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WARNING! In this post I wax nostalgic and get a wee bit (MEGA) reflective. My apologies in advance!

I had the realization the other day that the start of April is a sort of anniversary for me. It was April 1, 2012 that my very first children's book VOTE FOR ME! made its debut. It is strange to think that I have now been a published author/illustrator for four years. Somehow that seems like not very much time and a lot at the same time. In these past four years I have written and illustrated 8 books (3 of which have yet to come out) and illustrated another 6. But of all my books I think VOTE FOR ME! will always be of particular importance to me.

A big part of its importance to me naturally has to do with it being my first book. So much hope, excitement, and anticipation surrounded both the making and release of this book for me and I still can feel the echoes of those emotions. Interestingly, I think it remains my best read aloud to this point (I do have a couple of books in the works that will give it a run for its money, though). And yet it is also the book I have the hardest time looking at because I have learned so much since making VOTE FOR ME! and feel I could do a much better job making it now. In fact, I do hope to someday re-illustrate and redesign the book. I take some courage from the fact that Eric Carle re-illustrated THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR several times (um, not to compare myself to Eric Carle). I'll need to have quite a bit more success I think before a publisher would be willing to do a new version of VOTE FOR ME!, but maybe someday.

What would I do differently if I was to illustrate the book today? The book is already quite design-y but I'd push that even further. I would go with a thicker and more dynamic line and use different textures. I'd also design the characters differently and I'd hand letter the text. Story-wise there isn't a whole lot I'd change, but perhaps that independent mouse might be replaced by a bird? ;)

I actually remember struggling with what creature would represent the 'independent' in the book. I decided upon the mouse because I could make the joke about the 'big cheese' and because a mouse seemed like a good choice to represent the little guy. Little did I know that four years later an independent would be making a serious run for president.

There are, of course, many things that could be said about this current election. I don't intend to say much here on my site. But I am amazed (or perhaps not really all that amazed) how much more aptly VOTE FOR ME! reflects the current political discourse than it did four years ago.

I feel so very fortunate to be able to write and illustrate children's books. It is a dream job. I often have moments where I go 'I'm doing this for a living! People read my books? People buy them?!' Thank you to all those who have and continue to support, encourage, and inspire me. You rock! Thanks for making my first term amazing. The second term is going to be even better! 4 MORE YEARS! ;)

VOTE and VOTE OFTEN! (Please!)

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2. Happy 2016 Patient Readers… and a look back at 2015

Wow I did not get a lot of blogging done in 2015. 

Instead I got a lot done everywhere else.

Like here:
The cover illustration of KOOKY CRUMBS in progress

and here:
With a posse of illustrators at the Midsouth
SCBWI Picture Book Dummy Retreat at Pickwick Landing State Park

and here:
Meeting Dan Santat and Michelle Knudson
at the National SCBWI conference in LA

and especially here
My launch for THE LITTLE KIDS' TABLE !! On September 11th, the day
after my 43rd birthday. This is probably my favorite picture from all of 2015.
All the ladies in this picture are accomplished artists as well as amazing friends.

Dulce Desserts provided this amazing cake!

Reading my book at Parnassus during the launch.
I was so happy I didn't have to use a microphone.

And this is the my other favorite picture from 2015.
After the party was over the very last picture
was taken with me, Jim Dear, Fry and Sprout

There were also some pretty awesome vacations in the mix:
Then two weeks after that we boarded the Disney Wonder
for some much needed relaxation from Vancouver to San Diego.

as well as some very awesome book parties for many of my talented friends:
Launching POPPY'S BEST PAPER by Susan Eaddy
Launching DUNCAN THE STORY DRAGON by Amanda Driscoll. Also
pictured is Jessica Young who launched SPY GUY and FINLEY FLOWERS

So while a tiny little part of me missed writing in my blog the truth is the time has come for me to realize that the time I spend blogging is time I could be spending doing a lot of other things. Which leads me to my personal goal for 2016: CRAFT

Illustrating and writing require a constant, lifelong commitment to get better. Over the course of my blog I've posted my weekly sketches. I've posted about critiques and workshops and conferences. These are all important to do and to attend but now I plan to spend the better part of 2016 focusing all my creative energy on my craft. Writing and rewriting, drawing, and redrawing. The time that I could be spending putting together a blog post is now going to be spent doing the work that improves my craft. And when I'm not doing THAT I'll be continuing to keep my resolutions from 2015. Or hanging out with Jim Dear, The Fry, and Sprout who are growing up at a much more rapid rate than they have a right to.

Not that I won't ever post as Fabulous Illustrator again but Facebook and Twitter give me the opportunity to natter about ordinary life. I do have some other posts planned but for 2016 I'll save my blog for really special occasions…. like this:
KOOKY CRUMBS arrived on my doorstep on January 11th, 2016!

Happy 2016 patient readers

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Presenting the cover for my next picture book IT CAME IN THE MAIL! This one has long been in the works. Five years? Full of pickles, pigs, and friendship . . . I think this is my best one so far. Here is a peek at a couple interior pieces . . .

I've always been obsessed with getting mail. As a kid checking the mail was the one chore I'd volunteer to do. Even now (despite the fact that I usually only get bills and junk) checking the mail is one of the high points of the day for me. Sundays are always a bit of a disappointment.

Might have gotten in trouble with Kelsey for burning papers at two in the morning but I think the result is pretty neat. Can't say I've every received a dragon in the mail. I'd like to! Please send one to me!

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The Goodnight Star
How it began

I always find it interesting when I have finished a book to look back at my very first thoughts. Some spreads end up almost identical to my first thumbs where others go through many changes. It took me a while with Goodnight Star to get Megan right. I had a lightbulb moment when I decided to put her in pyjamas rather than a floaty nightdress. Suddenly I felt she had the right attitude.

