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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: balance, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 96
1. There’s This Thing

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon

 

by Connah Brecon (Philomel, 2014)

I fell hard for this book. Heart-itching, squeal-worthy, big time bulging-eyeballs-love.

The title is perfect, right? An ode to the impossibility of putting all of the teensy intricacies of a crush into words.

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon

A girl. A hunt. But she doesn’t really know how to grasp this thing.

Because it’s all . . . 

and . . .

Picture sparkles streaming out of a bottle and a warm kitty snuggle. Impossible for words. Only colorful bursts of feeling.

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon(click to enlarge)

I love her green dress/red hair combo. Strong complementary colors for a stronger girl. She says she’s not brave, but she’s doing just the opposite.

She leaves a trail of crumbs. Sets a trap. And waits.

It doesn’t work.

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon(click to enlarge)

There's This Thing by Connah Brecon(click to enlarge)

Good question, little girl. (I love that her love parade is marching down Hope Street.)

So when the rain drips down the sign and the marching band has marched on, she is sad. So sad.

I really want to share my heart but I just can’t find the right way to open it.

The thing is, she had. She did. This whole time. And that’s worth a bang-up ending. You’ll see.

Here’s a fun look at Connah and his creative process, and if you haven’t given the Let’s Get Busy podcast yet, start here.

This is a perfect thing for any Valentine of your very own.

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2. Just One Apple

Just One Apple by Janosch

by Janosch (NorthSouth, 2014; originally published 1965 in Switzerland as Das Apfelmänchenn.)

I love a good pen name, and Janosch has one. His real name is Horst Eckert, and he is one of Germany’s most beloved children’s book authors and illustrators. He was new to me until NorthSouth revived this classic in late 2014. I’m so glad they did.

This is Walter’s story. He was the poorest man in the entire kingdom and he only had one single apple tree. A strong and beautiful tree, a nice home for a solitary cardinal. But no fruit. No blossoms. No bending branches.

Walter wishes for an apple. Just one. And when you wish with all your might, things change.

And his wishes came true, as wishes sometimes do.

Just One Apple by Janosch

(click to enlarge)

The art is loose and fiery. Full of motion and an eery calm.

But I love how this book breathes.

A page of art, a page of text. A page of text, a page of art. The contrast between Walter’s colorful (and worrisome) world and the spare white space of the words sets a comforting rhythm to a familiar story.

And the apple grows. So Walter goes to the market.

Just One Apple by Janosch

(click to enlarge)

The very worst feeling in the whole world is when other people don’t believe in your wishes.

Walter loses interest in his apple and in his wishes and in his life.

Until the dragon comes to town.

Just One Apple by Janosch

(click to enlarge)

Here’s where the breathing hitches and the white space/art space tempo gives way to one glorious spread of Walter’s wish saving the kingdom. It’s startling and ridiculous and wonderful.

And after that, Walter was careful what he wished for.

ch

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3. Personality Traits: Building a Balanced Character

Thesaurus PairIf writing the Positive Trait & Negative Trait Thesaurus books have taught me anything, it is that compelling characters are neither good nor bad, perfect or fundamentally flawed.

Instead, they are all of these things. Each has a set of good, admirable qualities, even while displaying frustrating or off-putting flaws. They have strengths and weaknesses in different areas, making them both skilled and inept at the same time. But that’s the point, isn’t it? The best characters are realistic and believable because they are just like real people. Like you or I. They have a balance of positive and negatives that give them a wholly unique viewpoint, attitude, belief system and personality.

Some writers want to create characters that ONLY have the best qualities, ones that prove they are good human beings that readers will admire and root for. They find it easy to create a blend of traits like loyalty, helpfulness, intelligence and determination, forming a true hero that can handle anything. But when it comes to choosing flaws, they pull their punches, worried that if they add a trait like selfishness, perfectionism, or impulsiveness, readers will view them as unlikeable.

Other writers EMBRACE the flawed character. They pile up flaws, forged by a hard past filled with emotional wounds that refuse to heal. They add layers of negative traits like suspicious, mistrustful and erratic, all carefully planned around an elaborate backstory that supports the necessity of emotional armor (flaws) that make them who they are.

But when it comes to admirable traits, they struggle. What positive traits would logically survive such a painful past? If say, the character was a victim of horrible abuse and to cope, they became a mistrustful, anti social liar, how can they also be friendly or kind? How can they logically be generous or carefree while harboring such deep flaws?

These are not simple questions to answer. Character creation, when done well, is not an easy process. Too many flaws (or even choosing the wrong type of flaw), and a character becomes unlikeable. Too many positive attributes, and they come across as altruistic, unrealistic or even (yawn) boring. So how can we achieve balance?

balanceUnderstand Who and What Shaped Your Character

Just like every one of us, your character has a past. And while yes, backstory turmoil and pain should be exploited to create conflict and tension in the present, there is always good mixed with bad. In real life, the good experiences (and people) are what keep us going no matter how bad it gets. So think about your character’s positive experiences and past influences along with negative ones as you dig around in their backstory. Understand what the character learned from both past trials and successes, and how each lesson will help to shape his personality.

Uncover Your Character’s Moral Center

Every character has a set of moral beliefs, even the villain. Think deeply about the moral code your character lives by, and what lines he will not cross. (HINT: the “why” of moral choices will be embedded in his backstory, and who/what helped shaped his view of the world.) Morals are the pulsing heart of motivation and action, so determine your character’s sense of right and wrong. (Read more about determining your characters morality HERE.)

Prod His Wound to See What Hurts

Nothing modifies behavior like pain, so understanding what deep emotional wounds your character carries is key to knowing what he also yearns for more than anything (Acceptance? Love? Safety? Freedom?) This wound and the fear that it can happen again is what causes deep flaws to form. They act as “false protection” to keep the hurt from reoccurring, and usually hold people at a distance. Here’s a helpful list of Common Wound Themes.

For example, a character who experienced rejection might close himself off from potential lovers because of his fear of being rejected again. How would flaws “help” him by pushing women away? Is he arrogant? Promiscuous? Uncommunicative? Dishonest?

And what attribute, if nourished, might grow strong enough to vanquish these flaws that hold him back from connection? Respectfulness? Honor? Loyalty? Empathy? Finding a major flaw’s opposite is the pathway to balance & resolving Character Arc through personal growth.

Give All Characters The Chance for Redemption

Some characters are intentionally unbalanced. If you have a character who leans one way more than the other (such as a villain or anti hero) by story necessity, then make sure you also build in something that suggests no matter how flawed or terrible, there is a chance they can change or be redeemed.

Every negative has a positive, and no matter how dark or skewed a character’s view is, or what he feels he’s better without, there will always be a flicker of light that can help him find his way back to becoming whole and complete. Show this to readers, be it a motive that is pure, a relationship with someone that is on some level healthy and good, or a positive quality that is admirable.

Balancing your character’s positive and negative sides means some deep brainstorming! If it helps, here are some more ideas on how to plan a character before you start writing.

How do you create balanced characters?

Image: Bykst @ Pixabay

The post Personality Traits: Building a Balanced Character appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS™.

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4. I Know a Lot of Things

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

by Ann and Paul Rand (Chronicle Books, 2009; originially published in 1956.)

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

You might remember how much I love this pair’s Sparkle and Spin, and this one is just as playful and just as true. That case cover surprise is an a delight, and complementary-colored endpapers start this book with a bang.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

Paul Rand’s graphic genius is so well-matched by the simple and spare words of his wife, Ann. The text and the pictures both glide through that magical reality of childhood. Things that might seem daunting to someone bested by time are small and accessible. Things that may seem obvious or forgettable are ripe for play and adventure.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

It’s a reminder to slow down, listen, and watch. The world is built of wonderful things. The big picture is as beautiful as the details.

