Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cheezers! Ellie McDoodle has flair!

Here's a bit of Ellie McDoodle flair, available on Facebook:
Just search for Ellie McDoodle. Or scroll through the books category.
And -- there's more to come! (To me this is big-time excitement)

The pin shows Ellie drawing in her sketchjournal (direct from the cover of book 2) and has the word Cheezers! at her shoulder.
Cheezers is a purely-Ellie word. Nobody else uses it and you won't find it in the dictionary. It's a term of surprise, exasperation or dismay.

And what is flair? It's the goofy pins and ribbons the restaurant staff had to wear in the quirky movie, Office Space.
I can relate; I worked at Burger Chef when I was 16 and we sometimes had to wear flair, though it wasn't called that. There was a pin nametag and a pin for the Mariner, a fish dinner. And the hostess -- the plum position every girl wanted; it required no work, just smiles, and you didn't have to wear a hairnet -- got to wear a cool boating hat.
Working for Burger Chef was okay, but it convinced me I didn't want to go into food service as a career. I'm much happier creating kids' books.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Legacy of love

In researching what I hope is the next Ellie McDoodle book, I've found tidbits of information that relate to some of the characters. One is this: Some animals live a very long time in captivity. An iguana in Aruba is 41 years old. Blue and Yellow Macaws live to be about 80.
These are people years, not dog years.

This struck me: What sane person would willingly take on an obligation that will last most of his/her life, nurturing a little creature that is totally dependent for food, love and socialization, even knowing the little creature would outlive the owner? How would you plan for its safety after you die?

Who takes over? It reminded me of something that happened 17 years ago: An elderly neighbor lamented to me that she worried not about her own future, but about her little dog. Who would take care of him when she was gone? Would they even find her dog in time to help it, if she keeled over and died at her house, alone? In my youthful idealism, I assured her we'd check on the dog and make sure he found a good home. Two years later we moved away. I sometimes wonder about that dog. I prefer to believe that, since they lived in the townhouses with lots of neighbors very close by, someone noticed when the woman died and someone took in the dog.

My own family adopted a dog after its owner died. It was not an easy adjustment but we figured it was the right thing to do.
So, who would knowingly acquire a pet that will long outlive them?
For that matter, who would lay the first brick in a cathedral, or set in a trust the first dollar for a benevolent foundation, or embark on a painting career in their 80s, knowing they wouldn't be around to see how it all turned out?
And then I thought, it gets even more mundane. Each of us who is a parent has done exactly that, as has every person in history: We start something hoping it's of sufficient value that the next generation will see it through.
We prepare for the future on faith.
I used to worry that the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012 meant the end of the world as well. My husband says maybe it only means the end of Mayan civilization: Maybe an archeological dig will unearth the last of the Mayan culture at that time. Maybe an earthquake will reveal the last lost burial grounds of the Mayan and we might even find we have more in common with them than we thought (calendar aside).
Maybe we'll look back in 2016 and laugh, the same way we laugh at Y2k hysteria.
If people are still having babies and buying Macaws in 2011, that'll be a nice show of faith. :)
As for me, I'll keep building toward a future I won't live to see. I'll keep creating books for generations that don't exist yet -- and I'll somewhat reluctantly keep taking time away from creating books, to nurture the next two generations that do exist right now, my kids and grandkids.
It'll probably always be a struggle to maintain balance, but somehow it'll pay off, eh?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Newborn baby sketches: A Moomaw's story

We check in at the hospital at 8:30-ish in the morning on Friday. I'm thinking my daughter looks adorable in her fluffy robe and cute hairstyle. I'm wondering how long this labor will last. Figuring on about 3 hours.

They know the baby is a girl because Lisa had an ultrasound just a few days prior and it was definitive.

Lisa brought her laptop and I brought mine, thinking this will be a great way to keep the relatives and friends informed in the moment.
Unfortunately mine suffers a nervous breakdown rendering it useless.
Days later I call Dell and we reset the computer to the factory settings. Lucky for me I was able to save most of what I wanted to a dvd, so I didn't lose much.
The nurse sends us out walking.

