point B. What was at first a rough draft passage, a bare-bones scene, has turned into a psychologically important event necessary for the growth of the main character. All just by considering where things are, why they’re there, what the weather’s like, and how he feels about it.

Biljana Likic is working on her fantasy WIPs and just completed her BA, soon to be starting her MA in September, where she can’t wait till she’s done so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can follow her on Twitter.

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4. Ebook influences on Book Sales

art show falkenstern_scbwi

The art show that took place at the NJSCBWI Conference continues with this evening illustration done by Lisa Falkenstern.

Filed under: illustrating, inspiration, need to know, Publishing Industry Tagged: 2014 State of the Market Report, ebooks fluences on book sales, Kathy Temean's State of the Market, Lisa Falkenstern

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5. Calder's circus

Getting ready for another week of art camp...

I don't think I'll ever get tired of this video.

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6. Genres: Trends From Editors/Agents Survey

artshowAngela Padron NJ SCBWI art show FINAL

The NJSCBWI Art Show Continues: I think you will enjoy this cute little sea monster in this illustration by Angela Padron. Angela was born and raised in Freehold, NJ but moved to Florida in 2002. For over 15 years, Angela taught bilingual, ESL, Spanish, and Art in public schools before becoming a freelance writer and illustrator. Now she writes and illustrates children’s books, including board books, picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels.

Below is the slide I made up after tallying the answers to the survey I sent to a total of 38 editors and agents. I asked each whether they thought the genres below where increasing, decreasing, or staying the same and if they expected this to continue for the next year.


Check back tomorrow for more details.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Agent, Conferences and Workshops, Editors, inspiration, need to know, Publishing Industry Tagged: 2014 NJSCBWI Conference, Angela Padron, State of the Market Report

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7. Illustrator Saturday – Andreja Peklar

andrejapicAndreja Peklar was born in Ljubljana, Slovenija.

After studying Art history and philosophy she graduated in painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana.

She devoted herself to illustrating for children and her work can be seen in several picture books, text books, popular science books and magazines.

She also designed and illustrated educational material for children for several museums in Slovenija.

Her work was exhibited at various exhibitions in Slovenija and abroad (Biennial of illustration Bratislava, Golden pen Belgrade, Bibliotheque nationale de France, Paris, Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators, New York).

Andreja Peklar has also received several Slovenian and foreign awards. Some of her books have been included in The White Ravens selection.

Recently she has been focusing on writing and illustrating her own books for children. She lives and works as freelance illustrator in Ljubljana.

Here is Andreja explaining her working process:

The theme of this illustration was POTTER – it was made for partly fiction partly educational book about ancient crafts.

I start with the research. I browse a lot on internet and in different books. In this case I have searched in some historic and archeological books.

andrejapotter1Then I put some different ideas on a paper. I draw rough sketches with the chalk or very soft pencil.


From one idea to another …


… and finally there is a sketch I will use for the illustration.  If the sketch is too small I photocopy it to the final size. I always draw illustration a little larger than it will be printed in a book.

Then I place a scetch (or a photocopy) on a light box and copy it to paper – usually Canson Montval 300gr aquarel paper. If I work out of studio I use “natural” light box – I tape a scetch on a window glass (this “tehnique” works only from dawn to dusk!)


I tape the final drawing on a plexiglass board and begin with colouring. I usually work with Ferrario’s Tiepolo tempera. First I put very bright colours using quite wide brushes.


Then I add some structures with painting knives searching for the right atmosphere…


… finishing some details …


… to the final illustration.


And this is how the illustration has been placed in a book.

andrejaIs this gmajl

How long have you been illustrating?

I have been illustrating for about 20 years now.


How did you decide to attend the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana?

I studied philosophy and art history at first. But I have always wanted to draw. And way back in the primary school a few of us, teenagers have founded an “art group”. We were so keen that the municipality of our town has given us a nice studio in the attic of the town’s gallery (I am exhibiting my illustrations in that same gallery right now – how nostalgic!). I have spent so much of my teenage and student time there – painting, drawing, chatting about art … beautiful time … so switching to Academy of Fine Arts was somehow a logical continuation.


What were you favorite classes in college?

I have studied painting, not illustration and my favourite technique was graphics – engraving, lithography. I intend to incorporate more graphics into my illustration work right now – doing some monotypes already.


Did the School help you get work?

No, not really. We have not received “education” for living in real world. I had to learn it by myself. But on the other hand at the Academy we were taught a lot of different skills and techniques and given a lot of time to experiment. And this was a kind of help to begin living as an artist.


What was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

My first illustrations were black and white drawings for my friend’s book of poems when I was in high school. They were done in the name of a friendship, of course. But the first artwork I was paid for was the illustration for an old Chinese board game called Jungle.


What type of job did you do right after you graduated?

Right after I graduated I did quite a lot of drawings for stained glass, I also painted glass, taught drawing classes for a while, designed, but quickly I began illustrating.


Do you think the classes you took in college influenced your style?

No, not directly. In my opinion you hold your expression within and the style emerges later while working.


When did you do your first illustration for children?

Very soon after having graduated. It was an illustration for a series “Adventures of Goga The Millipede” for the children’s magazine Ciciban.


How did that come about?

Well, it was quite funny. My husband’s daughter (she was 7 years at the time) came to me one evening and asked me to draw 6 elephants, 6 giraffes, 6 badgers, 6… and I drew and drew… Next morning she took these drawings to school and showed them to her teacher Majda Koren, who by chance was also the editor at our main children’s magazine (and a very good author too!). And I got the job!


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate a children’s book?

The very first time I thought to be an illustrator was when I was about 10 years old. I admired the Slovenian illustrator Marija Lucija Stupica very much and therefore decided to become one myself. Then I forgot this for a while and wanted to be an archeologist, a psychologist, a chemist … gradually I came back to illustrating. Sometimes things just come to you, you don’t have to interfere much …


How long did it take you to get your first picture book contract?

A few years after I started to illustrate, I suppose.


What was your first book that you illustrated?

It was a book about old Romans.


How did you get the opportunity to exhibit at the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators, New York?

I saw a call for entry to the 50th Annual Exhibition on internet and sent my illustration. I was very happy that it had been chosen for the Annual!


Have you illustrated any books for the American Market?

No, I have not.


Have you worked with educational publishers?

Yes, quite a lot. I’ve illustrated a lot of educational books about history for schools and museums.


How many children’s books have you illustrated?

All together about 50.


Your bio says you are writing and illustrating your own books. Are any of them finished?

Yes, two of them have already been published. I have some new projects in my mind, they are actually in different stages.


Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?

Yes, from the very beginning I have been illustrating for different children’s and teenage magazines.


Do you have an Artist Rep. to represent you? If so, who? If not, would you like to find one?

No, I don’t have an Artist Rep. I have been trying to find one from time to time but there are so many! And somehow I never have enough time to search among them to find one who will be just the right one!


What types of things do you do to find illustration work?

At the very beginning of my career I visited some publishing houses to show them my portfolio. After a time they usually searched me when they wanted to engage me. I also sent some submissions and query letters from time to time. And I go to Bologna Book Fair every year. I have to admit – it is more for a pleasure of seeing all these beautiful books than for business.


Do you think living in Slovenia causes you to work harder to find work?

Slovenia has a long tradition of printing way back to the 16th century albeit is a small country, which has a bright side as well as a darker one. Practically everything I do publishers can see and if they are interested they contact me. But on the other hand our market is small so there are not many publishing houses, less editions, less numbers of print runs etc. You have to work on a lot of different projects to survive. Still, I would like to be focused more on a specific kind of illustration work that I prefer.


What is your favorite medium to use?

I love tempera, it is soft and not glossy. I also like black ink for drawing expressive wide strokes with brushes or delicate drawings with fine pen.


Has that changed over time?

Yes, I like to experiment with different mediums to find a technique to go along with a particular atmosphere or feeling of a text I am illustrating.


Do you have a studio in your house?

I have a “room of my own” in our apartment, yes. But I am still dreaming of a laaaaarge studio with a very high ceiling…


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

Some brushes with specific sizes and shapes and a music background.


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

Yes I do, but when it comes to deadlines – it is day and night.


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

I do research, for non-fiction or educational books a lot of research: from internet, books, magazines. I also have my “treasure box” in which I keep photographs, cuttings from papers, magazines, ideas, inspirations …


Which illustrated book is your favorite?

If I think about my books it is “The boy with a little red hood”, which I have written and illustrated. If I talk about others there are so many, so different: “Die Nacht” by Wolf Erlbruch, “Stuck” by Oliver Jeffers, “This is not my hat” by Jon Klassen, “If I were a book” by Andre Letria, “I am not a little red riding hood” by Linda Wolfsgruber, “The three golden keys” by Peter Sis and many many more.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes, definitely. Sometimes I actually don’t understand how we have been working and communicating in those days before!


Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?

I use Photoshop for my work as well.


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

Yes, I have Intuos 5, love it!


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

To make more of my own books (good ones, of course!)!


What are you working on now?

I am illustrating for a children’s magazine and preparing to continue working on my own book.


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

Usually I am working with Canson Montval paper and Ferrario Tiepolo tempera. My favourite place to buy materials is Boesner in Austria. But you have to experiment and search for some new materials all the time!


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

Work hard, be honest with your work and believe in it! And if you think you can’t find an inspiration, just sit at your working table and begin drawing … the inspiration will soon come …



• The International Golden pen of Belgrade Award, 2007 (for the book Varuh)

• The most original Slovene picture book Award 2006 (for the book Fant z rdečo kapico)

• The most original Slovene picture book nomination 2006 (for the book Mojca Pokrajculja)



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

To see more of Andreja’s illustrations you can visit her at: http://www.andrejapeklar.si/home.html

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

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: authors and illustrators, awards, bio, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, picture books Tagged: Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana., Andreja Peklar, Ljubljana, Slovenija

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8. Got Sand? Make Art.

One of my favorite summer beach activities has always been playing in the sand.  It was so satisfying to fill up the bucket with damp sand and turn it upside down to create the turrets and towers of a sandcastle. Last week I witnessed sand art on a grand scale.

Atlantic City NJ hosted the Sand Sculpting World Cup. This amazing display – held on the Pennsylvania Ave. beach next to the Steel Pier – draws artists from all over the world for the three week event.  All the sculptures are made with only sand and water.  A special “sticky” sand is brought in for the artists to use.  Once their creations are complete, a fine spray of watered-down Elmer’s glue keeps the sculptures from succumbing to the elements during the three week show.   Here is just a sample of tsand 15he magnificent creations: sand 3

The competition originated in 1897 and was held non-stop until 1944, drawing people from all over to Atlantic City.  Sand art became so popular, it was immortalized on postcards around the world.   When the city was ravaged by an unnamed hurricane in 1944, the event was stopped until it resumed 15 years ago.

If you missed this amazing display of sand art by the best sculptors in the world, check out the website and make plans to visit next year.  You won’t be disappointed.


sand 24sand 33

The First Place Winner.

The First Place Winner.

4 Comments on Got Sand? Make Art., last added: 7/14/2014
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9. Free Fall Friday – Kudos


Here is another fabulous illustration from the NJSCBWI Artist Showcase done by Doris Ettlinger. Doris has illustrated over 25 picture books, you can visit her at: www.dorisettlinger.com, facebook/dorisettlingerstudio, and etsy/DorisEttlingerStudio

Anna Olswanger has opened her own agency. Olswanger Literary LLC. People can visit my page at: http://www.olswanger.com/agent.shtml

Illustrator Hazel Mitchel signed a contract to be represented by Literary Agent, Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd., New York City

Illustrator Michelle Kogan has Two Paintings on Exhibit at the United States Botanic Garden, DC through November 2014. They are Wildlife Comes to Lake Shore Drive and Rogers Park Dunes Restoration and Piping Plover, watercolor and watercolor pencil.

Amalia Hoffman won the 21st century Children’s Nonfiction Conference Illustration Award in June.

If you sent me a success story and I didn’t put it up, please send it again to me. The last month has been extremely busy and I feel like I missed someone.


Remember, Agent Jenny Bent is doing four of our first page critiques this month. Below are the guidelines:

Here are the submission guidelines for submitting a First Page in July:

Please “July First Page Critique” in the subject line. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it is as picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top.

Please attach your first page submission using one inch margins and 12 point font – double spaced, no more than 23 lines to an e-mail and send it to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com. Also cut and paste it into the body of the e-mail and then also attach it in a Word document to the email.

DEADLINE: July 24th.

RESULTS: August 1st.