I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand

Here, the sentiment is the whole of this person. I’m not sure there’s an ending more perfect, not for kids or their grownups. There’s so much more to know, but what you carry with you can stay.

ch

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5. Gifts: The Grace of Kindness

Hi folks, I'm ending the year with Gifts. This has been one of my most challenging years as a writer. I've struggled more professionally than at any other time in my life. My book PLUMB CRAZY is soon to go out of eprint. The paperback is cancelled. The book after it is cancelled. The small publisher has decided to go in a different direction. I put a lot of myself in that book and this wasn't the news I wanted. I turned 50 this year. I have the most mundane part-time job on the planet. I've slipped into depression, the real kind that takes some support. This week, to add insult injury, I came down with a skin infection that has left me soo tired. A bumpy part of this road of life, but I'm determined to find the silver lining.

So what gift do I have for you? Here goes. The Grace of Kindness.

I'm a person people tell secrets to. Some are small. Some are mighty. Some people I know, some I don't know. Sometimes in the grocery store or when I'm buying gas. Sometimes over coffee or on a walk.  I try to do little things every day that will help somebody. I build some margins into my life so that I can have time to listen and help whoever gets in my path .I'm nothing spectacular. I'm a small time kindness operator, but small kindnesses are as natural to me as breathing.

Kindness has been a part of me since I was very young child. Just like my flaws of a hot temper and my whining tendency (Hope I didn't whine too much above! Working on it.), I've had the grace of kindness. It's hardwired. I'm not perfect. My faults have spectacularly let some down when then really needed my grace. Still, in spite of me, the grace of kindness has generally reached out to others. And like all good grace has lifted me up in process and given me a sense of meaning when almost everything else has failed me.

I believe every person has some grace.  Some sing like angels. Some are the most long suffering folks that have ever lived. Some have the gift of gab and can say a perfect word at a perfect time. To me, grace means unmerited favor. Something in you that is just in you. It's hardwired like breathing. Sometimes in our life the things we've worked for get stripped from us. We lose our job. A relationship doesn't work out. Our dignity is taken away. We suffer great injustice. What should we do?

For me, I lean into grace in my life during these times. I'm a storyteller. I forge on.  I'm an organizer. I find something to organize. I'm kind. I find a place to pour that kindness.

Be aware of the grace in your life. For me all grace is a bit of the light of the divine, tucked away in the most flawed earthen vessel, I continue my journey to let it shine.

I will be back next week with more gifts.

Here is the doodle: The sun, moon, and the stars.


And a quote for your pocket.

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

0 Comments on Gifts: The Grace of Kindness as of 12/13/2014 1:44:00 PM
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6. Snow

Snow by Isao Sasaki

by Isao Sasaki (Viking, 1982)

Snow by Isao Sasaki

I’m not too sure if this book is still in print or not, but I snagged it at a used bookstore in Seattle once upon a long time ago. It was the best six bucks I spent in the entire city. Maybe the best six bucks ever.

This book felt familiar, and I’m sure I’ve buried some memories of reading it as a kid somewhere deep inside my book-person-soul. Opening the pages again to a story both calm and busy was also the only way to experience any snow in these parts.

And so, Snow.

Snow by Isao SasakiSnow by Isao SasakiSnow by Isao Sasaki

The book itself is a square. It’s the soft gray of winter skies. Each illustration is framed within a border of a lighter shade of that barely gray. Maybe it’s its 1982-ness, but it also feels like looking at a slide. Remember those?

Because of this bit of framing, this story is told in snippets like snapshots—of a day, of a season, of a bustling platform, but it also feels like we’re watching from a distance, remembering something that was so simple and sweet.Snow by Isao Sasaki

And at the same time, Snow is intimate. All of the action happens in the foreground. That’s where the train rumbles and the station agent shovels.

Once upon another long time ago I wrote about the rule of thirds, and that’s beautifully at work here.

We’re looking in from the outside, thanks to the white space, but we’re right there with them, thanks to the foreground action. It’s a balance, a push and pull, and some inviting tension in the quietest of stories.

Snow by Isao Sasaki

Only one spread has an illustration that takes up the entire page. A wide rectangle becomes a perfect track for rolling in. (Or is it out? But does it matter?) A wide rectangle becomes the perfect break in the pace of this book.

Much like the snow, falling heavier at times, lighter at others. Much like the light of the day, changing from dawn to dark.

Snow by Isao SasakiSnow by Isao Sasaki

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7. The Promise

The Promise

by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin (Candlewick, 2014)

The Promise is on this year’s New York Times Best Illustrated Books list and I’m so glad it captured a spot. I imagine weeping and gnashing of teeth to pare down a year into a handful of notables, but they got this one so right.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

Here you have bleakness. Bare and raw. And a girl who doesn’t have much but the desolate things. The words themselves pierce the brightness.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

The people, too, dry and dusty.

And then.

Some seeds and a promise and a reluctant okay.

I pushed aside the mean and hard and ugly, and I planted, planted, planted.

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

Everything works in this book. The text is exquisite. The pictures haunting and heartbreaking and hopeful. The paper is luxurious. The case cover differs from the jacket itself. Dig in. Look around. Don’t miss the endpapers that start as stone and end as spring.

There’s a little Frog Belly Rat Bone here, in this fragile world in need of color and life.

(Also, there’s a lot of great stuff about this beautiful book here, and this post is so, so lovely as well.)

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And PS! Add a comment by Wednesday, December 3rd to this post for a chance at winning all ten of those books from Chronicle. Don’t forget your pledge to #GiveBooks this year!

 

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8. The Young Man Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

by Eric von Schmidt (Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, 1964)

Okay. It’s time for a teensy bit of name dropping. I have this cousin who is a brilliant singer and songwriter and he’s racked up a few Grammys as well. (Do you say Grammies? I don’t think so.) If you are into good, old-fashioned bluegrass and Americana, check out Jim Lauderdale. Musicians are such great storytellers, don’t you think? Sometimes I wonder if I can pack the same amount of heart and soul into a 500-word picture book that he can in a 3-minute song.

That’s partly why I was so drawn to this book, The Young Man Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn. And that was even before I realized that there were all kinds of connections to song. That title begs to be picked and strummed, right?

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

I purchased this book a while back from Elwood and Eloise on Etsy. The owner, Mallory, also runs an excellent illustration blog, My Vintage Book Collection (in blog form), which is an incredible archive of gorgeous out of print materials. Thank goodness she sells some of her collection, cause I’ve added some sparkle to my own thanks to her shop. (Also, the images in this post are courtesy of her post here.)

This is the story of Jeremy Sneeze. Where he fails as a farmer he succeeds at making children laugh. (Which is to say by wiggling his ears.) He replaces fallen birds nests and makes pictures and poems. And so, of course, the elders of his town denounce his slack and shifless ways. A town meeting. A crow. A spell is cast. A sneeze. A surprise.

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

This book’s design is reminiscent of a song. Here’s what I mean. That color—washes of analogous color in oranges and yellows and greens, those are the harmonies to the stark black’s melody. It’s steady and rhythmic like the downbeats of an upright bass. Unless they are splashed and chaotic like a mandolin’s intricacies.

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

On top of stellar bookmaking, the story itself is a sweeping epic wrapped up in the short pages of a picture book. Listen to some of its lines:

Just about then he would get to puzzling about other things like “How high is up?” or “Who plants the dandelions?” or “Where do the stars go during the day?”

And every year all Jeremy had to offer was a big weedy field filled with assorted brambles and unchopped briars, bounded by dirty broken boulders.

Flap-flap, past bats that watched with eyes like razors, past lizards, toads, and laughing spiders, down past rats and rattlesnakes and monkeys dreaming evil dreams of moons.

We have specials today on stars that dance or boiling oceans, and a bargain rate for setting mountains into motion.

He hurled himself at the brambles and flung himself at the weeds with such speed you couldn’t tell which was hoe and which was crow.

True enough he is a sorry farmer. But in his head dwell pictures and in his heart are poems.