We walk a lot. Matt leaves to run a few errands. Lisa and I keep walking.

The labyrinthian hallways are hard to figure out. I've delivered four of my kids at this hospital and now two grandkids, and every time I'm back, they've changed things around.

We read everything on the walls. I guess we're not walking so much as wasting time.
The gift shop has cute stuff. Among other things, I buy bubble gum cigars for the big brother and his best-friend cousin. We're having a baby soon!

We watch a bit of tv too. Contractions are steady. My pulse is racing. Surely it's only a few more hours until we hold this new kid.

Matt's ready. Lisa's ready. I'm ready. When's that baby getting here?!

Aww, Matt's so good to Lisa.
I make an eviction notice for Lisa's belly.

Aww, Matt's so attentive.
We've been here for about 16 hours at this point. I'm tired of hospital food. Baby's taking her own sweet time.

I brought lots of stuff with me: useless laptop, gifts, caffeine, sketchbook, and my latest book project. I get nothing at all done on the book project.

Wheeling Lisa into the delivery room I tell her, "This is where your baby will take her first breaths!"

In the waiting room, the relatives are having a party. In the labor and delivery room, Matt and I are alternating between delirium from lack of sleep and hyperventilation from helping Lisa breathe during contractions.
Finally the baby takes us seriously and shows up for her own welcoming party. 4:16am Saturday. It's a girl! Isabel Marie. 7 lbs and 6.8 oz. Funny how precise they can get. The length is 20 inches -- they think. They can't be precise about that because newborns are so curly.

The nurse inks the baby's feet and stamps her birth certificate, and she stamps my sketchbook as well. I'm in awe.

Right before the baby is born, I am bawling like a baby myself. Wahhhhh! Oh, Lisa! She's almost here! Push! She's almost here! Your baby is almost here! Push! Oh Lisa! Wahhhhhh!

And after she's born I describe her to Lisa: She's beautiful. She's perfect. She has big eyes and black hair and delicate fingers. The doctor repeats "delicate fingers."

Her fingers are long. She'll be good at playing piano and billiards.

She's fine in this sketch, but she was born crying. I guess Isabel and I are both emotional over this birthing thing.
For her, it pinked up her skin fast. She's beautiful.
For me, it just made me look a little older than I am. I see the photos later. I look like it's been a long night. Funny thing is, I take pride in that. Tonight was about helping Isabel come into the world, and that's what we did.

Lisa and her new baby.

Matt joins the picture.
I get to hold her too. Lisa tells Isabel I am Moomaw. That's what Isabel's 5-year-old brother calls me. Moomaw. Cracks me up. He couldn't say Grandma when he was a toddler and so he invented Moomaw. He calls my husband Bumpa. My sister Peggy is Aunt Huggy.

I hang around for a few more sketches and to celebrate with the family. We all giggle about Isabel's long tongue which she keeps sticking out.
She's awake and alert and everything is joyous.
In a while,
Bumpa and I head home for a few hours of sleep before I do my author presentation at the Capitol Area District Library, main branch. That goes well. :) In the evening I head back to the hospital.

I have about 50 sketches from the birth. Maybe more, plus lots of Isabel getting to know the world around her. (No photos, alas)
I'll upload more in the coming days.

I've sketched many funerals and weddings, but this is only my third birth. This sketchjournal will be a nice keepsake for Isabel some day.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Plenty to write about

Friday: Funeral.
Friday-Saturday-Sunday: SCBWI Conference (wonderful)
Monday: Author visit, Holt-Delhi Public Library, art revisions
Tuesday: art revisions
Wednesday: art revisions
Thursday: Author visit, Girl Scouts of Lansing/Holt, art revisions
Friday: Hospital, help daughter deliver baby
Saturday: Hospital, finish helping deliver baby, Author visit, CADL, Main branch

Sunday: a day of rest? We'll see. I haven't looked at the revised art yet.

I have lots of sketchbook highlights of the hospital visit.
Here's one for now. Gotta get back to see the baby. :)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


What? Two posts in one day?
I will be better eventually, but right now I am very sad. I want a fast track through the sadness. I don't want to deal with grief anymore. Grief and I are too well-acquainted.

