Saturday, December 1, 2007
I've been working nonstop since September on the second Ellie book, first some marketing stuff with the publisher and then the revised art and writing for it.
All during November I worked all day and all night on the book. I stayed up til 2, 3, 4 in the morning. Sometimes til after 6am. Sometimes I went to bed at 3 and had to get up at 7:30 to get my daughter to school. It was a grueling schedule, definitely.
I missed some very important events. I don't even want to list them because if I think about it too much I'll be too sad and will question my priorities.
Basically I put my life on hold, for the book.
Nobody asked me to.
Nobody forced it on me.
I have a weird sense of focus when it comes to books.
Whether reading them or creating them, I enter the world of the characters and it's nearly impossible to come back out before the job is done.
With Harry, Hermione and Ron, my teenage self became the fourth buddy, the one not mentioned in the book by the author. I hung out with Hermione in the girls' dorm. I had a crush on both Ron and Harry, and wondered whose side Snape was on. In that big cataclysmic fight scene I was there, helping our guys to triumph over evil.
It's the same way with my Ellie McDoodle books. I become part of the book, both observer and creator, an unwritten and unmentioned character who goes on every adventure, shares in every secret and sometimes wishes my real life was so exciting.
(Actually, my real life is plenty exciting, but a lot of that is due to the books!)
All through November I lived the Ellie book.
I sent the last package of art and text to arrive on my editor's desk on the last day of the month.
There will still be little revisions, and the first package of the first 44 pages has some very rough art in it, so there are about 11 illustrations that I know will need redrawing.
But the bulk of it is done.
Book 2 is written.
I think you'll enjoy it. I laughed a few times, out loud, while writing it.
I felt Ellie's angst and I understood her pain in certain scenes.
I think the reader will, also.
Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School won't be on bookshelves until the end of June. In this book, Ellie starts at a new school in a new city without any friends.
Like me, Ellie has trouble sleeping before the big event.
Here's a sneak peek at page 66:
Now, I can't wait for the whole thing to be printed into a galley and then published as a real book.
I think it's a good one!
But there's plenty of things to do before the book comes out.
Like answer all this email.
I have 958 messages accumulated, which need responses. Very few of them need only filing or deleting.
If you've written me and you've waited patiently for two months for a response, know that you've got plenty of company, and I might be responding soon...
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Friday, October 19, 2007
For me, a great day is when I've gotten a lot of art and writing done, and the kids are nearby and safe and I know exactly what work I need to do the next day. Throw in some music I love or my favorite tv show ("The Office") and it's hard to imagine being happier.
Today was just such a day. My new character, Marcella, still needs some work before she's submitted to a publisher, but she's almost there and I know exactly what to do next. Ellie McDoodle's sequel, The New Kid in School, is progressing well. The kids are nearby including one visiting from college. I just rediscovered all my digital music files so now there's music on the jukebox. Life is good.
Most of us were together at my house last night for Family Night. Tornado warnings kept everyone here a bit longer than they wanted (on a school night) but it felt good to know they were all safe while the thunder crashed around us and the tv weathermen kept announcing new threats.
We woke up this morning to news and photos of the destruction just 10 miles up the road. The last time a big storm ripped through here, it took out our screen door. But just a few houses away, power lines and huge trees were down, everywhere, and one neighbor lost his garage.
We've been pretty lucky. It's a great day to be alive.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Read on for an interview with Karen Lee, author and illustrator, as part of her friends' Book Blog Tour.
Hi, Karen! I'm so excited about your newest book, My Even Day, and excited to help you along on your book blog tour.
1. You are from a family with a bunch of kids born in a short number of years, just like me. How did that affect your art? As second of five, do you feel like an oldest kid or a middle kid?
I think both nature and nurture have had their influence on how I became an illustrator. I want to point out here that even as a very young child it was all about illustration for me – not fine art. I never wanted to be a fine artist and the reason I didn’t go to the nearby Cleveland Institute of Art is that it is a fine art school. It wasn’t until I discovered CCAD that I knew that was where I belonged.
I feel like the oldest. My brother is one year older than me and then I have stair stepping sisters, so I was leader of the girls (leader of all until my brother got taller than me in high school). I still feel that big sister need to round up my chicks and herd them where they need to go, not that I am a natural leader, just a chick herder.
2. What kind of art did you like to do as a kid?
Has any part of your art remained constant?
I was a very typical kid. I enjoyed art and it was always very exciting for me, but I wasn’t particularly driven. I went through the horse profile stage like every other girl. I had a pretty dynamite high school art experience and was able to try lots of different things. Drawing and painting have remained the constant and the work always looks like I did it – even when I look back on older work, there is something soft and Karenish about the work. That’s sort of frustrating but it’s also what contributes to the style.
3. You're married to an artist! That must make for some interesting
dinner table conversations at your house. How do you keep your work separate? How do you keep from morphing with him into a third, between-the-two sort of entity?
Yes! Our conversations can be pretty fun. I love being married to Tim the guy, but I am really fortunate to be married to Tim the artist. We have always kept each other passionate about art and that is precious. He turns me on to artists outside the children’s publishing world and that keeps me more in tune with what is happening in the broader world of illustration. I don’t think we keep our work separate and I’m glad.
We have had several overlapping clients over the years – one of his clients will call me not knowing that we are married, and the other way around. Although our work is different there is definitely an influence on each other. I am actually ready to morph with him now (oh, how he loves to hear that!). It took some maturity on my part to be able to think of working with him on something and we are beginning to. He is much more adventurous in his art than I am and I want to tap into his bravery, lean on him a little. And I think the art could be pretty spectacular!