Click on all images to enlarge.

'The Goodnight Star'  author Amy Sparkes will be having a book launch on Saturday 12th September from 10.30-11.30 at Tiverton Library.
Find out more about Amy here.

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5. Brunhilda's Dress

I recently finished the artwork for my book Brunhilda's Backwards Day. The book will be published in fall 2016 by Sky Pony Press. 

Although I can't share a lot of images from the book yet, I wanted to share a little sneak peak of Brunhilda's dress. In the story, Brunhilda wakes up one day to find things quite different than she is used to, and all she can find to wear if an annoyingly fluffy pink ballgown! Well, I just coudn't skip on the opportunity to make this dress look as ridiculously ruffly as possible. 

But then, guess what?! I had to paint the darn thing no less than 20 times in the book! And I had to adjust it all according to the lighting and mood in each picture. Yes, it was a pain. But in the end, it was all worth it. Long live the ridiculous fluffy pink ballgown! I can't wait to share the book with all of you next year!

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The Goodnight Star
by Amy sparkes

I'm really pleased to be able to share with you my latest book 'The Goodnight Star' beautifully written by Amy Sparkes and published by Random House Children's Books. 'The Goodnight Star' will be available to buy from 27th August.

 'Megan is afraid of the dark.'

 'Holding the star carefully, she climbed up to her treehouse...

 This image was my favourite so I was really pleased that it was chosen for the cover.

'The Goodnight Star' is my 8th book with Random House Children's Books. I'd like to thank the team at Random for all their help. Special thanks to Kerrie and Joe.

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Just about one week until my next picture book (REX WRECKS IT!) comes out, so I thought today I would do a bit of a different 'sketchbook saturday' post and share some cover sketches.

I really liked the one below but it is very similar to the design I came up with for MO'S MUSTACHE.

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Rex is excited! In fact, he is so excited he is doing the Koo Koo Kanga Roo Dinosaur Stomp!

Why is Rex so excited? IT'S DINOVEMBER!!! The ingenious idea of Refe and Susan Tuma. Check out their FB page full of plastic dinosaurs coming alive at night: https://www.facebook.com/dinovember. And check out their new book: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780316294591.

This DINOVEMBER Rex and I have two books to celebrate. Of course, REX WRECKS IT! (Candlewick) and because it is also MOVEMBER, Mo's Mustache! (Tundra Books). Mo, Rex, and I have two upcoming events.

First we'll be at BUTTONWOOD BOOKS AND TOYS at 10:30 AM on SATURDAY, NOV. 8th in Cohasset, MA. Buttonwood will be celebrating Neighborhood Toy Store Day. http://buttonwoodbooksandtoys.com

Next we'll be visiting the Burlington Barnes & Noble at 6:30 PM on NOV. 22.

Then we'll be headed to Montana for school visits the entire first week of December!

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9. Meet My Character Blog Hop

Last week I was tagged by the terrific illustrator and equally nice person, Alison Lyne, in the Meet My Character Blog Hop. Now that I'm IT let me tell you about big, white, fluffy ball of trouble. She's not the main character but she does make the story more interesting:

What is the name of your character?
Daisy. She's a rambunctious labradoodle that loves Grandpa, Little Brother and broccoli casserole.

When and where is the story set?
In Grandma Mable's house, around a large, formal family dinner.

What should we know about the character?
She loves broccoli casserole…. and doesn't like being kept away from the family excitement. Also her tail juuuusst skims the table….

What messes with her life?
The gate behind which Grandma and Grandpa put her is a frustration. Fortunately an obliging child comes along to let her out…. so that she can get closer to the broccoli casserole

What is the personal goal of the character?
Get more broccoli casserole. Also stand on hind legs and lick Grandpa.

Where can we read more about the character?
Daisy appears with her entire family in The Little Kids Table written by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle, available Fall 2015 from Sleeping Bear Press!

Here's a couple of her illustrations in progress:

Next week I'll tag the lovely and talented Meridth Gimbel. 

Meridth earned a BFA in illustration from BYU where she had the great good fortune to intern with Brad Holland and Brett Helquist. Currently an SCBWI member in Southern California Meridth loves anything art related, story infused, and chocolate covered. You can check out Meridth's portfolio here and her blog here.

And thanks again to Alison Lyne for the tag! Read about Alison's character here and be sure to check out her portfolio, blog, and books!

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10. December!

Spent the first week of December back in MT visiting my folks and doing school visits. It was crazy busy but also hugely inspiring and lots of fun. There was a nice write-up about my visit in the local paper (The Daily Interlake). Also, there was lots of snow throughout my visit. The big-fluffy-covers-everything sort. It was lovely.

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11. Eliminate filters that dilute the reader’s experience

3D cover200WWhile most of my new book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling, is updated material from the original and out-of-print Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells, there is new material as well. I thought I’d share a new chapter with you on the topic of what are called “filters.” The filters you’ll read about on the Internet are a common problem—I call them action filters—but I think I’ve identified a second kind of filter that can diminish a narrative: body-part filters. See what you think. Then, while you’re at it, treat yourself to a signed print copy of Mastering the Craft here or a Kindle copy here. Happy holidays!

I have always had a problem with “he felt” and steered editing clients away from it, but hadn’t realized that it was just one example of what are called “filters” until a reader on my blog pointed that out. She steered me to Writing Fiction by Jane Burroway. The book cites author/teacher John Gardner:

“. . . the needless filtering of the image through some observing consciousness. The amateur writes: “Turning, she noticed two snakes fighting in among the rocks.” Compare: “She turned. In among the rocks, two snakes were fighting . . .” Generally speaking—though no laws are absolute in fiction—vividness urges that almost every occurrence of phrases as “she noticed” and “she saw” be suppressed in favor of direct presentation of the thing seen.”

