Monday, December 28, 2009

What's the best thing about being an author?

One of the best things about being an author is knowing other authors.

My 12 yr old, Emily, just finished Sarah Miller's brilliant
MISS SPITFIRE: REACHING HELEN KELLER Atheneum Books, 2007, about which Richard Peck says, "Miss Spitfire is high drama about how language unlocks the world." I adore Sarah and I love her book and I love her brain.
When Emily announced she'd found the book on my shelf, started reading, and just finished it, I was excited to hear what she thought of it.
The Helen Keller story has always fascinated me, but I may have been over-zealous in introducing Em to it. She's watched The Miracle Worker (w/various casts) several times and wasn't as obsessed with it as I am. I, uh, kind of forced her to watch.
So I didn't shove Sarah's book at her and encourage her to read it. She found it when the time was right for her, in between readings of the Lightning Thief, Sisters Grimm and Twilight series. I'm so glad she did.
There's not much more satisfying for me as a parent than seeing my kid discover something great on her own.
When Emily entered my studio and started talking, I listened. Then I started taking notes, typing what she was saying. With her permission I mailed her stream-of-consciousness review to Sarah, who responded with a lovely note and an offer to mail a signed bookplate.
So I am happy.
My kid is thrilled.
Which makes me even happier.

I'm an author. At four family events in the last week, kids who are Ellie McDoodle fans who happen to also be my relatives engaged me in discussions about Ellie.
Now, I'm accustomed to meeting with kids at schools, libraries, bookstores, chatting about my books, asking what they liked or didn't like, and I'm always happy to discuss future plots or give a sneak peek at the work-in-progress.
But I'm not used to talking with fans at family events. It's a little weird to talk about work with kids anyway; they were never interested in the logos or brochures I used to design.
It's good, though. I love connecting with all readers.

My status is up a little higher than it used to be, due to my books.

But it really shoots up if I have a special connection to a relative's new favorite author.
At Christmas I learned my niece Alex likes Gail Carson Levine's books. I met Gail! I sketched her in NYC. I told Alex that Gail is a lovely person and is petite, like Alex's mom. Bing! My status bumped up.
When I handed my nephews Chris Barton's THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS with a flourescent bookplate and told them I know the author, and he's really cool, my status went up a couple points. Bing! Bing!
When I handed my oldest daughter Liz Scanlon's ALL THE WORLD (illustrated by the fabulous Marla Frazee, who I got to help shadow at an SCBWI conference), she read it to her baby and she was very touched by the message of the book. When I told her I know Liz -- and also Marla! -- and I saw the book before it was published, and it's going to be a Cheerios book and probably also a Caldecott contender, my Mom status bumped up a few more notches. Bing! Bing! Bing!
My niece is a fan of Libba Bray. I don't know Libba, but I did meet her husband (and he likes Ellie McDoodle, and he's a friend of my agent's)... Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing!
My grandson loves THE POUT-POUT FISH, by Debbie Diesen. I know about her new books; she has some amazing work coming down the pike... Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing! Status shoots through the roof.
It just occurred to me: I could send Amy Huntley's THE EVERAFTER to my cousin's teen daughter. I bet she'd adore it. And I know Amy well! Bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing!
And now Sarah Miller is sending a bookplate.
I could go on forever. I have hundreds of writer friends who can make me look good by association.
What, me, namedrop? Heck yeah.
Wish I knew that Wimpy Kid author...

Post script: Sarah Miller's bookplate for Miss Spitfire arrived -- it's in Braille! Is that cool or what?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!

Wishing you a great holiday:
This is my sketch on Christmas morning for the back of our card.We're off to a party at my cousin's. Then a party tomorrow at my sister-in-law's. Then a party the next day at my brother's. Then I think we're celebrating Thanksgiving at my house on Wednesday (because we never celebrated it with our little family -- too busy running to all the relatives' houses). In between all that, I have book deadlines. I should bring the work to the parties. Hmm...

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Drawing on life for a tribute

I was going to do a card to hand out at the funeral, with Mom Barshaw's picture on it. Then I decided not to. Then one of my nephews asked if I would, so that night I drove 90 miles home, set pencil to paper not knowing what would come out of it, and drew.
Then I slept fitfully and got up for the long drive back to Detroit for the funeral early in the morning.
It was almost magic, how the image came out of the pencil without much anguish, in the middle of the night. This doesn't happen often; generally funeral cards are a difficult labor of love.
Maybe I'm getting better at this.
Here's my mother in law:

As it was coming out of my pencil, I first noticed the eye on the left looks just like some of her daughter's eyes. This astounded me.
And there's my husband's chin, and another daughter's eyebrows.

It always surprises me when I see someone I know in my drawings.

It's also odd to meet someone on the street who looks like one of my recent drawings. I want to rush up to them and shake their hand and ask a lot of personal questions because I feel like I know them well.

Taking these cards to the funeral, I felt self-conscious and awkward, as usual. I always worry that the rest of the family will hate the art, or that they'll think I'm uppity for printing copies, or greedy for getting self-promotion during a sad time. In this case I didn't hear any bad comments, but the funeral director put the cards in a place where I doubt many noticed them. Someone took home a stack of these. Maybe they'll go in thank-you notes. Maybe they'll be lost to the ages. It doesn't really matter; I did my part, giving what I could give. I drew Mom. The original sketch will go to the nephew who asked me to draw.

And I'm back to working on my book.

My editor has gone home for the holidays. They're closed all next week. They wanted the final art done before Christmas; earlier this morning I was thinking, if I can manage 30 drawings a day plus revising text, I can still get it out by Christmas. Thinking in the wee hours of the morning, it wasn't quite a dream. More like a nightmare.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How to get through loss

Of course, death comes to us all (even Kirkus, the venerable book review company). Until it does, we're charged with the task of living. I have learned that death gets easier to handle with each new loved person lost. I've learned a few other things too:

When a loved one dies and someone asks what they can do, give them a small task.

Feeling helpless in the face of a loved one's misery is one of the more awful human emotions.
My daughter-in-law asked what she could do, begged. My first inclination: "Nothing, honey, we're fine." But I remembered prior deaths, how important it was to me to feel useful. And so I gave her something to do: bring a pizza. She wanted a list. Less than an hour later she was at the front door with pizza, crazy bread, orange juice and milk, a sympathetic smile and a warm hug. (she's wonderful)

When someone dies, know that you will have visitors.

I'm glad I thought to clear the dining room table, always a mishmash of newspapers, crafts and homework. We had an impromptu party with most of my kids, reminiscing about their Grandma Katie. It felt good.

Surround yourself with loved ones and talk.

It will be unforgettable. In a week where a lot of things will happen that are also unforgettable, but unpleasant, this will shine as something good.

Do something strenuous.

Something safe that makes your heart pump and reminds you that you are still alive. At midnight, Katie, Emily and I walked a couple miles in the snow with our big, at-first-uncooperative puppies. It was ridiculously cold, one leash broke. We stayed out until my legs ached -- it was better than a Wii Fit run. And the peace of a neighborhood at midnight in winter, the silent Christmas lights in windows, felt like prayer.