What we don’t do is critique each other. We need to stay married and it is too hard to not take criticism personally.
4. Describe the perfect career path for you.
I want to continue to illustrate other people’s writing. I want to be offered work that challenges me to continue to move forward rather than stay in place. I want to continue to write and gain the confidence and skills to create something enduring and universal. I want to be able to delight in the work I am doing (as I am now). I don’t want to map out where the path ends up but find my way as I go. When I look back at where I’ve come from I am grateful that it led me here and I have certainly guided it, butI have also allowed for synchronicity and I know that will influence what becomes of me next.
5. Are you active in SCBWI or any other writer groups? What kind of stuff you do for them? And what do you get out of it?
Yes! I am very active in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators here in the Carolinas. I am the Illustration Coordinator for our chapter – which really means I am the head cheerleader and wrangler for the artists in the organization. I coordinate the art for our quarterly newsletter and occasionally provide articles. We are having our 15th annual fall conference beginning this Friday and I have been very involved in the planning for that. I love this organization and as much as I have put into it, I have received back in spades. It was through my first conferences and the SCBWI online discussion board that I learned the fundamentals of both the art of writing and illustrating for children, and then the business side of the profession. I entered contests (and won), found my publisher, found both online and local critique groups, and most importantly I found myself. I feel like I have a close circle of friends that I can count on, and a larger community that I can be inspired by.
6. You're only 29. Barely out of school and already making a name for yourself. What's different than what you expected, at this stage in the publishing game? What surprised you? What most pleases you?
Ha ha – yeah, 29. The real story is that I spent fifteen years doing storyboards in advertising and after I had both my kids I was exposed to children’s publishing for the first time. I decided to begin building my children’s portfolio when my youngest was two – and now she’s ten. So eight years is no meteoric rise. That is what I didn’t expect. I was shocked at how little I knew about creating effective picture book art, and then how long it took to have someone take the risk of signing me to do a book.
What pleases me? After years of being frustrated with my artwork almost all the time, I am now frustrated with it less than half the time. So for me the process has become the most fun. I love the early concepting phases and all the excitement that brings as ideas come together. I love drawing, I love painting. I love showing the finished result to people and seeing them react to it.
Read Karen's blog here.
Stay tuned for some art by Karen. I LOVE her work and will upload some later today....
Here's the rest of the book blog tour:
Monday: Elizabeth O. Dulemba -
Tuesday: Kim Norman -
Wednesday: here! Ruth McNally Barshaw -
Thursday: Barbara Johansen Newman -
Friday: Dotti Enderle -
Saturday: Kerry Madden -
Friday, September 21, 2007
That's my grandson, who's in kindergarten, waiting for his aunt, who's in fifth grade, to finish her math so they can walk home from school. He's smart but disruptive.
And that's my dear friend, the fifth grade teacher, who sometimes puts up with a lot.
Her class is featured in the next Ellie book. Attending school is great inspiration!
Back to work...
Friday, August 31, 2007
I forget about almost everything except the essentials (like, um, kids, and meetings) and I pop my head up at the oddest times, throw out a few emails that may or may not make sense, and duck back down into my work before getting an answer.
It's efficient. I'm getting a lot of work done. But sometimes I feel like a recluse, or a ghost. Reaching high for the stars always seems to pay off. So, back to work....
Before I go -- I've done some exciting and rewarding author visits this summer. I love connecting with audiences.
Next up is the Schuler Books birthday bash on Sept. 15. If you live near Lansing, check it out!
Monday, August 6, 2007
~no spoilers, but I can't guarantee others' comments~
I just finished book 6 and 7 within the past 2 weeks.
Say what you will about the adverbs, J.K. Rowling is one fabulous writer.
Things I loved:
The underlying message of love
The richness of her fantastic world
Harry isn't perfect
Neville's and Draco's roles
Things that surprised me:
Teddy in the epilogue
Albus's middle name in the epilogue
Less "dumbing down" to American English of British idioms and slang in the later books
Things I guessed before they were revealed:
The exact location of the last thing Harry sought
The eventual roles of two major locations
Why two of his friends disappeared near the end
Things that angered and disgusted me:
the revelation about Harry's destiny
Harry's plan against the goblin
Things that annoyed me:
Albus Dumbledore's constant referring to his own apparent brilliance
How a character would say, "This must be the answer" and it was -- when I could think of a half dozen other plausible answers.
"He said, sycophantically." Come on. Who talks like that?
Things I wonder about:
Did JKR tell filmmakers what items or characters would be important in later books? Or did she leave it to chance that they would include the most significant bits of her incredibly long stories?
Right after reading book 6 I was depressed for a day. I dreaded the ending of book 7 and the end of the series.
The recurring theme of death in the Harry Potter books reminds me of my own losses, some of them connected to Harry, actually, and it's painful. And the world has put a huge investment of time into reading the books. I'm a slow reader (despite doing well in speed reading in college) and my list of books to read is longer than my list of books I want to write.
I can survive in a world without a new Harry Potter book on the way, but it'll take me a little time to get used to it.
Now, back to my own writing...
Saturday, July 21, 2007
This year I signed up to get the book at my local independent bookstore, but was intrigued by what the newspaper billed "The largest Harry Potter party in Michigan." My kids weren't available so I begged my reluctant husband to accompany me to it -- the Aria Bookstore Diagon Alley party in Howell, Michigan.
I picked him up from work at 10:30pm (he works crazy retail hours) with a picnic dinner and we drove to Howell, about a 45-minute drive.
