Thursday, December 16, 2010

My life is a clown car

My life lately is a clown car: Distracting, too much crammed into an impossibly small space, entertaining but likely to crash and burn if someone isn't steering carefully.

A competition held by SCBWI ( ends this week and I desperately wanted to enter. The prize is hugely enticing. The judge is Tomie dePaola!!! The challenge: Draw the opening scene from HEIDI, a book written in 1872, subsequently replotted into films that etched their directors' visions on my brain. How to update Heidi and make her fun for today's kids?
To really do well I had to start weeks ago -- which I did.
Amid all my crazy deadlines and events in November, I sketched out a few ideas.
Nothing seemed original and fun to me. I did some research. Sketched out a few more ideas.

One of my illustrator friends set the bar *very* high with her entry. I didn't have a shot at the prize, so why bother with an entry? Especially with my clown car life crammed with a zillion deadlines.
It haunted me, though. I finished all the other deadlines (except the Ellie book 4 -- that's more long-term) and yesterday at 7 pm as Charlie and I sat in the warmth of a writers' cafe, getting ready for the drive home, I said to him I wanted to try to enter the contest. Even though it ended at midnight. And the drive home was an hour. And I only had parts of ideas that I liked.

Since I didn't have the supplies necessary to create the art at the cafe, we got into the car and headed home. On the way I was smacked by a flash of an idea.
Charlie turned on the interior ceiling light so I could sketch.I protested -- the bright light was very distracting to drivers, not to mention to Charlie!
But he insisted.
And, amazingly, the sketches turned out pretty well. I'm used to sketching in the car -- I do it on almost every school visit trip we take.
The ride was smoother than it's been, because we splurged on new tires a couple weeks ago (one tire had been egg-shaped; you can imagine the bumpety drawings that produced).
I sketched a few versions of my brain flash -- I was excited because it seemed original and fun (my two rules for bothering to enter).
The only question: Could I possibly get it colored and sent to the contest in time? In fact, might the contest have ended at midnight *yesterday*? My brain is good at playing tricks on me.

We arrived home. I gathered up my piles of papers and books, and raced to my studio. Pulled up the contest website. I still had time! Three hours and 40 minutes!
I scanned in the art and tweaked it. Added the lettering. Tweak, tweak, tweak. Color.
The phone rang. It was my mom. Charlie handed me the phone! Nooo!!! I have to work!!! Balancing the phone on one shoulder, talking to Mom, I colored the art. More tweaks. Scanned the final art into the computer -- Oh, no!!! It's garish!! The subtle art turned garish in my evil scanner! Tweaked it some more. Kept reducing the file size until it fit the contest guidelines, and emailed it to Charlie's computer to see if the garish was gone. It was! Victory dance!!
Mailed it to the judges.
I'm happy with it. If it doesn't win, I'm okay with that too -- I have already seen some uber-fabulous entries by other illustrators. May the best Heidi win!

My wish list for gifts:
- a little booklight to keep in the car, for sketching
- a better scanner
- art supplies!
- a little more confidence, please

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Maybe I've "arrived"

If you're an author you should subscribe to Google Alerts, regular notices which tell you who is talking about your work (and, more importantly, whether it's happy talk).
I subscribe, and that is how I found out about a promotional book catalog quote by a well-connected English teacher which starts out, "Greg Heffley and Ellie McDoodle, move over—".
Maybe I should be annoyed.
Ellie doesn't want to move over.
She wants all the sales she can get, and she doesn't want to be edged out by snotty-nosed newcomers.
But there's plenty of room for lots of good books, and maybe strong competition keeps me on my toes.
I'd definitely rather see lots of great books in the Ellie McDoodle format than lots of copycats -- even if it means fewer sales.
Ellie McDoodle won't move over, but she's okay with sharing the limelight.
I can't speak for Greg Heffley, though.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ellie McDoodle Typography Fun

I should be writing the next book, because I am on a tight deadline. And that's when my most interesting and amusing ideas come -- when I should be doing something else.
Here's the latest: Ellie McDoodle typography personalities. :)
Note: these are done in Arial; some fonts work better than others

Ö-Ö... Ellie likes

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie surprised

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie perturbed

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie vampire

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie questions

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie yell

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie nervous

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie secret

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie stoic

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie kiss

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie unsure

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie happy

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie determined

. : c :.


Q-Q... Ellie look

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie snore

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie whisper

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie joking

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie singing

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie forgot

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie overbite

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie complaining

. : c :.


Ö-Ö...Ellie quiet

. : c :.


Ö-Ö...Ellie upset

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie waiting

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie whistling

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie raspberry

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie afraid

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie terrified

. : c :.