The Young Man Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn by Eric Von Schmidt

The listen-ability, the meter, the storytelling grumble. It’s all here. What a gem.

P.S.—A bit of poking around online still left me slightly confused about the history of this book and the similar-ly titled song. Did the book inspire the song? Did the song know about the book? I think the song inspired the nitty-gritty backstory of the young man who wouldn’t hoe corn. I can’t really tell, so I’ll just be sitting here enjoying both. Hope you are too.

ch

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9. Firebird

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myersby Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers (Penguin Young Readers Group, 2014)

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

When you open a book to sweeping, fiery endpapers, it’s almost as if you can hear the symphony begin. The author, Misty Copeland, is a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater. The illustrator, Christopher Myers, is a Caldecott Honoree for Harlem and the son of the legendary Walter Dean Myers.

We are in stellar storytelling hands.

Firebird_MC1

(image here // Copeland dancing the Firebird)

Firebird_MC2

(image here // Copeland dancing the Firebird)

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

Christopher Myers’s art captures the lines and shapes of a dancer’s movement. Intricate, suspended, and dizzying.

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

Misty Copeland’s words are fire and poetry to a timid youngster’s soul.

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

I adore the anticipation in this spread, the dancer waiting for the curtain to rise, and I imagine a lump in her throat and a belly full of as many swoops as the folds in the curtain.

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

Each page turn reveals a composition that is even more striking than the last. This is a pairing of musicality, movement, and a jaw-dropping array of colors and feelings. The way her words and his pictures create an animated harmony is exactly how music and movement do the same in the ballerina’s world.

A perfect pas de deux.

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

For more on Misty Copeland, take a look at this. She is a lovely storyteller, both in her books and with her body.

 

 

Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

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Review copy provided by the publisher.

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10. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press, 2014)

You know Mac and Jon. You love Mac and Jon. Now meet Sam and Dave. You’ll love Sam and Dave.

Don’t rush into the pages just yet. This is one of the best covers I’ve seen in a long while. If we weren’t so aware that Jon Klassen (that insta-recognizable style!) is a contemporary illustrator, I would wholeheartedly presume that it was some vintage thing in a used bookstore. A find to gloat about, a find that makes you wonder just how you got so lucky.

The hole. The space left over. The words, stacked deeper and deeper. The apple tree whose tippy top is hidden. Two chaps, two caps, two shovels. One understanding dog.

Speaking of two chaps, two caps, and two shovels, check out the trailer.

(I’ll wait if you need to watch that about five more times.)

The start of their hole is shallow, and they are proud. But they have only just started. Sam asks Dave when they should stop, and this is Dave’s reply:

“We won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular.”

Dave’s voice of reason is so comforting to any young adventurer. It’s validating that your goal is something spectacular. (Do we forget this as grownups? To search for somthing spectacular? I think we do.)

Perhaps the pooch is the true voice of reason here, though he doesn’t ever let out a bark or a grumble. Those eyes, the scent, the hunt. He knows.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

(click to enlarge)

And this is where Sam and Dave Dig a Hole treads the waters of picture book perfection. The treasure, this spectacular something, is just beyond the Sam and Dave’s reality. The reader gets the treat where Sam and Dave are stumped. Do you want to sit back and sigh about their unfortunate luck? Do you want to holler at them to just go this way or that way or pay attention to your brilliant dog? Do you root for them? Do you keep your secret?

The text placement on each page is sublime. If Sam and Dave plant themselves at the bottom of the page, so does the text. If the hole is deep and skinny, the text block mirrors its length. This design choice is a spectacular something. It’s subtle. It’s meaningful. It’s thoughtful and inevitable all at once.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

(click to enlarge)

And then – then! Something spectacular. The text switches sides. The boys fall down. Through? Into? Under? Did the boys reach the other side? Are they where they started? Is this real life? Their homecoming is the same, but different. Where there was a this, now there is a that. Where there was a hmm, now there is an ahhh.

Spectacular indeed.

I like to think that the impossible journey here is a nod to Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak’s collaboration, A Hole is to Dig. That’s what holes are for. That’s what the dirt asks of you. It’s not something you do alone or without a plan or without hope. Sam and Dave operate in this truth. They need to dig. There’s not another choice.

AHoleIsToDig

(image here // a first edition, first printing!)

Sidenote: I’m pretty thrilled that these scribbles live in my ARC.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Look for this one on October 14th.

SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen.Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

ch

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11. Emotional Description: 3 Common Problems with Show & Tell

Writing compelling emotional moments is the lifeblood of any story and the key to building a relationship between characters and readers. Yet steering clear of the show-don’t-tell pitfalls requires practice and skill. I’m reposting this from where it originally appeared at Romance University to shed light on three scenarios that challenge writers as they search for the right balance of emotional description.

Telling

Telling is a big issue, especially when writers are still getting to know their characters. Often they do not yet have enough insight into the hero’s personality and their motivation to really be able to describe how they feel in a unique way. Instead of using a vivid and authentic mix of body language, thoughts, dialogue and visceral sensations, writers convey emotion  in broad, telling strokes:

EXAMPLE:

Bill had to steel himself emotionally before entering the church. He’d managed to avoid his family for seven years, but his father’s funeral wasn’t something he could blow off. Anger and jealousy welled inside him as he thought of his two older brothers, the ones who always impressed Dad by being just like him: athletic, manly, hard. Now he would have to face them, and hear once again how he was a failure, a disappointment, an abomination that should have done the world a favor and hung himself from the Jackson family tree.

What’s wrong with this passage?

While the above alludes to an unhealthy relationship between brothers and conveys that Bill is the family misfit, the emotions are TOLD to the reader.

Bill had to steel himself emotionally… What does that look like? Does he sneak a slug of whiskey in his car before going in? Shuffle around on the church step, tugging at his starched cuffs?  Something else? With emotion, the reader should always get a clear image of how the character is expressing their feelings.

Anger and jealousy welled inside him… This again is telling, simply by naming the emotions. What does that anger and jealousy feel like? Is his pulse throbbing so loud he can barely think? Are his thoughts boiling with brotherly slurs that show his jealousy: dad’s golden children, his perfect prodigy, etc. Does his chest feel stuffed full of broken glass, and with each thrum of the church organ, the pain drives itself deeper?

Showing and Telling

Another common snag is showing the character’s feelings (thoughts, actions, body language, visceral sensations, etc.) but then adding some telling just to make sure the reader ‘got it.’ This often happens when a writer doesn’t have confidence in their own abilities to get emotion across to the reader, or they question whether they’ve shown the character’s feelings strongly enough for the situation.

 EXAMPLE:

Dean Harlow finally called Tammy’s name and Lacy’s breath hitched. Her daughter crossed the stage in her rich purple robe, smiling and thrusting her arm out for the customary handshake. Warmth blurred Lacy’s vision and she swiped at the tears, unwilling to miss a second of the graduation ceremony. Her calloused fingers scraped beneath her eyelids, a reminder of long hours at the laundry, all to ensure Tammy would have opportunities she herself never did. 

When her daughter accepted her diploma, Lacy shot out of her seat, clapping and cheering. She had never been so happy and proud in all her life. 

What’s wrong with this passage?

Emotion is shown clearly through Lacy’s hitching breath, the warm rush signaling tears, her rapt attention and then finally jumping up to cheer her daughter on. But that last line: She had never been so happy and proud in all her life. This unnecessary explanation of Lacy’s happiness and pride is like hammering a nail long after it’s flush with the board.  In the book, Description by Monica Wood, there’s a great rule of writing called RUE: Resist the Urge to Explain. So when it comes to emotion, remember RUE.

Over Showing

Over showing is when a writer gets caught up in the moment and goes too far by showing everything. Too much emotional description can slow the pace of the scene, create purple prose or clichés, and come across as melodramatic.