It was worth it. Here's one of tonight's sketches:
(click to see it larger)
This is Aria Bookstore from across the street at midnight when they first opened the doors and let fans in to buy the book.
Charlie and I had fun walking the street and admiring the antique stores that were still open (for the party). Scavenger hunt questions dotted store fronts, and many stores featured Diagon Alley signs, props, and sidewalk drawings. It was pretty cool.
The way we see this, it's history.
Friday, July 20, 2007
A few months ago I bought a digital camera, thinking it'd be handy for capturing things to eventually paint or sketch.
And I thought I might finally get some group shots of my kids.
How nice it would be to send real photos to friends so they could see how the kids are growing, rather than just sending cartoons.
I didn't realize trying to get photos of all of the kids together, smiling nicely, would be like herding cats.
Here are my kids in the best photo I could find to send to a dear friend who travels a lot and hasn't seen them in a few years...
(the one in the middle, who is almost behaving, is my grandson. Obviously this goofiness is inherited)
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
But, with a little help from my friend, it was easier than I thought it would be, and it was fun.
I discovered my favorite part is right before liftoff, when the plane speeds up and races down the runway. Then, when the wheels leave the ground, euphoria.
Here are a couple sketchbook spreads from the flight to Santa Fe.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Why is it the people with the least amount of money have to pay the most for things?
Phone company deposits. Utilities deposits. Insurance penalties. Those aren't paid by rich people. They're paid by people who have trouble paying their bills -- the very people who have trouble coming up with the money are forced to come up with the money.
If you're rich and famous (or an influential politician), people are happy to give you things for free: couture gowns, jewelry, appliances. If you're broke, pay your own way.
Three times on her tv show on Bravo, Paula Abdul asks ordinary citizens around her for a few bucks because she's hungry.
1) Does she pay these people back? Or do they forever bask in the glory of having helped a rich person get something for free?
2) Can't she pay one of her entourage to always have 20 bucks of her own money on hand, for such impulse buying?
I'm sure she's a good person. Maybe she should make an effort to show compensation so that people like me don't get the wrong idea.
Rich people can buy their way out of jail and prison. Witness that French-named inheritor to the hotel fortune. Does access to such riches and special considerations build character? No -- in fact maybe it makes it harder to be good. TV shows seem to glorify the wild side of the rich and famous and their progeny.
Bookstore returns? Simply rip off and send the covers back to the distributor, to get credit for the books. Be sure to destroy the remains: Don't give away books without their covers, not even to poor people who might really benefit from them. It's against the rules.
I learned this when my husband worked at a college bookstore 25 years ago and it still grinds me. Surely there's a better way to handle this.
Leftover restaurant food? Don't give it directly to the hungry. It's unsafe!
Can't afford to buy a tv or a new couch? Just rent one, paying by the month until you own it. But -- it'll cost you extra. Maybe twice as much as if you had the money to buy it in the first place.
Need a couple hundred dollars to get you through until the next paycheck? Simply take out a loan -- those paycheck loan shops are proliferating around here! You'll pay back the loan... plus a hefty rate of interest.
This is the American way.
But if you ask me, it's twisted.
I've got a new song, folks.
A parody of the old song, "Baby, it's cold outside."
This version is a dialog between a harried editor and a pushy, newbie writer.
A warning, there is one tiny, slightly naughty word at the very end of the song.
I listened, I laughed. Upon the third time hearing it, I snorted while laughing. I urge you: Go listen to Kim's song. It's funny.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
I do this whenever I get a peculiar sort of restlessness that is only made better by doing something drastic and permanent.
The good news is I am getting better at this, having done it for, oh, gosh, about (counting fingers), well, ever since college.
The bad news is I am still not a professional.
BEFORE the fit of pique:
admittedly it is
and too long.
AFTER the fit of pique:
it's no longer
Right after cutting a few inches off my hair, I found the exact right words for the first three sentences for the picturebook I have been pouring my heart into for the past six weeks, PLUS a title.
Obviously, then, this strategy works.
But I have revisions for the Ellie McDoodle sequel due this summer.
And I am running out of hair.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
And you'll also find (ahem) my chat about humor there also.
This Humor chat was a lot of fun to do. Jan Fields, the web editor for ICL and also the moderator of the chat, is downright brilliant. Still, we managed to digress into low-brow humor at times. Slapstick lives!
If you're a writer wondering about some part of the process of writing for kids, check out the index of transcripts dating back to 1999. The sheer breadth of it all will astound you. And sign up for their free Children's Writer e-newsletter. It's packed with useful information.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Jack of all Tails debuts this month with Dutton, and it's a tail wagger. I mean, it's the purrr-fect read-aloud. And you'll go ape over the illustrations.
But before you read my interview, check out the others:
Read Kim's blog at http://jackofalltails.blogspot.com/, and follow the rest of Kim's tour as she visits:
Monday - Elizabeth Dulemba's blog
Tuesday - Dotti Enderle's blog
Wednesday - Kerry Madden's blog
Thursday - Barbara Johansen Newman's blog
Friday - Karen Lee's blog
Saturday - my blog
Hello, Kim! :)
You're an entertainer, a singer, a writer, a graphic artist, a mom and a deep thinker. Is there anything you cannot do? Give us the nasty details, please. :)
I cannot stay on a diet. I cannot run fast. (Couldn't even BEFORE I needed to stay on a diet.) That holds true for pretty much all forms of athletics, although I enjoy swimming. Instead of thinking of myself as athletically challenged, I like to think of myself as "cerebrally inclined." The only reason I turned out to be any good at tap dancing was because it's more about innate rhythm than athletics.