Get the word out.

Deaths don't only affect close friends and family; no man is an island. Grief shared is greatly diminished. It's why we have funerals. I have been deeply touched reading memorials to people I never met, tributes I stumbled upon, on the web. Reading how beloved people chose to live always inspires me to do better, myself. If someone important to you dies, tell me. I want to know.

Don't make decisions if you don't have to.

Today I stopped at Walgreens for immunity boosters. I noticed they sell contact lens solution. I've gone through extra amounts in the last day. It became a difficult decision, the cheaper store brand or the name brand? Is there a difference beyond price? One's for sensitive eyes. Are my eyes sensitive? Will the name brand last longer? Because I don't use the stuff that much, normally. Single bottle or money-saving double? Give the second bottle away?
It was almost overwhelming, trying to decide. My eyes teared up.
Thank goodness something broke the loop in my brain and I grabbed a bottle (I won't tell which; I won't start second guessing the decision).
Conventional wisdom says, don't buy or sell a house, don't do anything drastic in the wake of an important death. I'd add: Don't make *any* decisions if you don't have to. Change what you must, otherwise stick to routine; there's a reason it works for you.

Be kind to yourself.

Walking around the store I saw things I wanted to buy for Mom Barshaw. She wasn't one to accept gifts, by the way, and went to great lengths to give them back. It was a challenge to give her something she liked and would keep (and I so love a challenge). I saw a magazine on angels, and another on faith, perfect for my mom and for her too, for Christmas. Then I remembered she is dead. Instant grief. I bought the second set, not for Mom Barshaw, but for me.
I'm glad I didn't see a Snugglie there. I'd have likely bought it as well. She was cold, the past few months. I get cold sometimes.
See where this is going?
I looked in the reader glasses mirror, and I didn't see me. I saw my mother-in-law. Tired, older than my age, eschewing the candy aisle. If there had been a small child in the store I'd have fussed over it.
In that moment I understood why Mom often called to let us know about special offers or holiday shows on tv: It made her feel useful. She gathered information and coupons and disseminated them among her children, always considering who would benefit most. Suddenly I saw myself doing the same thing.
I came home and squashed a bug with my bare hand. Mom Barshaw did that all the time; I thought I never would.
It's depressing being 80 years old 30 years early, but I accept it, knowing it's temporary.

Forgive yourself

There are always things I wish I'd done sooner. I'm the Queen of Regrets, dating back to my father dying when I was 12 with love unspoken. I don't make that mistake anymore, but I sometimes let other regrets haunt me. There's limited time, limited order in life, don't waste emotion on guilt that isn't really earned.

Know that grief comes in waves.

At unexpected times the reality will overcome you and it might bring you to your knees. You might doubt your sanity. Keep doing what you're supposed to do. The wave will subside.
Death isn't something to "get over," it's more like a permanent fixture in the living room of your life. It's a lamp you won't be rid of. It's always there, sometimes almost beautiful, other times hideous, always unwanted, but it's something you work around, something you deal with but always know is there. Over time as more people die it's another table, a sofa, a painting you never wanted to accept from a giver who won't be refused. You can close off that room so the stuff won't crowd out your life and kill you, or you can learn to arrange it, live with it, make it work. I choose to make it work.

Throw yourself into a creative project.

Speaking of work, back to it. This book won't write itself.
I'm making the last revisions to the text (am on page 108) and inking final art (am on page 92). I'm glad Ellie McDoodle isn't a long book; 170 pages seems do-able. My pace is slowed but not stopped.
Tonight I'll draw a portrait of Mom.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mom Barshaw

Hospice has been called in for my mother-in-law, Mom Barshaw (her name for herself; we called her "Mom").
So here I am, stuck 90 miles away, on deadline for this book, and trying to keep my head in the book, when my heart is in Detroit.
Mom's in good hands. Her kids are gathering. My husband Charlie is headed there now. He was there yesterday and all weekend; he was there when the decline got worse. He's been at her side often this past few months.

This started in August. The kids had a birthday party for her (she was turning 80) and she didn't want the day to herself so she made Eddie, her youngest, and me share it. He's 40, I'm 50.
It was the typical party at Rosemary's, wonderful, with great food because most of the Barshaws are excellent cooks -- we're talking chef quality.
Mom didn't look healthy at the party. It was alarming enough that the kids took her to the hospital on the way home. Since then she's had a couple surgeries and procedures, some wicked meds interactions -- deplorable care by some of her "doctors" but good care from nurses and therapists -- and her kids have given vigilant 24-hour care.

Mom Barshaw had 9 kids. One, Mike, died when Charlie was 18; they were best buddies starting to take opposite paths. There's a novel in that, I keep saying, but it isn't mine to write. Charlie's a writer and after a long dormant stage he's writing again; maybe he'll tackle that story.
Recently Charlie was given his dad's wallet. Inside is a clipping, a newspaper article about a writing competition Charlie won as a kid. His dad carried it for years -- you can imagine how touching that is.
Mom has been cleaning out boxes and living spaces for a couple years, giving us such things as old photos and books. We have the sweetly-inscribed book she gave to Dad about the time when they married.
And she gave us the story Charlie wrote at age 13. It's very, very good! I knew when I married him he was the best writer I'd read; this is proof he had early talent.

Mom and I butted heads on a few things. Sometimes I did funny things just to exasperate her, like cutting a piece out of my birthday cake before dinner -- and cutting it from the center of the cake. (I was 35, young and silly)
But we didn't leave love unsaid. She closed every phone call with "God love you, God bless you." I saw her in person a few times over the past couple months, while picking up or dropping off Charlie (we only have one car) and I said it aloud, "God love you, God bless you, Mom," and she looked pleased.

Mom has always had rock-solid faith. She believes in prayer's deep power and potential; we called each other when we needed prayers. I liked to think I was the devoted biblical Ruth.
I knew her death was coming. I've been warning Charlie and my kids so it wasn't an awful surprise. Funny how you can plan for something and it still surprises you. With every person I lost, I felt they left too soon.

I was close to Charlie's dad. Mom gets to join him now, and her son Mike, and her parents who died when Mom was very young (orphaned, Mom raised her two sisters, sacrificing her own dreams for theirs; there's a book in that, too). She has had a tough life, but I believe Mom will be very happy soon.

Mom is a good, honest, strong, hard working, determined woman. She loves me despite my many shortcomings.
So how do I get this book done when all I can think about is Mom?
Pray for focus, I guess. Go easy on myself. I've lost enough dear people to know that this won't be easy. But Mom believes hard work is prayer; I will work hard.
So, back to work now...
I have 85 pages of final art done. The second half is due ASAP -- hoping to have it done this week. It's a stretch, even in ideal circumstances. I'm good under deadline, though.