EXAMPLE:

Finn huddled behind the rusted oil drum, dripping with cold sweat as she tried to control her loud, rasping breath. The sound of Alex scraping the crowbar along the warehouse’s cement floor turned her heart into a jackhammer. A scream built up in her throat and she clamped her teeth tight, converting it into a nearly soundless whimper. Her body trembled and shuddered in the dark, and a cascade of thoughts piled up like shoreline debris– the odd things he said, the strange gifts and creepy poems, his interest in seeing blood—why didn’t these things didn’t send off air raid sirens in her head before tonight? 

What’s wrong with this passage?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000046_00058]In some ways, this is a great moment showing fear. Body language, thoughts and visceral sensations all work to bring about intensity, but because there is so much of it, it feels overblown. Emotion doesn’t just build here…it roars. As a result, clichés form (the jackhammer heartbeat) and purple prose emerges from too many fanciful ideas (cascading thoughts, shoreline debris, air raid sirens, etc.) The combination of too much description creates the flavor of melodrama, which can cause the reader to disengage. Showing is great, but in moderation. Sometimes an author can say more with less.

Getting the right balance of emotion on the page isn’t easy, so I hope this helps! And if you would like to read about these common problems in more detail (or the other issues with writing emotion), you can find in depth information in the “Look Inside” sample of The Emotion Thesaurus at Amazon. Feel free to take a peek!

~~~~~~~

Also, Becca’s at Rebecca Lyndon’s blog today talking about characterization techniques writers can steal borrow from the stellar cast of Finding Nemo. If you’ve got time, please stop by and say hello!

The post Emotional Description: 3 Common Problems with Show & Tell appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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12. On Neighborliness, “Balance,” and the Unpredictable Timing of Creativity: A Note to Myself (and You, Too, If You Need It)

The ideal circumstances in which you can create include ample free time, an absence of worries, and at least one enthusiastic supporter cheering you on. You might experience that lucky combination—or even two of the three components—once in a very long while.

In your actual life, things break, neighbors need help, and work-as-obligation fills up the hours and then the calendar. The concept of “balance” becomes a glittery myth.

You do what you can. You attend to the broken things. You take care of your neighbors (and we are all neighbors). Joyfully (or sometimes begrudgingly), you pay your dues. You wedge your creative spurts into the cracks, and you relish each happy slice.

You learn to recognize those glorious moments when everything falls into place in spite of the circumstances, and then you get busy. You make hay—or poems or paintings or pots—while the sun shines.

You do your best. And you know what, kiddo?

That’s enough.

The quarry road tumbles toward me
out of the early morning darkness,
lustrous with frost, an unrolled bolt
of softly glowing fabric, interwoven
with tiny glass beads on silver thread,
the cloth spilled out and then lovingly
smoothed by my father’s hand
as he stands behind his wooden counter
(dark as these fields) at Tilden’s Store
so many years ago. “Here,” he says smiling,
“you can make something special with this.”
Ted Kooser, Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison

Book Giveaway reminder:
Enter by September 26 for a chance to win an autographed copy of Barbara Krasner’s picture book biography Goldie Takes a Stand!

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Poem Farm. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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13. A Very Special House

A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak

by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins, 1953)

School’s been back in the swing of things for a couple weeks, and it has been bananas. But I’ve got this beautiful new space and some read-in-me-for-hours lounge chairs and the kids named our bright new sitting area The Birdhouse. This week: shelves and books. The heart and soul.

The Birdhouse

That’s why I needed to visit a book that is about all of those things: comfort and wonder and imagination and a very special place.

A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak

I love this little dancer-dreamer: dee dee dee oh-h-h.A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak

This book is the hope of yellow and the broken-in-ness of blue overalls and the loose lines of childhood. This book started with two masters but belongs to the rest of us. It’s root in the moodle of our head head heads.

A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak

And this is what I want for anyone who finds a story in our very special place: A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak

They and I are making secrets 

and we’re falling over laughing

and we’re running in and out

and we hooie hooie hooie

then we think we are some chickens

then we’re singing in the opera then

we’re going going going going ooie ooie ooie.

The view

ch


Tagged: color, libraries, maurice sendak, ruth krauss, stories

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14. Fox’s Garden

Fox's Garden by Princesse Camcam

by Princesse Camcam (Enchanted Lion, 2014)

It’s hot in Los Angeles. Like, super really really hot. That’s why this book is an especially welcome reprieve. A book with snow in it? Please. A book with cool blues and winter scenes? Yes.

This is Fox’s Garden.

It’s a lovely little book.Fox's Garden by Princesse Camcam

A lone fox, stark red against the white forest. A house in the distance, swirling with the colors of home and twilight. Frightened grownups chase him away. A boy cloaked in red, watching and waiting and caring. Fox's Garden by Princesse CamcamFox's Garden by Princesse Camcam

This boy loves animals. They are in sketches, framed on his wall. They are in mobiles and stuffed friends, in bookshelves and toy chests. Fox's Garden by Princesse Camcam

This fox, followed by her brood, leaves blossoms of kindness right back for the boy. It’s a tale of sharing and growth and unlikely accomplices. No words, all heart.Fox's Garden by Princesse Camcam

And the pictures. My French is un peu rusty, but according to Princesse Camcam’s blog, these have got to be cut paper illustrations, lit and photographed. They are intricate and textured, perfect layers for this story of a fox and his friend.

Remember when we talked about complementary colors setting the tone and mood? The rich red of the fox is set apart so dramatically from the snowy scene and the stark greenhouse. It’s a mood, and it’s a strong one. It’s so pretty, too.Fox's Garden by Princesse Camcam

Keep an eye on Enchanted Lion, folks. They are in the business of making beautiful books.

Be kind to a chased-away stranger today.

ch

Review copy provided by the publisher.

 


Tagged: color theory, complementary colors, cut paper, enchanted lion books, princesse camcam

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15. Paul Thurlby’s Wildlife

by Paul Thurlby

{published 2013, by Templar}

You know you have a book problem when you forget what lives in your piles. I bought this book when it pubbed back in March, and that tiger’s binocular’d glare stared me down the other day. I snatched it from the pile with the furious preying eyes of the creatures bound in this book.

(Dramatic? Sorry. You must not have heard Carmina Burana playing in the background of my opening monologue. Do you hear it now?!)In the early days of this blog (almost two years ago!), I wrote about Paul Thurlby’s AlphabetI made lame jokes about Thanksgiving (‘if you’re stuffed, feast your eyes on this!’), so as you can see my wit and humor hasn’t improved much since.

Good thing Paul Thurlby has. And that statement is a stretch as commentary on his genius, but I do think I might like this one even more than his last. This is a mashup of pictures and words in the most clever of ways.Each page shows us an animal bursting with personality. Look at that rat! (Reminds me of these rodents a little bit!) And each is captioned with a quirky fact which explains just what the heck is happening in the illustration. Here, it’s:

Keeping their skin moist by showering is important for elephants’ health.

and

Rats spend a third of their lives washing themselves.

Dolphins sleep with one eye open, while resting one half of their brain at a time.

Lions hunt at night, thanks to their ability to see well in the dark.Because the factoids lean toward kooky, the pictures’ silliness both shine and remain surprising.When I talked about Paul Thurlby before, I mentioned unity. Still holds. Still a package wrapped up in perfect pictures and words. But what I am most drawn to in his work are his textures. The grid, the distressed edges, the scratches, tape, and imperfections – all of those design decisions add a layer of warmth and grit to a bunch of terrifying but desperately adorable creatures.

Watch out for giraffes if you’re on stilts and run across them in the wild. They have 21-inch tongues!

ch


Tagged: color, paul thurlby, texture

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16. Big and Small // Fast and Slow

by Britta Teckentrup

{published 2013, by Barefoot Books}

I just lost myself on Britta Teckentrup’s portfolio. Entirely charmed and swept away by every single piece. She’s new to me, and I’m happy to have flailed around in her brain for a bit. And it looks like I have a lot to catch up on!

I have an unusual affinity or board books. Proof: here and here and here. And that’s just a select smattering! But everything that is perfect about a picture book is even more so in a board book.