(Well, unless you're Gene Kelly, my all-time Hollywood crush. Then it's ALL about athletics. Other Hollywood crushes? Christopher Plummer. And Morgan Freeman. And Jewish actors with intelligent faces and thinning hair. Really. I have a thing for Jewish guys. Somehow it always feels a little racist saying that.)
I cannot play the piano well or read music as well as I'd like. VERY poor practice habits as a kid.
What are your school visits like? Pretend I have a budget for only one author to visit my school, and I already hired myself last year. Why should I hire you this year?
I like to think I give an entertaining school visit that leaves teachers with "take-aways." (Things they can reference later, after my visit.) I also like to see that, while the kids are having a good time, they aren't out of control. I recently saw a rather well-known author, (won't name any names) who did -- to be sure -- a funny, entertaining presentation. But, number one -- it was all over the place. One minute he was talking about Santa, the next, somehow we were looking at pictures of butterflies. A very ADHD presentation. Not sure how teachers would use this material later in the classroom. And he got the kids worked up to that level where they become kind of sassy. You know what I mean? Where they think they're part of the show and start showing off, giving goofy, giving off-task answers, cutting up and being rude.
I did a school visit a few weeks ago where the kids were in a howling frenzy over my evil inner editor photos, and yet, if they got too rowdy, it was still easy, before things got too out of control, to give them a polite, "shhh" before I moved onto the next image.
with kids at
When the kids ages are right, I often close my presentations with a song I wrote called "The Storytime Boogie." It's a song that encourages reading at bedtime. Another good time spent at my Mac, mixing the song in Garage Band. I could do that all day! I had my talented friend Carol, (who DID practice her piano) record the song for me, then I mixed it in Garage Band, adding sound effects which the kids think are funny.
What's the next book, after Jack of All Tails and Crocodaddy?
Kim's new book
There's a rhyming picture book on one of my editors' desks right now that I need to revise. Plus, I'd really like to pull out that chapter book, "Smoke Rings." Maybe with the inspiration of my new gazebo, I can finally REALLY put some good work into that book. I've just got to overcome that evil inner editor, who harps at me much more loudly on longer works. I've written some really good stuff for Smoke Rings, but I haven't totally found it's direction yet. Maybe I need to pretend I'm just blogging, so typos and ungrammatical sentences don't matter!
Are you a Harry Potter fan? What do you think of all the fuss?
I was during the earlier stories. I think I read up to book 4 aloud to my kids, which was very fun. I remember one vacation in Maine where we had these idyllic read-alouds. Since then my younger son has devoured each one moments after publication. He keeps encouraging me to read the rest of them, but somehow I just never get to it. And I confess, I get a little fidgetty during the movies, although we have been to see all of them so far. Action movies just don't hold my interest the way more character-driven movies do.
What's your dream situation for your books to take you into, in the next 7 years?
Oh gosh. That's so hard to admit out loud, isn't it? It would either sound ridiculously pie-in-the-sky, or like bragging. But I'll take a stab at it:
-- I'd like to win some awards, but not big enough that I have to go on the Today Show. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor told the funniest story when she spoke at a conference a few years ago. Got "the call." Was told to stay off the phone, because the Today Show would be calling momentarily to book her for the NEXT DAY. Says she doesn't remember much after that, but does recall telling her husband something like, "I have to lose 30 pounds by tomorrow." Haha! I know I'd have exactly the same reaction.
--I'd like to do a series. Something that would just fly off the shelves as the next book is announced. (Hey, we okayed pie-in-the-sky for this list, right?)
--I'd like to be one of those speakers who gets a WHOLE page to herself in the conference catalogs. I do think my speaking skills are a good match for my writing career. I know some writers just shudder at the thought of having to give a speech. I'm lucky that I don't get nerves over that sort of thing. I get nerves over finding my way to the venue where I'll DO the speaking. That's another of my "cannots." I am very directionally challenged.
How many half-written story ideas do you have stuffed in a drawer?
Oh, dozens and dozens! Well, maybe not that many half-written, but I do have an idea file into which I quickly record ideas. That's in the hundreds at this point. (If I'm at work at the newspaper and an idea comes to me, I send myself an email.)
I have a jar of old keys I found at my grandmother's house. They're gorgeous old skeleton keys, old barn keys, some just plain keys that don't look as old. But I was enchanted when I found this heavy box of keys in my grandmother's house after she passed away. I put them into an antique canning jar so you can see them properly. The keys represent inspiration for me, because every key has a story. It's up to me to find those stories. There used to be 231 of them, but sometimes I send them to friends when their books are published, so I don't have quite that many now.
To some of the keys, my grandmother had affixed notes like, "Found outside church, Sept. '46." I'll never know whether she kept them because she hoped to return them to their owners, or if she just liked the design of the keys. I'm guessing more of the latter.
Once, as an experiment, I went thru all my idea notes, printed them up on slips of paper and stuffed them into a second jar. I wanted to have as many ideas in that jar as I had keys. I made it, too! I often bring the jar with me to school visits. There's always at least one clever child in the audience who immediately gets that the keys represent stories to me. I call the second jar my "keynote jar."
Do you keep a journal? How do you keep track of your good ideas?
I used to keep a journal into I wrote every morning after my walks. I've let BOTH those good habits lapse in the past couple of years. Really need to get back to that! Have resolved that before this summer is over, I WILL. (Yeah. Like the diet I'm always starting tomorrow.)