Friday, December 11, 2009

On the passing of Kirkus: A eulogy

Kirkus Reviews: 1933 - 2009

My goodbye:

Kirkus, I wanted to love you. I yearned for your attention, but you spurned me. You gave me no stars. You said a few good things about my first novel, but you didn't gush. In time I realized that was a good thing. If too many reviewers had gushed, I might not have pushed myself to produce better work the next time around.
I worked hard on the second book. Worked my poor fingers to cramps, and my back to aching. And did you give me a star that time? No. You withheld your affection, doling out a few little gift words like a tightwad who'd already overspent his budget in early December. No matter; I worked harder on the next book. I was determined to win your favor. Determined to get a star. I studied. I stayed up late. I read until my eyes dried and my contacts stuck. I developed a permanent squint.
My third book is almost done. I was giddy with excitement, sure that this, finally, would earn your smile. But you died before even getting a chance to hear my book's heartbeat.
I would dedicate this book to you but frankly I have a list of other people I owe more to. And people would think I was sad and desperate, carrying a torch for someone who, if I had been the one who died first, would not even blink.
Alas, Kirkus, I hold no grudge.
May you rest in peace, and may we meet again, someplace where fallen writers gather to argue about syntax, and where unkind words are drowned out by harpists. I do mourn your passing, even though you did not love me.


Book 1 quotes: "Part journal, part graphic novel, all fun (with echoes of Harriet the Spy)." -Kirkus Reviews
Book 2, Kirkus review:
(Audible sigh of relief, here, when this one came out, but then I celebrated -- though there's no star. I hoped book 3 would bring a star)


"Although Ellie McDoodle knows that moving means the end of everything good, her sketch journal (which, glumly, begins, “The End”) shows her gradually making a place of her own in her new house, finding friends and conducting a successful nonviolent campaign to improve the school-lunch situation. Ellie is lucky in her move; her house is roomy and her neighborhood full of young people who gather for evening group activities. This sequel to Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen Will Travel carries healthy messages: Ellie finds a new friend in the librarian; reading is more interesting than TV and video games; her new friend’s Down syndrome brother is just another piece of a complicated life; peaceful protest works. But readers won’t notice as they gobble down this fast read, enjoying the jokes and riddles, familiar situations and interesting instructions for group games and paper-folding woven into the story. An appendix includes an interview with the author and suggestions for making and keeping a sketch journal." --Kirkus Reviews

The end of Kirkus Reviews


Kirkus reviews, which has been around for 75 years, is ended. And apparently its brother, Billboard, is in trouble too. (Maybe because Billboard gave Taylor Swift the Artist of the Year title? Hey, my kid's a big fan, and after what Kanye did to Taylor at the MTV awards, she deserves a great year)

When Kirkus gave my first book a "not bad" sort of review, my editor said that's a good thing; Kirkus was "known to be persnickety." I liked that quote and used it often, especially to console other writers who received less-than-glowing reviews.

Kirkus was, to me, a curmudgeonly uncle whose favor I was always hoping to win before he died.
RIP, Kirkus.
And best of luck to the staff, who I hope find new jobs soon. We've been doing the Unemployment Shuffle at our house for most of the year. You learn the steps quick enough, but it's not much fun.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What I've been up to lately... Book 3 cover!!

Here's a sneak peek at the rough art cover for Ellie McDoodle: Best Friends Fur-Ever:

I am thrilled -- what a cool cover! Not much pink on it, that's a good thing. ;) I have a lot of readers who are boys.
The parrot in the book is an African Grey, not a macaw, so the colors of the bird will change.
And the layout will change a little -- the bird won't be weighing down her shoulder anymore.
You'll see. :) It'll be in stores next summer. Amazon says August 3; they know more about that than I do!
Watch this blog for sketches to be uploaded in the coming weeks. I'm very excited about this book. Fans of the series will love it, I am sure.

Ellie, one of the decade's top chapter books, says a very smart reviewer

Ellie McDoodle makes the list of Best 25 Chapter Books of the Decade, by this mom-librarian who's keeping track of such things and seriously knows her books.
My book's in impressive company. Woo hoo!
Just wait til the world sees the next Ellie book, coming out next summer. I'm working on crazy deadlines for it right now, and it's my best book yet. :)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

I finally saw Where the Wild Things Are, the film. I thought it was outstanding. I want to buy it. (I don't buy many).
This will sound heretical, but I was not an early fan of Maurice Sendak's seminal children's book, Where the Wild Things Are.
I bought it, of course, because I was a conscientious young mom who tried to buy the great books. In the Scholastic Book Club flyers that came home from school with my kids I always searched out the Caldecott and Newbery winners. I remember telling my Aunt Marj that I bought those because those were the best books and I wanted to expose my kids to the best.
She said they're not always the best books.
This was distressing to hear. As a crazy-busy parent I wanted an easy, no-think method to as many things in life as possible, and here she was, poking a hole in my carefully-derived plan to expose my kids to only the best in literature and children's art.
Gradually I started to think for myself, and question the award winners, and buy on principle rather than on stickers.
Where the Wild Things Are is one of those books I bought because everyone was talking about it, and it looked fun.
I read it, and wasn't impressed. Maybe the kid in the book reminded me too much of my wild brothers.
Maybe I was afraid of the anger.
Maybe I just didn't "get" the point of the book.
I didn't dislike it; I read it to my family, and it wasn't their favorite, so it went back on the shelf.

I dragged it out of the bookshelf archives to create theme decorations for the baby shower of my brother's first child, no doubt a future Wild Thing.
The decorations were adorable.
I still have them -- I saved some of the monster pictures, and the little boy in the wolf costume (which I added heart buttons to, maybe to soften his anger?).
I hung the monsters on my studio walls and one on the window. They've been there for years. (Well, my niece is now 14) (and she isn't wild)
One of my friends bought me a Where The Wild Things Are t-shirt (sold at Target a while back) for my birthday, one year. I try not to wear it to writer events because I don't want someone reading my chest ("So that's where the wild things are, eh?") and making me blush.

Watching the movie reminded me that the book is scary (Sendak agrees) and that the monsters are not lovable and soft (my decorations are smiling monsters. Fangs, claws, but no indication they'd ever actually use them).

I wouldn't take a four-year-old to the movie. Well, not one of my four-year-olds (see aforementioned easy life desire).
I might take my almost-seven grandson; I think he could relate to hyperactive Max.
As an artist, I loved the film. It was inventive and a feast for the eyes.
As a kids' book writer/illustrator, I loved the film. It built the characters in ways the book was too short to do. It set up an expectation and exceeded it. It repeated worthy motifs and demonstrated wise foreshadowing.
As a parent, I was glad the kid at my side is 12. She fully "got" the story, the intention, the inventiveness, and -- bonus -- no nightmares for me to deal with later.
I loved the film.
Kudos to all involved: the screenwriters, the soundtrack developers (also outstanding), the costume and makeup people, the person who cast the kid (because he's believable, and I dislike films that star terrible kid actors). Kudos to all who took a risk on this film.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Halloween!

I was at Libba Bray's blog (here) for the name of her book that got optioned for a movie (a dream probably every author harbors), because Charlie was talking about The Lovely Bones movie, and it made me think, I don't write on my blog much. I don't know who reads it. I don't know if it's fun to read when there's something there. I do know it's not fun to read when there's nothing there, and lately there's been a lot of nothing. I don't even publicize my upcoming author appearances. So that's changing...