Smushier, sweeter, chewier.

And these are especially delicious.Fast and Slow shows those opposites side by side. Directly in contrast, varying by speed. The comparison is limited to that spread only, which is a detail that I love. One of the later spreads shows a train and a bus, which of course is double decker and European and fancy. But isn’t a bus faster than even that motorbike up above? Sure, but one spread isn’t competing with others. Little brains noodling that out? Smart.

And speaking of the motorbike page – total favorite. That scarf!The colors are saturated and leap into your eyes.

The type! It’s that perfect teacher-handwritten-style.

But it’s the texture that I love the most. Clean shapes, easy lines, and the slightest bit of grit. Smooth, flat color might have been an easy choice to match those shapes and lines. But in a book about contrast, splashing in some texture is smart.

And it looks awesome.Big and Small’s pairs are tightly knitted. Inside a giant apple is an itty-bitty seed. On top of a vast mountain are individual snowflakes. Those connections are beautiful, and the cat-lion standoff might be my very favorite spread.A perfect addition to your baby-shower rotation, your art class, your tiny one’s library, or just the ever-growing stack surrounding you.

ch

Review copy provided by Barefoot Books.


Tagged: barefoot books, britta teckentrup, color, comparison, contrast, texture

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17. Out the Window

Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele Youngby Cybèle Young

published 2014 by Groundwood BooksOut the Window by Cybele YoungDon’t you hate throwing your ball out the window and being too short to see where it bounces? The worst.Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungBut the worst gets better, because in its place a spectacular parade clash-crashes by. Except when you’re a frantic, too-short creature, it’s really hard to see over the windowsill. Good thing you’re a clever whippersnapper, and push that chair up to take a peek.Out the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungOut the Window by Cybele YoungAnd just when you can finally see outside, the book tells you to turn around.

You’ll stumble smack dab into the spectacle.

Juggling shrimp on a unicycle! A bat on a hanging, clangy contraption! Pink swans pulling a turtle on a wagon!Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele Young Out the Window by Cybele YoungThanks to this parade, you might just get your ball back. It’s one fantastic game of catch.

And check out this trailer to see the book in its glorious action. Mesmerizing.

ch

P.S. – Remember the Twitter chat with Groundwood Books and Cybèle Young? The transcript is here, if you want to add to your art-to-study and books-to-love pile. It was such fun!


Tagged: board book, cybele young, groundwood books

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18. Who Needs Donuts?

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty By Mark Alan Stamaty

Published 1973 by Dial Press, reprinted 2003 by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.

At first glance, the answer to this book’s title is pretty clear. Because, everybody.Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty But do you know this book? When I mention it to someone, I either hear about their favorite jelly donut (the one with strawberry), or they lose their sprinkles over the magnificence of this screwy tale.

The simplicity of the setup:

Sam lived with his family in a nice house.

He had a big yard and lots of friends.

But he wanted donuts, not just a few but hundreds and thousands and millions — more donuts than his mother and father could ever buy him.

Finally one day he hopped on his tricycle and rode away to a big city to look for donuts.

The scattered spectacle of the scene, a commotion in black and white. On those initial pages alone:

A bird in swim trunks

A roof-mowing man

A chimney blowing ribbons

A man in the window reading a newspaper with the headline, Person Opens Picture Book Tries to Read the Fineprint

Two donuts

And a cinematic, get-ready-for-your-close-up page turn. (Be sure to look closely in the blades of grass.)Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty There’s almost a calm in the chaos. It’s regular and rhythmic and pandemonium and patterned all at once. Perfect for a story that’s a little bit bonkers and a whole lot of comfort.

So. Then what?Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty The relative calm of Sam’s neighborhood yields to an even madder and mayhem-ier sight.

Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Then Mr. Bikferd and his wagon of donuts shows up.

And a Sad Old Woman. And Pretzel Annie.

Sam continues to collect donuts. Stocks and piles of donuts.Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty A wagon breaks. A repairman helps. A love story. Abandonment.

(A fried orange vendor. A bathing zebra. Rollerskates. A Sad Old Woman.)

Who needs donuts when you’ve got love?Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allen Stamaty When Sam rides home, the words that began his story are on the sidewalk. I get the shivers about that.

The starts of stories are carved in concrete.

ch

P.S. – These pictures remind me a little of what I’m seeing for Steve Light’s new book, Have You Seen My Dragon? Check out this review where Betsy Bird notices the same, and this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, because it’s always a treat. I also think of the hours I’d spend as a kid studying each square centimeter of The Ultimate Alphabet. Like Waldo, but weirder.


Tagged: black and white, color, line, mark allen stamaty, pattern, repetition, rhythm, texture, who needs donuts?

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19. Off the Grid Benefits

It’s been awhile since my last post. Hope everything is OK with everyone!

I’ve slowly managed my way back to civilization and “real world” life. Last month, I spent a week in the Caribbean and I must say it was the best thing I could have done for myself.

I was off the grid too. No access to my phone. No access to social media. It forced me to enjoy right what was in front of me.

I also didn’t do any writing. Usually when I take off and travel, it usually involves some type of writing – working or revising a current WIP but this time I literally did nothing but relax, read, and enjoyed the ocean, the sun, and the sand.

Being of the off the grid has benefits. Here were some of mine:

  • You can bring focus back to yourself. Self-care is something we don’t do enough of and having limited access to the outside world allowed me to access and remember all the simple things I love that bring me joy.
  • You can get back in touch with nature’s beauty. Just the simple things like the frosted wave caps of the ocean, the melody of a tropical bird, or even the sun baked warmth of the sand was a natural endorphin that gave me calm and peace.
  • You can practice the art of doing nothing. Everyone has a “to-do” list. It’s always “Go, Go, Go!” Sitting and doing nothing usually makes me feel guilty. But in reality it was a small gift that I gave to myself.

I know that not everyone can take off for a week and chill in the Caribbean but there are some small things everyone can do to take time off the grid. Maybe take a day and not use any smartphones or social media. Take pleasure in staying in your pajamas and sleeping in for as long as you want. Reserve a day to have a binge-watch party or read that book you’ve been trying to complete in snippets. Go to the park and have a picnic with no timeline of how long you stay.

Or make it a daily practice. Get up an hour early when the house is quiet or stay up a little later at night when everyone is asleep. Or for the busy person whose schedule is overflowing, how about just 10 minutes in nature? Put your bare feet in grass, close your eyes to the sun, and take a deep breath?

Have any of you been off the grid? Do any of you incorporate it in your life as a practice? I would love to hear about it!

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20. Getting Over the Need To Be Polite

You’ll just have to trust me that there’s a story behind this. Mine isn’t as interesting as the one that taught me this lesson:

One of my favorite women adventurers is Helen Thayer. She’s a New Zealander by birth, now living in Washington State, and I first heard of her when I read her book Polar Dream.  Here’s the description:

In 1988, at the age of 50, Helen Thayer became the first woman in the world to travel on foot to the magnetic North Pole, one of the world’s most remote and dangerous regions. Her only companion was Charlie, her loyal husky, who was integral to her survival. Polar Dream is the story of their heroic trek and extraordinary relationship as they faced polar bears, unimaginable cold, and a storm that destroyed most of their supplies and food.

So yeah, super burly. I’ve referenced that adventure in a few books of mine–Doggirl and Parallelogram 3: Seize the Parallel–because I remain so thoroughly inspired and impressed by what Ms. Thayer accomplished despite the incredible danger and hardships. And that wasn’t her only big adventure. She and her husband and the dog from Polar Dream lived among wolves for a year (see her book Three Among the Wolves) and later, when she was in her 60s and her husband was in his 70s, they both trekked across the Gobi Desert, just the two of them and a few camels (see Walking the Gobi: A 1600 Mile Trek Across a Desert of Hope and Despair). You can understand why she’s a hero of mine.

And one of her lessons that has always stuck with me is the one about being too polite.