Ö-Ö... Ellie McDoodle

. : c :.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Opinionated me: Knock off the insecurity

Hey, I'm as insecure as the next artist. I used to be far more insecure than anybody I knew.
My sister-in-law said her husband felt guilty for even being born. Move over, brother-in-law: I did too.
And nobody gave me enough reason to feel otherwise until I turned 40. That's pathetic -- The great Scarecrow might have said: I should've thought of it for you. The Tin Man might have rejoined: I should have felt it in my heart.
But apparently, like Dorothy's return home, this is one of those things one must find alone.

It's still a struggle. I still think I sometimes don't deserve good things. (When my kids were little I used to cry at night because things were so good -- my kids were wonderful and healthy, I had a good job... and I was sure it couldn't last. I cried over what might happen. As my kid would say, that's messed up)

The best way to get rid of the insecurity is to do something you love -- and keep doing it, and do it so well that others notice.
Suddenly you have an excuse to still be alive.

I've done it. My Ellie McDoodle books are a modest success. Thank you, Universe and everyone in it, especially my fans, my agent, the wonderful people at Bloomsbury, handsellers at bookstores, and all the writers and illustrators who nudged, pushed, yanked, prodded, bumped me up along the way. And the teachers who didn't write me off as an insecure mess, which surely I was.

So now I am happy.

But now I get these fellow illustrators and kids' book writers bawling in my ear, "We don't get any respect for what we do! The world despises us! We're not real writers!"
Well, speak for yourself.
At this point in the game I'm calling it artificial insecurity.
If someone's not respecting the hard work and education it took to get to the skill level you're at, then
1) they have an axe to grind (a spouse wishing you'd bring in more money, perhaps?)
2) they are jealous, wishing they could do what you do, better than you
3) they are ignorant and in need of a whack on the side of the hea-- no, a little education.

So what's your answer to them?
Here are some responses you may use, free of charge.
- I'm sorry honey that my work in this field didn't pay off yet. Disrespecting my work and my goals isn't going to bring you and me closer together and it's not going to help pay the bills faster.
- I deserve a shot at a career that makes me happy. So do you. This is mine. Find yours.
- Children's books teach our next generation. Don't even suggest that's not a worthy and honorable goal.

But please don't tell me and your fellow creatives that this constant insulting of our industry means the crabbers are right. Because they aren't, and I refuse to be brought down by ignorance.
When you walk around with a "Kick Me" sign on your back, people will gladly kick you. They think you want it, so they're just being helpful -- and besides everyone's got a little bit of a sadistic streak aching to come out in socially-acceptable ways.
Just don't extrapolate your personal insecurity onto everyone else in the profession.

My work pays my bills. Nobody gets hurt from what I do. I'm breaking no laws. I'm not inspiring evil, or even bad manners.
Some schools and libraries treat me very well. From reading my books, some kids are inspired to write and draw and read more, and to sketch in nature. Some adults are inspired to find a new career or create something unusual. That's impressive. You can't tell me kids' book writing and illustration is an inferior profession. I just plain don't believe it.

I know you're concerned, now. Just my raising the issue makes you wonder if I am truly at peace with this. Well, I'm developing the ability to reason my way out of insecurity.
For example, to my kid who's weirded out seeing me in my studio in a cami with too wide an armhole and "seeing the whole situation" as she puts it so delicately, I say:
Hey it's your fault. I gave up my body for you. If I'd never had kids I'd still have a nice body, perky and cute. I accept my decision, you should too.

There's no point to insecurity. It doesn't make anyone feel better. So stop it.
Over the rainbow is now, if you let it be.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Opinionated me: Why I'm attending the conference

I just got back from a writer retreat with my critique group. Four days away from family in a city far away. Four days of potentially uninterrupted writing time.

It was a hassle getting ready and coordinating schedules for my family, and of course it doesn't cost the same to live in a Bed & Breakfast as to live at home.
And there's the issue of sharing a room -- Do I snore? Do I snore loudly? Do I snore so loudly as to make me an unpleasant roommate?
And would you tell me if the answer was yes?
I'm always nervous that I'll forget something important at home (last year it was suddenly cold outside. I forgot a sweatshirt).
Plus, with my head in my books, and all my angsty issues that seem to rear their ugly heads in the days before any big event, how much good company can I possibly be?

And -- I was waiting to hear back at any minute from my agent about a novel and an Ellie McDoodle proposal I'd sent her.
The editor was 2 weeks late with novel feedback -- never a good sign.

Two days before the retreat I wasn't even sure what I was going to write about at the retreat. With two projects up in the air, not knowing which was a priority (if either), and a third very vague idea of three sisters and some dark stuff, I didn't know how I was going to make my time at the retreat worth the cost of attending.

Weird thing, it worked out, as things usually do. My husband called the first night with agent news: They're using the Ellie 4 proposal to fulfill a contract's second half-- no more sleepless nights.
I wrote a good first chapter to the novel. (This is I think the 7th try).
I have a future.