I talked about my messy collection of notebooks on another blog this week, and mentioned my idea jar above, but that's still not a good way to organize my ideas. I do have a folder on my computer into which my more developed ideas go. If I've taken the time to work on an idea a bit, (rather than that initial scribbled sentence), I'll go ahead and create a folder for that story and put it in my "Kim Stories" folder.
But I still don't think it's ideal. I'm one of those organizationally challenged types, (a double whammy with my directional challenges) who does best if she can SEE a project. So I used to have these colorful, vertical hanging files into which I'd put the stories as well as any publisher correspondance. But THAT didn't work well either. I ran out of wall space to hang them! And some of the folders got too fat and heavy! So I'm still looking for that ideal filing system that works just right for my particular brain.
What's the most important message you have for your fans?
Buy lots and lots of my books! No, seriously, just buy books.... and love books. If you can't afford to buy them, (I buy most of mine 2nd hand), check them out from the library -- by the boatload.
I was thinking about the "state of books in America" recently, as I enjoyed my book launch party. You constantly hear that books are a dying form of communication. And yet, here were all these people who took time out of their day to come and celebrate with me. Americans still DO get excited about books. They admire authors because they admire books. Or at least, they admire the act of book writing. They think of it as a kind of magic. Heck, I write them myself and *I* still think it's magic. I'd just like people to continue to believe in that kind of magic.
It's magic to me! Thank you, Kim -- you're a good friend and a fabulous writer and an entertaining interviewee.
Kim's blog http://jackofalltails.blogspot.com/
See more of Kim's interviews here:
Monday - Elizabeth Dulemba's blog
Tuesday - Dotti Enderle's blog
Wednesday - Kerry Madden's blog
Thursday - Barbara Johansen Newman's blog
Friday - Karen Lee's blog
Saturday - my blog
Friday, June 15, 2007
Please clear a path while I sing.
:::soft, sweet, clear voice:::
Happy birthday to you,
:::a little louder:::
Happy Birthday To Youuu,
:::picking up steam:::
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR KIM'S BOOOK,
H A P P Y
B I R T H D A Y
T O O O O O O
Y O U U U U !!!
Friday, June 8, 2007
Came home and slept. And slept. And slept...
I'll put the sketches on my website so you can see how it all went.
And I'll post some of the extra-good ones here.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Since she has so much interesting information to give and it couldn't possibly all fit into one interview, I'm helping host her for a book tour through several blogs.
Visit the other blogs
and also read the interview below for a fascinating look behind the scenes in Kerry Madden's gentle world of writing.
- Kerry, please describe for us the world of Gentle's Holler.
Gentle's Holler, along with Louisiana's Song and Jessie's Mountain, the two companion novels are set in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina in the town of Maggie Valley.
The Weems family lives in a holler up Fie Top off Highway 19 between Cherokee and Canton near Waynesville. The books are set in 1962-64 around when GHOST TOWN IN THE SKY opened (1961).
They are a family of ten kids who live without a television even though it's the 1960s. Their daddy is hoping to hit it big with a banjo hit. Their mother holds the family together as best she can and then Grandma Horace comes to visit.
I wanted to write a novel with love - and though these kids bicker and fight and get in trouble, they love each other and they absolutely want to explore world through art and music.
- How do you balance your kids' very different needs, with your writing career?
It's a huge balance, but this year is easier - our son is a freshman in college - so we just have two kids at home...It's been tricky all along though.
My husband, Kiffen, has always been a great support, taking the kids off or cooking dinner or cleaning. (Our house is so messy though, honestly, and cluttered.)
I write when they're in school, and I try to go to everything that they do - plays, sports, gigs etc. When they were babies, I wrote during their naps (nothing I wrote was much good, but I was needing to practice)...I used to write on weekends.
I'm very disciplined, and I feel like the world will end if I miss a deadline.
And from the very beginning, I didn't want to tell people I was writing a novel and then not do it. But it is a balance.
My kids are my editors and inspirations. So I think they feel part of it - they've watched it grow from nothing.
- I love that your website says you're an explorer. Can you tell us more about that?
I grew up in ten states because of my father's football coaching career, and even though I hated moving as a child, it gave me a sense of adventure that lingers to this day. I love going to new places to explore.
Our first year of marriage in 1987 was teaching English at Ningbo University in China - we both wanted an adventure before real life loomed, and after our time teaching we took the Trans-Siberian home from Beijing to Berlin.
When our children were young, we took the kids on cross-country roadtrips twice, and it was hard, but amazing - I wanted to instill in them the same longing for exploration and adventures.
A few weeks ago, I went with my sister to Monroeville, Alabama to explore Harper Lee's and Truman Capote's hometown - I love meeting new people and listening to their stories.
When I teach writing workshops, I tell kids to have adventures and explore the world! I also lived in Manchester, England my junior year in college, and I always tell young writers/explorers to study overseas.
- How do you handle the balancing act of basing your story on a real person versus respecting her sense of privacy? Do you tiptoe a lot? Is your sister in law proud to be an inspiration for your book? How would you handle it differently if the central story were a negative one?
Well, Tomi inspired the character when I first started writing the book, but I think she'd be the first to agree, she is not really Livy Two Weems.
I don't have to tiptoe, though, because she's proud of the book, and I'm so proud of her music. I wish I could market her voice and songs right off my website. She hasn't read the next two, but she's always been such a support and she knows the books are written with love. I have done writing workshops at a school where she teaches an afterschool program in Nashville. I love her music so much, and she's an artist who believes in other artists.