Use inch margins – double space your text – 12 pt. New Times Roman font – no more than 23 lines – paste into body of the email

You can only send in one first page each month. It can be the same first page each month or a different one, but if you sent it to me last month and it didn’t get chosen, you need to send it again using the July’s directions. Of course, it doesn’t have to be the same submission.

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: authors and illustrators, awards, inspiration, Kudos Tagged: Amalia Hoffman, Anna Olswanger, Doris Ettlinger, Hazel Mitchell, Jenny Bent, Michelle Kogan

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10. Guest Post: The Best Advice I’ve Gotten From Other Writers

Writing Life Banner


Ben H. Winters

Note from Sooz: I am so excited to share this post from critically acclaimed Ben H. Winters, author of seven novels, including Countdown City (an NPR Best Book of 2013 and the winner of the Philip K. Dick Award). He has a great post for you today, in honor of his upcoming release, the third book in the Last Policement series: World of Trouble.

Plus, Ben is running a VERY cool ‘reverse blog tour’ on his personal site, with guests like Ransom Riggs and Hugh Howey. They’re posting tips, doing interviews, and more! And, you can check out Ben’s own blog tour for World of Trouble here.

Now take it away, Ben! (And don’t miss the giveaway at the end!)

Ben Winters

From Vonnegut: Start the Story

The legendary Kurt Vonnegut came to Washington University in St. Louis in May of my senior year, and I got to interview him for the school paper. Two things he said stuck with me. The first was that the internet was just a fad, and he was wrong about that, although sometimes I wish he hadn’t been.

The other thing he said was, when you’re done with your first draft, take the first 30 pages and throw them away. Like a lot of great writerly advice it was hyperbolic (see also Elmore Leonard’s much-quoted and rarely obeyed “rules”), but built around a gem of pure truth: we writers, especially novelists, have a tendency to start slow, to clear our throats, to give all the background at the beginning—which is exactly where it <span “>doesn’t belong, if indeed it belongs anywhere. Start with the story in motion , is what Vonnegut was saying, and let the reader run to catch up.

I live in Indianapolis now, where Vonnegut is a hometown hero, and where a mural of him towers over hip Massachusetts Avenue. Every time I walk past I thank him for teaching me how to to start my books.

From Terkel: Don’t be a fancy-pants writer jerk

As a young journalist working at a free weekly in Chicago, I got to interview Studs Terkel, at his house. Studs told me that one of his tricks to gaining the confidence of the ordinary people he chronicled so vividly in his oral histories was to pretend that his tape recorder was broken. Then he would fuss with it for a while, cursing and mopping his brow, letting them see that he wasn’t some egghead, but just an average fella, like them. Then they’d be comfortable and open up.

In the innumerable interviews I have done since, both as a journalist and now as a novelist, when I’m interviewing cops and astronomers and pathologists and insurance salesmen—and please, for the love of God, if you’re writing a book, hang out with actual humans with relevant experiences, and let them inform the truth of your text—I have done some version of this maneuver over and over. By doing something foolish and klutzy—drop my phone, borrow a pen, forget my questions—I enter into a sort of conversational intimacy with my subject, which is the kind of place that real deep truth comes out of.

And unlike Studs Terkel, I am a total klutz, and I always do forget to bring a pen, so I rarely have to pretend.

From William Penn: Get to Work

This one is kind of a cheat, because the founder of Pennsylvania died three centuries ago, and I just got this quote from a magazine article or something. But it’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten, as a writer and as a human being: Time is what we want most, and use worst.

Because here’s what we writers always do—we complain about not having enough time to write. When will I get to write? Oh, man, I have no time to write. If only I had time to write!

And then when we do have time, when that magical hour or two hours appears, when a plan-free Saturday miraculously turns up on the calendar, what do we do? We waste all that time. Check email, check Facebook, clean the house, read the newspaper, check email again, and then it’s Oh, God, where did all the time go! If only I had time to write!

Take it from someone who wrote a whole series about civilization’s impending destruction: time is a precious resource. Embrace Penn’s dictum; train your mind (and you can train it) to get to work, even when it’s hard, even when you don’t feel like. There is no other way to be a writer.

World of TroubleWow. I can’t believe Ben met Kurt Vonnegut. Also, Vonnegut’s advice is perfectly timed for me right now (I just spent >1 month “clearing my throat” with a new beginning). Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this, Ben!

Now, for our dear Pub Crawl readers, there’s an awesome World of Trouble pre-order campaign going on here. Basically, if you pre-order you get all sorts of cool extras. AND, of course, we’re doing a giveaway for all 3 books in the Last Policemen series right here on Pub(lishing) Crawl! WOOHOO! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below to be entered to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Ben H. Winters is the author of seven novels, including most recently Countdown City (Quirk), an NPR Best Book of 2013 and the winner of the Philip K. Dick Award. Ben grew up in suburban Maryland, went to college at Washington University in St. Louis, and has subsequently lived in six different cities—seven if you count Brooklyn twice for two different times. Presently he lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his wife Diana, a law professor, and their three children.

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11. Book Give-a-Way & Interview With Shannon Wiersbitzky: What Flowers Remember

Shannon_Wiersbitzky_Author_Photo_2012Shannon Wiersbitzky is a middle-grade author, a hopeless optimist, and a lover of the outdoors. The Summer of Hammers and Angels, nominated for the William Allen White award, was her first novel.

Born in North Dakota, Shannon has called West Virginia, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Michigan “home” at some point in her life.She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two sons, one rather dull fish and her always entertaining dog Benson.

I interviewed Shannon about her new book WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER, and asked her if she would do a give-a-way of the book for anyone who leaves a comment. If you tweet or post something about the book on facebook or your blog, you will receive an extra entry to increase your chances to win.

Book Notes: What Flowers Remember

shannonflowersMost folks probably think gardens only get tended when they’re blooming. But most folks would be wrong. According to the almanac, a proper gardener does something every single month. Old Red Clancy was definitely a proper gardener. That’s why I enrolled myself in the Clancy School of Gardening. If I was going to learn about flowers, I wanted to learn from the best.

Delia and Old Red Clancy make quite a pair. He has the know-how and she has the get-up-and-go. When they dream up a seed- and flower-selling business, well, look out, Tucker’s Ferry, because here they come.

But something is happening to Old Red. And the doctors say he
can’t be cured. He’s forgetting places and names and getting cranky for
no reason. As his condition worsens, Delia takes it upon herself to save
as many memories as she can. Her mission is to gather Old Red’s stories so that no one will forget, and she corrals everybody in town to help her.

What Flowers Remember is a story of love and loss, of a young girl coming to understand that even when people die, they live on in our minds, our hearts, and our stories.

*Note: A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.

In addition to win and read a good book, I think you will find Shannon’s answers to my interview questions below interesting.

I see you have published two middle grade books with namelos. Did you sign a two book deal when you sold  THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS?

No. My initial contract with Namelos only included my first book. I didn’t even know there would be a sequel!

Can you tell us the story behind how you sold your first book and the journey you took to get there?

Writing IS a journey isn’t it! I’ll say that it was a ten year path of discovering my voice and what kind of narrative suits me best. When I began writing books for children, I focused first on picture books. Then I began to dabble in novels. I met my editor, Stephen Roxburgh, at a picture book workshop at Highlights in 2009. He had just started Namelos earlier that year. We hit it off and after the workshop I sent him the manuscript for THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS. We’ve been working together ever since.

Was that your debut book?

Yes. While I’ve had a variety of picture books garner significant interest over the years, HAMMERS was the first book I had published. It was a real thrill to see it in print. I’ve got a copy hanging on the wall in my writing studio. My husband had it framed.

How well did the book sell?

The book has sold well. I don’t know an exact number of copies. It always helps when a novel gets noticed by organizations and award committees, and THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS did. It was nominated for the William Allen White award, and was a recommended title by the Kansas NEA Reading Circle. Scholastic bought copies for its book club too. Anytime a story is recognized, it’s an honor.

Has the publishing of WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER, increased the sales of THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS?

Yes, I think the benefit of having multiple books out is that people naturally see or seek out your other titles. At least they do if they like what they read!

Had you written WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER when you sold the first book?

No, I hadn’t. In fact, after HAMMERS came out, when asked if there might be a sequel, I confidently said that Delia’s story was finished. Ha! That just shows you that characters are really in charge, not the writers.

How did the idea of the book come to you?

In terms of the actual time and place when I realized Delia had another story to tell, I was literally on a flight from PA to CA. I’d written a novel dealing with Alzheimer’s several years earlier (it was terrible and I never tried to publish it) and all of a sudden, I realized that I’d given the story to the wrong character. It was Delia’s story to tell. I plotted out the entire novel on the back of a single sheet of paper and about six months later I started writing it.

The inspiration to write about Alzheimer’s came from my own life. My grandfather had the disease and ultimately he forgot me. He and I were very close and it broke my heart to realize I had been erased. I wanted to capture the truth of that in a story.

Sadly, dementia is so common, and we have a real lack of stories that deal with it in an honest way. For some reason, we don’t talk about Alzheimer’s as openly as we do other diseases. Kids (and adults) need to be able to have everyday conversations about what they might be experiencing with their own grandparents or others in their life. My hope is that books like FLOWERS can help.

Do you have an agent? If so, who? If not, would you like to find one?

I don’t have an agent. I’ve worked directly with Stephen and his Namelos team for both books. I would like to find an agent, but it hasn’t been my focus lately. It’s so difficult to find someone that exactly fits your personality and writing style!

I have some picture book and early reader manuscripts I’d love to see published, and down the road, there may be other novels that aren’t right for Namelos, but are right for another publisher. Reviewers have compared my writing to Chicken Soup for the Soul and Patricia MacLachlan. If you know of any agents that might lean that way, let me know!

What type of things have you been doing to promote your books?

I have a full-time job that is fairly demanding, so I try to pick and choose things I can tackle in odd hours or that don’t require a full day. I regularly do web interviews with bloggers or write guest posts. I’ve visited local schools and done Skype visits with classrooms. There have been radio interviews. I’ve done a few book signings too.

Did namelos help market your book and get reviews?

Absolutely! They work the official reviewers and send copies out to various awards committees and all that usual stuff that publishers do. Stephen Roxburgh is highly regarded in the industry, so books he publishes typically do get picked up for review by folks like Kirkus. That’s a big plus.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on a few things. I’m editing a new novel which is totally different from my first two. High action, high comedy, high levels of exaggeration. I think I needed a break from the realistic fiction. I’m working on a few picture books as well. I’d love for them to find a good home. And I’m jotting notes for a novel that I haven’t started yet, but that I’ve been thinking about for two years. As soon as I can get the action manuscript out the door, this one is next in line. I like to have a host of projects in the hopper. My brain seems to work best that way. 

Review Excerpts

“There are echoes of Patricia MacLachlan in the book’s period flavor (the story seems to be set thirty years or so in the past), the tenderness, and the deft writing that keeps a heart-tugging plot lovely as well as brimming with sentiment. Delia’s move from grief for what she’s losing to a deeper understanding of her old friend is smoothly depicted…. The story will bring new perspective for readers struggling with their own beloved elders, and the liquid joy of a serious tearjerker to anybody who likes a poignant human drama.”

–The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Recommended

“Wiersbitzky organizes the book gracefully by naming the chapters after months of the year. …The ebb and flow of life is shown, grief is addressed, and the power of what one person can do is celebrated. Teachers may wish to consider this book for reading lists in middle school.”

–Children’s Literature

“What do flowers remember? The stories of the people who cared for them, of course, as Wiersbitzky’s sensitive novel compassionately conveys.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Fans of wholesome, uplifting stories similar to Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul collections, will best enjoy this gentle reminder of the goodness of life and people.” — Voice of Youth Advocates

Shannon Wiersbitzky Links:

Website: www.shannonwiersbitzky.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ShannonWiersbitzky

Twitter: @SWiersbitzky

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/ShannonWiersbitzky

Shannon thank you for sharing your journey with us and introducing us to your book.

Talk tomorrow,



Filed under: Author, awards, Book, children writing, Contest, inspiration, Kudos, Middle Grade Novels, opportunity Tagged: book give-a-way, Leave Comment, Shannon Wiersbitzky

14 Comments on Book Give-a-Way & Interview With Shannon Wiersbitzky: What Flowers Remember, last added: 7/10/2014
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12. MB Artists Promotional Cataolg #10

Check out the great new artwork in my agent's newest promotional catalog!  All artists created pieces with a "Food" theme.  I highly recommend sitting down with a bowl of ice cream or a cup of hot chocolate while browsing!  Enjoy!