Halloween usually sneaks up on me, but this year I was ready.
It helped that it fell on a Saturday. We had events all week, leading up to it, including Emily's haunted house in middle school (o0O0o.o0O0o, scary!).
It also helped that, despite massive quantities of vitamins and echinacea, I had a slight sore throat yesterday, and as a result had lowered expectations for my involvement in the holiday (read: I sat on the couch munching popcorn while watching tv, no guilt) (please don't tell me how corn translates to sugar in the bloodstream, and sugar is friend to infection and won't help me get healthy. I know this)

On Friday morning, no sore throat yet, I helped transport my grandson plus 24 fancy cupcakes and a gallon of orange juice to his 2nd grade classroom.
Charlie (husband & substitute teacher) and Emily (7th grader) took the car to the middle school. Oldest daughter had a meeting in the morning which left me to get her kid off to school. Enter my son, who was willing to leave his bride and warm bed to drive us to school. I think it also may have been raining.

At school I:
- balanced like a tightrope walker through crowded halls, delivered the gigantic box of cupcakes and juice and then ran out of the classroom before they could make me teach a game or bag cupcakes.
- decided to look in on a few of my teacher pals and found one who'd gotten stuck in traffic behind a jack-knifed semi for a half hour and missed her chance to set up for the classroom party before the kids arrived. I helped tape the Evil Twister game into place, and helped set up food. Another parent jumped in to help tape (evil tape) and I started thinking about a Halloween book in my head. If it comes to fruition you'll know this was the origin.
- took a prime position in the hallway and then raced over to the gym for two views of the costume parade. Wow, what great fun. My favorite costume: Captain Underpants. Obviously homemade (which I love) and this kid did not look happy to be in his undies, which sparked instant sympathy. How many times have I picked a costume in the quiet safety of my home, then regretted it the instant I stepped out in public? Too many times. Kudos to that kid for taking a risk. It's so much easier and so much less creative to buy a scary mask and dress all in black. (which, I've done that, too)
My friend Frank was dressed in a tablecloth dress and funny wig. He's always entertaining -- a book waiting to be written. Great parade.
- talked with some of the other parents about the middle school band concert the other night. We're in crisis over there. We had an outstanding, best-ever, top of the line, absolute greatest band teacher you could ever hope to meet, for two years, and due to budget cuts he was pink-slipped in June. He has found a new job in another state. (cue: wailing and gnashing of teeth) In his place they forced a young orchestra teacher who minored in music and doesn't know band.
It's outrageous, unfair, disheartening. At the concert the band played like they'd lost two years of instruction. They went from competitive to grade school in one season. I blame the school board and am voting to replace the non-responsive among them, hoping for a big change.
- chatted with my pals in the principal's office, hugs to the librarian Marty and the school secretary Cindy and the custodian, trouble-maker Mary, and a few of the teachers, some whom my kids were lucky to have and others whom I befriended over the years.
- noticed the morning was only half-over, and reluctantly headed to my grandson's classroom to experience the mayhem. I picked his teacher's brain (ew! there's a visual) a while about Ron Clark and outstanding teachers, and then offered to draw the class. Teachers at this school always seem to have a pen, paper and clipboard on hand in case a visiting illustrator happens by and offers to draw the class.
It was only mildly stressful: No compunction to draw every single kid, as there has been some years. I just drew various kids at the various centers of activity, a few games, crafts, cookie decoration.
Tip learned years ago from the kindergarten teacher: If you don't put too much detail into the art, several kids claim one drawing is them, and every kid feels represented. :)
Unfortunately I finished quickly which left time to bag the cupcakes, a messy job to the extreme. Those cupcakes were adorable in the box (picture this with a lot more frosting in colorful layers, as tall as an ice cream cone), but by the time they were squished into sandwich bags for the trip home they were sloppy and goopy. Some kids actually refused one pink-and-brown gloppy mess-in-a-bag until I scooped out some of the icing with a paper towel and made the insides of the bag a little prettier.
This is the kind of job I'd have loved as a kid: I'd have joyfully licked my hands in between each cupcake-into-the-bag maneuver, and had to go wash them two dozen times. For an adult, a far less enchanting task. And, racing against the clock, because NO WAY was I hauling that enormous box back home without a car, adorable leftovers notwithstanding.

We took the woods route home from school, instead of the boring sidewalk. Not everybody gets to walk in the woods on Halloween. It's a special spooky science lesson on foot.
Picture us: Me dressed in Halloweeny clothes and big cat eye glasses, my grandson dressed as a pterodactyl riding a horse (yes, you read right, and it was hilarious), picking our way carefully through the burrs ("The origin of Velcro!" I say to him each time) and spider webs (new appreciation for those ever since the golden orb spider tapestry debuted), and peeking between the trees to see how far off course we were, targeting my house behind the woods.

We discovered a big, long, ant-ish beetle.
We discussed the big drain -- a creek used to run there.
We noticed in the back part of our neighbor's yard, about 30 feet from where the creek used to be in the woods, we could clearly see the outline of a 25-foot wide ghostly building in the grass. It's been gone for 50 years. Maybe much longer. Weird how clearly we could see it. I told him about my husband's friend who, while visiting a while back, spotted the square footings of a house there, probably a log cabin from a hundred years ago. At the time I couldn't see it at all, but now I can.

Friday afternoon my daughter came early to pick up her kids and life quieted down quickly. Ahh, respite.

Friday night we drove to a local hangout for our friend's impromptu retirement impromptu party, where we got to talk with great friends and met a few more new friends who made us laugh hard. I took a homemade sketchbook to draw the event but -- and this is a first -- got so engrossed in the conversation and laughs that I forgot to draw.
I get so comfortable in my cave. So anti-people, so hibernatory. I'm fine that way. I enjoy it. And then someone forces me to get out of my brain and my studio and socialize and meet people, and I enjoy that very much also. It's a weird dichotomy which I try not to analyze.

On Saturday Emily made mummy hotdogs and bat biscuits. They were both cute and yummy. And since both mummies and hot dogs have a lot of preservatives in them, they were historically accurate. Nice.

Four of us went to see the latest Harry Potter movie (book 6, Half-Blood Prince, which I'd read but forgotten WHO the 1/2-blood guy was, so that was a nice re-surprise). Unfortunately we sat behind a young mom and three kids ages 7, 3 and 3. Way too young for that movie, way too disruptive. (Note to self: Examine surrounding seats before matinees) That was annoying, but the movie was OUTSTANDING. If you haven't seen it, go.
Charlie and I discussed the character development and various things we loved about the movie, for an hour, last night.

It's a longgg movie. We got home just in time to carve some pumpkins (one Ellie McDoodle, one Ben-Ben, and one little guy throwing up) quickly, scrounge for candles and get them set up before the first Trick-or-Treaters came.
Because of daylight savings time being pushed back a few weeks, it was still light outside. Trick-or-Treating in daylight is like wearing a seatbelt on a tricycle.
Charlie took Emily (pirate) out on the rounds. I stayed home handing out Kit Kats and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. Usually Charlie takes Em out for the first half, then brings her home and either takes over handing out candy or, if the candy's gone, goes with us.
This time her big sister Katie who's home from college took her out for the second half and my sore throat and round-the-clock infusion of vitamins and anti-cold remedies kept me inside. Stove-popped popcorn, a few episodes of The Office, both British original and the US version, evaluated Katie's outfit (Goldi-Goth and the 3 Bears) for her friend's party, and then we went to bed early because we had to get up early Sunday: Emily was invited to go to Cedar Point amusement park with her cool cousins. It's a bit of a drive. She was picked up at 7:30am.
Today's the last day of the season. It should be cold, windy, and a lot of fun.