If it were a negative portrayal, I'd probably not mention the inspiration. I'd lay low. In OFFSIDES, my father inspired the football coach (tough-talking, cussing, ambitious, insensitive, driven and yet loving) and I was terrified of him reading it...After he finished the book, he said, "Took me six months and a lot of scotch to read that sucker. I get to write the disclaimer. But I'm proud.)
- How has your life changed with the success of your writing?
My life has not changed really. I am so relieved to have books published, because there was such a dryspell of just bad writing and rejections - and I thought - what if I never publish again? It was relatively easy to get my first novel, OFFSIDES published, but it was nine years before GENTLE'S HOLLER came out.
I love the opportunties that these Smoky Mountain novels have given me - meeting so many kids, librarians, and teachers...working with a wonderful editor and agent...so yes, that aspect of my life has changed.
I am not nearly as scared as I used to be in front of audience, and I love telling mountain stories.
We have never bought a house, though, as we can't afford to in Southern California...and we're putting one child through college and another will be applying soon...So our day-to-day economics haven't changed much though I don't have to teach quite as much as I used to and that's a relief.
I am also writing the YA biography of Harper Lee, and I know that would not have happened had I not written these Smoky Mountain novels.
- In twenty years, what books do you want to have written?
I hope to have written the biographies of Harper Lee and Truman Capote for kids. I would very much like to continue to write more Smoky Mountain novels of the Weems' family. I hope to write Op-Ed essays and eventually have them compiled into a collection...I love that form. I'd like to see OFFSIDES come back in print as a YA novel.
And I'd like to write a novel (not for kids) about my grandparents in Leavenworth, Kansas and their 63 year marriage...My grandfather played the organ for the silent movies until the talkies put him out of business...my grandmother was a devout Catholic and they were devoted to each other - I'd like to capture it somehow. They loved highballs, roadtrips, crossword puzzles, Johnn Carson, Mass...
Thanks for these great questions, Ruth. Oh...and I want to adapt all three novels - GENTLE'S HOLLER, LOUISIANA'S SONG, JESSIE'S MOUNTAIN - into a musical for kids.
I have no doubt that will come to pass. Best of luck, Kerry! :)
Readers can find out more about Kerry, here:
And please visit her book blog tour, here!
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
And to help her get the word out, some of her friends have formed a blog book tour for her. Read my interview with her, below, and then visit these other interview spots on the web this week for a more detailed look at Barb. She has a fascinating background and smart insight into the children's book industry:
Dotti Enderle's blog - Monday
Elizabeth Dulemba's blog - Tuesday
Kim Norman's blog - Thursday
Karen Lee's blog - Friday
I was surprised when I found out you have a history with puppets. I made lots of puppets over the years, and when I was little I dreamed of being a puppeteer. But you actually lived my dream! Did making puppets affect how you create art now? Have you been tempted to make puppets of your more recent art?
Hey, it is never to late to get back to puppetry! My husband and I think about doing some day again when we both have more time. I would like to create stories that I could turn into puppet plays some day.
Puppets are essentially character portraits, and when I create the protagonists and supporting players for a book, I think along those terms. I try to pick out the visual clues for clothing, expression, hair and settings that define the essence of the stars of the story.
I am actually planning on Tex and Sugar puppets and dolls right now! I haven’t decided which to do first, but I am leaning toward the puppets because they are more portable and I will be able to use them for school visits.
Your publisher is making a big splash with your newest book,Tex & Sugar. What does it feel like to get the star treatment? And how do you think it will affect your next book?
It feels very validating. I’ve been illustrating for a long time. The people at Sterling really believed in this book from the beginning, and I am happy that they enthusiastically got involved with the promotion. I love doing promotion, too, so it is great to think of being on a team with them and sharing the goal of seeing the book get out there.
Of course, now I have been a little spoiled. Who wouldn’t be? I very much want my next project to find the same enthusiastic support. I am working on a story that has a kind of timeless and universal theme. The setting is fun and the characters are funny. I hope it has the same appeal as Tex and Sugar. Of course, one never can predict anything in this business. But, Sterling has been wonderful to work with and I hope the next book is as well received as this one.
If you make picture book dummies, can you describe them for us?
I sketch everything out on full size watercolor paper. I just start brainstorming and let the ideas flow freely. When I sketch, I make sure to listen to something, or talk on the phone so I can sketch from the back of my head without thinking. Eventually the page begins to take shape. But it’s just the beginning.
I then scan in all the rough sketches and start to play around in Photoshop and Painter, until I get them just right. I take a long time with this. It takes a while to clean up the pencil marks, move things around and change sizes, flip images, draw some more, and so on and so on. This goes on forever. I do very detailed dummies.
Eventually I will print the first dummy on to cardstock and construct a book of sorts to see how it flows and to make sure the proportions are right. When I have it exactly where I want it, I print out the line art on to watercolor paper and start painting.
What's your process after an editor asks you to illustrate a manuscript?
I read the story several times and wait for the movie in my head to come through loud and clear.
First I have to see the character (s). I will make sheets of character studies until I see the face that says: this is the guy! I then take that guy and draw him in several poses and outfits and settings. I do this with all the story characters, like someone in charge of casting (BTW, I am always “recasting”movies I see, too). I see manuscripts like I am a movie director. I compose shots and figure out which scenes to shoot, I decide whether or not I need a close up, and then I start filming.
Do you have an art rep? Ever have one? Got any good horror stories?