0 Comments on MB Artists Promotional Cataolg #10 as of 7/7/2014 7:39:00 PM
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13. Interview With YA Author Conrad Wesselhoeft

First a synopsis of Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly:
Seventeen-year-old Arlo Santiago lives in a dusty corner of New Mexico where his two passions are riding dirt bikes and playing a video game called “Drone Pilot.” He’s so good at the game that the military hires him to fly real drones over Pakistan. However, Arlo is reeling emotionally from a violent death in his family. Will he take the military’s money and commit violence against a terrorist leader half a world away, or find another solution to his troubles? He’s got a lot of them, including a father who drinks, a sister with Huntington’s Disease, and a girlfriend who won’t let him run from his past.     Dirt bikes cover HMH

How did the idea for Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly originate?
It grew out of my interest in—and concern about—drone warfare, which offers today’s militaries “capability without vulnerability.” As Arlo’s dad says, “Capability without vulnerability! Where are the heroics in that?” I was interested in several themes. One was the idea that violence against the individual is, in fact, violence against society as a whole. Another focused on the importance of friendship and family in dealing with grief. A third was the tendency of technology to outpace human wisdom.
Tells us a bit more about the story.

Arlo’s mom was a victim of violence. His father, a laid-off newspaper editor, is a pacifist. The family desperately needs money to help Arlo’s younger sister, and Arlo is poised to become a major breadwinner. He joins the drone-missile program as an adventure, without considering the moral ramifications. But he grows increasingly troubled at the thought of the violence he might commit.

So the story raises moral questions for Arlo?
Yes, it hinges on the moral dilemma between what seems right at a universal human level—one that values all life—versus what would provide immediate help to Arlo and his struggling family. It’s the tension between what he wants to do and what he feels he should do.
Like Arlo’s dad, you worked in northeast New Mexico as a newspaper editor. Is the book autobiographical?
Only in small ways. For example, Arlo owns a scruffy standard poodle named El Guapo. I own a scruffy standard poodle named Django.

What path led you to writing novels for young adults?
Years ago, I met the acclaimed young-adult author Scott O’Dell (Island of the Blue Dolphins, Sing Down the Moon, and many more). I shared my literary dreams with him, and he urged me to start writing a novel immediately, not to concoct excuses or bog down in planning. That day is one of the most important of my life. It set me on the path to writing YA fiction.

Why do you write for young adults?
I thought it would be easier than writing for grownups. (Man, was I was wrong.) Also, I had three teenagers in my life. My son, in particular, liked to bring home a pack of “big-personality” buddies whose collective voice mixed confidence, arrogance, enthusiasm, laziness, courage, cowardice, cadence, and more. I’d be doing dishes or driving them somewhere and these boys would be handing me golden nuggets, so to speak. They became role models for “The Thicks” in my first book, Adios, Nirvana.

How would you describe your writing process?
Kurt Vonnegut divided all writers into two groups, “bashers” and “swoopers.” I’m a basher, a slow writer who tries to perfect each paragraph before moving to the next. (Swoopers are fast, yet a bit sloppy.) In the morning, I pour some coffee, and get to work. I bash and bash. Only when I’ve bashed all the bumps down to practically dust do I move to the next chapter. I wish I bashed less and swooped more. The best I can hope for is “swashing.”

What have you learned about yourself through the process of writing both Adios, Nirvana and Dirt Bikes, Drones and Other Ways To Fly?

I’ve learned that metaphor can be good medicine. Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to deal directly with emotional pain. In writing fiction, I’m able to project my shadow onto the wall of a different cave and, in doing so, work through my issues. As the story unfolds, the characters and I journey toward greater self-understanding. It’s a roundabout process, but it works.

Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly is a novel that clearly provides hope for the future. How important do you think it is to have that note of hope in a novel for young adults?
Hope is extremely important. I choose themes that are important to me. Foremost among these are hope, healing, family, and friendship. These are themes I’d like my own children to embrace. Life can be hard and seem hopeless, so as a writer I choose to send out that “ripple of hope” on the chance it may be heard or felt, and so make a difference.

And finally, what advice would you give to teens struggling to break away from peer group-imposed identities and create a sense of self?
All of us are great people in the making. One doesn’t have to be rich, famous, brilliant, beautiful, or an outward success to be great. One of my favorite examples from fiction is the fisherman Santiago in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. (Trivial fact: I named my main character Arlo Santiago after Hemingway’s old man.) In the Hemingway book, Santiago starts out poor and ends up poorer. However, in the course of the story, he tests himself to the limit. We see his strength, courage, humility, nobility, and hopeful spirit. Each time we take a step closer to who we really are we get stronger. So my thought would be, if you can’t take big steps toward your goal now, take small ones. As with all goals (including writing YA fiction), time is your friend. So to teens who are struggling, I say be patient, practice, persevere, believe in yourself. Never give up.

Conrad Wesselhoeft worked as a tugboat hand in Singapore and Peace Corps Volunteer in Polynesia before embarking on a career in journalism. He has served on the editorial staffs of five newspapers, including The New York Times. He is the author of the young adult novels Adios, Nirvana (Houghton Mifflin, 2010) and Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly (Houghton Mifflin, 2014).





3 Comments on Interview With YA Author Conrad Wesselhoeft, last added: 7/7/2014
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14. Smudge by Smudge Writing Comparison


floydIMG_1417 (2)Writer illustrator Floyd Cooper awed the crowd of writers and visual artists at the SCBWI New Jersey conference on Saturday, when he stood before us all with an eraser in one hand. He had painted a flat rectangular surface with a thin layer of brown. He held that up before us, then proceeded to create right before our eyes.

A smudge of an eraser left a faint whitish dot at the top of the canvas. Another smudge created a thin path of lightness. Then, the artist’s hands moving faster and faster, a smudge here, a smudge there, and just like that, we all could see shapes lurking behind the brown shadows. With each new smudge the shapes grew fuller, bursting out of their flat confines.

“This little shape can become inspiration,” Floyd said. “It can lead to something, become a door.”

More smudges, and the shapes connected into a face of a man. More smudges, and the man sported a Native-American style feather atop his head.

The way Floyd worked reminded me of the famous quote attributed to Michelangelo, about how he would chip away at what wasn’t his statute, until he was left with what was. And whether you are a sculptor, a visual artist or a writer, if you have been through draft after draft after draft, then you might recognize this process in your own work.

After all, is this not what we do?

When we first approach our story-to-be, much of that fictional world is covered by darkness. We stand before it, blind. Some of us write character sketches, free write or outline, others plunge right into a draft, not daunted by not knowing. Either way, we grope toward the truths of our stories. Until – in this draft, in that passage, in this questionnaire, we stumble at a kernel of truth, a discovery that illuminates the darkness a little. Now going forward might be just a little easier. As we follow our smudges where they lead us, we can’t help but see new shapes.

We writers wield erasers too. As we kill our darlings and prune our weeds, we get rid of the false, the shallow, the surface, the un-true. And what we are suddenly left with – is our story.

Thank you, Floyd, for not only the sheer pleasure of watching you work, but also for the reminder to us all to keep doing what we’re doing, to keep searching, keep revising, keep on going, smudge by smudge.

katia Paramount building close-upAnd Thank you Katia for sharing your thoughts with us and making us think.

<Katia Raina came to this country from the former Soviet Union at the age of 15, and quickly fell in love with the English language. Once a newspaper reporter, now Katia is an intern for a literary agency, with plans to continue her career on that side of the publishing desk as well. In addition, Katia writes young adult novels and poetry. Enrolled in her final semester at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, Katia loves sharing what she is learning with faithful readers and friends over at her blog, the Magic Mirror. You can find her there at http://katiaraina.wordpress.com

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: article, authors and illustrators, inspiration, Process Tagged: Floyd Cooper, Illustrating to Writing commparison, Katia Rainia, Smudge by Smudge

3 Comments on Smudge by Smudge Writing Comparison, last added: 7/9/2014
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15. Illustrator Saturday – Connie Steiner


conniePic240Born in Philadelphia, Connie Colker Steiner graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the University of Pennsylvania. For many years she lived in Winnipeg where she contributed verse and artwork to Canadian Sesame Street. The words were set to music and the pictures shown sequentially. These vignettes were aired across the U.S. and Canada and around the world. She is the author and/or illustrator of several children’s picture books, including On Eagles’ Wings and Other Things, Paul’s New Ears, In Other Words and the award-winning Shoes for Amelie. Connie and her husband, Mark, now reside in southern New Jersey.

Here is Connie explaining her process:


This was for a magazine. I started out with a sketch and block were the text will be.


Then I used color pencils to try out the colors.


Here is the final illustration done in watercolor.


This is the cover of Shoes for Amelie. You will read more about this during the interview.


The cover of In Other Words. More about this book in the interview.


Sketch of “On Eagle Wings” book cover.


Final Cover of On Eagle Wings. Below is the cover of Paul’s New Ears.


When did you first know you wanted to create art?

I don’t remember a time when mark-making, drawing, a little later painting, wasn’t a big part of life. The other children and the adults around me kind of assumed that that’s what I was going to do, and I didn’t disagree.


How long have you been illustrating?

People in action fascinated me. The people that filled the sheets of shelf paper my mother       provided were usually children. I also liked drawing mothers and babies. The mothers were tall with alarming bumps on the fronts of their chests, high heels on their feet and stockings held up by garters. (I wish I could find these.) The children were usually whatever age I was when I was drawing them. They got older as I got older, and were often involved in ongoing narratives. Some stories came from books or other outside sources. Others I was concocting as I went along – little private soap operas populated by juveniles. You could call this proto- illustration and it was in full swing by kindergarten.


What was the first thing you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

Canadian Sesame Street was the first place that paid me for artwork. I was thirty-one.

Fancy Goldfish

I see that you attended Tyler Art College in Philadelphia, PA, but then left for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and then the University of Pennsylvania. What made you attend three schools?

Tyler, Temple University’s art school had a design orientation. I needed the atmosphere of an atelier and found it in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. As for the University of Pennsylvania, I didn’t decide to go to a third school. The Academy awarded diplomas but not college degrees. They set up a program with Penn for those of their students who wanted, and were willing to work for, a BFA.

BucketcroppedWhat types of classes did you like the most?

After the first year, students could choose whether their major would be painting, sculpture or printmaking. If you were a painting major, as I was, you painted every day for half the day, in oil or acrylics, portrait, nude or still life. The other half of the day was spent drawing the nude in charcoal. (Everyone, no matter what the major was, drew for half the day.) I had two very inspiring drawing teachers. One was Marshall Glazier, who could start with a big toe, and by getting the relationships – the angles, the spaces between, just right – would wind up with a completely convincing figure, done entirely in line, with no shading. The other was George Sklar. His marvelous, swift, Zen-like drawings of animals at the Philadelphia Zoo can still be found in books that collect great drawings. Mr. Glazier emphasized line. Mr. Sklar had us trying to capture the solidity of the forms through tones of charcoal that were darkest on the frontal planes and got lighter going back. Neither was an “academic” sort of teacher. Their classrooms produced a fusion of freedom, intensity and varieties of expression. At graduation I won the George Sklar Prize for Life Drawing, named in honor of his memory.


Did the School help you get work?

No. A few mature and advanced students were mentored with an eye to the galleries. But it wasn’t part of the program to offer career advice, and most of the young, naïve student body didn’t presume to ask. A few were wise and committed enough to go on for their MFAs, or to New York for the support and stimulation of a critical mass of artists.


7. Do you feel that the classes you took in college have influenced you style?

Individual teachers, such as the painter Hobson Pittman, encouraged the painterliness that was natural to me, and also my sympathetic feeling for subject matter. I learned to look longer and see better and developed a conscious appreciation of abstract qualities. Not least important, there was an atmosphere of connection to the great art of the past. So yes, I hope these experiences influenced my illustration style, although I’m aware that illustration can have quite different goals from non-illustrative painting. But as for the figures of children in my storybook pictures, they have roots that precede art school and are only partly affected by my education.


How did you find your first art related job?

My first art related job, at seventeen, was teaching the children of my parents’ friends in our finished basement. That took a little nerve, now that I think about it. It was my mother’s idea. Maybe she wanted to make sure I knew how to do something. During art school I sold art supplies at Gimbels department store and was an art counselor at summer camp.

Lady Bugs


What made you decide that you wanted to illustrate for children?

Somehow I always thought of doing it.


What was the first illustration work you did for children? How did that come about?

My first professional illustration work was with Sesame Street.  As for how that came about look ahead to (See four answers down).


What was your first picture book published?