While she's gone the rest of us will have Family Night (which is a daytime event, lately, but not as offensive as daytime Trick-or-Treating).
After the kids leave maybe I'll get a bit more done on the third Ellie McDoodle book. And I'm thinking I could definitely do a Halloween book out of all the crazy chaos that defines my house...
But for now, maybe it's time for a nap (I'm beating this cold!).


My next author event: Thursday Nov 19 at 7pm Barnes & Noble East Lansing on Grand River: Book fair for St. Martha's. Come chat, buy a book, support a good school!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Literary Pumpkins!

Check this out: Pumpkins modeled after kids' books.
And -- bonus -- one of the books is the brilliant and wonderful Debbie Diesen's fun rhyming read-aloud book, The Pout-Pout Fish!
'Tis the season to carve a pumpkin; why not get your inspiration from a kids' book like the kids at that cool school did?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Vote for All The World - in Cheerios!

Vote for the fabulous ALL THE WORLD (or another favorite) to be in Cheerios boxes! once a day thru Oct. 30.

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author and it's a wonnnnderful book, poetic and lovely with a universal message. Plus Liz is a great friend. :)
Marla Frazee is the illustrator and she did a beautiful job -- I've admired her work for ages and she's great fun-- I got to hang out with her a bit at a local conference. Together, they make this book a tour de force.

It's a huge honor for their book to be considered for Cheerios. I hope they win. :)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The SCBWI Conference in my region

This past weekend SCBWI-Michigan hosted Author/Poet Ellen Hopkins (link leads to my pal Kerry Madden's blog post, Ellen's recent poem about censorship) and Author-Illustrator Matt Faulkner and Editor Harold Underdown and Art Director Loraine Joyner of Peachtree and Literary Agent Jennie Dunham and Author Leslie Connor and Editor Tim Travaligni of Putnam. The whole weekend was outstanding. I advanced both my writing and my art, learned a lot and had a fabulous time.

Best take-away tip which was made clear right before the conference and then reinforced all weekend:
Do what you're best at. Pick what you want to do and pursue only that. Be persistent, never give up, but especially be yourself. Don't lose sight of that thing that you have that nobody else has -- because it's valuable.

Here's an interesting thing: The stuff my portfolio critiquers liked best was the wolf art from last month (pencil sketch here) -- and this picturebook art from 2 years ago --
and this piece I did wayyy back in 2002 -- for my very first picturebook. It didn't sell (didn't win the Margaret K. McElderry contest I entered it in) but it's nice to know the art still works. I always liked it. Maybe I'll revise the book and sell it someday. After reforming into a molehill that mountainous To-Do pile on the desk...

Monday, October 5, 2009

It's been three months! Where ARE you?!

No worries, I am right here. :)

Here's an update for the kids who've been writing me, asking why there's nothing new on the blog.

I've been busy. I have two new picturebook ideas, one new novel idea (which it sounds like my editor loves, so far), and I'm working on the third Ellie McDoodle book (still).

I have only one puppy now, but a second lives here with daughter Katie who will move to college in spring, and a third puppy visits often, with my son, and three others come by every couple of weeks. The seventh puppy came to stay with us for a few days last month. The eighth puppy we haven't seen since the day he left us back in July.

Here's the cool thing about the puppies that visit: They remember me! They run up to me and cover me with kisses and I always tell them they're doing a good job growing up big and strong and amazingly cute.

They really are big now. Well, most of them. Two are very short: Clarence and Iggy (formerly Feisty Helena). Iggy is short and skinny. She lives with my friend Diane. Clarence is our puppy and my husband says he looks like "a clawfoot bathtub with a head." This cracks me up. Clarence has very short legs and a long body (we don't think he's part dachshund, but we don't know for sure...) and a very long whippy-waggy tail, and a wide stocky head. He's funny looking and I adore him.

I'm thinking of putting him into the next Ellie book.

My first dog is in the second Ellie book, the fuzzy little guy on page 7. He was usually a happy dog, so I had to imagine sadness for that picture. I miss him; he died of old age this past summer.

I'm glad we had puppies after that. It was a welcome distraction.

I'll post more about my summer soon -- it was long and adventurous.

Speaking of adventure, I'm headed up to Michigan's Upper Peninsula very soon. It's beautiful up there. Lots and lots of hills, forests, waterfalls... breathtaking natural beauty. Copper and iron mines, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Lake Superior (a.k.a. Gitchigumi), the Soo Locks, Whitefish Bay (have you heard the Gordon Lightfoot song about the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald? It's a haunting tribute to a crew of sailors on a ship that sank when I was a teen).

I'm not sure how much we'll see up there, because I'll also be busy with 4 school presentations, a library appearance and a conference.
Marquette, here we come! (Katie's staying home to watch the puppies but we're bringing Emily along)

One more thing I've been busy with: Art. This is my granddaughter, Isabel, taking her first steps and learning to run about 15 minutes later.

Yikes! Hide the fragile stuff!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How we lost 1 dog and ended up with 8...

Last Thursday I sat on the couch and stroked the fur of my beloved elderly miniature poodle, Willie, and told him it was okay to go if he felt it was his time. He died peacefully at 1pm. We didn't even get a chance to call the vet for euthanasia; they were closed for the day. I felt lucky that he died so beautifully, lucky I was with him and that he wasn't in terrible pain.
I did not feel lucky that he died.
We raised him from a tiny puppy, took him everywhere, taught him an assortment of silly tricks, gave him bad haircuts and incomplete trims. He was cute and very puppy-like in appearance, even as a little old man. And he was my shadow.
I knew I was going to miss him with an ache that wouldn't soon ease. I buried him with heart-shaped rocks.

Two days later by an odd combination of events, we found ourselves at the local animal control shelter, not to find a replacement, but just to observe life. We could have been anywhere else that day. We could have left the shelter early. We could have taken home the big old dogs we befriended there, convinced it was the right next path for our lives' journeys.
But we were there at closing, at the right time to see an old van pull up, and a sad young man bring out a big bin. I knew it was puppies or kittens in the bin. I thought, what kind of person brings a whole litter to a shelter? How irresponsible.
I actively avoided the drama, but it sucked me in: My 12 year old daughter was trapped inside the now-locked shelter, and the keys were with the animal control officers who were talking to the guy with the bin.
And since I saw prison inmates helping in the shelter, I wanted my Emily out of there as soon as possible.
The officers let Emily out of the building.
I let myself relax, then, enough to hear the man's story.
He's unemployed (so's my husband, and the guy across the street, and a few of our good friends, and a few relatives... Here in Michigan it's a common start to a story).
He lost his house. He and his family (wife, two teens with Down's Syndrome -- and that's another story in itself, but to me it said, here's a family with compassion and mercy) were moving to a relative's house for a while. They couldn't bring the dogs.