Burroway points out that when you look at a character rather than through a character, you start to tell-not-show and rip us briefly out of the scene or, as I see it, out of the experience of the story.

Leslie Leigh, who writes the Leslie’s Writing Exercises blog, put it well:

“Filters keep the reader from sinking comfortably into the fictional dream. One moment the reader is hunched over the POV character's shoulder, observing the world as if he is that character, seeing only what the character sees. But stumble across a "filtered observation" and suddenly the reader finds himself looking at the character instead of with the character—watching the character as the character watches something else.”

It turns out that filtering goes beyond things seen—a partial list follows.

Actually, I believe there are two kinds of filters:

1. Action filters—placing a character’s action between the detail you want to present and the reader.

2. Body-part filters—using a body part rather than the character to do the thing you want the reader to experience.

 Action filters

If the scene is clearly in the deep point-of-view of a character, readers don’t need to be told the character sees, hears, or smells something. When the “something” appears readers intuitively assume the POV character sees-hears-smells it.

Filters back the reader away from the character’s experience by one step because the focus of the narrative becomes the character’s action rather than the actual thing the character senses or does.

Here’s a narrative example:

 Harvey heard the howl of a coyote. He went to the front door, opened it, and stuck his head out. He shivered when he felt the sting of the winter wind and ducked back inside. Then he noticed a second coyote’s howl join the first. He decided to get the shotgun from above the fireplace mantle and scare them off.

 Same scene without the filters:

A coyote howled outside. Harvey opened the front door and stuck his head out. He shivered when the winter wind stung his face and he ducked back inside. A second coyote’s howl joined the first. He got the shotgun above the fireplace mantle to scare them off.

 Here’s a partial list of common verbs that can create distance between the reader and the story experience:

  • he saw
  • she heard
  • he thought
  • she touched
  • he wondered
  • she realized
  • he watched
  • he looked
  • it seemed
  • she felt or felt like
  • he decided
  • she noticed (a very common one)
  • he noted
  • it sounded or sounded like
  • she was able to
  • he managed
  • she experienced

 Body-part filters

A reader’s mind reacts instantaneously to word stimuli—write “cat” and an image of a cat pops into the mind. Write “cat’s paw” and an image of a cat’s paw appears in a close-up. Therein lies the filter created by using body parts to do things in a story rather than using the character. Like an action filter, this kind of filter has the reader looking at a body part rather than being with the character in experiencing the story.

If you write “eyes,” an image of eyes comes to mind: “His eyes searched wildly for a way out.”

If you use a pronoun or a name, an image of the character comes to mind: “He searched wildly for a way out.”

Literally, it’s not his eyes that are doing the searching, it is the character. If what I write has you visualizing a pair of eyes moving jerkily from side to side, is that as true an image as getting you to visualize a man turning his head rapidly as he scans the area for an escape route?

Which serves the story better? Which delivers the character’s experience? I think it’s the image of the man.


 Nervous about meeting Bob, Stephanie cupped her hand and her nose smelled her breath.


Nervous about meeting Bob, Stephanie cupped her hand and smelled her breath.


Frightened by the kindergarten teacher, little Elsa shrank in her seat and her mouth sucked her thumb.


Frightened by the kindergarten teacher, little Elsa shrank in her seat and sucked her thumb.


His elbow smashed into the monster’s face.


He smashed his elbow into the monster’s face.

A tender moment:

His fingertips caressed her face.


He caressed her face with his fingertips.

Examples from submissions to my blog:

Keith stumbled. His body He pitched forward

Her body She lurched forward and her hands flew up.

His arm He recognized her touch.

Not all body parts in action usages are filters. It’s perfectly okay to have a body part do something that is a part of what the character is experiencing. For example,

Billy buckled his knees when Tom landed a punch on his jaw.

Nawww . . .

Billy’s knees buckled when Tom landed a punch on his jaw.

For what it’s worth.


© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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I Love You, Blankie.
By Sheryl Haft

 Click on images to enlarge.
I Love You, Blankie, beautifully written by Sheryl Haft and published by Little, Brown and Company goes on sale in the USA today! It will be available in the UK shortly.

I Love You, Blankie is a great bedtime story for little ones. 'A flowing sail, a hot air balloon, a fluffy cloud, a glowing moon. With a little imagination a blankie can be anything!'

I'd like to thank Sheryl for all her input on the visuals for the book. It was very much a joint project. I'd also like to thank the team at Little Brown for all their support.

One that got away!
A favourite sketch.

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13. “Great resource for writing compelling stories”

Mastering front 100WshadowA new review from Amazon for my new Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling:

5 stars A Must Read

"Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling" is the only writing book -- and I own quite a few -- that I've highlighted. Concepts that I've struggled to understand make more sense, and my writing strengths are further improved. The section on "weak, wasted, and wrong words" is one of the many sections to reread when writing/rewriting a novel, short story, or any prose.

"This is now my go-to book when I'm writing or rewriting a story.

"Story/plot has always been something I struggled with, as far as understanding how to construct a good one. This book has been a big "aha" for me and was, within the first handful of pages, improving my storytelling.

"Definitely a must read for writers of all experience levels."

Signed paperbacks are available on my website (discounted price, free shipping), both Kindle and the paperback are available on Amazon.com.

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14. Hello again!

Was my last post seriously at the beginning of January?! And I started the year off planning on posting weekly . . . but I have a good excuse. I've been illustrating my butt off. Well, not off . . . it is still attached but it has been glued to a chair. The book I was working on took much more time than I had expected, but I've now completed interior art! I dropped it off just this Monday at Simon & Schuster. Here is a sneaky peek . . .

Can you guess what it is about?
More soon!