My first picture book, “On Eagles’ Wings and Other Things”, was published in 1987. (The Dark Ages!)

Umbrella 1

How did that come about?  What made you decide to write and illustrate that book?

I had taken my portfolio to NYC two years before. David Adler, author of the Cam Jensen series, was Children’s Book editor of the Jewish Publication Society at that time. This was my very first appointment with anyone in publishing and he wanted to get me started on a picture book. Talk about beginner’s luck. He suggested that I look at picture books of general interest and model my efforts on something that could be adapted to the needs of his company. I chose “The Philharmonic Gets Dressed” by Karla Kuskin. It followed the members of the NY Philharmonic as they washed, dressed, and transported themselves and their instruments from all points in the city to converge on the concert stage. I thought about the Jewish children who had travelled from widely dispersed places throughout the world to the new State of Israel soon after its rebirth. Instead of coming together on a stage like the musicians, they would find themselves together at last in a Jerusalem playground. Influenced by the many characters in the Kuskin story, I imagined a dozen children. David Adler swiftly pared it down to six, then four. The story of each child was complicated compared to performers getting dressed and taking the subway or the taxi. In the end , “Eagles’ Wings” was a very different book from the one that inspired it.


How did you end up working for Canadian Sesame Street?

Having moved to Winnipeg with my family in 1980, I learned that Sesame Street maintained an office downtown in the CBC building. This was a show my children and I watched together. Was it possible that I might contribute to it? I phoned, they agreed to look at my work, and seemed to like what they saw. However, they were only looking for a writer. Would I be willing to come up with a few lines and some sketches their animators could develop? Sure, why not. Several weeks later I handed in a French verse about dancing, along with pencil sketches of a little girl in tights and leotard. Eventually it was on TV – my words set to music, accompanied by my own watercolor illustrations shown as stills. This was the first of seventeen vignettes I would do for them over a fifteen year period.

Dog walk

What made you move to Canada?

My husband, Mark, accepted a job as a Reading Clinician with the Child Guidance Clinic in Winnipeg. In those years they hadn’t enough homegrown specialists. For us it was an adventure. I’d never been to Canada, or west of Pittsburgh.

Umbrella 2cropped

When and why did you move back to the States?

Paradoxically, living in Canada increased my awareness of America, my interest in the culture and history of my original country. From above I could see it whole and put myself in the shoes of observers who were almost totally indistinguishable from Americans but weren’t Americans. There’s a saying – to see ourselves as others see us. Even after becoming dual citizens in 1995, I felt myself to be an American in Canada. Never mind that in summer our cousins called our family “the Canadians”. And we did come home to New Jersey every summer so our children could go on the beach and watch the Fourth of July fireworks with their grandparents. I didn’t expect to be away forever.

In 1990 my father died. Twelve years later, my mother could not be left alone. Her short term memory was becoming dangerously unreliable. For a year and a half she stayed with us up north. In 2005 we did what seemed the most right thing and brought her back to Margate. The three of us managed together in the family home for the next two years – the rest of her life.

Mark and I had lived in Canada for two and a half decades. We were used to the cold winters and ice that put dents in everyone’s cars, the bundling up, the boots that came off in the “mud rooms” of every home, the good natured, down to earth people, English and French, Ukrainian, Filipino, Native Canadian and more, well mannered in every walk of life. Not to mention parks and ice skating on the river, affordable housing, affordable education, affordable high culture, and universal health care that was better than affordable. Necessary appointments and procedures required no out-of-pocket payments. Winnipeg, its prairie sky and the friends we made there, will stay a part of us.


What was your illustrating first success?

That would have to be Sesame Street. The atmosphere at the Winnipeg office was easy and informal. (Although headquarters were in Montreal and Toronto, branches were set up in cities across Canada. I noticed that there was an interest, generally – not just with Sesame Street – in having artists develop in their regions as well as in the greater centers.) I was encouraged by Dave Strang, the art director, the music director who literally made my words sing, I wish I could remember his name, and my wonderful producers, Pat Kent and later Ernie Zuk.


It looks like you wrote and illustrate another picture book, PAULS NEW EARS. Can you tell us how you came up with the story and how you found a publisher?

I wrote a poem for the CBC about my son who, as a first grader, was upset by a haircut that revealed his previously camouflaged ears. His ears weren’t unusual. He just wasn’t used to seeing them. Later I added to the story and moved it away from verse. I sent a dummy and the manuscript, called “Paul’s New Ears”, to Peguis, a local publisher, who accepted it. Not long after, at a writers’ convention in Winnipeg, I met the editor of a Winnipeg French publishing house, “Les Editions du Ble”. His company decided to co-publish a French version of the story, “Droles d’oreilles”. Literally that means “funny ears” but is a colloquial expression meaning something like “how odd”. As critics pointed out, the story isn’t so much about ears, but about accepting inevitable change, accepting yourself.


Where you working with Canada Sesame Street while creating these books?



How many picture books have you illustrated?

I illustrated three picture books, two of which I wrote. I wrote a fourth book which I didn’t illustrate.

1 (2)

How did the publisher find you to illustrate IN OTHER WORDS?

I sent copies of my work to Annick Press in Toronto. Rick Wilks, the publisher, thought I might illustrate a manuscript then under discussion called “A Herd of Wild Bikes”. I’d already developed my first drawings when the publisher and author fell out of harmony. A few months later, I think, Rick Wilks sent me the manuscript, “In Other Words” by John C. Walker. It is a fantasy involving visitors from outer space and telepathic communication. A boy and girl with profound disabilities find a special connection in each other, and somehow attract the interest of well-meaning voyagers from another planet. It’s a story about friendship, finding meaning and delight in the world when much is closed off, and deciding what really matters.



Then you wrote a chapter book titled, SHOES FOR AMELIE. What inspired that story? 

By chance I read a book, “Lest Innocent Blood be Shed”, by Philip Hallie. It was a true and truly amazing account of a mostly Protestant region in France that became a safe haven for Jews during the Second World War. Approximately five thousand refugees, not only from within France but coming from across Europe, were sheltered there. No one, even now, knows exactly why the Germans didn’t crush it. They knew about it. There were several raids, one with fatal effects. Toward the end of the war, a convalescent house for wounded German soldiers operated directly across the street from a nest of Resistance fighters. But the inspiration behind the villagers’ and farmers’ courage came not from armed resistance but from the leadership of their pacifist minister. Andre Trocme guided his congregants from the pulpit, never spelling out instructions, to individually do the right thing. It helped that the area was remote, high, forested, and severe in winter. And the people, who throughout their history had suffered oppression and aided others in need, knew how to be quiet. None of the locals ever turned informer.

After seeing the documentary, “Weapons of the Spirit”, by Pierre Sauvage, I sensed a children’s book could be coaxed from these events. What would it be like, I wondered, to be a child, a boy about nine, whose mother brings a young guest into their tiny farmhouse – a girl perhaps eleven years old. You know she is being hidden, though no one told you and questions aren’t encouraged. How would you make sense of it? Through this wondering I came to write about Lucien and Amelie.


Have you ever won any awards? 

“Shoes for Amelie” won the McNally Robinson Book for Young People Award, and was chosen as a Notable Children’s Book of Jewish Content by the American Jewish Library Association. It was shortlisted for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People, and also shortlisted for the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children. It was an Our Choice Book of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre in Toronto. “On Eagles’ Wings and Other Things” was also an Our Choice Book.


It looks like you write poems, too. Have any of those been published?

“The Little Artist”, along with my illustration, was published by Spider Magazine. “Night You Have Strict Orders” was in Cricket. The lyrics I wrote for Sesame Street began as poems on a page. I’m not sure if using them – there were fourteen – on TV counts as being published.


Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines? 

Only the one thing for Spider. So far.


What is your favorite medium to use? 

I usually work in transparent watercolor, often combined with ink, watercolor pencil, crayon. Sometimes I use gouache, meaning opaque watercolor, over the transparent paint. For Sesame Street I created cut-out collages in gouache.


Has that changed over time?

I’m working with the same basic materials. But for each new project I bring a different emphasis, change the proportions, or introduce a new product or technique. For example, in “Song of an Inuit Child” (Sesame St.), I combined colored pencils (not soluble) with permanent felt-tip markers. Before that I had only used that kind of pencil for texture. I also incised the paper in places with the tip of a brush handle, leaving white line on the page when the pencil moves across the depression. Recently I discovered brush pens. They are permanent but have absolutely no odor, show up well under and over watercolor, and since there’s no dipping and dripping, can go anywhere.


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

A medium to soft pencil. Without it I couldn’t begin.


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

I’m forever seeking to establish a predictable schedule, with variable results. But when I’m working on a book, either writing or illustrating, I’ll be at my table most weekdays for two stretches a day, each two to three hours. It might be mornings and late afternoons, or after lunch to about four and then again after dinner. Or some days I’m back and forth with the work all day. I take short breaks while working and try to get outside, so I don’t get stiff, either in my body or my work. At some time each day, a long walk is important, not only for exercise but to allow the mind to relax and appreciate sights, sounds, smells. This is also a time when creative work gets done in an effortless way, when solutions are found or ideas show up without my being aware I’m looking for them. Or they don’t. But as Leonard Cohen says, everybody knows….(in this case, that these are the things artists do when they’re working.)


Are you open to illustrating a book that you haven’t written?

If it’s a book that I’m writing and hope to illustrate I would look for the kind of publisher that pays the author rather than the other way around. Even if it’s a long wait. Even if the publisher turns out to want another illustrator. Even if nothing happens for the book. I understand many people feel differently, especially now, with e-books and books issued inexpensively in very small editions. I value the editing, the distribution, especially to libraries, the opportunity to be reviewed and considered for awards, that regular publishing houses provide. Things are changing, I know, and I might not feel this way in the future. Even now, I remember you said self-publishing an e-book might make sense for an out-of-print book. It might.

But you were actually asking whether I would illustrate a self-publishing author’s book, not my own. It would depend…on my reactions to the manuscript, my rapport with the author, the terms under which I would be working. At any rate, I would be honored to be asked.


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

I love beginning an illustration project because of the research. It allows me to dream and draw my way into the characters, the place and the story. I go to libraries and talk to librarians. They are usually eager to help and have the competence to offer great suggestions. Today, images online are easily available. I’ll use the internet in addition to, not instead of, tangible books and flesh and blood librarians. And if possible, I like to observe real people, real animals, walk down actual streets and enjoy the challenge of translating a three dimensional world onto flat paper.

Most of the time you can do both. For “Eagles’ Wings”, my neighbors’ children playacted some of the scenes. My husband took photos as they held their positions, and I made sketches. Later I drew from the photos. I drew from photos in books and traveled to New York to draw from archives that couldn’t be moved from the museum that housed them. ( Nothing beat studying the real kids.) Then, I put it all aside. The pictures that appeared in my book were quick and spontaneous, the results of months of preparation.

For writing, which always comes first with me, it’s a similar process, except I’m reading and taking notes instead of drawing. Sometimes I’m talking with people, asking questions. I might be doing this after beginning the book, or long before I start, or both. A book like “Paul’s New Ears”, rooted in experiences with my family, required no research to write. Or you could say the research happened by itself, without my being aware of it. On the other hand, “Shoes for Amelie” took a great deal of research. I felt it was important to travel to Le Chambon in France where the story was set. Fortunately, I received grants from the Canada Council, the Manitoba Arts Council and the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba. The money took the sting out of travel expenses, but even more appreciated was the sense that my benefactors endorsed the project and had confidence I could follow through.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

The internet makes possible all the websites we enjoy, including the new one you developed for me. As for doors opening, we’ll have to see. It must also depend on how well artists adapt and make themselves available to opportunity.


Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?



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



What are you working on now?

Two books are nearing the point of presentation. One is a middle grade chapter book featuring two cat detectives. The other is a picture book about the same Paul as in “Paul’s New Ears”. A third book is in the early stages. It takes one of the cat characters from the detective story and places her in an up-scale boarding school for gifted feline girls. Well, some of the girls go home after school but lots of them live there.



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

I like to try different ways of using watercolor and combining it with other media, as I mentioned in Questions 26 and 27. Derwent makes a watercolor pencil of unusual intensity, almost like ink. It’s called, not surprisingly, Inktense. Neocolor 1 is a color-rich, water resistant crayon that glides onto paper like butter. Neocolor 2 is the water soluble version. Both are products of Caran d’Ache, the company that makes the brush pens I love. Another fun way to draw is to use wide tongue depressors, split vertically in half. Dipped in India ink, they become expressive, economical pens. They draw lines of great variety in width, texture and value. If you teach children or adults, it’s a very freeing experience for them.