He found good homes for 3 puppies and the two parent dogs. Mom: full-blooded American pit bull terrier. Dad: half small Rottie, half big chihuahua.
In the bin: EIGHT puppies, age 7 weeks.

The Humane Society sent him away -- too many pups.
Animal Control was closed til Tuesday.
They asked me to foster the pups just til Tuesday. It didn't take long to say yes.
I promised the man we would find excellent (stable, appropriate) homes for the puppies. I turned down his offer of $25 for food until Tuesday.

Katie (age 20) and Emily were thrilled. My husband Charlie... not so excited.
But we did it.
It was an exhausting mix of sleeplessness, cooperation, and cramming our brains with Puppy 101 information from the Monks of New Skete (that's how I'd raised Willie), and Wikipedia, and an Animal Planet dvd.
Many times I felt like Octomom, torn in 8 directions.

I swear, puppies are liquid. Not that they pee a lot (they do) but that they disperse and spread like only a liquid can. This idea came to me at 3:30am as I tried to corral them enough to not lose them to the dark bushes and any hiding predators (we have hawks in the woods behind us), but not so much that they were inhibited about 'doing their business.'
Frantic that we might have 8 puppies forever, I put a note on my Facebook page. Friends came immediately, and some eventually adopted puppies from us. One of my fondest memories is of a bunch of neighbors and my kids and me (and Charlie) on the lawn with the puppies, giving them love and reporting on potty accomplishments and comparing each pup's personality and physical traits.
It was so sweet, and it took me right back to when our across-the-street neighbors had newborn puppies 6 years ago and they let then-6 Emily gently hold them that very day they were born.

As of yesterday, we've found homes for every wonderful pup:
Othello went home with Mary the first night.
Lady MacBeth became Bella, at Tyson, Beth's and Sydney's house. And we've seen her twice since. Yesterday she nearly licked my chin off. I'm convinced she remembered me.
Feisty Helena went home with Diane and Steven, dear friends who swore they were only coming over to help pet the puppies. I'll see her a lot. :) (She likely has a new name too, a comics-related one, because her big dog companion there is named Squee)
Henry became Zeus after going home yesterday with Michelle after a neighborhood picnic. He was perfectly behaved there and lots of people fell in love with him. I teared up kissing his forehead goodbye. If that adoption doesn't work out, I have another lady waiting to take him.
Tybalt will become Zeus also (!) next week on Friday, when he goes home with Heather. It's not yet a good time for them to take him.
Rosalind, Rozzie, is up north vacationing with my son and his wife. She will live here until they find an apartment that allows pets (or negotiate with the current landlord).
Boots Tewksbury is Katie's now, and he will live here until she moves out, maybe this fall. (She's taking a break from college)
Clarence is ours. He's the right combination of spirit and docile, intellect and playfulness, for Charlie, Emily and me.

Those are all Shakespearean names -- did you notice? It all started with a hamster named Hamlet.
I'll probably still tell my funny Willie story in my author events at libraries -- kids always laugh on cue. I won't tell them Willie is gone now. I don't want to cry at author events.
But, maybe soon I will have funny puppy stories to tell, too.

The vet gave us tips on avoiding aggression, and he answered a million questions, and he gave them their first shots.
The neighbor kids come to play a few times a day.
We still have to get up in the middle of the night. Charlie's become an active participant in their care -- he handles the morning shift. I am grateful to have Emily and Katie around -- they're experts in the puppies' care too.
Katie's teaching them to sit. I think they've caught on. I also think they've gone backwards, a little, on potty training. (argh)
We aren't looking for new puppy homes anymore -- we're all set.

I looked in the mirror a couple days ago and noticed I was smiling.
The sadness of losing Willie won't evaporate, but I feel very lucky to have had, for one day, the distraction of eight new puppies to love. (the next day it was 7, two days later it was 5, today 4...) But, really, as losing Willie taught me, I'll always have those puppies to love, even if they're in new, far-away homes.

And now, I have to get back to revisions for Ellie McDoodle: Best Friends Fur-Ever, due in stores in 2010. If you see Shakespearean names in the finished book, you'll know why.

(No photos of the pups - my digital camera broke last year. No drawings uploaded yet - I've been in survival mode. At some point I'll upload some)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

FAQs: Has your life changed since becoming an author?

Today another writer asked me, "Has your life changed since becoming a published author?"

My answer: Oh, yes.

I go to bookstores and libraries about as often as I used to (once a week or so), but now I usually look for my book on the shelf.
If they have it I offer to sign it.
If they don't, I show them my copy and give them the elevator pitch: explain how it's often compared to Diary of a Wimpy Kid (a book almost everyone knows), and how it appeals to both reluctant and avid readers, boys and girls alike. Usually they say they'll check it out online.

I travel more now -- visited 23 schools in March alone. I have stayed in very nice hotels I couldn't have otherwise managed. Hunted for Petoskey stones, learned more about the Underground Railroad, flew my family to Manhattan. I love mixing travel, art, books and kids. There's nothing better.

I used to wonder if I'd ever find where I fit into the big publishing world.
Now I have a better idea of my strengths and weaknesses.

I used to wonder when I will be financially solvent, when I will pay my bills without worry, when I will be able to buy whatever I want, within reason.
Now I know... it'll be a while.

I used to wonder what it would be like to do author presentations in big, fancy libraries with famous names on them, to compare books with famous authors and illustrators, to walk into a bookstore unnoticed and spy on a person buying my book off the shelf.
Now I know. It's fabulous. It's amazingly wonderful. It's better than I thought it would be.

I used to marvel at how Real Authors put together word after word, sentence after sentence, metaphor after brainstorm, on and on, to a completed book and a sequel and a series. I thought they were brilliant -- that they had a magic muse that spoke into their pens and typewriters.
Now I know:
It's with thoughtfulness, hard work, B.I.C. (body in chair, I tell kids at my school events), writing when your brain won't produce anything great, pushing yourself through rejection, through fallow times, through melancholy and depression, through anxiety and panic, through uncreative lulls.
It's with faith that when it's finished, the book will be worth reading, even though there are many times before then that it seems impossible.

I used to think that when I got published my insecurities would end.
Now I know they merely shifted. I still worry about whether the next book will sell. I still write down every idea for a new book, scrabbling to get it down before it escapes me, and I wonder if it'll ever see real, typeset words on real paper between real paper-over-board covers.

Once in exasperation my agent said, in a crowd, "Yes, Ruth, you're my favorite." I felt mortified -- flashback to my childhood: were the others going to beat me up for garnering probably-temporary favor? -- and I felt embarrassed -- of course she was being facetious, wasn't I perceptive enough to pick up on that? -- and I felt exhilarated -- maybe she really meant it, just a little!
I guess I haven't grown much since I pushed my brothers and sisters out of the way so I could have alone time (alone nanoseconds) with Mom.