I want to be one of those people who sees grief on a street and nods and keeps moving past it.

Instead I am one of those people who sees grief on the street, runs over to say hello, starts walking with it, even though it's taking me wayyy out of my planned route, and then I say yes to a cup of tea and we sit in a Victorian cafe and I get further engrossed and even though I want to leave, I can't.

And then grief asks me to come back to its apartment, just to check out, I don't know, its latest portfolio, or its music collection, or a memory book, or just to give me a heart stone it found, and so I go with grief and pretty soon I'm leading a double life, hanging out with grief in the daytime and then racing home to greet my kid from school, do the homework-dinner-tuck-into-bed thing, and then I run back to grief and spend the night with it.
Where, incidentally, I cannot sleep.
Sure, there's a pillow there, and nice blankets, but grief talks in its sleep or it stays up all night chatting like at a slumber party, or it haunts me with possibilities.
Then it wakes me up early and I have to run back home to get the kid up for school.
Yeah, I know grief.
I know it too well. "Hello darkness, my old friend." - Paul Simon

On the bright side, and thank goodness there is one, my painting is coming along well. I'm almost ready to submit this project I've been working on for ages.
Grief, come visit me later; I have work to do.

Larry Garth Bowen, 1943-2008

My dear friend Larry Bowen passed away, unexpectedly. The funeral is on Friday. I found these four heart-shaped rocks on the walk back from the school bus stop this morning. If there's one thing that characterized Larry, it's heart.
(the dip in the middle isn't as evident here as it is in person)

Larry was one of those diamonds in the rough you hear about. A big, tough, burly guy with a heart of soft, mushy, compassion for anyone weaker, especially kids and animals.

I first met him when my then-youngest, Katie, was one week old. Larry's wife Sue worked at the same store as my husband, and they got to talking: "My wife's an artist." "Oh, really? My husband's looking for one for his silk screen business."
This led to our 17-year working relationship and a deep friendship.

Larry knew us probably better than anyone. He was there when Katie lost her first tooth. He said to her, "Wow, you're in luck! The tooth fairy gives $5 for the first tooth!" Katie was thrilled. (Normally the tooth fairy only gives a quarter for teeth, at our house) I shot Larry an annoyed look, and he laughed and laughed. Then he slipped me $5.

When our cat went crazy and bit Katie's face, because she was trying to catch him and put him back in the house (until that moment he'd been an inside cat), Larry was there. It bit him too, on the hand (rotten cat). They both needed stitches, but Larry was only worried about Katie, and he never gave us the hospital bill.

When Katie was in high school and needed a scientific calculator and we couldn't afford one, Larry loaned her his. It was stolen in school; those things cost more than $100. I was terribly upset. Larry said it was no big deal.

Whenever Larry visited, which was about two or three times a week, our miniature poodle, Willie, went nuts, jumping all over the couch, barking and wagging his whole body. Larry said Willie reminded him of his own miniature poodle, Frank, who died before Willie was born.
He told us Frank stories that we still bring up at odd times and laugh about, like Frank's embarrassment at getting a frou-frou dog haircut.
Whenever we needed someone to keep an eye on Willie for a few days when we went out of town, Larry volunteered.

One of my favorite photos which I sent to my son's new fiance last winter, to help her get to know the family, was of Larry posing with six-year-old Joey on Larry's big ol' honkin' motorcycle. Joe says the ride was fun at first, but it turned harrowing -- he thought when Larry turned onto a small cul de sac it was leading to the expressway, and Joe was screaming at Larry to not go on the expressway because it was too fast.
I remember Larry chuckling about it when he brought Joey back home (riding slowly). His grandsons all did motorcycle sports starting as preschoolers, but he never made my son feel inadequate for being afraid to go too fast.

Larry always had candy in his pocket or in the car, for my kids. In fact, it tickled him no end when Katie asked him for candy. I told her that was rude, and it was better to wait for candy to be offered, but he loved it and we decided the rules for Larry are different than for the rest of the world.