Here’s a how-to tip. A way to get confidence about drawing a figure when you can’t be looking at it, especially action figures, is to feel the motion in your own body. Convince yourself you can do it and draw with that conviction. Even if the figure looks strange, it will be interesting and carry the authority of coming from you. I know this sounds like Professor Harold Hill from “ The Music Man” teaching kids to play band instruments with the “think” system. Yes, he was a fraud, but didn’t they all play “Seventy-six Trombones” at the end?

Hobson Pittman, who was a great teacher, often said, “Exactness isn’t always the truth.” That is so even when you’re struggling to capture the figure in a Life Drawing class. And signing up for one of those classes is never a bad idea, as long as you’re in sync with the teacher’s ideas, or can learn to be. There are also groups that meet without a teacher.


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

Find books on artists, children’s book artists but others, too, for whom you feel kinship, and immerse yourself in their work. See which artists inspired them. The same goes for writers if you’re a writer. And read, especially if you’re a writer. A critic once remarked of a certain Canadian prime minister’s wife who authored a memoir, that it appeared she’d written more books than she’d read. (She had written one book.) Read enough and, say what they will, they won’t say that.

Make sure you have wise, astute and supportive people in your corner, because there is usually lots of rejection, which can cause dejection. Dr. Seuss’s first book almost never saw the light of day, it had been turned down so many times. He picked up the manuscript at one of those publishers’ places and was walking away when, on the street, he bumped into a friend who worked in publishing. The friend took the manuscript from him, showed it to his employer, and that’s how the book came to be published. I don’t remember the details.

Try to carve out time and space to work regularly. But remember that some people can get a lot done on the wing, in fragmented bits of time, on a daily commute (though I hope not while driving), or in the midst of an active family.

Refresh yourself with nature and music. Take a challenging class with an inspiring teacher. Join SCBWI. Go to a SCBWI conference.


Thank you Connie for sharing your process, journey, and expertise with us. We look forward to hearing about your future successes.

To see more of Connie’s illustrations you can visit her at: http://www.conniesteiner.com/

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

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, awards, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, picture books, Process Tagged: Canadian Sesame Street, Connie Steiner, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Shoes for Amelie, University of Pennsylvania.

2 Comments on Illustrator Saturday – Connie Steiner, last added: 7/5/2014
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16. Guest Post: Shifting from Nonfiction to Fiction

Writing Life Banner


Rachel Toor

Note from Sooz: Rachel did a guest post on running tips over on the #YARunsA5K tumblr, and can I just say? Great advice! I totally followed them, and for the first time in my life, I’m actually enjoying jogging. Needless to say, I was delighted when Rachel agreed to do a guest post about writing over here on Pub(lishing) Crawl.

To celebrate having Rachel stop by, we’ve got a giveaway running below for her debut novel, On The Road to Find Out.

Rachel ToorIn high school and the first part of college I used to justify bad, outrageous, or downright dangerous behavior by quipping that I was simply collecting material for my novel. Hitchhiking by myself through the south of France, going into Ed Koch-era Central Park at night to make out with a boy, riding an untrained horse, drinking way too much grain alcohol and Kool-Aid—surely I’d be able to put those experiences to good fictional use some day.

The truth is, after a couple of years at Yale I felt so small, so undereducated, so dull and untalented that I knew I would never have the guts to do something as audacious as write a novel. By the time I began working in publishing I no longer wanted to be the center of attention. While I loved reading fiction, I felt I understood how nonfiction worked. When asked if I ever wanted to write a novel I’d respond by saying that I have no imagination.

And that’s still true. I am not a hugely imaginative person. As an essayist, I’ve learned be an astute observer, at least of some things. My BFF will tell you that I’m visually stunted and simply don’t notice most things that require eyesight. I flew over Mt. Everest and didn’t see it. The only thing that makes me feel okay about this deficit is that John McPhee, one of my nonfiction idols, has said the same thing about himself.

After a dozen years I left publishing, went downwardly mobile, and got an entry-level job in undergraduate admissions at Duke University. Working in admissions I realized I loved hanging out with teenagers. Around the same time I started running and experienced things I wanted to write about—my first published piece was on sobbing my way through the Race for the Cure. When I left admissions (do you detect the restlessness, the need to move from the known world?), and felt kind of dirty because the process is so brutal, I wrote about book about that.

Then I wrote a memoir that my agent sold with a pitch that went something like this: “Rachel gets an animal (mouse, rat, dog, cat, horse, donkey, pig) and starts dating a man. The animal dies and Rachel dumps the man. And this happens over, and over, and over again.” That’s not precisely what the book does, but it’s close enough.

Just before the book came out I joked that after it was published I was never going to get another date. She put her hand on my arm, scrunched her face up with concern, and said, “Rachel, that’s true.” For a few years, I dated men who couldn’t read.

In my early forties I went to grad school, scored a great teaching job, and nabbed a contract from a good university press for a collection of my previously published essays about running. Easy! Just what I needed for tenure! I asked four of my undergraduate students to read the manuscript, figuring I would make them feel good about themselves. They told me that it wasn’t a book. I cursed them for 27 seconds and I started again from the beginning and wrote a book that could explain to my mother, who was then dying of cancer, why I loved running so much.

When I thought about a next project, I could not bear to write about myself again. I was sick of the first-person personal. I was sick of myself.

The obvious next step for me was a book about rats. (See above, under zig-zagging paths that don’t really make sense). I did a ton of research and worked for a year on the proposal. Finally, my agent sent it out. We got an early offer that I wasn’t crazy about and interest from a huge commercial house. I wanted to write a book that looked at the ways bigotry and prejudice require ignorance to thrive; I wanted to showcase all these cool things I’d learned about rats; I wanted to look the serious—and still hotly debated—question of whether animals have emotions.

The editor and her publicity and marketing team asked me questions and got excited.

They said, “We could make rats the new ‘It’ pet.”

I said, Um….”

They said, “Do you have a rat?”

I said, “Um, as I said in the proposal, my rat Iris died.”

They said, “Can you get a new one by the time the book is out?”

I said, “Um, I have a dog with a strong prey drive and I’m not sure—”

They said, “Can you borrow a rat when the book comes out?”

At that moment I had visions of myself going on Stephen Colbert with a rat on my shoulder and him saying, “Plague?” I didn’t want to become the crazy rat lady. I had to figure out if I was willing to write the book they wanted. I wasn’t.

At the same time I’d gotten an email from an editor at FSG who’d just read my running book and wanted to know if I’d ever considered writing a YA novel about a teenage girl who decides to start running.

I told him I couldn’t write fiction.

He convinced me to try. I did.

Having worked in publishing, I know how important it is to have a platform, and how you need to grow and cultivate a readership. I haven’t done a very good job at that. My writing career has been, at best, non-linear. The professor gig allows me to try new things and not rely on book sales for income (which is a good thing, because there were years when I ate popcorn for dinner). If I didn’t have tenure, I’m not sure I would have been brazen enough to try to write a novel.

The amazing thing is how much fun this whole ride has been. Writing fiction and nonfiction is similar and completely different. In the MFA program where I teach (nonfiction) people like to say that the fiction writers are the ones who write about themselves and their real lives and the nonfiction writers make shit up. Like many things people like to say, that’s both true and an exaggeration. I’m not a nonfiction writer who’s ever been comfortable making shit up. With my second book (the one about loving animals and men), my agent would say, “What if this happened?” I’d say, “That would be great for the narrative, BUT IT DIDN’T HAPPEN!” When you’re writing about real people, you just can’t do that. With the novel, my editor would say, “What if this happened?” and I’d say, “Cool!” or, “That’s not quite right but I could do this, which would serve the same purpose.”

It was great fun to put some of my personal predilections into my characters’ heads (a preference for all things mini, an explanation of the hierarchy of  “pocket pets,” a rant about the ways that shape affects taste in things like candy or pretzels) and also explore ideas and things that I don’t really cotton to (being a basketball fan or playing golf).

One of the real pleasures of writing this novel was being able to introduce nonfiction elements into it. One of my fiction colleagues says he likes stories that “bring the news.” Me too—I love to learn things from novels. I wanted to write a book that would help students and their parents think through the whole college admissions process, would let me use some of my rat research, and would inspire—I hope—girls and women who don’t think of themselves as athletes to lace up some running shoes, pull on some jeggings, and go out for a run.

The novel allowed me to use parts of my three previous nonfiction books to tell a story that feels more important to me than my own life. It may come off as preachy or sentimental and some people won’t like my sometimes-annoying main character Alice, won’t relate to her struggles, or might not understand how a person could be in love with someone the size of a hot dog bun. But the truth is, I wrote the book I wanted to read.

Thank you SO MUCH for stopping by Pub(lishing) Crawl and for giving us your sage advice in the #YARunsA5K fundraiser.

Now, for all you readers out there, don’t miss the giveaway! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form to be entered. :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

On the Road to Find OutRachel Toor
 is a prolific running writer for magazines like Running Times and Shape, and she is also associate professor of Creative Writing at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers in Spokane, the graduate writing program of Eastern Washington University.

On the Road to Find Out is her YA debut, about a high school senior who faces real rejection for the first time in her life and reaches redemption through running.

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17. Attacking A Conference


This illustration by Eric Sailer was in the NJSCBWI Art Show and was the winner of the Unpublished Illustrator award. Congratulations, Eric! eric.s.sailer@gmail.com

erikaphoto-45Hi there. Jersey Farm Scribe here on…

Attacking A Conference

This past weekend was the NJ SCBWI conference. It was my first. So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and experiences with you all.

First part of a conference that has to be attacked…

Actually Registering!

You can’t get anything out of a conference, if you don’t go.

Are they cheap? No. They’re not. And to be honest, as a simple farm girl, it wasn’t a small nut for me. But all jobs have their expenses. I buy feed for my piglets. This is feed for my writing. (And remember, even if you’re not published, talk to your accountant about deducting the conference cost, hotel and travel.)

So I was determined to go. A few days after registration opened, I looked at my husband and said, ”I’m going to stop THINKING about registering and just go register.” Then I said, “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

And three hours later, I had completed registration.

The conference had so many amazing options. On top of choosing which workshops to sign up for, we had the options of which of the amazing list of agents and editors to pitch to, eat with, various opportunities for one-on-ones and even peer critiques.

After researching which agents and editors I thought I was a good match to stalk – I mean be around, I was excited to have registered!

Then, a few days before the conference came the part I didn’t expect:

Feeling like I didn’t deserve to go.

Who do I think I am, going to a “writer’s conference”??? I’m not good enough to be a REAL writer.

To be painfully up front with you all, it’s a good thing it wasn’t something that you paid for at the door, because I may have chickened out.

I have tomatoes to plant anyway, and I have to get that sheep fence fixed!

The excuses were just FLYING out of me. I was nervous and antsy and felt like I had absolutely no business being there.

Putting on my big-girl boots and getting over it.

I got in the car early Saturday morning and told myself… this is one of those times you just have to act braver than you are. MANY writers, published or not, feel like they don’t deserve their acclaim.

But I knew I had to get past that in order to get the most of the weekend.

And walking down the ominous skywalk into the check-in area, I decided to officially leave the frightened, non-deserving part of me completely behind.

And within moments I was swept up into the whirlwind that is the NJ SCBWI conference, with amazingly friendly faces, positive encouragement and more information than you could possibly imagine.

Agent & Editor Interactions

This is my biggest take-away that I feel I can pass on. Here’s the big secret:

They’re people!

Who’d have thunk??

And while I’m not saying not to tell them the concept of your book or the super special twist on your novel, what I am saying is: be able to talk about other things as well.

(I’m not sure what the protocol would be to mention names here, so I’ll just say:) I had a great time chatting with an agent, an editor and a fellow author during a social time Saturday night after the comedian. I wasn’t pitching. And I wasn’t looking for an opportunity to pitch. We were just talking. It wasn’t an agent, an editor and two authors. It was four people.

I’m going to call myself out here:

Before this, I had seen agents and editors as these all-knowing, powerful beings that step in and make exciting things happen, or not happen.

While I’m still in awe of their wealth of knowledge, and grateful for all I learned from them, I think I broke down the mental wall in my mind. They’re people.

And (at least the ones I met) REALLY nice, laid back, fun people. They like books! So we have at least some similar interests.

And they have HARD jobs. A few of them confided in me that they don’t love the level of spotlight attention they’re given at conferences sometimes. But they all handle it with grace. When the editor sat down at our lunch table, people stopped mid-chew and all 14 eyeballs darted up towards her. But she introduced herself (even though we all knew who she was) sat down and seamlessly laughed at the length of the line for food.