So why go to the fall SCBWI-Michigan conference in October? I can't sell Ellie McDoodles to the editors there. I don't need a new agent. What's the point, then?

It's this: The mix of inspiration and information you get from being immersed in the craft with other writers stays with you for months afterward and it often regenerates into motivation.
For me, it *always* does.
I have never left a conference thinking I knew all there was to be known.
Never left without seeing and hearing something new.
Sometimes when I leave the conference I'm in disrepair, broken down, dismayed that I wasn't "discovered."
And then I realize, it's up to me to make the discovery.
I can follow up on tips heard at the conference. I can check out the URLs and the books and software and concepts mentioned.

The conference doesn't exist to pair me up with an editor and marry me off to an agent.
The conference exists to expand my brain -- and it does that every single time. Even if I already knew the speakers, memorized their presentations and had read every book they edited, I still could get something out of the questions my fellow writers and illustrators asked.

There's a dynamic component in the conference that you won't get from reading articles online.

As long as I am able, I will attend writer conferences and retreats -- even if it's expensive, even if it's inconvenient, even if I feel dark and scared and uncreative.
For inspiring and moving me off center, writer events are batting a thousand. I have no reason to think this upcoming Michigan SCBWI Fall Conference won't do the same.
And -- bonus!!! -- I get to see dear friends at the same time.
How much better can life get?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Copy & Paste the logo, then stay up late reading!

At a time when libraries are more needed than ever, the New York Public Libraries are in trouble with heavy cuts scheduled. Check out my pall Debbie Diesen's post here to find out more about it.
I'll be at the Kids Read Comics convention in Dearborn on Saturday and Sunday, but I'll be reading late Saturday. I hope you will too!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Kids Read Comics! A free comic event - Dearborn MI

Read all about it! Kids Read Comics, you should too!

I'll be appearing at this event all weekend. Bring kids of all ages. Everything's free.
Register at the website for certain events, others don't require advance registration.

Guests who will be attending the Kids Read Comics Convention include:
  • Arvell Jones, artist of Iron Fist and All-Star Squadron
  • Dwayne McDuffie, Story editor on Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, writer/creator of Static Shock, writer/producer for the Justice League Unlimited animated series
  • Jef Mallett, writer/artist of the syndicated comic strip Frazz – SUNDAY ONLY: SEE PROGRAMMING PAGE
  • Roger Langridge, writer/artist of The Muppet Show Comic Book
  • Marc Sumerak, writer of Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man
  • Raina Telgemeier, artist of The Baby-sitters Club and creator of Smile
  • Dave Roman, creator of Astronaut Elementary and Jax Epoch and the Quicken Forbidden
  • John Green, artist of Jax Epoch and the Quicken Forbidden
  • David Petersen, creator of Mouseguard – SATURDAY ONLY
  • Wolfman Mac, host of Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In
  • Chris Houghton, creator of Reed Gunther
  • Jim Ottaviani, writer of GT Labs’ T-Minus
  • Katie Cook, artist of Star Wars comics and sketch cards
  • Ryan Estrada, creator of Aki Alliance and Chillin’ Like Villains
  • Dan Mishkin, writer/co-creator of Blue Devil and Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld
  • William Messner-Loebs, writer of The Flash, Thor, and Wonder Woman
  • Thom Zahler, creator of Love and Capes
  • Paul Storrie, writer of Gotham Girls comic for DC Comics
  • Rob M. Worley, creator of Scratch9 and author of Heir to Fire
  • Corey Barba, creator of Yam
  • Matt Feazell, creator of The Amazing Cynicalman
  • Joe Foo, creator of Desmond’s Comic
  • Mark Mariano, writer/artist of Flabbergast
  • Tara Tallan, writer/artist of the Galaxion webcomic
  • Jwan Jordan, writer/artist of The Circular World
  • Sara Turner, writer/artist of File 49 and The Boys of the Den
  • Krishna Sadasivam, writer/artist of PC Weenies and Uncubed
  • Kevin Cross, writer/artist of Monkey Mod and co-host of the Big Illustration Party Time podcast
  • Mark Rudolph, creator of CV Comics and co-host of the Art & Story comics podcast.
  • Brandon Dayton, creator of Green Monk
  • Diana Nock, creator of The Intrepid Girlbot and Imaginary Friends Forever
  • Michelangelo Cicerone, creator of Ozone Jones
  • Marion Vitus, writer/artist of No In-Between and How I Learned to Say No
  • Mike Bocianowski, writer/artist of Yets! - SATURDAY ONLY
  • The Ann Arbor Comic Artists’ Forum
  • Brian Germain, creator of Dark Elf Designs
  • Mike Roll, illustrator of The Trains of Christmas
  • Matt Dye, creator of Nathan and the Land of Robots
  • Erik Hodson, creator of Melby Comics
  • Michael Schwartz, creator of Oceanverse
  • Shawn Amberger, illustrator and cartoonist
  • Jim Mackey, creator of Jackpot Bear
  • Brett R. Pinson, creator of Boomtown Press
  • Randy Zimmerman, creator of Flint Comix
  • Stephanie Mannheim, creator of Nate the Non-Conformist
  • Lauren Houser, creator of The Innocent
  • Jerzy Drozd, writer/artist of The Front , and co-host of the Art & Story comics podcast
  • and me -
  • Ruth Barshaw, writer/artist of the Ellie McDoodle books