Here’s the situation: On her last morning in civilization before Helen set off for the magnetic North Pole, the Inuit villagers who had graciously hosted her the night before took their hospitality one step further by helping Helen pack up her sled for the journey. Helen had a particular packing system in mind, but she didn’t have the heart to tell the villagers she didn’t want their help. They were so happy and enthusiastic about it, she didn’t want to hurt their feelings. So she just smiled and said thank you as she watched them stuff her gear and clothing every which way into various pockets and pouches. She figured she’d fix it all later once she was alone in camp that night.

Big mistake.

Because when she finally stopped skiing across the ice that first night and began setting up her camp, she could feel the cold beginning to affect her fingers. She understood the dangers of frostbite. She needed to put on her pair of heavy, insulated mittens, but where were they? As she frantically searched for them, she could feel the dry cold and the wind chill of minus 100 quickly taking their toll. By the time she finally found the mittens, her fingers already felt like hard wooden blocks. The damage was done.

When she woke up the next morning, her hands were swollen and covered with blisters. And they felt incredibly, horribly painful. They stayed that way for the whole first week, making everything so much harder: lighting her stove, dressing herself, setting up and breaking down her camp–anything that required manual dexterity and ended up leaving her fingers throbbing with agonizing pain.

All because she’d been afraid to say, “No. No, thank you. I need to do this myself.”

What’s amazing is you’d think someone as brave as Helen Thayer would have no trouble telling people no. But it just shows you hard it can be sometimes to retrain ourselves to do what might seem impolite.

Years ago I saw an Oprah episode where she interviewed Gavin de Becker, the guy who wrote The Gift of Fear. Does anybody else remember that episode? He talked about how predators sometimes test their prey by insisting on “helping.” “Oh, here, let me bring this to your car. You dropped this, I’ll just bring it upstairs for you.” And when you say, “No,” the predator still insists. Because he’s testing whether he can dominate you.

De Becker and Oprah discussed how it wasn’t just dangerous criminals doing that, it could also be friends or family members. De Becker said, “Anyone who won’t hear your ‘no’ is trying to control you.” When you think of it that way, you can probably see it all around you: in your bossy co-worker, your critical mother-in-law, even your well-meaning sister or friend. Here you are taking a stand and actually using your “no,” and the person refuses to accept it.

Annoying, and, as de Becker points out, also potentially dangerous. People practice on us. We need to practice, too.

This is all a way of saying the same thing someone once told me: “It’s only fair if it’s fair to you, too.” How’s that again? You get a vote. If it’s nice for someone else, is it also nice for you? Or are you going to end up exhausted/broke/angry/resentful/out of time to watch your favorite show if you do “just this one more” favor?

Don’t get me wrong–it feels good to be nice. No doubt about it. But it feels less good to always be the one giving and giving, while your own store of personal energy and good will feels like it’s slowly draining away. Then, if you’re like me, one day it’s finally enough, and the answer for everybody is “No, no, and NO,” even if a few of those would have been yesses if they’d caught you on a better day. And maybe that grumpy, surly no-ness lasts for a lot longer than you meant it to–*cough* three years–and you realize when you come out of it that you could have had a much easier life and been much happier if you’d only moderated your yesses one by one instead of letting them all pile up in such an unbalanced way.

See where I’m going with this?

As my best friend sometimes has to remind us both, “We don’t have to act nice, we are nice.” And if you look closely at your own behavior, you can see the times when you’re just performing–wanting to appear nice–as opposed to genuinely wanting to do something out of love or friendship or simple human kindness. There is a difference. One of them drains you, the other fills you up. It’s very noticeable once you really start looking at it.

Sometimes you need to work the problem backwards. How will you feel afterward if you say no here versus yes? Forget how hard it might feel in the moment to tell someone no–think about how you want to feel afterward. If you really, really want to go home tonight and slip into something slouchy and treat yourself to an evening of quiet and Call the Midwife, then why are you saying yes to anything else? Don’t you get a vote, too? Don’t you ever get the yes?

Or, like I’m doing today, you work out a balance: ten nice things for other people, ten nice things for yourself. That seems like the best recipe for me lately to be able to handle all of my obligations cheerfully. I know at the end of a long stream of yesses today I’ll get to sit down and binge watch season 2 of The Mindy Project.

Now that’s my kind of balance.

0 Comments on Getting Over the Need To Be Polite as of 4/9/2014 1:49:00 PM
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21. Oliver’s Tree

Olivers Tree by Kit Chasewritten and illustrated by Kit Chase

published 2014, by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of PenguinOliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI’ve always had a soft spot for elephants, ever since I had a sweet stuffed one as a kid. He played ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ so of course, Sunshine was his name. And I don’t know who I’m kidding with the kid thing, cause Sunshine still lives with me. He’s a dear.

And lately, I’ve had a tender thing towards trees and how much they give us. Some are big enough to hug, and some snap at the landing of a songbird. All are homes.Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseAdd a little Beatrix Potter-esque art, and a story that stays endearing without dipping into the saccharine side, and I’m completely charmed. The dust jacket says it best: ‘there’s a reason we don’t see elephants in trees.’

I love this elephant, Oliver. I love that when all he sees is despair, he takes a nap. Spectacular coping skill, Oliver! Thank goodness that his friends aren’t defeated, and they get to work searching and gathering.Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI’m adding the spread below to my inner rolodex of perfect picture book spreads. The words and the illustrations balance each other and don’t compete for attention. It slows down the action, builds suspense, and gives the reader a chance to predict what happens on the other side of the page turn. And the twig frames are just plain lovely. So: pretty perfect.Oliver's Tree by Kit ChaseI hope this isn’t the only story Kit Chase is brewing with Oliver, Charlie, and Lulu. I feel like they have a lot to say and share.

Want to see more of her art? A dash of dear and a pinch of perfect? All of the pieces below are in her Etsy shop, trafalgar’s square. Huge thanks to Kit for sharing these with us!https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare https://www.etsy.com/shop/trafalgarssquare

ch

Review copy provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.


Tagged: etsy, kit chase, oliver's tree, penguin

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22. Collect Raindrops: The Seasons Gathered

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure

by Nikki McClure

published 2014 by Abrams Books (reissue)

Every soul who has seen Nikki McClure’s art has loved it. I’m sure there are studies and statistics on that, trust me. It looks as elegant on an iPhone case as it does on a gift tag or greeting card.

But then there are books, and thank goodness she makes them.Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureThis edition of Collect Raindrops has been reissued in an expanded form and a new format. It’s based on her ongoing calendar series, and begs to take up permanent residence on your coffee or bedside table. Don’t just stick it on the shelf. You’ll want this one at easy reach. It’s gorgeous to touch, to see, and to behold.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureHere, her pictures are gathered by their season, each introduced with love letters to their very time and place.

“Some people just need help to see the obvious. And that’s what artists are for.”

That sentiment comes from this short film that demystifies her process but reveals a lot of magic. She calls it corny, but I call it lovely:

breakerShe says her paper cuts are like lace, and everything is connected. Before it’s in a book, can’t you picture what that art looks like held up against a light? Physically, the paper that remains envelops the paper that is gone. Like knots, or filaments, or branches. How beautiful then, that her subject is often community. Shared memories and experiences.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureThe contrast is what connects us. As much story lives in what’s been carved away as what sticks behind. But by simple definition, contrast means difference, and in design, your brain is searching for dominant elements. This art contrasts light and dark, filled and white space, and in those separations paints a portrait of community.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureAnd then there’s the case cover itself. A web, a symbol itself of creativity and connection, binds the pages together.

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClureIsn’t that remarkable?

ch


Tagged: abrams, collect raindrops, contrast, light, negative space, nikki mcclure, paper cut

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23. Number One Sam and an interview with Greg Pizzoli

Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoliby Greg Pizzoli

published 2014 by Disney-Hyperion