I can honestly say that I had a wonderful time getting to know some of the agents and editors at the convention on a personal level. And I truly think that’s important.

But of course, when you are pitching…

Be honest. Be specific. Be READY!

Have the CONCEPT readily pitch-able. I learned a great way to think of concept in Jill Corcoran’s workshop. It’s not just the plot, the story, the characters. It’s why should someone read it? The same way you’d try to convince someone to go see a movie. People say, “what’s it about?” But really, what they mean is, “why do I want to see it?”

Cut the fluff.

Words like “adventurous” “mysterious” or “changes everything” (ALL of which were in my pitch on Saturday morning) don’t hold any real meaning.

I guess what it comes down to is that we need to be showing and not telling in our pitch, just as much as in our manuscript.

Everyone thinks their book is a “page-turner”. So that doesn’t give them any information. Tell them WHY. Use specifics. Use adjectives that matter. “Memorable” doesn’t cut it. Use an adjective that describes why she’s memorable instead.


I don’t just mean be ready to pitch. I mean be ready to hear the feedback, positive AND negative. And embrace them BOTH.

These are high-level professionals. I was very lucky to have their feedback. They’re not pointing out fault for their own sake. It doesn’t matter to them in the least. When they pointed out my faults, they were doing it for my sake, so I could improve.

And improve I did.

I had more “ah-ha!” and “I never thought of that” moments in those two days than I can count.

An example you ask? Well, I learned about the importance of drawling the reader in at the end of every chapter.

So I’ll give you a few examples of some of the most important, tangible things I learned in my next post. 

Erika, another great article, so glad you are on my team!

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: article, Conferences and Workshops, illustrating, inspiration, Kudos Tagged: 2014 NJSCBWI Conference, Eric Sailer, Juried Art Show

9 Comments on Attacking A Conference, last added: 7/4/2014
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18. What Do You Do With An Idea? By Kobi Yamada | Book Review

What Do You Do With An Idea? is about a boy who has an idea, illustrated as a golden crowned egg with legs. The boy wonders about the peculiar golden biped; its origins, its purpose, its place in the world.

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19. The Childhood Edit

erikaphoto-45Hi there. Erika Wassall, Jersey Farm Scribe here.

Everyone has people in their lives that have encouraged their writing, whether it be through praise, presenting of information, or a wide variety of other means. In honor of father’s day, I wanted to talk about one of mine.

My dad is an English major.

And while yes, that was his major in college, it was more than that, he is an English major in his blood and in his heart. And it showed.

From a very young age, everything myself or my brother wrote for school was read over by my father.

And unwaveringly came back DRIPPING with red pen corrections.

My brother, would shrug or roll his eyes and say “okay.” He would go back, make most of the corrections, and move on with his day.

Me?… Not so much.

I would kick and scream about every change he had made.

Why is that any better?? 

But that’s not even what I meant!!! 

And of course, the infamous:


My dad would calmly explain why he made the changes, strike-outs or “suggestions” that he did, and say things like:

There’s too many words here. 

You don’t need that line. 

What is this really adding?

And the more calm he was, the more upset I became.

Most of the time, this exercise ended with me crying, my dad frustrated and my mom stepping in and playing the mediator as she explained to me that Dad was just trying to help, and to my dad that I was only in second grade and didn’t necessarily need to write like a journalist.

As I got older and started to FEEL like a grownup, I stopped giving him my papers to read. Then when I got older and actually grew up, I took advantage of every opportunity I had to get his feedback on anything I wrote. And still do.

But it’s more than that.

I HEAR him when I write. 

I hadn’t realized that when we debated about my use of verbs, I was learning how to write for an audience, when he pulled words I didn’t need, he was showing me how to watch my word count. And when we inevitably fought tooth and nail over cutting out what always seemed to be my absolute favorite lines, he was teaching me the importance of killing my darlings.

Often when revising my work, I come to a line that I know COULD be better, I’m just not sure HOW. And I will consciously run through my mind the advise he gave me years ago sitting at our kitchen table.

Are my verbs not active enough? 

Am I repeating the same thought somewhere else? 

Do I even need that line?

Certainly there were extremes. Hand written Christmas cards don’t necessarily need grammatical corrections or comments about where I left out a comma. And I’m unquestionably grateful for the balance of my mother’s support, who thought everything I ever wrote was simply beautiful the way it was.

But tears and all, I don’t think there is anything in my life that has shaped my writing as much as those hours spent arguing with my dad about what words we could remove and how something could be made clearer to the reader.

I’m glad I didn’t just accept his corrections at face value. Questioning them and never giving up an inch without a fight, is where the learning crystallized for me.

I’m glad he didn’t give in, even when he knew the flood of tears were right around the corner. Hearing it so many times is what engrained it in my brain.

I’m glad to always have the voice of my father in my ear as I write.   The balance of that, combined with my own childhood voice is a constantly morphing mold of the writer I am today.

Who or what do you hear in the back of your mind as you write? Was there a parent, teacher, neighbor who helped you find your voice or build your confidence? I’d love to hear about those in your life who encouraged your writing along the way.

Thank you Erika. I love your post. It seems so fitting, since we just celebrated all our father’s (living and remembered). Makes me think Sunday with your Dad inspired you.

Talk tomorrow,



Filed under: article, authors and illustrators, inspiration Tagged: Erika Wassall, Learning from Dad, Remembering what you learned in childhood, The Childhood Edit

9 Comments on The Childhood Edit, last added: 6/19/2014
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20. The Writing Life

I came late to the family of I.N.K. bloggers, and the fatigue of posting hasn’t quite caught up to me yet. Even so I’ve marveled at the creativity and fortitude of the old-timers. You’ve made it look easy to create fresh, thought-provoking material. Well done, everyone!

One frequent question children ask me during school visits is, “Do you get writer’s block?” Even young scribes have heard of this affliction.

“No,” I tell them. “I’ve got deadlines to meet. I don’t have time for writer’s block,” and I’m not just cracking a joke.

So here I sit, writing later than I’d like because I spent the day working on a deadline. Now, with the windows open and darkness newly upon us, I’m thinking about all the places where I’ve created books. Tonight I write from my fourth office space, a second-floor chamber with a wall of wooden window portals that became my creative home last year. It and my life today are miles away from the country home where I started writing when my children entered school.

I remember feeling slightly superstitious when our family moved out of this home a dozen years ago. Would I be able to write as well, or even ever again, away from the nature-inspired views of my original office? Maybe the two books I’d written from that site would become my entire body of work. When Book Number Three took forever to take form at our new city dwelling, all my anxieties seemed about to come to pass. And yet, after settling in to that 2nd-floor tree house of an office, I managed to birth not just a third book but five more.

Then came another move and another office, this one located without countryside panoramas or a tree house perch. Yet even from there, with my sons off in college and beyond, the books continued to flow. Others have followed since from my latest roost. May it always be so.

Wherever I land next, I’ll maintain a home on the Internet. These days you can find me post-I.N.K. through my website, www.AnnBausum.com, and at my Facebook author page. Plus you can watch for my upcoming title about gay rights history and the Stonewall riots of 1969, to be published next year by Viking. A 50th anniversary look at James Meredith and the 1966 March Against Fear will follow from National Geographic.

And so the writing life continues. For me. For other I.N.K.ers. For the rest of those folks who feel most at home when they ignite paper or pixels with words.

Thanks Sue Macy, Marfé Ferguson Delano, and Linda Salzman for encouraging me to join the I.N.K. family, and thanks to everyone for creating such a valuable body of work.

May the words just flow and flow for all.

Submitted by Ann Bausum

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21. Illustrator Saturday – Mary Manning

marymanningpiccroppedMary Manning is an Illustrator/ editor who specializes in the children’s market creating fun, whimsical characters with a wide range of personalities.
She works in watercolors, pen and ink, and digitally, and often use a combination of all three. If you have a project that needs to be illustrated in a professional manner, please feel free to contact her.

Client list includes: Time Inc., Red Line Editorial, Outskirts Press, Flowerpot Press, The Educational Company of Ireland, Capstone Productions, LLC, Cricket Magazine, Pearson Education, Double D Ranch.

Published Books :

Jack and the Beanstalk by Ann Malaspina
I Wish I Was A Little by Melissa Everett
When… by Frank Boylan
Hey Diddle Diddle by Melissa Everett
If… by Frank Boylan
Ten Fractured Fairy Tales by Mary Lou Williams
The Polar Bear Tanguista by Cheryl Bowdre
Maggie’s Neighborhood by Carolyn E. Grant
Christmas In Maggie’s Neighborhood by Carolyn E. Grant
Keoni’s Big Question by Patti B. Ogden
I Am Truly Loved by Cheryl Lashmit
Dubious Jack the Pumpkin King by Christopher Esing

Here is Mary Explaining her process:

I always start with a sketch, and once it’s approved, including any changes, I then transfer it to watercolor paper.

After I finish with the painting process, I then scan it, and load it into photoshop, where I finish it off digitally.  That also means cleaning it up, and making any corrections I need.  I need to be sure the resolution and sizing is correct, and also to convert the image to CMYK if needed.

marycover copy copy copy

Jack and the Beanstalk by Ann Malaspina


How long have you been interested in art?

I knew what I wanted to do before I was even able to read, really…when I was growing up, we had some books that we called “the green books”, and in them they had the work of all the “Golden Age” illustrators like Rackham, Dulac, Robinson…anyway, I would pour through them each day just to look at the illustrations, and even learned to read very early because of them.


Did you study art in college? If so, what college did you attend and what did you study?

Sadly, no…but I really wish now that I had. I try to compensate for that in any way I can, by learning as much as I can.

What was the first painting or illustration that you did for money?

Hmm…hard to remember. I think it was for a children’s magazine, and only a spot or two.


What type of job did you do right after you graduated?

I was a visual merchandise manager for many years, and my art really came into play with that kind of work, and I absolutely loved that.


Do you feel that living in the middle of the country has made it harder for you to make contacts and promote your art?

In a sense, yes, because you’re not exactly in the middle of all the action, but as long as you have internet, you can pretty much make up for that.


You mention that you are an illustrator/editor. Do you work for a book publisher?

I work for several publishers, but for now, only do some editing when I have a self-publisher who asks me to do it…and just manuscripts.


What was your first big success in illustrating?

Oh gosh…I don’t remember…I think when I got my first book out there, it was a big deal to me, and as any illustrator will tell you, it makes you feel like you finally got somewhere.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for the children’s market?

That’s something I’ve always known ;)


Once you decided that you wanted to illustrate a picture book, how long did it take you to get your first contract?

Again, that’s hard to say. I didn’t really concentrate on it full time like I wanted, so I’m sure it took a while.


Who was the publisher and how did the two of you connect?

I don’t remember the publishers name…it was some time ago…but I think she contacted me via email after seeing my work on one of the sites I use.


What do you think influenced your artistic style?

It was all the great “Golden Age” illustrators, as I mentioned above. Their work is magnificent…I thought so then, and I think so now, and they had a huge impact on my own style.


I see that you did three picture books for Flowerpot Press in 2013 and you had another come out in April with them. Did those four books take most of you time in 2013?

Hmm, I don’t know, but I’m almost sure I had other projects going on at the same time, and most likely worrying how I’d get them all done on time.


How did you get your first book with them?

I don’t remember when or how that came about…I think they might have contacted me first, but I’m not sure, and if they did, then it’s probably from seeing some of my work on one of the sites.


I am not familiar with Flowerpot Press. Can you tell us a little bit about the company?

They’re a great little publishing company, and you couldn’t ask for better people to work with! I adore working with them on projects, and because they are exceptional, I’m always very pleased with the final result. I usually work very closely with Stephanie, the art director, and she’s great.


Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own book?

Sure I do, since I also love to write, but it’s difficult to find the extra time for something like that right now. Maybe one day soon though.


Do you have an agent to represent you? If so how did you connect? If not, would you like one?

I used to have an agent, but I think it depends on each person and their needs. I don’t currently have one no, but for some, it might make things a bit easier if you’re not comfortable with things like negotiating, or dealing one on one with clients.


Are you open to illustrating a picture book for a self-published author?

Sure, and in fact, I have worked with many of them.


How many of your picture books have you illustrated?

I would have to go back and try to count…I usually try to keep my sites updated with the latest book that’s out, but I’m afraid I’ve been awful about that. Sometimes it’s just hard to know because it takes a while after the work is done before the book is actually published, and by that time, you’re on another project, so you tend to kind of forget. Usually they send me copies, so that helps! ;)


Have you worked with educational publishers?



Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?



What types of things do you do to find illustration work?

I just mainly try to keep my portfolio updated on the sites I use. The more you’re out there, the better it is, so you want to try to get yourself as visible as you can.


What is your favorite medium to use?

Watercolors mixed with digital

Has that changed over time?

Yes, somewhat. I used to work in watercolor alone.


Do you have a studio in your house?

Yes, and I spend a good part of my day there! ;)


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

I have a paintbrush that I’ve had since forever it seems, and I can’t find another quite like it. I need that silly thing!


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

I’m always working on it! There aren’t enough hours in the day!


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

No, unless I’m not sure about something, or unless it’s a time period where I need to get the clothes and such right. If I’m not sure about something, then I just scour the internet and get some pictures to give me the help I need.


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?



Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?

Yes, I do. Not only to combine the two mediums, but I need it to do all my corrections and cleaning and such. At such a high resolution, any junk on your image is going to show, so yes.


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

Always! In fact, I just bought a new one…I wore the last one out. ;)


What do you think is your biggest success so far?

Anytime you get to work with a big publisher, it’s a big deal.


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

Of course! Don’t we all want to have our own book out there on the bestseller list? ;)


What are you working on now?

Right now I’m actually on 3 books…


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

Just be sure to be wise when you buy. That brush might be horribly expensive, but you’re also going to get better results. When it comes to equipment, don’t skimp.


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

If you love it, then do everything you can to get there. Period. You need to be the best you can, and don’t ever stop trying to be better. There’s a lot of talent out there, but don’t get discouraged.


Thank you Mary for sharing your process, journey, and expertise with us. I know you will have many more successes in the future and we would love to hear about all of them, so please keep in touch.

To see more of Mary’s illustrations you can visit her at: http://www.childrensillustrators.com/illustrator-details/marym/id=1000/portfolio/

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

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, picture books, Process Tagged: Cricket Magazine, Mary Manning, Pearson Education

4 Comments on Illustrator Saturday – Mary Manning, last added: 6/22/2014
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22. Book Birthday: Grace

Hi folks, welcome to the end of this series. I've been celebrating the happy news, that the ebook version of PLUMB CRAZY from Swoon Romance has found its way onto the virtual shelves of booksellers worldwide. Try here for a copy from Amazon US. Here is Amazon UK. Here is Amazon Australia. Here is Amazon Canada. Try here for a copy for your B&N Nook . It will be available in paper in a few weeks. I hope you consider giving it a look.Currently it's only available as an ebook but for sure paper copies will be available soon.

Gorgeous sunshine calls me outside, and I want to soak some of it in. This week I 'm going to keep it short. Today I want to chat about my view of grace. It's a big universe out there and I'm sure that there are folks with a wider view. This will be about what I see in my little corner.

I have read many books that have never been published. Some of my favorite books are in this state. For whatever reason, these wonderful stories have not found their way into the hands of publishers. I have a number of manuscripts that are tucked in folders too. You put some pieces of your soul on the page when write a book. Publishing one is like your soul sprouting wings and taking off for far green pastures.

So today, I'm feeling the grace, not of movement, but of privilege. I wrote my novel because there was this ticklish feeling right under my heart that others might want to know this. Maybe it will help them along in their journey, I thought. Now my words are out there. With this dove on my shoulder, I'm feeling winds of thankfulness inside. Journey well! Huzzah!

I hope you see the privileges in your life this week and let the winds come. Come back next week for more of Seize the day.

Here is the doodle.  Clover Poof.

Here is a quote I keep tucked in my pocket. I hope you tuck it in yours.

At my window
Watching the sun go
Hoping the stars know
It's time to shine

Townes Van Zandt

0 Comments on Book Birthday: Grace as of 6/21/2014 4:33:00 PM
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23. Force Field for Good and a Giveaway!

Learn about Barry Lane's newest book, Force Field for Good and enter for the giveaway!

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24. Fun – Cool – Interesting Words

Author Tara Lazar posted a list of Fun Words on her blog. I have done a number of Word Lists on this blog, so as not to reinvent the wheel, I copied Tara’s list and deleted some words so you would have to visit her site. To the right of the column, I added some of my own fun words. I’m sure you have a bunch of words you could add. If you do, just leave them in the comments.

Rainbow coloured swirl background

All writers love language. And we especially love fun words, don’t we? Some have funky spellings, tongue-twisting turns, a satisfying “ooh”…and some sound too hilarious to be true! So I’ve put together a list of favorite fun words that I’ll add to periodically. Have fun, lexicon lovers!

  1. aficionado
  2. akimbo
  3. alfresco
  4. ambrosial
  5. anemone
  6. aplomb
  7. apoplectic
  8. appaloosa
  9.                                                  Arietta
  10. avuncular
  11. balderdash
  12. bamboozle
  13. barnstorming
  14. befuddled
  15. berserk                                    Bilge
  16. boffo
  17. bombastic
  18. boondoggle
  19. bozo
  20. braggadocio                            Brewski
  21. brouhaha
  22. bucolic
  23. buffoon                                    Buffoonery
  24. bulbous
  25. bumbledom
  26. bungalow
  27. cacophony                               Caboodle
  28. cahoots
  29. candelabra
  30. canoodle
  31. cantankerous
  32. caterwaul
  33. catawampus                             Chameleon
  34. chichi
  35. chimichanga
  36. claptrap                                    Clairvoyant
  37. clodhopper
  38. cockatoo
  39. codswallop
  40. comeuppance
  41. conundrum
  42. copacetic
  43. cornucopia                                 Coquette
  44. cowabunga
  45. coxcomb
  46. crestfallen
  47. cuckolded
  48. curlicue
  49. demitasse
  50. diaphanous                                 Diatribe
  51. digeridoo
  52. dilemma                                      Dilettante
  53. dirigible
  54. discombobulated
  55.                                                      Donnybrook
  56. doohickey
  57. doppelganger                            Drivel
  58. ebullient
  59. effervescence
  60. egads                                           Enchantress
  61. extraterrestrial
  62. finagle
  63. fandango
  64. festooned
  65. fisticuffs
  66. flabbergasted
  67. flapdoodle                                  Fledgling
  68. flibbertigibbet                           Floozy
  69. flummoxed
  70. fortuitous
  71. fracas
  72. frippery
  73. froufrou
  74. fussbudget
  75. gadzooks
  76. gallimaufry                                   Garantuan
  77.                                                         Giddy
  78. gibberish                                       Ginseng
  79. gobbledygook
  80. gobsmacked
  81. gorgonzola
  82. gossamer
  83. guffaw
  84. haberdashery
  85. harrumph                                     Harlet
  86. highfalutin
  87. hijinks
  88. hippocampus
  89. hobbledehoy                               Hobgoblin
  90. hodgepodge                                Hoedown
  91. hogwash                                      Hooey
  92. hooligan
  93. hootenanny                                Horsefeathers
  94. hornswoggle
  95. hubbub
  96. hullabaloo
  97. humbug
  98. humdinger                                  Huzzy
  99. huzzah
  100. hyperbole
  101. idiosyncrasies
  102. indubitably
  103. jabberwocky                               Jibber
  104. jitney
  105. juggernaut
  106. juxtaposition
  107. kaleidoscope
  108. kerfuffle
  109. kerplunk                                      Killjoy
  110. kismet
  111. knickerbocker
  112. knickknack
  113. kumquat
  114. lackadaisical
  115. lambasted
  116. lampoon
  117. limburger
  118. logjam
  119. logorrhea
  120. lollapalooza
  121. lollygag                                 Ludicrous
  122. lugubrious
  123. magnificent
  124.                                                 Magnum
  125. malarkey
  126. mayhem
  127. mellifluous                           Mealymouthed
  128. menagerie                            Melee
  129. milquetoast                          Mincemeat
  130. misanthrope
  131. mishmash
  132. mojo (character in THE MONSTORE) Motormouth
  133. mollycoddle                          Monkeyshine
  134. mulligatawny                        Niggle
  135. nincompoop                          Nitpicky
  136. nomenclature
  137. onomatopoeia
  138. oxymoron
  139. pachyderm
  140. palindrome                             Palooka
  141. panache
  142. pandemonium
  143. pantaloons
  144. parallelogram
  145. persimmon
  146. persnickety
  147. pettifogger
  148. phantasmagorical
  149. phylactery
  150. plethora
  151. pollywog
  152. pomposity
  153. poppycock
  154. potpourri
  155.                                                      Prattle
  156. quixotic
  157. raconteur
  158. ragamuffin
  159. rapscallion
  160. razzmatazz
  161. rejigger
  162. rendezvous
  163. resplendent
  164. ricochet
  165. rigmarole
  166. riposte                                       Rotund
  167. ruffian                                       Ruckus
  168. sabayon                                     Rumpus
  169. sassafras
  170. scalawag
  171. schadenfreude
  172. schlep
  173. scintillating
  174. scrofulous
  175. scrumdiddlyumptious
  176. scuttlebutt
  177. serendipity
  178. shenanigans                             Shindig
  179. skedaddle
  180. skullduggery
  181. smorgasbord
  182. sojourn                                     Soothsayer
  183. splendiferous
  184. squeegee
  185. squooshy
  186. staccato
  187.                                                     Stiletto
  188. superfluous
  189. Svengali
  190. swashbuckler
  191. swizzlestick
  192. synchronicity
  193. syzygy
  194. talisman
  195. taradiddle                                Teetotaler
  196.                                                    Teenybopper
  197. telekinesis                                Tenderfoot
  198. thingamabob
  199. thingamajig                             Tirade
  200. tomfoolery                               Tootsie
  201. trapezoid                                  Twadle
  202. usurp
  203. uvula
  204. verisimilitude
  205. vermicious
  206. vertigo
  207. verve
  208. vivacious                                      Voodoo
  209. vuvuzela
  210. wanderlust
  211. whippersnapper
  212. wigwam
  213. woebegone
  214. zaftig                                              Yakkity
  215. zeitgeist
  216. zenzizenzizenzic (yes, this is a word! look it up!)
  217. zephyr
  218. zeppelin
  219. zigzag                                             Zombie

Here is the link to Tara’s list:


Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: inspiration, list, reference, writing Tagged: Additional Words on List, Fun words, kathy temean, Tara Lazar

6 Comments on Fun – Cool – Interesting Words, last added: 6/25/2014
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25. Illustrator Saturday – Craig Cameron


craigCraig Cameron is originally from Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. He graduated from the University of Ulster, Belfast in 1995 with a First Class(hons) degree in Visual Communication.

After graduating, armed with paintbrushes and guitar, he travelled across to the north of England to pursue a career as an illustrator, working initially as a graphic designer in advertising and Children’s Book Publishing, and since 2002 as a freelance artist.

Over the last decade Craig worked on many exciting projects – with book publishers in the UK and US, also creating illustrations for licensed characters, magazines, greetings cards, and product packaging.

He currently lives in Manchester, UK, with my wife Annette and 3 children, Ellie, Lewis and Joe.

Here is Craig Explaining his process:

The steps I take in my process of creating an illustration

Client – NetJets – International Children’s Day Card / promotional item.

This brief was to create a colorful illustration to celebrate International Children’s Day, which would be handed out to passengers on 2nd June 2014.

I generally start with very small sketchy thumbnails in my sketchbook, thinking about the general concept, layout and composition. From this I then work up more detailed sketches in Photoshop using a Wacom tablet and pen. I enjoy both sketching with pencils and directly into Photoshop. The benefit of Photoshop is that you can rotate, enlarge and move items around easily.

I submitted 3 concept ideas to the client as sketches. I think my sketches tend to be fairly detailed, probably due to my personality and wanting to get them resolved in terms of tone and composition so I have a clear idea of how they will look when I go to final color artwork.

Netjets 1

Rough concept sketch

Netjets 2

Refining sketch

Netjets 3

First concept sketch sent to client.

Netjets 4

Second concept sketch for client.

Netjets 5

Third concept sketch for client. The client liked options one and three best but decided to go with option 1. There were pleased with the design and asked for a few small changes including adding the livery /stripes on the plane and NetJets branding.

Netjets 6a

Although I work digitally primarily, I often like to use painted textures and backgrounds. In a small messy corner of my office I like to create these textures, using canvas boards, acrylic paints, gesso and dry brushing techniques until I get a texture which looks suitable.

Netjets 6b

I’ve built up a library of these which can also be used with the photoshop brushes to give a more hand tooled effect. I scan the texture as a grayscale tiff file, using an Epson A3 scanner at a fairly hi-res (approx 400dpi).