It's a surprisingly wide reach in programming.
Librarians, comic artists and writers, animators, authors, people who collect, people who create, people who make costumes, people who teach... There's really something for everyone happening.

Join us!!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Saving Ebersole

Ebersole is a nature preserve owned by Lansing (Michigan) School District. All four of my kids (and my husband and I, as chaperones) enjoyed camping there and communing with nature in extended outdoor science lessons led by smart teachers.
It's a great resource -- a reason to remain in a school district that sometimes feels too big to care about our kids, and a perk from living in Lansing that families in other districts envy. (At most of my author events I show my sketchbook from Ebersole. It's also on my website. Some people are in awe)

And now the Lansing School Board is planning to sell Ebersole.
It's not far from Lake Michigan. This prime, beautiful land will probably become condos.
A petition has been started
with the goals of raising awareness and saving Ebersole. I signed it and commented.

Here's my comment:
"The Lansing schools and I are playing a game of chicken. They're cutting programs and resources I consider important, and I'm defiantly standing my ground, refusing to move my last kid out of Gardner into a nice school in the suburbs (where many of our good friends flocked over the years).

"I watch Lansing Schools decimate their best programs and pink slip wonderful teachers (how could they let Darren Webb go? He would have brought more kids INTO Lansing schools!) and I wonder who will keep their kids in Lansing -- and what will be left for those who stay.

"As a parent whose 4 children adored Ebersole, as a chaperone and resident artist for a couple Ebersole camping trips, and as an author who featured Ebersole lessons in my Ellie McDoodle books so that kids outside of Lansing could benefit from nature contact, I ask that the School Board reconsider: Don't sell this resource which benefits our children so greatly.

"If Lansing Schools must cut something, cut the buses that pick up students less than a mile* from the middle school; there are too many mostly-empty buses and too many kids riding instead of walking.
Or -- better -- brainstorm with us on ways to save or raise money. The school board hasn't even tapped its largest resource, caring families. Bake sales, garage sales, book sales, car washes -- surely we can raise a lot of money if we work together.

"Don't cut Ebersole, one of our brilliant gems that opens minds and connects our children with science and nature. Read Last Child in the Woods, about nature deficit disorder -- and be glad our kids don't suffer from that because they have Ebersole... for now."
*Some will argue that only kids further away than one mile are picked up. This is technically true. But if Gardner unlocked the northwest gate and cut down the blocking poles at the southwest end, students wouldn't be forced to walk around to the front of the school. This would cut a half mile off my kid's route.
And -- here's a radical thought: What if we encouraged kids to ride bikes to school?

The petition is here. If you're a Lansing Schools parent, teacher, student, former student or former parent, please pass the word, and please sign the petition. Maybe this is one bad decision that we can prevent.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Opinionated me: Five Reasons You Don't Need an Agent

Sometimes I answer an email to a writing group and what I wrote seems worth saving in case my kids decide to become kids' book writers.
I'm going to start pasting some of them here. They're 100% opinion which means you may not agree at all. And they're tweaked to make sense in the context of this blog.
Here is the first.

The precipitating event:
Harold Underdown wrote Five Reasons Why You Don't Need an Agent.

My response:
Very interesting article, Harold! (As usual)

I remember at my first SCBWI regional conference, wayyyy back in 2003, an agent stood on stage and told us all the reasons we didn't need an agent. Her talk was much like what Harold wrote, only a little more pessimistic. ;)

I thanked her personally, took it to heart and resolved to not waste her time, but to come up with something so great that an agent couldn't resist it. (I figured it would take five years)

Two years later I signed with an agent because of a referral by a writer I'd never talked with or met.
At the time I had a work in progress inspired by
promptings from fellow writers to write something in my sketchbook style -- which they'd become familiar with because I'd shared my 2005 SCBWI National NYC Conference sketchbook on my website (And it's still there).
I'd never heard of Marissa Moss's Amelia series nor Jeff Kinney's soon-to-debut Diary of a Wimpy Kid
-- I'd been working in picturebooks, and knew very little about middle-grade novels.
I worked hard to make
the new idea work and was alternately excited and defeatist, until I met my new agent. Other writers also played a huge role in my happy publication story, and most of them I met on the CW (Yahoo Groups: childrens-writers) list.