I used to think learning was a curve, starting low, climbing, then falling, with a finite end. Now I see that it never ends -- and in fact the amount of stuff to learn is an ever-growing mountain.
The more I know about writing and illustration and books, the more I want to know about writing and illustration and books -- and the more I realize I don't know.

My editor said a few years ago that we want Ellie McDoodle to steadily climb the charts, not to shoot to the top right away.
I didn't understand why, then.
Now I do.
Each stage of this publishing life has meant an adjustment for me. I don't know how I would have handled it if it had happened big and quick.
I'd sure like to find out how I will handle it, when Ellie gets to the top. :)
(meaning, I hope it gets there!)
I love where it's at right now, too.

Are you a writer? Keep at it. B.I.C. It's worth the effort and the pain.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Kids Read Comics Convention! Free!

Coming up soon! This weekend!
Friday/Saturday, June 12-13: The Kids Read Comics Convention in Chelsea, Michigan at the Chelsea District Library (and some at the River Gallery and Chelsea Depot). It's FREE! Every bit of it is FREE! And there's a zillion things to do there. Tell everyone you know. Bring the kids. Register in advance for some of the events. All the programming is listed here and it's very impressive.
Masquerade ball and auction, Arts Jam, lots of informative and fun sessions.
Ever want to write or draw comics or comic strips or find out more about how it's done? This is the place for you!
Got kids who love to write or draw? They will adore this convention.

I'll be doing some drawing and doodling at it, and I'll be checking out some of the other presenters, too. I'm so excited to be a part of this -- read all about it on the Kids Read Comics Con website.

Wish I could be there for the whole thing!
But I'm in New York City this week, flying into Detroit just in time for the Saturday part of the convention -- I'm visiting Columbus Elementary School in New Rochelle, and then speaking with a book discussion group at the New York Public Library -- the big building with the lions out front, at Fifth and 42nd.
I'll also sign a few books at the wonderful Books of Wonder store and meet with the brilliant people who help put together the Ellie McDoodle books, the staff at Bloomsbury. (I loooove Bloomsbury. I have the best Editor. And the best Publicist. And the best School-Library expert. And the best Art Director. And the best support staff in the world. I'm lucky to be working with them on the next two books. :)
AND -- the icing on the cake -- I'm meeting up with two dear artist friends, one is flying in from Moose Jaw, Canada (and originally from South Africa) and the other is ferrying in from Staten Island. It's our first time all together in the same place. I can't wait.
So of course I am bringing a sketchbook to fill! (and a spare, just in case there's a lot to draw)

If you want to see earlier sketches of New York City, go to my website and click on sketches at the bottom of the first page. It'll take you to a page with lots of sketchbooks, 3 from SCBWI conferences in NYC.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Doodling proves useful -- big surprise?

This article gives the details on a February 28 report in Ap­plied Cog­ni­tive Psy­chol­o­gy about a study on the value of doodling: Test subjects giv­en a doo­dling task while lis­ten­ing to a dull phone mes­sage had im­proved re­call over non-doo­dling subjects -- and we're talking about a 29% improvement.
Doodle! It makes you retain information better! (I knew it all along)
I loved the teachers in my high school who understood that doodling helped my retention of information. They let me doodle during class and I was grateful -- it was a big motivator for me, to get even more work done.
I let kids doodle during my author presentations. After almost every session, there are a few kids who run up to show me how they've covered nearly every inch of the paper. Invariably, they're expanding on something I said -- and it doesn't appear at all to me that they're drawing instead of listening.
They're drawing while listening.
Like I do.
Kids are so smart -- they're learning early what it took me years to figure out (and what it took science decades more to prove).

Monday, March 30, 2009

March is Reading Month 2009

This month I signed (and added a sketch or two to) more than 1000 books. Final count is about 1345. In one month. Wow!

By tomorrow, my last school event in March,
I will have visited 23 schools: St. Clare of Montefalco in Grosse Pointe Park; Cedar Street Elementary, Steele St. Elementary, and North Aurelius Elementary in Mason; Flanders, Beechview, William Grace, Lanigan, Highmeadow, Forest, Kenbrook, Wood Creek, Gill, Hillside, Wooddale, Longacre and Eagle in Farmington; Bath Elementary in Bath; Madison Elementary in Dearborn Heights; Wexford, Forest View and Willow in Lansing; and, tomorrow, Cherry Creek Elementary in Lowell.
Plus 1 conference (MRA in Grand Rapids), 1 library (Farmington Public Library), and 1 bookstore (Barnes & Noble in East Lansing).
I made connections with many wonderful librarians and teachers and a few booksellers.

I am especially grateful to Sue Kalisky of Highmeadow and Lisa Salowich of Wooddale for sharing their room at the Amway Grand Plaza with me. We met in Farmington and they offered to hang out at the MRA. We enjoyed a delightful dinner at a Tapas Restaurant (my first -- can't wait to return!) and an enlightening visit to the new Grand Rapids Art Museum. It would have been difficult to present at the MRA without staying overnight. How kind of them to invite me in.

Nancy Morris of William Grace also extended a kind invitation to tour a little in Portland, Oregon, when I am there for a writer retreat in July-August. I can't wait.

Many thanks to the schools who hosted me. What a fabulous month this has been. Thank you to the students and staff who were so kind to me in my visits, and to the tireless organizers of all the events. I know it's tough bringing in an author for a visit; there's a lot to manage.

I am still smiling about all the fantastic student work in the various schools, the art on the walls, the writing exercises, the creativity shown by both teachers and students. I'm astounded at the brilliance I saw in so many schools.

Special thanks to Denise Gundle-White at Wood Creek for organizing all of my Farmington events as part of their Book Parade.

(Want to host me at your school or library? Details here on my website: )

On a more personal front, this month I also juggled 2 bridal showers for my beautiful and fun future daughter-in-law, 1 dress fitting for our junior bridesmaid, thankfully no funerals in March (3 in Jan-Feb), helped paint the dining room, hallway and living room, helped my husband through the loss of his job and hopefully gaining of a new one (crossing fingers) and also through the loss of our car, rental of a new one, and -- maybe today -- purchase of a replacement, read my writing buddy Amy Huntley's fantastic new book, The Everafter (I laughed, I cried; I was greatly impressed with the emotion, the voice and the structure), and I wrote and drew a few "Extras" for the Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School paperback edition which comes out this summer. (And, if you saw any of my presentations this month, you know I also had to do revisions for those "Extras")

Soon to come, more revisions! Yippee! This time for the third Ellie book, Ellie McDoodle: Best Friends Fur-Ever, the first draft of which I finished in record time, right before March began.

My editor's sending me the revisions letter (and if you saw any of my presentations you know that's a thick dark line listing more than 100 items to change) sometime in the next few days.
And if you saw my presentation you know there will be another revisions letter, too, hopefully smaller, arriving in the coming weeks, after I make all the requested changes and redraw every single page for this set of revisions.
And if I am lucky, then the book will be done and it will go to prepress sometime this summer for publication next summer.
It takes a long time and a lot of hard work to create a book.
And to live life which, no matter how tightly I plan it, is always bringing something unforeseen.