I do not have an art rep. I have had a couple. I worked for years without representation, but wondered if I was not as much a pro without one. So I signed on with a couple of them.
Guess what. I still got most of my own work, and I still had to fork over a large percentage to reps who did nothing to get me the kinds of jobs I should have had. I got those myself. So it did not work out for me. It was a big mistake.
Frankly, I think that the 25-30 % art reps take is steep nowadays. We are no longer married to having offset hard copies printed to send around. Web sites do much of that work, so potential clients can narrow what they are looking for and a rep can tailor the samples sent, and print them out on office printers.
I think that literary agents have a much more reasonable fee of 15%. And that is well deserved. But 30%? I don’t buy it.
What's your dream job right now?
Here is one of my dream jobs: I want to work on astory that takes place in a fifties diner, with a jukebox and lots of funky diner patrons. Those patrons would drive in ‘55 caddies and ‘57 chevrolets. They’d wear herringbone suits and shirtwaist dresses and hats and pearls. There would be dogs and cats, even if the patrons were humans.
And when they got home they would sit at chrome and formica tables and eat off of Fiestaware before going into the living room to watch a console TV with rabbit ears. Of course, the parakeet would talk nonstop.
My other job would have something to do with Elvis. I love Elvis.
When I first met you online, you were hanging out on the Illustrators list (which is now a community of 1200 on Yahoo Groups). You were unfailingly patient in answering newbie questions, so I felt my questions were never too dumb to ask.
You talked about your art *and* your writing, freely, so I could see that my own hopes of being an author as well as an illustrator were achievable. You were a voice of reason, experience and inspiration. I learned an awful lot from you.
Grovel, grovel, grovel, question: Do you have any advice for those who are not quite new to the industry, but not real experienced yet, either? Like, me?
Geesh, how do I show a blush on line? Thanks for those nice words, although I honestly don’t remember doing anything special.
First, I have to say that I could easily write an advice column like Dear Abby for illustrators, but, I’d pass on offering the writerly advice. I feel like more of a newbie in that department than you are for sure. You write that part.
Still, I have plenty to say about art and I have a bit of the Jewish/Italian/Norwegian mother in me who likes to mentor an awful lot.
So I would tell aspiring children’s book creators that it is key to read a lot of what is being put out there, and to spend countless hours drawing--drawing as though the pencil is a part of one’s hand. Putting down images that pop into your head should come as naturally as writing a simple word. It needs to flow. And it needs to be one’s own handwriting, so to speak, too. One artist’s art should not look like anyone else’s and that only comes with drawing your fool head off. That is not to say we all don’t get inspired by things we see. We do. But when push comes to shove, our art has to be our own. It should be so natural that we couldn’t imitate someone else if we tried and our art shouts only our own names out.
You also can’t underestimate how important it is to develop a very thick skin and be willing to set yourself up for a lot of failure, frustration and floundering. Still, you have to have a certain amount of naive arrogance, too. That’s a contradiction, I know.
This industry is nutty. It makes no sense. If it made sense Madonna would not be calling herself a book author, or getting away with “writing” books and then not putting the illustrators’ names on the front of the books. I am still waiting for the media and kid’s lit world to be as outraged about that as much as how poor the books were.
So you have to be willing to ignore all the common sense in your head that tells that publishing is a dice toss. It is. And the odds are stacked against you. Still, I’d say it’s worth the gamble, because it is very satisfying to create a book. Of all the illustration work I have done, nothing compares to doing a book.
Thank you, Barbara! You continue to inspire me.
Friday, May 4, 2007
I've always been a lover of science. If I hadn't been a writer/illustrator I might have been an embryologist. I was always fascinated by the development of the human body, and figured it'd be a neat thing to research for a living. But then I had four kids and just researched them, instead, and did writing and art for a living.
In writing the sequel to the Ellie McDoodle book, I get to revisit some weird science from my past, including Puff balls, and Touch-me-nots, and some strange insects demonstrating biodiversity.
I can't say more or you won't want to read the book.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Dotti Enderle, comedian,
author and storyteller.
Dotti wrote the
Fortune Tellers Club books,
The Cotton Candy
Catastrophe at the
Texas State Fair, and
Granny Gert and the
and she has a new book out!
GRANDPA FOR SALE (Flashlight Press) debuts this month.
In it, eleven-year-old Lizzie is minding the family antique store while her grandpa naps on a spindly sofa. When Mrs. Larchmont and her poodle, Giselle, enter and begin their buying spree, they refuse to leave without bargaining for the one antique not for sale...Grandpa!
To celebrate, Dotti's taking a book blog tour, interviewing with different blogs all week.
Here are the other sites in the tour:
Karen Lee's blog on Monday,
Elizabeth Dulemba's blog on Tuesday, (mine Wednesday),
Kim Norman's Stone Stoop blog on Thursday, and
Barbara Johansen Newman's Cats and Jammers on Saturday
and Joe Kulka's blog on Sunday.
RMB: Dotti, you're the undisputed Queen of Book Marketing. Any tips for the beginner?
DE: Since all books are different, promotion varies for each. As a general rule though you want to get your name out there as much as possible, whether it’s writing an article, mailing bookmarks, or posting to various lists that are frequented by your target audience. Myspace seems to be the trend for connecting with teen readers. And school presentations are perfect for authors of picture books. There’s a lot of competition out there, but if you write the best book possibly, and make yourself available to market it, you should have a good amount of success.
RMB: Your zany nature comes through in your correspondence, your writing and your marketing approach. How'd you get this way?