What this whole learning process has taught me:
- When it's a good idea to have an agent, it'll probably be very easy to get one.
It's a lot easier to get an agent if you have a contract in hand, a very marketable manuscript or a body of strong work (several manuscripts) ready for minimal tweaking and submitting.
If you have all these things and agents still decline representation then I don't know what's wrong.
How do you know if your manuscript is highly marketable? Show it to a few established writers. If their eyes pop while reading it and they encourage you to finish it and SUBMIT!!, it's probably very marketable.
- Just because someone stands on stage and says everyone needs an agent doesn't make it true.
They might be interested more in self-
preservation than in you -- a couple editors-turned-agents are guilty of this and I dislike their calculating insincerity.
We all know writers who sell novels without agents. Agents are very helpful but not an absolute necessity. Though I can't speak to where the industry is headed, this is true today.

- If you write picturebooks and agents only want novelists, don't switch to novels.
Write what's best for you. The world doesn't need more
copies of greatness, it needs more original greatness. I don't know about your work, but when people look at my work they seem to be able to tell if I labored over it or if I enjoyed doing it. Surprisingly, it matters.
- Fellow writers often have more to do with shaping our decisions and helping us get to our goals than editors, agents or paid consultants.
It's funny to see writers fawning over editors and agents at conferences, hoping for a mentorship. They're overlooking many who possess the skills, time and inclination to help them hone their skills: their fellow writers.
- Desperation is ugly, awkward and hard to watch, and it detracts from the true goal.
It's better to
be desperate to do excellent work than to be desperate to be published or desperate to have an agent. The only shortcut in this industry is self-publication or lowering your standards and signing with a sub-par publisher. Though there's a respected place for self-publishing, I don't recommend it for non-niche children's fiction.
- Be patient.
Every facet of publishing demands patience so it's a good
idea to cultivate it early -- because whether you want it or not, you'll develop patience.
- Work very, very hard. If you build it, they will come. Things might not turn out like you'd planned (they sure didn't for me -- I thought I'd be doing daily comic strips for newspapers right now), but if you're doing the work you have passion for and you're putting lots and lots of time into it and you're pushing yourself hard to improve, you will get something amazingly good out of it. Everything else here might be opinion, but to me this last part is fact.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I'm off to write

If I don't answer your call, if I'm late getting back to you in email, if you don't see me at events around town, it's because I am writing.
I'm working on my fourth book, a novel about a girl who loves to read. I owe three chapters to my agent and editor as soon as I can get them done.
I traveled a lot in the past month and a half -- a week in Texas, a week in Chicago, a couple days in Grand Rapids and then Battle Creek -- and while I tried to work on the novel while on the road, it turned more into thinking and analyzing than actual writing.
I was afraid to start writing when I got home, but now I've started and it won't stop until it's done. That's the way it usually works.
I'll tend to the important things (MRA paperwork, Gango sketchbook uploads, Elliot and the Goblin War by Jen Nielsen, protecting Ebersole, school events in Bloomfield Hills and Farmington, a few other things), and will concentrate on getting this book into shape.
Here's one of the characters:

So if you see me in the bookstore, say hello but don't ask what I've been up to -- it's too long an answer! ;)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Family stuff

Exactly 21 years ago doctors were telling me I was not in labor, go back to sleep and wait for induction in the morning.
The baby was two weeks overdue and I was anxious to hold her.
But they were wrong. I was in labor, and the baby came so fast she caught everyone by surprise, especially her daddy who was running down the hospital corridor toward our delivery room when he heard a baby cry... his newborn daughter.
Katie has been surprising us ever since.
When she was three, she was that kid who'd take all her clothes off and dance on the picnic table at camp.
She chewed out Santa Claus, telling him he was too fat.
She helped unpack Christmas ornaments, held up a cherub ornament and called it a "kid butterfly with no clothes on."
I captured all these moments in cartoon cards I sent to my ailing grandpa. He died when Katie was four, and the family gave me the big box of cartoons I'd been sending him since Katie was a tiny infant. There it was, all of it: Katie's hilarious early childhood in cartoons.
I thought this meant I had a future in comic strips, but after two particularly heart-rending rejections I gave up and tried kids' books instead. That worked out better.
Maybe someday those letters to Grandpa will be a book.
I'd also like to do a book just on Katie. Here's one idea that hasn't panned out yet:

There will be more; Katie's a very colorful character.
For fans of Ellie McDoodle, Risa is absolutely Katie (right down to one of the surprises in book three, coming out in August, where Risa sneaks an evil pet into the house).
Happy Birthday, Katie!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Texas, here I come!