So why do I do this?
Because I am in love with my job. And with my life.

(from my 2006 NYC sketchbook just after meeting my editor and many of the brilliant people associated with creating the Ellie McDoodle books)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New! The wireless interface for reading!

Check out the above comic by Penny Arcade here:

It's all about a new wireless platform for readers.
Can't wait to see more of these in stores and libraries! ;)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lots of great news - Beverly Cleary Award nomination!

Ellie McDoodle is nominated for the Beverly Cleary Children's Choice Award for 2010! I am thrilled. There are only 6 nominees. One is my friend Katie Speck. It's an honor just to be nominated (but I hope I win).

(this true cartoon of my son shows w
hy I don't tell kids they can grow up to be anything they want, if they just try hard enough)

Ellie McDoodle
is mentioned very favorably in an article in Publishers Weekly about a new trend in children's illustrated books. A few books are mentioned as derivative (I can imagine that's a painful label) and I was glad to see Ellie grouped with The Princess Diaries as books that break new ground.

The third book
is being created right now! I sent the first draft to my editor on Feb 27 (met the deadline! Woo hoo!) and the revisions letter should arrive at my house sometime in the next few days. I'll have just a few weeks to redraw everything, then will send it back to her, and I'll have a week or two off while my editor considers all the changes. She'll write another revisions letter, I'll do my best to improve everything, and the final art/text deadline is June 1. It'll be a busy spring.

I'm doing a LOT of school visits
these days. In March alone, I visited so far:
- 17 schools (Grosse Pointe, Mason, Farmington)
- 1 library (Farmington)
- 1 MRA conference (Michigan Reading Assoc)
- 1 unofficial library visit (Harper Woods) and that's only the first two weeks of March!
I still have a few author visits every week
for the next few weeks (Bath, Dearborn Heights, East Lansing, Lansing, Lowell, to start).
Life's busy. I'm happy. I LOVE presenting to audiences about the Ellie McDoodle books.
If you'd like to book me for a visit (hurry before my low, low rates go up in the autumn), go to my website, go to the For Teachers page, and all the information is there.
I still have a couple days open this month if you'd like something now.
wise, I am booking now for summer and the next school year.
It's never too early to book a day/week with me, and you might find you're saving a bit by locking in my current rates now.

I sketched lots of teachers, librarians and authors at the Michigan Reading Association Conference at the Amway Grand Hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this weekend. Watch for pages uploaded here soon. Presenting was great fun! I had lots of handouts made specially for my sessions. They
went fast -- I'll upload copies to my website soon, for use in your schools.

As we come up on another spring - finally! -- I encourage everyone to find a child and give him/her a journal. It could be a folded piece of paper. It could be a bound one from a bookstore. It could have lines or blank pages, fancy or plain, expensive or cheap. Your choice. Just encourage a kid to journal. It makes kids into better writers. And encourage them to draw, too -- because studies in Art Literacy show that when kids create art it makes them better writers as well! Weird sort of confluence of talent, don't you think?
I'm pushing my 11 year old daughter to journal more.
My teacher was the first person to give me a journal and encourage me in such a way that it stuck. I was 15, and have kept a sketch journal ever since. I have sketch journals from trips, births, funerals, weddings, field trips, daily life... hundreds at my house. (My daughter and her f
iance are building bookcases at my house this week -- yippee!!!!! -- to accommodate all the books and sketchjournals here) Keeping a sketchjournal helped me through many tough times in my life and it grounded me during the happy times.
Encourage a kid near you -- that kid might grow up to thank you in front of large crowds at conferences... as I did this weekend.
Aside to the wonderful Elizabeth McCarthy, art teacher at Harper Woods Secondary School when I was 15 in 1974: I will always revere you. Thank you for singling out this miserable teen and giving me a lifeline in the form of a sketchjournal, a tool that still helps, 35 years later.

If anyone can help me sniff out Mrs. McCarthy's location, let me know!

By the way, I am a multiple-award-winning writer and illustrator. I am America's Most-Harried Home Cook, Dr. Mom, Kudos Working Mother of the Year, Suave's Family Manager of the Year, and several other honorary titles.
You can just call me your pal, though. ;)
And now, back to work for me!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Charity begins ad hoc

(I'd say charity begins ad hom, and I'd argue it's accurate, but since ad hominem is commonly used for negative, it's better to avoid it here)

My friend Peter Davis wrote this brilliant poem about Neanderthal charity.

My friend Shutta Crum started a wave of charitable contributions by writers for writers, when she offered, in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, to critique three manuscripts for free, and challenged other writers to make a similar contribution to the greater good of our readers.
Quite a few did!
Michigan's SCBWI email group was awash in offers of all kinds -- rhyming picturebook help from Debbie Diesen, magazine/internet help from Patti Richards, non-fiction help from Buffy Silverman, picturebook help from Boni Ashburn, school visit or independent publishing advice from Kevin Kammeraad, novel chapters and query letters crits from Kristin Nitz ... it's heartwarming.
Congratulations to those lucky writers who won the crits, and thank you to the generous writers who offered them.
I hope Shutta's idea spreads beyond Michigan.

Our daughter gave us some Italian cauliflower yesterday. It's the weirdest plant I've seen in ages. This link takes you to the Park Seeds catalog image. It tastes like soft broccoli. I hope Park Seeds will be charitable about letting me post the pic here.
I'd draw it but I'm supposed to be writing a book right now, and that's a pretty complex floret...

Back to work. <3

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Stuff I otter do...

<- my otter. Maybe he needs his own book to star in...

In the old days we illustrators kept clip files or morgues of photos and illustrations of random things to refer to later, and to draw from.
It's hard imagining what a $100 bill looks like when you're on a tight deadline at the newspaper and none of the account executives have anything bigger than a $20 on them; dig through the clip file and it's there.
I had dozens of pictures of money -- and five file drawers stuffed full of other images on a hundred topics.
Nowadays I just search online for help with what I'm imagining in my head. Combine a bobcat, a snow leopard and a person for a caricature? No problem: Google Images has changed the way I live.
I've dismantled part of the morgue; it's hard to get rid of all of it, but it's been years since I used any of it.
I otter just get rid of all the files, to make room for more books...

That's my biggest vice. I can go without food or new clothes. I can't go without books. And it's not just me -- my husband and kids are all voracious readers.
Our books are all over the house, disorganized and sometimes hard to find. We have a few hundred in each of the kids' rooms, a few thousand in the basement, a zillion in the living room, and who knows how many in my studio.
My daughter's middle school had a used book sale in November, and she got a prize for donating the second largest number, 500, and we bought and brought home almost as many from the sale...
I otter get some shelves. Floor to ceiling.

The book depository here (Sarah Sullivan's at Through the Tollbooth) is what I crave for my collection.
My pal Debbie Diesen has a wall like that at her house, too.
I otter write something compelling so I can make enough $$ to hire someone to build that kind of shelf wall for me (because I'm no carpenter).
So that's it. My 2009 Resolution is not to eat less or exercise more (those are mandates, not mere goals): It's to write lots of compelling stuff. Compelling = a good hook.
Back to work... :)