I’m honored and thrilled to have Greg Pizzoli back to the blog this week. About a year ago we talked about Kroc and The Watermelon Seed, and in the many weeks since, that thing (and Greg!) won the Geisel Award! My kindergarteners call him ‘the BURRRRPPP man’ which I’m pretty sure is the highest praise any mere mortal can achieve.

But today! Today is the birthday of Greg’s latest and greatest, Number One Sam. This is my favorite tweet about it:Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 3.47.57 PM(And side note, you should follow Matt Roeser at Candlewick cause he has impeccable taste and eyeballs.)

And this (!) is the trailer:

breakerGreg chatted with me about process and art and picture books, and I’ve read these answers about a billion times and am still learning. Enjoy!

Your spot color. Wow! Can you talk about why such a stripped-down design with a limited color palette is such a powerful visual device?

Great question!

To be honest, I’m not sure. But, I think it comes down
to working from an intention, and just having a plan, or restrictions
set in place from the beginning. You can’t just grab another color
from somewhere – when it comes time to make final art, we’ve done
rounds of pantone tests and paper tests, and the limitations and
possibilities are in place, so nothing is casual. Maybe it makes you
consider things in a way that is unique to working in that way?

I know for me, if I’m doing a book that is printed in a limited color
palette, it can feel restrictive in one sense, but there is a real
freedom within the limitations, if you know what I mean. There’s not
endless guessing the way there might be with a CMYK book. Obviously we
do lots of tests and make sure we get the base colors right for the
book, but once that is done, I can start carving out the drawings and
not worry too much about the colors, because we’ve done so much work
on the front end. It’s a challenge I enjoy.

Here’s a photo of a spot color test proof.Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

Why do you think your stories are best suited to the form of the picture
book. What can you do in this form that you might not be able to in another?

This is a tough one, Carter. Boy, I come to your blog looking to have
a good time, maybe show a video or something, and you slam me with
this “why picture books” stuff. Sheesh. “Gotcha blogging” right here.
But that’s fine, I’ll play along.

I’m kidding, of course. But, it is a tough one. I guess it’s not all
that complicated for me. I’ve always loved picture books and I think
it’s because there are so many possible ways to solve the problem of
telling a story with text and images. It’s a cliche I think, but you
really can do anything in a picture book. But here again, I like the
restrictions. As much as I might complain to my editor that I “just
need one more spread” to tell the story, it’s actually nice to have a
structure where you have to fit a complete world, with a character, a
problem, and (maybe?) a solution to that problem in only 40 (or so)
pages.

There’s something about how deliberate every decision has to be
that is super appealing to me. I’ve been working on writing a longer
thing recently, a series, and it’s not as though I’m not deliberate
when working on it, but I’ll admit that it feels as though not as much
is hinging on each line or picture in the same way. With picture
books, you don’t have room for anything to feel arbitrary. I like
that.

Also, I thought you might want to see these. Sam started out as a
print of a weird dog (top) and then I made a print of another
(cuter) dog, and he kept coming up in my sketchbooks until he became
Number One Sam (bottom).Number One Sam by Greg PizzoliNumber One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

What do you think are the most important considerations when creating a book trailer?
How do you think through compressing an already spare narrative into a short
animation? Are there aspects to animation you wish you had access to in
picture book art or vice versa? (I guess mostly I’m curious about how book
trailers share storytelling space with picture books and what they can do
differently. Does that make sense?!)

Ya know, it’s a complicated thing this book trailer business. I am
really happy with the two we’ve done so far, but I definitely can’t
take all the credit. Jimmy Simpson, directed and animated both the
trailer for The Watermelon Seed and for Number One Sam, and he is
pretty incredible to work with. Both times we started working, I had
already finished the book, and I had a very basic sense of what I
wanted the trailer to be, but he figures out all of the transitions
and added all of the touches that make them work as well as I think
they do. For example, the “wink” shot from the Number One Sam trailer –
that’s all Jimmy. And of course, he does all of the animation.

I draw the stuff, which is somewhat complicated because you have to
keep everything separated, meaning draw the arm on a different layer
from the body, and the hand on a different layer than the arm, and the
ear on it’s own layer, etc. Basically everything needs to move
independently of everything else, but my characters are pretty simple,
so it’s not too big a deal.

And the music is key. My buddy Christopher Sean Powell composed the
music special for both trailers. What a talent, right? He plays in the
band Man Man, and has his solo music project called Spaceship Aloha,
and was a part of a pretty seminal band from these parts called Need
New Body. I’m thrilled we get to work together on this stuff.

But, to your actual question, I see the trailer and the book as
completely separate things. They have their own pacing, and their own
objectives. With the book, you want everything to feel complete, and
have an emotional pay off of some kind. And you have the narrative arc
to keep things together. With the trailer, it’s more of a tease. You
don’t want to give it all away. And I guess our objective is to just
make them fun and unique.

Book trailers have become more popular, and there is a sort of
template for how they are done that we have tried to stay away from.
We just want them to feel different enough to maybe stand out. It’s a
super small community in some ways, and my book trailers certainly
aren’t racking up millions of views or anything, but we enjoy making
them for their own sake, partly I think because we all just like
working together. If other people dig them, and check out the book on
top of that, that’s icing.

What types of trophies do you have lining your shelves? What kind do you
wish you had? Side note: What would a book called Number One Greg be about?

Beyond my published books, which I kind of think of as trophies in a
way, there are a couple. Last year when I finished the art for Number
One Sam, my editor Rotem sent me a trophy that I keep on my bookcase.
And recently I was looking through some old family photos and found a
first place ribbon that I had won for a school wide art contest in
the 1st grade. My family moved around a ton when I was little, so the
actual winning piece was lost. I remember it though! It was a big
piece of yellow poster board with a marker drawing of outer space.

Maybe it’s time to do a space book?Number One Sam by Greg PizzoliNumber One Sam by Greg PizzolibreakerAnd now for some art from Number One Sam. Thank you, Greg! (Click to make any of them larger.)Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

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Tagged: book trailers, CMYK, disney-hyperion, greg pizzoli, illustration, spot color

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24. Martin Pebble

Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble (Phaidon, 2006; first published in French, 1969)

by Jean-Jacques Sempé

I love this book.

I love the type on the cover.

I love the yellow.

I love the shape and the size and the story.

I love Martin Pebble.

He’s loveable.

(I picked this up on a recent trip to Once Upon a Time in Montrose, CA, which is exactly why shopping in stores is the greatest thing. I had to touch this thing to believe it, and I might not have seen this thing if it weren’t for the bookseller. Bookstores are like story petting zoos and museums that don’t give you the stinkeye if you get too close to the art.)

(Something like that.)

But poor Martin Pebble.

Martin Pebble could have been a happy little boy, like many other children. But, sad to say . . . he had something that was rather unusual the matter with him:

he kept blushing.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques Sempé Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble blushes for all the usual reasons and for no reason at all. The brilliance of Sempé’s color here is hard to miss. Black and white line work contains the red of Martin’s face, and that red occasionally extends to the text as well.

Subtle. Striking.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéThe contrast Sempé crafts between Martin’s red face and all that black and white makes that blushing even worse.

Martin is in a pickle. He’s tiny and nearly lost on the page save for his giveaway condition.

He dreamed of fitting in.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéBut he always stood out.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéThen comes a series of sneezes, some very loud A T I S H O O s, and there he is.

Roddy Rackett, the new neighbor.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéWhen the story changes, and the hardships knock at the door, Sempé doesn’t just use the suspense of a page turn. He stops the story cold.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéRoddy Rackett’s family moves away.

When you are a boy, and when you are made normal in the quirks of another, you never really forget about it. You think about A T I S H O O s while you are doing grownup things like riding taxis and elevators.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéMartin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéSometimes things get back to normal.Martin Pebble by Jean-Jacques SempéI won’t spoil past that pink-lettered page.

