Thursday, May 31, 2007

Kerry Madden's Blog Book Tour!

My friend Kerry Madden has a new book out: Louisiana's Song.
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
Elizabeth Dulemba
Dotti Enderle
Alan Gratz
Kim Norman
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 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 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!
Elizabeth Dulemba
Dotti Enderle
Alan Gratz
Kim Norman

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Barbara Johansen Newman's Blog Book Tour

My dear friend Barbara Johansen Newman (barbjn to those who hung out with her on the Illustrators' One-list) is out promoting her brand new book, Tex and Sugar, all over creation.

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.

Catch Barb's other interviews this week at:
Dotti Enderle's blog - Monday
Elizabeth Dulemba's blog - Tuesday
Kim Norman's blog - Thursday
Karen Lee's blog - Friday

Friday, May 4, 2007

Weird science for authors

The fun part of writing a book is you get to put everything you have, into it. Also lots of things you had but no longer have, and things you always wanted.
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's Book Blog Tour

Today we interview
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
Bunion Brothers
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!

Support your booksellers!

May is National Independent Bookseller Month, as declared by Robin and Mary over at Shrinking Violet Promotions.
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!