Our working relationship wasn't always a bed of roses; his pay scale was sometimes low, and sometimes I disliked the assignments. I dreamed of something bigger and he told me, "You and I will always be middle class," which I resented.
As the internet opened wider, there was more competition for lower-priced silkscreen work, but everyone around here knew Larry was the best.

His work ethic was top notch, his prints were the best in the business and his prices were reasonable. He was honest to the core, morally upright, and had integrity. Plus he was a lot of fun to talk to. We talked about everything under the sun. I knew his family intimately, from his stories, and he knew mine. He advised me on everything.
He gave it to you straight, no baloney, no fancy words. If he saw something that wasn't good for the kids, he told you (like when he overheard a friend say something inappropriate for kids, at a family party).

I stopped working with Larry a few years ago because I wanted to do kids' books, and he was passing his business down to his son. We no longer saw each other often, but I still visited the same CPA Larry set me up with 19 years ago, still joked with my family about Frank, and kept telling myself I should stop by Larry's house and see how he and Sue were doing.

When our oldest wanted t-shirts for her fiance's business a few months ago, she wanted Larry to print them, and my husband and I jumped at the chance to go with her. As a special treat for both, we brought Willie with us.
Larry and Sue sat on the porch with us for a long time, just like when Larry would come to my house and sit and talk for hours. We caught each other up on all the kids and grandkids, and Larry played with Willie. It was a great time.
I think I gave him a copy of my Ellie McDoodle book. I hope I did. I'm so grateful we went. So glad we renewed that friendship. I'm too good at letting friendships lapse because I'm distracted with other things (ADD curse).

Why was Larry such a good guy, when his exterior was so rough and tough?
During a terrible motorcycle accident that should have killed him, just a short time before I met him, he had an honest-to-goodness angel encounter.
It changed his life.
He carried everywhere the scars of that accident; his leg was swollen and infected for 20 years and no doctor was able to completely heal it. He also carried everywhere the magic healing of that accident. Because of Larry, I know angels are real.

When Sue called to say that Larry died, I went into shock. Numb, I phoned each of my oldest three kids. And then the tears came.
I hesitated to even tell my youngest; it was late at night and I thought she might not even remember Larry. She said, "Oh, was he the Licorice Man?" Yes, Larry was the Licorice Man.
I have a million stories about Larry, a million funny memories, but that sums it up as well as anything: He was sweet and good.

The world is a better place for Larry's having been here, and I am diminished by his loss. :(

More heart-shaped found objects on my website, here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

4:24am: Do you know where your pillow is?

When I was a kid, our Detroit NBC tv station (or was it CBS?) used to announce at 10 every evening: "It's 10 o'clock; do you know where your children are?"
I found it amusing. Where else would kids be but in the living room fighting the directive to go to bed, or in the bedroom already snoozing?
Even more amusing was the spin given to the by-then-well-known announcement, a few years later: "It's 10 o'clock; do you know where your parents are?"

So it's almost dawn. I'm up way past my bedtime. I blame the kids.1. Oldest daughter had a baby shower today, plus she moved to a new apartment. I know -- that's a lot for one day. It's crazy. All it does is make me feel old.2. Second kid's fiance' hosted the baby shower party, so I had to help out. (It was very kind and generous of her)3. Third kid needed to be driven to college (3 hours round trip) after the party. And before that, she needed groceries because she's having trouble getting a student loan to pay for classes and a meal plan. I have no idea what's going to happen, but as a show of support I bought her lots of peanut butter, tuna fish, oatmeal, cherries, broccoli and chicken. Real food. (real expensive food)
On the way home from the other end of the state, I consumed mass quantities of caffeine just to stay awake.4. Fourth kid was entirely reasonable and unhormonal. I guess I only blame some of the kids.