But I love it.IMG_1250 copy

And!

Sempé himself sounds like a storybook character. He sold tooth powder door-to-door salesman! Delivered wine by bicycle! (More here.)

Click here for some of Sempé’s covers for The New Yorker. Lovely.

And this Pinterest board is a feast for the eyes, too. Enjoy!

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Tagged: color, contrast, Jean-Jacques Sempé, line, Martin Pebble, Phaidon, shape, size

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25. Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and an interview with Zack Rock

Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

by Zack Rock (Creative Editions, 2014)

Zack Rock and I haunt some of the same circles on the internet. I have a tshirt with his work on it thanks to Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves (how cool is that header?), and I have long admired his work thanks to some tea time at Seven Impossible Things here and here. And once upon a time in 2012, Zack wrote a hilarious joke for a Hallowtweet contest run by Adam Rex and Steven Malk.

I remember that well, cause in fun-facts-here-at-Design-of-the-Picture-Book both Julie Falatko and I were runners-up in that contest, and the real prize was getting her friendship. Start of an era, for sure. (Although Zack did get an original piece of Adam Rex art, and we’d both admit to coveting that a little. See below!)

So. I’ve had my eye out for this book for years. Years! And I was so happy that Zack spent some time chatting with me about this smorgasbord of stuff and story. He also said he “answered the living daylights” out of these questions, so I sure hope you enjoy the living daylights out of them like I did.

Welcome, Zack! (That jovial picture is from his blog, where he has killer posts like this one on bad drawings and perspective. Check it out!)

IMG_9253breakerHomer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

One thing I know that’s true of kids is that they love a billion teensy and scrutinize-able details in books. Your book starts out with such cool stuff on the endpapers, that I almost (only almost) don’t want to keep going! Do you have any kind of catalog for these curiosities, or did you just create anything and everything that felt right? Is there a backstory for each of these elements?!

I drew whatever felt right, “right” being subject to how exhausted my imagination was at the time. And though I’d like to leave the history of the curios up to the readers’ interpretation, I carry a backstory for each in my mind—some more convoluted than others.

For instance, in the museum there’s an antique, penny arcade cabinet inspired by the Musée Mécanique, which houses scores of these old contraptions in San Francisco. So to honor them, I fitted my museum’s machine with a tiny, top-hatted automaton of one of SF’s most curious citizens: Norton I, self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States of America (a real guy). So plenty of thought went into that curio.

On the other hand, another curio is an apple with a faucet sticking out of it because I was thirsty when I drew it.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

(I love the way this whole book starts. I feel like I’m in really good hands.)

Thanks! I like to consider myself the Allstate of illustrators.

What’s your studio like? Do you have trinkets and tschotskes or a cool window view?

Believe it or not, I’m allergic to collecting stuff, so my studio is bare as a monk’s cell. My mother, however, has a fondness/compulsion for antiquing in bulk; almost none of her massive collection of furniture and doodads got past the door of my childhood home without having first seen several generations of use. It lent the crowded house an air of the same well-worn nostalgia that permeates the pages of my book.studio

Surely you’ve hidden some easter eggs in these pages. Any hints? Any behind-the-scenes stories?

Now I regret not hiding an actual Easter Egg in the museum. Honestly, nearly everything in the book is an Easter Egg, since there’s a secret story encased in each curio. But instead of cracking those open, I’ll share a behind-the-scenes tour of the book’s present day setting.

I created the book while living in Seattle, and Pacific Northwest references are littered throughout it. The license plate on the VW Bug in the first scene reads “FRMTTRL,” an allusion to the massive concrete Fremont Troll lurking beneath the Seattle’s Aurora Bridge. The museum exterior is based on the old town hall in Bellingham, WA, and the fictional island it crashed on is named for Washington State’s notorious children’s writer, Sherman Alexie. A Washington State ferry, the Olympic Mountains, a totem pole from Pike Place Market, and a handful of other Puget Sound souvenirs also make an appearance in the book.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

This book has a real undercurrent of ignored things being a treasure with a story. Are you a treasure hunter or a treasure-leaver-for-somebody-else? (I think that’s what making books is, so you are that one for sure. I guess what I’m asking is why do you think HHH was such a collector of stories, and do you see any parallels in your own life of creative curating?)

Ooo, books as treasures to be discovered, I like that! Makes me sound like a pirate.

Homer is an underdog; nobody would look at him and assume his adventures extend beyond an expedition to the local sushi restaurant. He identifies himself with the object’s he curates, so he surrounds himself with the lost and neglected, and by exhibiting their rich history to the world he literally shares his own biography.

And I’ll leave the parallels with my own life to the armchair psychoanalysts.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

What came first to you in this story: words or pictures? Can you talk to being a picture book creator who deals with both parts? (And in case anyone’s wondering, my favorite line is this one: My luggage may be dusty. But my hat still fits.)

Ha, that’s the one line written entirely by my editor Aaron! He suggested it while editing the book, and I thought it was great too, so we kept it in.

Being an author/illustrator isn’t terribly different than being solely a writer, the main distinction is that you have a visual language to express the story as well. So I can employ the duel butterfly nets of text and images to capture the picture book ideas that flutter into view, jotting notes alongside small thumbnail sketches as I try to pin down plot/character/theme details. It becomes a balancing act of seeing which of the two, words or images, best conveys what needs to be communicated.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockWhat’s your creative process like? Any weird routines? What’s your medium of choice?

My only real habit—creative or otherwise—are the nightly walks I take after work, allowing my legs and mind to wander. In fact, I got the original idea for Homer Henry Hudson during one of these constitutionals.

And for picture books I work almost exclusively in watercolor, though for other projects I work in pen and ink, digitally, or with accidental food stains.

Who are your literary and artistic heroes?

They’re all in the book! Along with Shaun Tan, Maurice Sendak and Lisbeth Zwerger—who I painted into a restaurant scene—there’s references to Søren Kierkegaard, Jorges Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Renee Magritte, Herman Melville, JD Salinger, George Orwell, Ingmar Bergman, Charles Schulz, and of course, Homer. Even my favorite comedian, Paul F Tompkins, whose podcasts kept me company during the long hours of illustrating the book, has a cameo as a pipe-smoking painting.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

Do you have a favorite piece of artwork hanging in your house? Or a favorite tune that feels like art?

A few years ago, Adam Rex held a contest to see who could fit the best Halloween haiku into the constraints of a tweet. To my surprise he picked mine, and to my utter flabbergastination he went on to illustrate it and sent me the original art! It’s incredible. I framed it above my art desk as a reminder that, with hard work and dedication to my craft, I may one day hope to be the poor man’s Adam Rex.

Why books for kids?

One of the most valuable skills to possess is the ability to approach the world and its inhabitants with wonder, curiosity and interest. What’s great about kids is that they do this naturally and without being self-conscious. My hope is that Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and future books will be something readers carry with them as they grow older and are tempted to lose that wonder, reminders there’s so much more to the world, the things in it, and yourself to discover if you approach life with an open heart.

Plus, I have nothing to say that couldn’t be said by a talking dog.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockWhat’s next for you?

Another book for Creative Editions about the power of stories, this time from the perspective of an acrobatic pig.

How can we buy your book?

Through your local struggling independent bookseller. Or Powells.com. Or, sigh, Amazon.com.

What did I miss?

There are humanoid pears hanging in the first illustration of the museum interior, bottom of the page. Look past the table leg and Grecian urn. See that? It’s a butt!Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockbreakerI’m pretty sure that’s the first butt mention on this blog. Have any treasure-hunters? Or fans of hidden picture art? Since we all love talking dogs, this book is a great choice for all readers everywhere.

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Tagged: adam rex, color, creative editions, pattern, repetition, zack rock

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