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15. Something Extraordinary

Today is the book birthday of my latest (fifth!) picture book, Something Extraordinary. To celebrate I'm giving away three signed copies of the book on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Clantoons. Taking entries until 12 EST tonight. Also out today is an interview with Writers' Rumpus (via my critique group pal Kirsti Call) (http://writersrumpus.com/2015/06/16/interview-with-ben-clanton-gifted-author-and-illustrator/) in which I talk about Something Extraordinary amongst other things.

If you happen to be in the Andover, MA area or in Reno, NV, I have two upcoming signings! 

Andover Bookstore (America's second oldest operating bookstore)
Saturday, June 20 @ 1:00 PM
I'll be giving away an original piece of art with each book sold! This event is a bit of a farewell to the region. I've lived in North Andover for two years, but am now moving back to Seattle.

Sundance Bookstore in Reno, NV
Sunday, June 28 @11:00 AM
This will be my first trip to Reno! I'll be visiting my sister and her husband who own Sierra Water Gardens and the WEDGE Ceramics Studio. Forgive me if I look a bit tired at this event. I'll have driven six days in a row to get there. ;)

A bit about the book (this is the blurb Simon & Schuster came up with) . . .

Amazing things are happening all around you. You just need to know where to look—and this whimsical picture book is the perfect place to start.

Have you ever wished for something extraordinary? Like the ability to fly? Or to breathe underwater? What if you could talk to animals?

It’s fun to wish for amazing things. But take a look around, and you just might find that the most “ordinary” things…can be extraordinary.

The idea for the book came to me a few years ago on a rainy day in Seattle. A picture of a boy taking in colorful and tasty rain came in to my mind and I wanted an excuse to draw it. Soon all sorts of things I wish for were bubbling to the surface in a series of images. With the help of some extraordinary events in my life those images came together to make this book. Hope you like it!!

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Daddy Is My Hero

Happy Father's Day to all you Dads!

'Daddy Is My Hero' Written by Dawn Richards - Published by Random House 2013.

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Feels great to be back in Seattle and the PNW!

Already have a couple events lined up . . .

Something Extraordinary STORY TIME at GREEN BEAN BOOKS
JULY 28 @ 11 AM

Hard to believe but this will be my very first signing in Portland, OR!

SEPT. 17 @ 11 AM


Would love to see you there!!

The trip across the country was awesome! It was my sixth time across and this was the best trek so far. In large part this had to do with a lovely stop in Reno, NV to visit my sister and her husband. They own Sierra Water Gardens and The Wedge Ceramics Studio. Such a great spot!

While in Reno I had a signing at Sundance Books and Music. Awesome bookstore! One of the best I've ever been to!

Also went to the Redwoods for the first time. Completely blew my mind. I thought I had seen old growth forests before. This is one of the smaller trees . . .

And of course any road trip involving some dinosaurs is a good thing.

Working on a book featuring a bunch of dinos! More on that soon!

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We're Having a Super Baby
by Abie Longstaff

I have 2 new books coming very soon. We're having a Super baby written by Abie Longstaff and published by Scholastic will be available from 3rd September. Abie has written lots of great books including The Mummy Shop and The Fairy Tale Hairdresser.

'This warm and funny celebration of the bond between siblings is perfect to share with your first-born.'

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19. Jasper John Dooley LEFT BEHIND gets a STAR!

The second Jasper John Dooley book LEFT BEHIND by Caroline Adderson and illustrated by me is now out and about with a STARRED REVIEW from Kirkus:

After Jasper John Dooley's beloved Nan goes on vacation without him, he goes pththth.
It feels just like when the air leaked out of his beach ball. At school the next day, he writes a story about a snake that gets stepped on a lot. The story is so long that it needs staples, but he accidentally staples it to his stomach. That eventually somehow necessitates a full 28 Band-Aids, since it just keeps feeling like the air is escaping from his sad body, possibly through the staple holes. Jasper and best friend Ori, who is given to prefacing his statements with, “The thing is...” (a phrase that neatly captures his amiable take on the world), try to build a cruise ship out of leftover lumber, not altogether a success. Ori gets a bit bossy. A final trial comes when Jasper gets to bring home the class hamster for the weekend but accidentally loses it in his house. As in Jasper's first outing (Star of the Week, 2012), nothing truly compelling happens, but the concerns of this early grade schooler are so aptly, charmingly and amusingly depicted that it's impossible not to be both captivated and compelled. Clanton's simple black-and-white illustrations feature skinny bodies, oversized heads—and lots of smiles.
Early chapter book or read-aloud, this effort will leave its audience with lots of smiles, too. (Fiction. 5-8)

I find it funny that the second book got a starred review when the first was called STAR OF THE WEEK and did not. Either way both are very well written stories and a good choice for boys who are just starting to read chapter books (girls too!). I'm now in the midst of working on the third book, which just happens to be my favorite of the lot so far.

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20. Review of the Day: Giant Dance Party by Betsy Bird

GiantDanceParty 246x300 Review of the Day: Giant Dance Party by Betsy BirdGiant Dance Party
By Betsy Bird
Illustrated By Brandon Dorman
Greenwillow (an imprint of Harper Collins)
ISBN: 978-0061960833
Ages 3-7
On shelves now.


I’m just messing with you.  No, I’m not going to actually review my book here.  I’m not going to wax rhapsodic over the hidden meanings lurking behind the mysterious cupcake on the cover.  I’ll refrain from delving deep into how Lexy’s emotional journey with the giants is just a thinly disguised metaphor for U.S. / Russia relations between the years of 1995-2004 (it isn’t, for the record).  I won’t even talk about the twist ending since spoilers make for interesting, if sometimes heartbreaking, reviews.

No, I’ll just talk instead about how happy I am that publication day is here at all.  And how pleasant it is to share that day with my buddy / pal / illustrious illustrator Brandon Dorman.  I’ve had a couple chances to present the book so far (including one disaster that I’ll get to in a moment) and here is what I have learned.