Next week on Sunday I am flying to Texas to visit John Cooper School in The Woodlands, and then I'll travel with the librarian there to San Antonio to sign books at the Texas Library Association conference. I'm so excited about visiting Texas!
I was afraid, nervous, at first. I'm always nervous to go on stage, and always nervous to travel a long distance for a book event.
It's not that I'm worried about my safety; I am a neurotic person, angsty and self-doubty about performance, not about flying. I worry about giving the audience the best possible event. Maybe I figure if I blow it locally, I can always go back and do another presentation later, to mend things. But out-of-state travel is a bit more expensive.
To my credit, I haven't blown an event yet.
They've all gone very well, and there have been hundreds. (wonder when I'll hit the thousand mark? should I pay attention to such things? hmm. I vote no.)
The teacher in charge at my last event called my presentation "Phenomenal." (I should get that in writing; the one thing I neglect to do is get testimonials...)
Phenomenal is a nice word. I'm going to try to hold onto that as I prepare for the Texas presentations. Phenomenal. :)

Ahh, Texas. I've been there twice before. Once as a layover on my trip to Mexico when I was 15, and once with my youngest when she was 9 months old, for Chickapalooza, a trip of moms and babies visiting moms and babies in Austin, Post and Altus, Oklahoma.
Our babies are turning 13 this spring. I should dig up that sketchjournal...

Of course I'll bring a sketchjournal with me on this new trip and draw the whole time.
Here are some sketches from the air from recent trips.
The first is on the way to Boston (maybe I was hungry?).

Second spread is take-off from Lansing heading to Santa Fe.
Third spread is that same trip, heading home again, flying over Colorado.A couple weeks ago while sorting stuff from my mom's attic, I found my wings -- the pin I got when flying for the first time. They were from the Mexico trip, 35 years ago. American Airlines.
Now the airlines give stickers to first-time flyers.
I found all the papers from that trip, all the pre-planning, even my luggage tags.
And a ribbon rose with 16 streamers, from a Tuna -- a traveling band of boy musicians.
Our Spanish teacher told us ahead of time that Tunas travel around Spain (sometimes Mexico) and girls sew ribbon roses for them and pin them, and then the boys pin the roses on girls they meet on their travels.
At our hotel in Acapulco, a Tuna band was playing and we stood above them on a balcony, swooning. They played a lot of songs we knew so we practiced our Spanish (I used to dream in Spanish back then, I was so fluent -- had an excellent teacher) and we sang the songs along with them.
Then we raced down to meet them, and one kissed me (woo!) and pinned his ribbon rose on me. The rose is about 2 1/2 inches wide, with foot-long ribbon streamers sewn to it. It's spectacular, even after all these years. Needs a good cleaning, though.

Who knows what this trip will bring? No ribbon roses, no kisses from Tunas (those are for teens, not married moms turning 51), but definitely a full sketchjournal.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Spring Break-- got your journal ready?

Will you be home during Spring Break?
I'll be at the Ann Arbor Library, Pittsfield branch, on Tuesday, April 6, 2 til 3pm, for a program on journaling, cartooning and whatever else the audience throws at me.

Come join us - we'll make sketchjournals and draw in them together.
I promise it'll be great fun!

Planning to go somewhere else?
Bring a journal with you!

I still have my sketchjournal from my high school Spring Break trip to Mexico. I was 15 -- what an amazing trip.
I swore I'd go back every year, but in 35 years I never got a chance to revisit Mexico. Life interfered.
But I still have my sketchbook from that trip, so I can go back in time and feel what my 15-year-old self felt, and it's like being in Mexico all over again.

This is a page out of my sketchjournal from when I was 15. It's one of my favorite parts of Acapulco, the market. I bought one of those white blouses with colorful trim -- mine was white with green embroidery. It's long gone, but the picture of it survives. :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ellie McDoodle, Wimpy Girl

My dear friend Ryan Hipp posted here about Ellie:

Ryan's one of those big teddy-bear guys who does both cute and scary with complete finesse.
We spent a bit of time together at the Michigan Reading Association conference this past weekend in Detroit.
I encouraged him to get Patricia Polacco's signature in his Author-Illustrator Autograph Book, and he in turn encouraged me to show Patricia the quick sketches I did of her.
This one of Patricia's back is my favorite sketch in the whole sketchjournal:

The whimsy of it inspired me to draw a couple other famous people from the back, too, including Christopher Paul Curtis (who I didn't show a sketch to because I haven't read his books yet. Bought them ages ago but didn't read them yet. I am a slow reader, better suited for picturebooks).