Netjets 7

Once scanned I import into Photoshop and position the sketch on top as a positional guide.


I color the background, often using layer options and adjustment layers, allowing the texture of the canvas effect to show through.



I tend to use a lot of layers, grouping the various items into folders. I paint using the airbrush and lasso tools, blocking out the general shapes before adding shading, details and highlights.










The final stages often take the longest time – adding highlights and extra texture until I’m happy with the overall look and feel.


Recently I have enjoyed trying out new brushes in Photoshop which can give more natural, painted or hand tooled effect. The client was really pleased with the final artwork and asked for one small change which was to make the clouds on earth look less scribbly and more like soft swirls.

spaced out1The Rough Sketch

spaced out2The Final Sketch

spaced out3

Working on tones.

spaced out4

The final illustration.


Backhoe Joe, written by Lori Alexander and Illustrated by Craig Cameron will be released on 16th September by Harper Collins US.


Above is some interior art from Craig’s Debut Picture Book.

3 little pigs

When did you first know you wanted to make a living doing art?

I went to Art College after A Levels, knowing that drawing/art was definitely the direction I wanted to go as a career after school. I attended a place on a Foundation Studies course in Art & Design at Belfast. At that stage I hadn’t made up my mind that I wanted to be an illustrator but my interest has always been in picture books and children’s brighlty coloured artwork. I then went on to an Illustration HND course at NEWI (North Wales). It was during those 2 years that the idea of actually working as an illustrator became more of a reality.


How long have you been illustrating?

I was fortunate to get my first commercial illustration commissions when I was at University, so have been illustrating for just over 20 years. After leaving University I initially worked in a design agency for 3 years and then for another 3 years as a book designer for a UK publishing house before going freelance in 2002 as a full time illustrator.


What was the first thing you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

At school I had 2 brilliant art teachers. I can honestly say that if it weren’t for them I probably wouldn’t be an illustrator today. They were very supportive, inspiring and encouraging and I loved working in the environment of the art studio. They both commissioned me to paint their portraits!

My first commercial commission was for Alton Towers theme park here in the UK. It was for a promotional page in a national newspaper and came through an illustration agent who had seen my work as part of my graduate exhibition. I think this was the turning point where I realized that having a career as an illustrator could really happen!



I see you graduated from the University of Ulster, Belfast in 1995 with a First Class(hons) degree in Visual Communication. What made you choose Ulster and Visual Communication?

I am from Nothern Ireland and grew up in a town called Carrickfergus, 15 miles outside of Belfast. I had previously studied for 1 year on an Art&Design Foundation course and I liked the University and of course it was close to home, friends and family. The Visual Communication course offered lots of flexibility to try different disciplines, photography, graphic design, art history, film making etc, which appealed me me as I was trying to figure out my possible career direction. Other famous children’s picture book artists have graduated from the same course at Belfast, including the wonderful Oliver Jeffers and Alison Brown.


What types of things do you study with Visual Communication? What makes it different from getting a BFA?

The course offered a grounding across a range of diciplines in Art & Design but then the opportunity to specialise in the final years, so it was ideal for students who were initially unsure of their specialist subject or who wanted a more general Art & design qualification which might be suited to education or similar.


Did the School help you get work?

Prior to my degree at Belfast I did a 2 year illustration HND course in North Wales. (NEWI). This course was extremely practical and designed to help graduates find relevant commercial experience and contacts within the industry. During these years I was very fortunate to do a work placement with Penguin Books in London. Also, our final exhibition was moderated by an illustration agent based in Manchester, UK. She liked my work and asked me to meet her for an interview which lead subsequently to my first commercial commissions and having a artists rep whilst still at University.


Do you feel that the classes you took in college have influenced your style?

I’m not sure that the colleges really pushed my work in any particular direction, but certainly the working environment and seeing the work of other students helped to inspire and encourage me to constantly develop and improve my work. The biggest influence came through the illustration rep. The agency I joined was called The Art Collection and there was a studio with about 8-10 in house professional illustrators. I was completely blown away by their talent, humour and professionalism.


Was your after graduating trip with your guitar just for fun or were you on a quest to find a job?

After graduating I moved from N.Ireland over to Manchester, England to work with the Art Collection. I have always loved music and have played guitar in college bands, but never really considered following music as a career – maybe in the future, who knows…!


How did you find your first job doing advertising graphic design?

Again I was quite fortunate. An illustrator friend of mine had been renting space from a design agency in Manchester. They were looking for a junior designer with good drawing skills as they did lots of work for local restaurants and businessess. She gave them my name and I went for interview. The position was really good in that I spent about 50% of my time on illustrations and the other 50% on graphic design, logos, concepts etc. I really enjoyed my time although it was a bit hectic at times and often long hours. I learnt an awful lot in terms of producing artwork for print and using commercial DTP software such as Photoshop, illustrator etc.


What children’s book publisher did you work for and how did that come about?

I have always loved children’s picture books so when I saw an advert for a book designer in Manchester for Egmont Books, I jumped at the chance! I was fortunate to pass the interview and worked there for 3 years, prior to going freelance full time.

It was a small design team, friendly, fun and a great environment to work in, surrounded by toys and books. I worked mostly on educational, licensed character and novelty books.


Was that job the reason you got into illustrating for children?

It certainly didn’t put me off, but I think my love of illustration and books has been there since I was a child. It was a really good platform to start from as I learnt a lot about the business of publishing. I developed valuable skills in layout, design, typography and in producing artwork for print. Also I made good friends, many of whom I still keep in contact with now.


What was the first illustration work you did for children? How did that come about?

In the early illustration agency days, I received a number of jobs aimed at the children’s market, including the work for Alton Towers and a promotional Children’s Book for Boots the chemist. I think my illustration style always tended to fit the chidren’s market best as the colours are bright and playful.


How did you get to do eight early readers books with Stone Arch Readers?

I have advertised my illustration work on the Children’s Illustrators website (www.ccillustration.com) and have received a number of really good commissions through this page over the last 4 years, particularly from the US. I was initially approached by Stone Arch Publishing, through this website in 2012 to do a series of 4 x Early Readers based on train characters. They followed this with a second set of 4 books in 2013.


Illustrating seven books in one year must have been a lot of work? How long did it take you to illustrate each book?

The work fell into 2 sets of 4 books. Each project took around 4-6 months from start to finish with each book taking around 6 weeks to complete.


Are you under contract to illustrate more?



How did you land the contract with HarperCollins to do BACKHOE JOE?

Backhoe Joe came through my agent here in the UK, called Beehive Illustration. I think Harper had also seen my work on the children’s Illustrators website as I had a number of examples of diggers and construction vehicles on there which fitted the look they were going for.


Was this your first book with a US publisher?

This is my first children’s picture book which is very exciting. It’s due to be released in August 2014 so I’m really looking forward to seeing a printed copy! I have worked with a number of US publishers before on early readers, magnet and sticker books and educational illustration.


Do you have an artist rep.? If so, who? If not, would you like to have one?

I am currently represented in the UK by Beehive Illustration and also a local agent in Manchester called Monkey Feet Illustration. Some really great projects have come through these in recent years, including a style guide for My First JCB and publishing projects.



Do you think you will ever try to write and illustrate a picture book?

I would love to!… and have a number of ideas that I have been recently working on.

I’ve always particuarly loved children’s picture books and this is an area I would really love to develop and focus on in the future.



How did you get to illustrate Bob the Builder books?

I have worked on licensed character illustration since my days at Egmont Books as a designer. I worked on a set of Bob the Builder Story Library books and have illustrated Bob for BBC magazines on a monthly basis for almost 10 years.



How many picture books have you illustrated?

Only one so far, although Harper collins have mentioned the possibility of a second follow up title to Backhoe Joe – to be confirmed.



mouse skate

Do you sell a lot of your black and white illustrations?

I have been commissioned to create B&W illustrations for publishing editorial and for the my 1st JCB licensed character style guide. I was approached recently to work on a young fiction title with B&W interior illustrations, which is something I would enjoy doing more of.


Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?

Yes – lots! I have worked for a number of BBC magazines here in the UK, including Bob the Builder, Cbeebies , Thomas the Tank Engine and The Magic Key magazines. I have been commissioned also for a few editorials including Practical Parenting and Woman’s Weekly!


What is your favorite medium to use?

I almost always work digitally now, mostly in photoshop or illustrator, although I love to include painted textures and patterns in the artwork if possible. Working digitally allows so much flexibilty in colouring, designing and making alterations when required – and it’s not as messy! Although I do still really enjoy sketching in my sketchbook.


Has that changed over time?

It used to be that all my work was drawn or hand painted – but over the last few years almost everything is done directly on my Apple Mac. I use a Wacom pen and tablet to draw with. I now also do the pencil roughs on the mac using a style/brush effect that has a sort of pencil look to it.

Over recent years I have intentionally tried to create artwork with a more painted, textured feel.


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

My Wacom drawing pen and tablet.


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

I’m typically busy with commissioned work during the day. We have three children and I drop them off at school at 9am – I then have the remainder of the day to work on commissioned projects.

The challenge I find difficult is to find time to work on personal projects or sketchbook time. I tend to put client work first, especially if there’s an urgent deadline to work to. However, I do really want to focus on some personal projects and development over the next few years.


Are you open to working with self-published authors?

I am contacted quite regularly through the Children’s Illustrators website by self-published authors. I tend to say no, as the work is speculative and I have personal projects I want to concentrate on. That said, I did agree to work with one unpublished author a few years ago, called Giles Paley Phillips, on a project called Balloon and Me. I really liked his writing and we went as far as to collaborate and complete a picture book dummy and colour cover and spreads, which we sent out to a number of publishers in the UK. We received an offer and some advance payments but unfortunately the project fell through shortly after. Giles went on to have a number of successful books published including The Fearsome Beastie, which won The People’s Book Prize 2012 and is currently being made into a CG Short Animation.

CM_Pop&PLay_OnMove_INS_Layout 1

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

Yes – I generally take reference photos and also spend a considerable amount of time online finding reference as the first stage in my process. I also often create a mood board, which might include colours and textures and reference which I find helps me to develop a clearer idea in my mind of the general feel and direction of the illustrations.

CM_Pop&PLay_OnMove_INS_Layout 1

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Absolutely! 10 years ago all my work was coming from UK clients, whereas in the last 5 years that has changed and I am receiving more interest and commissioned work from the US and Europe. Also It has become so much easier to network and publicise our work through personal websites, the internet and social media. It’s easier to source reference materials and there are fantastic resources available such as podcasts and online tutorials. It’s probably never been easier or cheaper to promote yourself, but with that is increased competition, Global competition! and the challenge of competing in an extremely competitive market.


Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations?

Yes – Photoshop is my preferred software for creating illustrations. If I’m putting a book together I would tend to use InDesign and sometimes use Illustrator for logos and flat colour or black and white illustrations.


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

Yes – I currently have a Wacom Intuos 3 tablet which I love, although I have been looking at the Cintiq’s and am considering splashing out on one of those – They look fantastic but are expensive!


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

As I mentioned previously my first love is children’s picture books and I would really like to create my own. I have a few ideas – so watch this space!


What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a fairly large educational project for a UK publisher and also a set of editorial illustrations for Thomas the Tank engine magazine.


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

I have really enjoyed working with painted textures in Photoshop. There are lots of really interesting brushes available or you can make your own. That’s an area I’m exploring and enjoying personally. Also listen to podcasts from other practicing illustrators. I tend to listen while I work and it can be very inspiring and encouraging to hear about the experiences of other professionals as they discuss their methods and share advice and expertise.



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

Draw a lot!  When I was at college/university the tutors always stressed keeping a sketchbook and drawing constantly. I didn’t do it enough to be honest. But certainly I appreciate the value of drawing now… it will make life a lot easier!

Also experiment and don’t bogged down too quickly with one particular style. It’s good to be versatile and to be able to work in different ways, mediums. Try some photography, graphic design and computer software too… When you’re working as an illustrator it’s very easy to get recognized for one particular style. That can be good but it can also be restricting. My feeling is that you should constantly be developing and pushing yourself to be the best you possibly can.


Thank you Craig for sharing your process, journey, and expertise with us. I know you will have many more successes in the future and we’d love to hear about all of them, so please keep in touch.

To see more of Craig’s illustrations you can visit him at: http://www.craigcameronart.com/

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

Talk tomorrow,

Filed under: Advice, How to, illustrating, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, Picture Book, Process Tagged: Backhoe Joe, Craig Cameron, licensed characters

10 Comments on Illustrator Saturday – Craig Cameron, last added: 7/1/2014
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