1.  It is possible to read this book to 3-year-olds thanks in large part to the pictures.

This is true.  The text is bouncy, which doesn’t hurt matters any, but when one is dealing with very small fry it is also mighty helpful when you have eye-popping visuals on your side.  And let me tell you, kids like the art of Brandon Dorman.  More than that, they love it.

2.  It is possible to read this book to 4-year-olds thanks in large part to the mentions of dances.

I have discovered by reading this at a couple daycares that if you teach kids jazz hands, interpretive dance, the twist, and the chicken dance in the course of reading this book, they don’t get bored.  As a children’s librarian I was always the storytime reader whose peripheral visual would zero in on the single kid out of thirty that looked bored.  This flaw in the programming has carried over to reading my own book.  If one kid is bored I suddenly get this manic tinge to my voice and everything becomes a little more frantic.  Be warned, easily bored children.  I’m gunning for you.

3.  Etsy is the creator of and solution to all of life’s woes.

I learned this truth when I constructed a necklace out of Caldecott cover Shrinky Dinks.  To make the necklace I wanted something that featured fuses (as a nod to the name of this blog).  So what do you do when you get such an urge?  You go to Etsy and search for such a thing.  In the case of my book presentations I decided I wanted blue furry boots.  So I type “blue furry boots” into Etsy and what do I get?  Something even better.  Blue furry rave legwarmers.  Oh, they’re the pip.  Here’s what I look like talking to the kids in ‘em.

Giant Dance Party Reading 1 500x375 Review of the Day: Giant Dance Party by Betsy Bird

Dance for me, little children.  Dance, I say!

Giant Dance Party Reading 2 500x375 Review of the Day: Giant Dance Party by Betsy Bird

They are also very easy to snuggle, if snuggling is what you want to do.

Giant Dance Party Reading 3 440x500 Review of the Day: Giant Dance Party by Betsy Bird

Special thanks to Melanie Hope Greenberg for the pics.

4. When you decide to go to a bookstore you’ve never visited before, give ‘em your phone number.  Beforehand.

Fun Fact: Did you know that there are TWO bookstores in Brooklyn called Powerhouse?  As of Saturday, I did not.  And thus begins my tale of woe.

I think there’s a general understanding out there that authors have at least one bad author experience tale they can tell.  But that experience, as important as it may be, is not usually their VERY FIRST BOOKSTORE APPEARANCE.  Because, you see, on Sunday I knew I was speaking at Powerhouse.  So I Googled it, got the address in Dumbo, and merrily traipsed over there.  The poor staff was cleaning up from an event the previous night and had no clue what I was talking about.  Still, they were very nice and helpful and though they didn’t have any copies of my book I just figured folks might order it.  Mind you, “folks” was a pretty optimistic term to be using in my head since nobody was there.  I mean nobody.  Little tumbleweeds would have been my audience had I spoke.

After giving it some time I packed up, the clerks apologized, and I went home.  Mildly mortifying that no one in Brooklyn came to see me, but it was 11:30 on a Sunday morning.  Not ideal.

And I would have proceeded in my merry little bubble for whole weeks at a time had I not gotten an email the next afternoon that made it very clear that I had gone to the wrong Powerhouse.  That there are, in fact, TWO stores out there with the same name.  Two.  Not one.  Two.  And my lovely publicist at Harper Collins had even gone so far as to send me a link to the event with the address front and center.  An address that was not in DUMBO at all but Park Slope.

So apparently (and this is where I sink into a puddle of 100% sheer uncut mortification) folks DID come to my event.  Folks I like.  Folks I would want to see.  Folks who would want to see me and who failed to do so because this doofus author merrily went to the wrong friggin’ store.

What have we learned here today, children?  Even if a publicist sets everything up for you, give the store your cell phone.  All this would have been solved if the store had had my info and had given me a ring.  There are other lessons of course (actually READ what your publicist sends you might be right up there) but you can bet I’ll be contacting all my future store appearances with my cell # right now.  Yup yup yup.

Onward and upward my patient fellows.

On shelves April 23rd (happy birthday to me!)

Source: Wrote the darn book.

Like This?  Then Try:

Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:


  • For the Harper Collins site I came up with a little explanation of How to Throw a Giant Dance Party.  Electric blue Kool-Aid may or may not play a hand in it all.


I would be amiss in not including them.

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21. THE TABLE SETS ITSELF (another vine video)

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22. Want a good read for the holidays? Free?

Gundown cover 150WBeta readers wanted.

I revisted a novel of mine with unexpected results. This time I was touched by the characters and what happens to them in a way I hadn't been before. Was it me just getting older and sappier, or does the narrative really have the capability of doing that? Just what does this story do for readers? And does it do enough of whatever that is to make it worth paying for?

Gundown is a thriller, and it is speculative fiction in that it takes place a few years from now and there are things in the story that haven't happened (yet). Other than that, it’s grounded in today’s reality.

I've done some rewriting, retitled it, created a new cover design, and I’d like to find beta readers who can give me feedback. I just don’t know what/how to think about this book anymore (one reason there's no blurb here).

I've tried marketing it as a thriller and as an issues novel. Where do its best chances lie in its present form? How to present it, or should I just let it rest?

I can email to you a PDF, a Kindle file, or an .epub (Nook and other readers) file. All I ask is that you read it as a reader and give me your reactions—perhaps in review form or whatever you’re comfortable with. I’m not looking for line editing, but any notes you have are welcome. More than that, I'm interested in a dialogue with readers about how to think and talk about it.

In the tradition of FtQ, I’m posting the opening page to see if there are any takers (yes, there's a poll). But today you’ll also be able to read the rest of the chapter. Your comments will be welcome.