Upon getting home from college, wide awake, I checked the computer. It was stuck in an almost-turned-off mode. Scary. An automatic update didn't quite update, and my computer insisted the date was Feb 24, 2004 and the time was 11:34pm. I was sent back in time 4 years, 6 months, 4 hours and 10 minutes.
I thought about staying there, because it'd make me a bit younger (more energetic?), but 02-24-04 was a whole year before I signed with my agent, a whole year before I finally got a great, marketable idea for a book (Ellie McDoodle) and a whole year before that fateful first trip to NYC with a sketchbook in hand.
I prefer what I've got right here, right now.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ellie McDoodle on the web

This is so cool, finding Ellie McDoodle in unexpected places.
Do you subscribe to Google Alerts in your name, and your book's name?
If so, you get surprised with occasional references to your work, like I was with this Detroit News article about kids' lit, mentioning both Ellie books.
If you're not yet a fan of Google Alerts, you will be.
(more hearts here)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Childhood aspirations

All this time I thought when I was a little kid I wanted to draw for a living when I grew up (I also remember wanting to be a teacher, a lawyer or an embryologist). See, when you get a book published, people ask what you were like as a kid, and what you aspired to, growing up.
You get all introspective about it, and try to remember.
And what I'd remembered was that, as far back as my brain would cooperate, I was a good writer and a good artist, but writing was my mother's forte and, being territorial, I figured I couldn't write. And so I drew.But my dear friend April just described her work-in-progress and it jolted my brain and suddenly I remembered something wonderful: When I was 7 or 8 I read Eleanor Estes' The Witch Family which I looooved. I read it a zillion times. I remember loving it so much I drew and wrote new scenarios for the witch girls. I longed to write and illustrate a real, published story about little witch girls at school and at home. I knew I couldn't do justice to the idea as a kid. I knew I'd have to become a grownup first.
Incidentally, The Witch Family was nothing like Harry Potter. It was for younger kids, and it had an entirely different sensibility.
Funny that I forgot it all these years.
Funny to suddenly remember why I've liked the name Clarissa all these years, and why bumblebees have never scared me, even though I was stung between the toes when I was 9.
And funny to know now, with absolute certainty, that at age 8 I wanted to grow up and write and illustrate kids' stories for a living.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Of two minds (or maybe it's three)

I sometimes wonder if I have multiple personality issues because on most things I am of at least two minds.Right now I'm happy to be writing this blog piece, here at the computer, but there's a nagging sense I ought to be in the dining room, writing more on my new story idea. When I get back to that, I will become the character, a 5-year-old boy who probably has A.D.D.
When I take a break from that story and turn to the sketch-diary work-in-progress, I'll become a 15-year-old adventurer. And then the next Ellie McDoodle book will beckon and I'll become a 12-year-old girl with all the inner-battling angst and confidence of adolescence. Then I'll bounce over to Marcella, a 6-year-old creative problem-solver. But even while I become those personalities, I still apparently nurture the nasty inner critic who tears apart everything I do. I don't mean to keep feeding her. I'd like for her to waste away, or pack up and visit someone else for a while. Alas, she thrives in my head and has no reason to move on. Actually, I suspect she's been busy reproducing because I hear other negative voices as well.All these characters, mischievous and virtuous, disparaging and uplifting, live simultaneously in my head.
Sometimes they all yell at me at the same time.Sometimes they yell at me at the same time that someone in my real-life family is yelling at me -- and usually the family member is the sort who thinks real-life people deserve priority attention.
It's not always a bad thing to have all these various brains inside me. It's often helpful, like when I am about to start an author presentation at a bookstore. I get butterflies almost to the point of nausea, in advance. Eventually one of the rational brains steps forward and takes control, assuring the others that I've done these visits many dozens of times, I can handle whatever comes up, and in the end the visit will work out well. Usually the other brains settle down and let that brain continue to distract me for the next few hours.Then when the visit is over, the other brains jump back in, bouncing up and down in my head (nausea returns) and I get the urge to run or turn backflips.
I've never in my life done a backflip; I'm sure I wouldn't survive it.
Thankfully, the Zen brain takes over and drives me quietly and calmly back to my home, by which time the backflippers are asleep from the white noise of the highway.
Maybe it's normal to have lots of competing brains inside you, if you're creative. But maybe it's what drove artists and writers insane, throughout history. For my own safety, I'm telling the voices they can stay; what I don't need right now is a full-head mutiny.I have to go. The 5-year-old in my head just woke up and is ready to tell his story.