I thought Patricia was very gracious to sign my book and Ryan's. She added this happy note to my second drawing:
Ryan and I are also in a critique group together.
Sometimes this job is solitary and the only friend I have is the character in my head whose adventures are directing my imagination.
Other times this job brings me close to lots of great people who remind me of all that is good in the world.
School visits and teacher/librarian conferences do that -- they're a lot of work to prepare for, but such amazing fun in their process of unfolding, and even more fun as I visit more schools, get to know more teachers and librarians, and then see them again at conferences.
Could this life be any better? I think not. :)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fake book news contest

Be creative! Have a few laughs! Win a free book!
My pal Debbie Diesen is
celebrating the birth of her new book, The Barefooted, Bad-Tempered Baby Brigade, with a Funny Fake Children's Book News contest.
Check out the contest and some very funny entries

Hurry - the contest ends March 19.

March is Reading Month!

This is a busy time of year for many authors. In the Great Lakes area, it's Reading Month.
Here's my author visit schedule:

March 5 Fri Lone Pine Elementary in West Bloomfield

March 1-4 Charlie jury duty (whew. Called in every day but he didn't get a trial)

March 10 Wed E E Knight Elementary in Ovid Elsie

March 11 Thu Hillside Elementary in Harrison (Clare County)

March 15 Mon Central Academy in Ann Arbor

March 17 Wed Vowles Elementary in Mt. Pleasant

March 18 Thu Elmhhurst Elementary in Lansing

March 20-22 Michigan Reading Association Conference at Cobo Hall in Detroit

March 24 Wed Horizon Elementary in Holt

March 27 Sat 4 to 6 pm Michigan Author Day at Barnes & Noble in Grandville

March 30 Tu Family Lit Night at Holly Academy in Holly

April 1 Thu Bartlett School in South Lyon

April 6 Tue 2pm Ann Arbor library - Pittsfield branch

April 11 Sun fly to Texas

April 12-13 MonTues The Woodlands school visit

April 14-16 Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio

April 25-28 International Reading Association Conference in Chicago

April 29-May 2 Thu-Sun Agent's writer retreat in Chicago

May 11-12 Tue-Wed Battle Creek schools

We're halfway through March already, and so far my author visits are going well. The kids are enthusiastic and attentive, the teachers and staff are helpful and friendly, and the school walls are decorated with fabulous student art.

I'm juggling a few other things, too: I'm working on a novel about a girl who likes to read and am playing with a picturebook about a mischievous cat. (Mostly it's the novel. I promise, Erin. <- agent who asks, at the end of every email, "So how's that novel?")
The novel is going pretty well. It's a little scary because the process is very different from writing the Ellie McDoodle books. I'll be seeing Erin next month, so I don't really have a choice: I have to have a lot done before then. Yikes.

Besides being an author, I'm also busy being a mom. My daughter's middle school volleyball team has its last game on Thursday. Charlie and I have managed to go to most of the games. It's been fun cheering for the team and learning the girls' names and embarrassing our kid (by cheering for the team and learning the girls' names... sometimes I think just the fact that I exist embarrasses her).
We're off to see The Lightning Thief movie pretty soon because I managed to squeeze into this busy month the task of reading the first book in Rick Riordan's series. It's our daughter's favorite book, and I feel generally compelled to read whatever impresses her.
Very good book, worth giving up a little sleep. (Maybe I can learn a few things from Riordan)

And now, I'm off to catch a favorite tv show and then to bed. Gotta get up early; it's a long drive to Mt. Pleasant in the morning. :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

My husband found this for me today.
It's the rough draft of a Mother's Day poem written by my son, Joey, when he'd just turned 11.
I will leave the punctuation, spelling and capitalization as in its charming original.

marvolous is she

M - mom qualities that she has a lot of

O - other stuff she's good at

^ outstanding mom that she is

T - taught me how to live

teacher of me
H - ha ha is her laugh

happiness she brings to me

E - ever forgiving, she is

eternally grateful am I

R - Ruth is her name

reluctant she is not

M - moron, she is n
mother of my lifetime

O - ouchies she makes better

our love will never end

M - merturnity clothes she wears

my great mother she is

I love you

Joe is a songwriter today.
I bet he's writing songs and sweet poems for his wife, now.

We don't know, sometimes, the seeds we sow, in the daily work we take on.

We can't tell if they're pretty weeds or heirloom roses until time has passed.

Sometimes our good ideas take root and blossom into beauty that changes others at the same time it helps us.

Sometimes our ideas are seeds that fall on rocky ground -- they can't take root without help from others.

Books are like that.

They spring from a germ of an idea, but they need nourishment to grow into a full book.

So many hands take part in bringing up a book, and it's not just the obvious, the author, the long-suffering partner/spouse of the author, the critique group, the editor, agent, designers, copy editors, publicist, salespeople, librarians, teachers, booksellers, various specialists, the reviewers, the discerning readers...

Books need communities in order to grow.

Authors need friends, connections with humanity that sprout ideas and inklings and what-if's.

Writing can be a lonesome career, but no writer writes alone.

Out of life springs new life.

Out of all of us spring new books, new music, new poetry, new ideas, new ways of looking at what has continued for many thousands of years.