The opening page of Gundown.

Jewel wove through the lunchtime crowd that filled the plaza beside the Chicago River. A breeze reeking of car exhaust swirled around the skyscrapers, but she liked its soft touch. She imagined she could feel the spring sun turn­ing her mocha skin a shade darker.

The Wrigley Building clock said she had time to do a little window-shopping, so she headed up Michigan Avenue for Water Tower Place, not that she could afford anything in the boutiques there.

Two white dudes slouching against a gun store smacked kisses her way. A green stripe ran down the center of the blond’s buzz-cut hair, and a red do-rag decorated the smaller guy’s shaved head—he cupped his crotch and puckered at her. Ugh. She picked up her pace, her miniskirt riding high. They pushed off from the store and swung into step on each side of her.

Green-Stripe crowded against her. His sour stink assaulted her, and the skin on her arms goose-bumped. He said, “Hey, Brown Sugar.”

She wanted to say “I’m not your sugar,” but no, just keep going. Staring straight ahead, she said, “There’s a cop back there.”

He laughed. “Yeah. Murphy.”

Wishing she wasn’t wearing high heels, she broke into a run and darted between a couple holding hands.

Would you turn this first page?

Click the link below for the rest of the chapter. If you'd like to go ahead and request a beta reader copy now, just email me with the format you want--PDF, Kindle, and Nook etc. formats.


(chapter 1 continued)

• • •

Striding through the gray trudge of pedestrians along Michigan Avenue, Jake puzzled over why the U.S. attorney general wanted a meeting with him. Sure, she had her hands full, but she had an army of agents—the FBI, DEA, U.S. marshals. What could she want from a hired gun? He’d thought he was done with government work since he quit, but he couldn’t say no—not after the president had called and hoped out loud that he could help..

A tiresome clump of a half-dozen gang jerks swaggered toward him with cocky menace, semi-automatic pistols dangling in their hands. The gangbangers blocked most of the sidewalk, forcing people to step off the curb or sidle along a building front. Jake locked his gaze onto the eyes of the tall kid in the center and walked straight at him.

The kid kept his cool as they came together, but one stride from colliding he dropped his gaze and sidestepped. Never slowing, Jake cut through.

He focused on what he knew of the attorney general. He’d heard from his old contacts in Justice that Marion Smith-Taylor was honest and devoted to the law, and that she hated the under-the-table deal-making of politics. He had, too . . . once upon a time.

• • •

Do-Rag flashed past Jewel and then stopped a few feet ahead, arms spread wide. A hand grabbed at her elbow from behind. She jerked free, cut around a woman with a stroller, and then ran back toward the cop. “Murphy!”

Green-Stripe caught her arm and yanked her to a stop. He swung her to face him and leaned close. “You need somethin’ to relax you, chocklit, and I’m it.”

She yanked free and spun. His partner stood waiting for her.

They grabbed her arms and hauled her backward toward an alley. She pulled with all her strength, but couldn’t tear free.

Thirty feet away, Murphy stood and stared at her.

She cried, “Murphy?”

The punks dragged her into the alley; her call ricocheted from concrete walls. “Help me! Somebody! Hey!”

Glances flicked at her from the throng on the sidewalk and then skittered away. See no evil, don’t get involved, stay safe; she’d done the same a thousand times.

Now what she had to do was live through this.

• • •

A scream cut into Jake’s thoughts. Ahead, two scruffy punks pulled a young woman into an alley. A reflexive impulse to go to the rescue tried to come up . . . but a policeman was headed her way. Let the cop deal with it.

The woman’s cry came again. “Murphy!” The officer, a wide man with multiple chins, halted at the alley entrance and gazed at the action.

Jake reached the alley and stopped a few feet behind the cop. What the hell, he could spare a minute if needed.

The shorter punk held the woman’s arms from behind while the blond with a stupid green stripe in his hair ripped her shirt open. She wasn’t wearing a bra.  

She yelled to the cop, “Murphy! Murphy, it’s me!”

Quick, smooth, Clothes-Ripper slipped his hand inside his Bulls jacket, pulled out an automatic pistol, and gave the officer a screw-you smile. He didn’t aim the gun, just held it ready.

How would the uniform handle it?

The cop moved on, hands clasped behind his back as if out for a stroll in a park.

There was a time Jake would have chewed the guy out for not doing his duty.

The kid replaced his pistol and unzipped his pants. A cry from the woman shriveled into a wail. “Murphyyyy.”

The cop didn’t look back. People flowed past, unseeing, as if they wore blinders.

Jake looked north toward his waiting appointment.

Back into the alley.

The woman staggered her attacker with a kick to his leg. He slapped her, and then had to dodge a knee aimed at his crotch. Girl had guts.

Jake sighed, stepped into the alley, and drew his .45 Colt automatic from the holster under his windbreaker. He pulled the silencer from his pocket, twisted it on, and settled into a marksman’s stance.

The punk holding the woman saw Jake, and his grin O’d toward a shout. Jake couldn’t allow a warning; the one with the gun was fast. Jake’s bullet stopped the kid’s yell in his mouth and slammed him back. His hands didn’t know he was dead and pulled the woman on top of him when he fell.

Jake shouted, “Freeze!”

The tall one spun toward Jake. He jerked his gun out of his jacket as he yelled, “You’re dea—”

Jake shot him in the heart. The kid staggered back, looked down at his chest and then up at Jake, his eyes wide like a scared little boy. His knees buckled and he collapsed, his gun clattering on the pavement.

A familiar rush of nausea hit Jake. He swallowed the sick feeling and focused on the mechanical rhythm of removing the silencer and stuffing his pistol into his holster.

The woman scrambled to her feet. Clutching at her torn top, she stared at the mess that had been her attackers, then at Jake. A strong face: ice-blue eyes, a dark scar curving down from high on her cheekbone.