DE: I was born goofy. I love humor. And I’m the youngest of seven children, so it’s a defense mechanism. I think your personality should shine through in everything you undertake…unless you’re a really crabby son of a gun, then…maybe not.
RMB: When I finally get to meet you in person, like at a conference, how will I know it's you?
DE: My Liza Minelli impersonation? Okay, probably from my big mouth.
RMB: How does it feel to see someone else illustrate your words?
DE: Well, since I can’t even draw a decent stick figure, it feels pretty good. I’ve been really lucky with illustrators so far. They added so much more than I could ever dream. And after meeting two of them personally, I discovered they’re as warped as me, so they were a perfect match for my books.
RMB: Does any part of the book making/publishing process become routine, now that you've done this so many times?
DE: I really had to think about this one. Fortune Tellers Club became routine because I wrote eight of those for the same editor. But because I’ve worked with five different editors now, the routines varied with each house. And there are some parts of publishing that I’ll never get used to…mostly the flop sweat that forms when I get my edits.
RMB: What's the funniest thing that has happened to you, in relation to your book writing career?
DE: I think the funniest has to do with my school presentations.
I read The Cotton Candy Catastrophe at the Texas State Fair, then I touch on a little Texas trivia, asking the kids simple questions like, “What’s the state bird? The state flower?” They call out the answers in unison.
When I get to “What’s the state motto?” there’s always a short pause, then someone inevitably shouts, “Don’t mess with Texas!” Um…no.
Last fall I did an author visit at a school in San Antonio.
When I asked about the state motto one girl yelled, “Remember the Alamo!” Only in San Antonio.
For the record, the state motto is “Friendship.”
And that's the motto for this week, too. Support my friend Dotti. Read more about her new book here, at her MySpace site. And visit the other stations in her book blog tour, here:
Karen Lee's blog,
Elizabeth Dulemba's blog,
Kim Norman's Stone Stoop blog on Thursday,
Barbara Johansen Newman's Cats and Jammers on Saturday
and Joe Kulka's blog on Sunday.
Then go buy the book!
And, incidentally, that's one neat blog Robin and Mary have going.
They talk about book promotion for the shy person.
Worth a look! Repeatedly!
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
All of this art is copyright Joe Kulka, used with his permission; please don't copy it.
In this spread I especially like how the little boy's being yanked out of the scene.
Here my favorite part is the dynamic angle and the bright color against night sky.
This one reminds me of some of the old-timey cartoons, the early ones from the 1930s and 40s, when craft really mattered.
And don't you just love that lucious color? Yep, me too.
Joe's one of those rare artists who can do both cartooning and also color.
Go on -- go check out his book! It's got all good reviews on Amazon.com.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Today I am pleased to act as Station #2 on the Blog Book Tour for Joe Kulka, author and illustrator of a new picturebook, WOLF'S COMING! (Carolrhoda Picture Books)
This is the first book that Joe both wrote and illustrated, and to celebrate he's touring the blogs for interviews by a few of my author/illustrator friends in the kid lit world:
Check out yesterday's interview, by Elizabeth Dulemba.
See tomorrow's, by Alan Gratz,
the next by Dotti Enderle,
and the last by Barbara Johansen Newman.
You don't have to read the interviews in order, but I hope you'll check them all out because
1) they're fun and insightful
2) you'll learn a lot about Joe Kulka, and
3) he's one heck of a great illustrator and WOLF'S COMING! deserves the buzz it's getting.
RMB: So, Joe, what's your favorite part of "Wolf's Coming!"?
JK: My favorite spread is the one where Wolf is creeping towards the tree with his tongue hanging out.
I like the way Wolf turned out in that one, I think he's got a good gesture to him and shows some
personality. I also think composition wise it was a nice spread with the simplicity of the dark tree trunk making for a good background for the text.
Plus it's probably the most scary/creepy looking illustration in the book so that always makes me happy.
RMB: Do you have a favorite routine or lucky clothes or a special muse that got you through the deadlines for this book?
JK: No, not really. Mostly seeing the mortgage bill arrive every month was all I needed to keep going and get it done.
RMB: How many times have you read this story to your kids?
JK: So far only twice.
The very first time they were distracted by SpongeBob on TV so I concede that battle.
The next time was when they were both tucked in for bed and it just magical.
They are 3 and 6 and especially watching my youngest's son face - he was all into it. And, at least I think so, not just because I wrote it. He was really listening to the story. I can't begin to describe how wonderful a moment that was. I'm just very grateful I got a book published while they were still young enough to enjoy it.
RMB: What kind of kid were you when you were growing up?
JK: A nerd. Glasses since second grade, constantly sniffling from allergies.
I was a very good student in school, usually straight A's.
Spent a lot of time in the library. Loved to draw. Liked playing basketball but pretty much was lousy at it.
So I spent even more time drawing. I started taking lessons on Saturdays from a local illustrator, Robin Heller, when I was 11. That pretty much set up my next 30 years for me. I would get an assignment and have a week to do it. Even at age 12 I remember staying up until 3 in the morning so I could finish my drawing.
RMB: What's up next, now that WOLF'S COMING! is out?
JK: Working on my next book as author and illustrator "The Rope" to be published by Pelican. After that I start on "Gingerbread Man Superhero" written by Dotti Enderle. That should a lot of fun.
RMB: Thanks, Joe!
See a sampling of Joe's books on Amazon.com,
and check out his entertaining website at http://www.joekulka.com
And then check out the rest of the blog book tour:
- Elizabeth Dulemba
- Alan Gratz
- Dotti Enderle
- Barbara Johansen Newman.