He turned his back on her and stepped into the mindless herd. His thoughts went back to his meeting.

What did the attorney general want him for?

Would he give a damn?

Could he give a damn?

• • •

Jewel trembled, the scar on her cheek throbbing as though it remembered old trouble. She breathed deep and settled herself down. Her mama had always said, “In this world, you got to be hard. Ain’t nobody there for you but you.” Hallelujah, Mama.

She’d been lucky this day. She had to thank the guy, even if he was white—Mama’d taught her manners, too. Jewel hurried after him, trying to arrange her torn top into decent coverage, but one tit or the other kept falling out. Great, now she had to walk down Michigan Avenue with her boobs on display. And wouldn’t they love it back at the office.

She ran to the mouth of the alley and spotted her rescuer slicing through the crowd. She really should get back to her job, but, hell, he’d pretty much saved her brown ass. She shouted, “Hey!” No response.

He crossed the street. She hurried after him; damn, the man could move. The crossing signal switched to “Don’t” as he entered the Chelsea Hotel.

Jewel ran for it.

If you want to read Gundown and give me feedback on it, please email me with the format you want (PDF, Kindle, Nook etc.). Many thanks for your help and advice.

Full disclosure: I published this novel under the title We the Enemy. While reader reviews are strong, it hasn't thrived. I'm hoping Gundown is a better read.


© 2013 Ray Rhamey

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I'm it! Elizabeth Rose Stanton tagged me! And not only me but also Jennifer K. Mann (check out her blog tour post HERE). So apparently Beth is not only ridiculously talented as an artist (I might be a wee bit jealous of her knack for thinking of unusual and brilliant things) but is also quite fast. If you have not yet come across her book Henny then you are in for a treat. The book is funny, curious, and also quite sweet. It is just the sort of book I wish I had made.

.On to the questions!

What am I currently working on?

I am not so patiently awaiting the release of my next picture book REX WRECKS IT! which comes out at the end of September. It is about Gizmo the robot, Wild the monster, and Sprinkles the unibbit who all like to make fantastic creations out of blocks. And then there is Rex the t-rex. He wrecks EVERYTHING! I suppose I'm not currently working on the book itself but I am beginning to work on how to introduce Rex to the world. THAT requires a lot of work because (as previously mentioned) Rex wrecks EVERYTHING!!!

I am currently working on a number of projects. I'm just finishing illustrating the fourth Jasper John Dooley book which is called YOU'RE IN TROUBLE. Great title, yes?! It is my favorite of the JJD books. Caroline Adderson is an amazing writer.

I am also putting the final touches on a picture book I've been working on with Simon & Schuster called SOMETHING EXTRAORDINARY (set the bar rather high with that title).

AND I am starting on final illustrations for a second Max book by Wiley Blevins which involves an egg. It works out perfectly because baby ducklings are currently hatching in my studio!

That little guy on the right hatched today!

With a couple of projects coming to a close I am also now exploring a number of new book ideas. They involve such things as dragons, robots, pigs, narwhals, monkeys, and evil mutant potatoes.

Why do I write what I write?

I don't have a choice! Not that I want one. I have all these images and stories bouncing around my noggin trying to get out. My mind would explode if I didn't try to get them out somehow. And that is a scientific fact. It happened to a rhino named Marty. It wasn't pretty.

Also, I love to entertain kids! Doing school visits is the best. When I see kids laughing because of what I've written or when they ask questions about my characters or want me to draw pictures for them . . . it gives me a great feeling of satisfaction. It makes me want to keep doing this as often and for as long as I can.

How does my writing/illustrating process work?

When it is working . . . it goes something like this . . .

1. I have a brilliant one-of-a-kind idea that I can't believe came to me. (Most of the time I eventually realize that the idea has either been done before or wasn't near as good as I originally thought.) These ideas can come anytime and anywhere. But for the most part I find them when out for walks, in the shower, or when procrastinating daydream-style.

2. I draw and write my idea out. I carry sketchbooks and pens with me ALWAYS. For me it is as necessary as having my license, keys, or pants . . . I fill up oodles of sketchbooks trying to work out the format for an idea, making notes about jokes I want to include, and mostly drawing the sort of character I want over and over again. I create little storyboards in my sketchbooks super quickly. It doesn't matter at this stage if it looks all that pretty. It just needs to get out.

3. I use Photoshop to compile sketches into a working dummy once I've fleshed out the character design, story sequence, and feel I want to go for.

4. Time for an editor to take a look? (Fingers crossed!)

5. HOORAY! The book will be published with ____________. Now comes a bunch of back and forth and revisions. I'll usually end up doing a number of new dummy books. This is when Photoshop is most helpful for me. It allows me to quickly explore and create revised illos. 

6. HOORAY! HOORAY! I finally have approval to do final art. WAIT! NO! I DON'T WANT TO DO FINAL ART! Final? Can't we talk more about all of this. Maybe somehow the final illustrations can do themselves. Okay, fine. I'm going to do this. Time to buy and borrow loads of audiobooks and get to it.

7. After many light nights . . . submit!

8. A final few revisions and then it is time to wait for proofs and then for pubication.

9. Time to do it all again! HOORAY!

I'm afraid I'm not nearly as fast as Beth. But I have managed to tag one AMAZING person! Brooke Boynton Hughes. I believe someday that name will be a household name. She has a style that is truly hers and it is lovely. Her post will be up a week from now!

I'm also trying to tag Frank Dormer. The chase has just begun so I'm still hopeful, but even if I don't catch him . . . you should still check out his work. It is awesome.

And so are you! Thanks for stopping by!

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24. Born Reading: An Interview with Jason Boog

Folks, I talk a fair amount about my upcoming book with Candlewick but I’d be lying to you if I said it was the only book I worked on that’s out this year.  For lo, I helped write the introduction for another book that will be coming out this month on the 15th and it is awesome.  Behold:

bornreading23 Born Reading: An Interview with Jason Boog

Cute, right?

At the end of June The New York Times released the following story: Pediatrics Group to Recommend Reading Aloud to Children From Birth.  For those of us in the literacy-minded community, this comes as no surprise.  But what about those parents for whom reading aloud poses a challenge?  Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age is a delightful aid to any new parent, with (as the official description says) “step-by-step instructions on interactive reading and advice for developing your child’s interest in books from the time they are born.”

So I figured, why not interview the author himself?  If only to give you just a taste of what the book has in store.  Because you know me.  I don’t write introductions for no junk.  Jason kind submitting to my grilling.

Howdy, Jason. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

When I was a toddler, my mom took me to the Lyons Township District Library in the village of Lyons, Michigan (population 789). I kept reading and writing for the rest of my childhood, and I ended up studying English at the University of Michigan. After college, I spent two years working with youth groups in Peace Corps Guatemala.

In 2003, I studied journalism at New York University and I have worked as a writer ever since. Most recently, I spent five years as the publishing editor at Mediabistro, where I led the GalleyCat and AppNewser blogs.

There’s no lack of parenting books on the market these days, but your book appears to be doing something we don’t see that often. Can you give me the gist of the project and where it came from?

When my daughter Olive was born in 2010, I wanted her to love books as much as I do.

But it had been more than 25 years since I had read a kid’s book—so I needed some help. I consulted with child development experts to find out the best way to read to my daughter. Then I interviewed librarians, teachers and app creators to find the books, eBooks and apps to share with my child.

Through this research, I discovered the art of “interactive reading” or “dialogic reading.” Child development experts crafted these reading techniques 25 years ago. These simple and easy reading tricks will literally make your child smarter.

I tried to show parents how they can use interactive reading techniques to enrich books, eBooks, apps and any kind of 21st Century media experience. More about the art of interactive reading: http://www.born-reading.com/the-art-of-interactive-reading/

And had you written a book before?  How did you hit on the best outline and format for the content?

I had written a book before, but this experience was unique. I was literally living the book with my daughter and my wife.

Over the course of writing Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age, I watched Olive change from a mute newborn into a voracious and opinionated young reader.  The form flowed naturally from that growing experience. I dedicated a chapter to each year of a young reader’s life, incorporating all the books, eBooks and apps we read together during the writing process.

Whenever I learned something new from my team of amazing experts, I would immediately share it with Olive and my wife. We all grew up as the book evolved.

I could not help but notice that in the book you don’t just talk to reading specialists and educators but also teachers, librarians, and children’s authors themselves.  All told, do you have a rough number of who you spoke to?  How did you decide whom to speak to in the end?

I spoke with more than 50 different experts during my writing process. I asked all the questions that I had as a parent or that I had heard from other parents.

For instance, when local parents debated how much screen-time was appropriate for toddlers, I contacted child development experts and neuroscientists to get an expert opinion. It was so amazing to have these experts to guide me every step of the way.

Once Olive could voice her own opinions, I let her interests shape the book as well. When she developed a love of comic books, I reached out to the wonderful folks at TOON Books to find out how to nurture that interest. When Olive got into cooking, we shared the Julia Child cooking app with her. When she obsessed over Disney’s Frozen, I created a whole bundle of new stories to share with her: http://www.born-reading.com/born-reading-bundle-for-disneys-frozen/

One of the things I really liked about the book was the amount of attention given to screen time, particularly when it comes to the youngest children.  In our day and age it seems like the wild west in terms of shiny rectangles (as my brother-in-law calls them).  Did you initially expect this to take up as much time in your book as it did?

Oddly enough, I first envisioned my book as focused entirely on digital reading and the shift to a new kind of reading. My own reading and writing is mostly digital now, and I imagined my daughter would spend lots of time with these new devices. My wife totally disagreed and wanted to be more cautious.

Once I started exploring the research (and lack of research) into the benefits of digital materials for kids, I realized that I had to caution parents as well as share new kinds of reading. Thanks to the experts I interviewed, I learned how to moderate my daughter’s time on devices and how to make sure she has the best experience with the tablets and smartphones in our house.

These devices can be very seductive, but my wife and I worked together to create a more healthy relationship with technology.

In the course of your research, did you hit on anything that surprised you?

The art of interactive reading was by far my best “discovery.” Many librarians and teachers are trained in these awesome interactive techniques, and they are more than willing to share them with parents.

I was shocked that nobody ever told me about these techniques as we prepared for Olive’s birth. These interactive reading techniques should be taught to parents as they leave the hospital with a newborn.  Reading can truly change a child’s life.

At the American Library Association conference this year, a roomful of inspiring librarians shared a list of interactive picture books. Even if you are a shy reader, these books will help make any reading experience more interactive: http://www.born-reading.com/best-interactive-print-books-for-kids/

Any plans for a follow-up?  

I really hope my daughter spends the rest of her life as a reader. If I can take the journey with her into middle grade or YA books, I might have to write about that experience as well…

Thanks, Jason!  We’ll all look for your book next week!


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Ahoy! I have two signings coming up soon for my new picture book REX WRECKS IT! 

Paul Czajack, Dana Alison Levy, and Ben Clanton at the Andover Bookstore
September 27 @ 1 PM
89 Main St # 1, Andover, MA 01810


Ben Clanton at the Odyssey Bookshop
October 4 @ 11 AM

9 College Street, South Hadley, MA

I'd love to see you at one of the events! PLUS if you are in the Andover area there is a contest you can enter for a chance to win a signed copy of REX and an original illustration. Drop off the completed entry at the Andover Bookstore.

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