We are the collective creators of art, inspired by each other and by everything around us.

Even if you don't feel creative today, you are inspiring someone else. That's the beauty of our inter-connectedness.

Happy Valentines Day!

May you find little surprises today and throughout the year that make you feel good, that make you feel loved, that make you feel creative.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to know if your editor is fabulous

I'll use the feminine for this, because my editor is a woman. But please substitute if yours is a guy. I know some great guy editors.
How do you know if your editor is fabulous? Answer these questions.

1. Is she supportive when things aren't going well?
My editor has always been unfailingly patient during my rough times. I have a big family; I have a lot of rough times (deaths, illnesses, weddings, angst).
She's also patient during my rough writing, first drafts, awkward prose and obvious mistakes.

2. Are her edits heavy handed? Or does she leave room for your own voice in your own writing?
When my first book copies arrived, back in 2007, I was astounded to see how many of the copy-edits that I had suggested were ultimately adopted. My editor acted surprised at my surprise; "of course we'd try to accommodate every request; you're the author!" whereas I'd been led to believe, by other writers, that your vision for your book is abandoned once you sign with a publisher.

I'm learning from her editing -- it's making me a better writer (thank goodness).

3. Does she respond to your emails? And is she warm in her notes to you?
My editor doesn't always write back as fast as I'd like her to. She's the publisher, besides being an editor. She works with very famous authors. I can't fault her for not coddling me and my author angst 24/7 (author angst is legendary; my insecurities are legion).
But she does always sign her notes affectionately and she does always respond quickly on important matters. I feel if we weren't working together, she'd be a fascinating friend who I'd love to get to know better.

4. Does she edit other work besides yours? Are those books critically acclaimed?
Every publisher has a different sort of feel. And not all books are good for all people. The list at one house might not appeal to a particular reader, even if the books are critically acclaimed and the reader is brilliant. We all have different tastes -- and thank goodness for that, because as an artist I can't imagine anything more drab than a world where everyone agreed on everything all the time.
I am not the biggest fan of each of my publisher's books, but I'm a big fan of a lot of them. Ellie McDoodle is not the top book in the catalog (though I hope it gets near). Like not
wanting to own the best house on the block, I don't think I want to create the best books in my publisher's catalog; I want something to aspire to, a reason to always try to do better.
My publisher puts out enough great works every season that I am proud to be part of their list.

5. Do you get paid on time? Royalty statements arrive unprompted?
I don't know. My agent takes care of this. I do know there have been a couple times when we asked my editor to intercede and she did. My family hit tough times last month, and my editor helped me get paid faster than normal. It was a kindness, something I will never forget.

6. Does she buy every book you write?
Mine doesn't -- and if she did she probably would not be a good editor. Ha!
I've pitched a couple books that were stinkers (you know, in a meeting when I should have bitten my tongue instead). My agent has pitched a few that I still believe in, that my editor didn't. Pitched a few that needed work. She bought 4 books from me. I'm satisfied with that track record (though of course I am trying harder to only offer books that are irresistible).

7. Does she work hard at her job?

Mine works maybe too hard. I get emails from her in the wee hours of the morning, on weekends, over holidays. I like having an editor who works as hard as I do.

8. Is she good with words?
My editor weighs her suggestions, balances observations, measures responses, and is careful about what is said and what's left unsaid. More than once I've babbled to her, watched her face for clues, saw the smile, realized belatedly I wasn't saying anything new, quieted down, and listened... and benefited from her wisdom.

9. Does she spend a lot of time blogging and building up warm, fuzzy feelings in the writer community?
My editor doesn't, and honestly I am glad for that. Her priority isn't her own name, it's writing. If she weren't publisher she'd probably have time for lots of other pursuits. I'm okay with how she handles what's important to me.

10. Is your editor human?

Well, yeah, mine is. She's endured some pain and I am sure she makes mistakes, but she isn't a faceless, nameless company pawn.
I can't speak to how she is elsewhere, but she's sensitive, thoughtful, and fair in all her dealings with me.
Her name is Melanie Cecka. She works for Bloomsbury. They've taken some knocks for some of their decisions, and I have opinions on the decisions and the knocks, but I respect her and her staff. They're good, dear people and I am lucky to work with them.

I drew this in my sketchbook while walking out the door after meeting with my editor and her staff in NYC, Feb 2006, for the first time:

I am SO in love with my job of being an author and illustrator of books for kids.

My editor would find a lot to edit in this note, but
I'm going to post it anyway. I have other writing to get to, specifically a girl who likes to read and a boy who likes to run.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ellie McDoodle, rising star

As Ellie McDoodle gets better known, I see little Ellie-isms pop up in new places.

Friends tell me of Ellie spotting, finding my books in bookstores, art museums, nature centers and Michigan highway Welcome Centers.
Some kids use Ellie-isms in their everyday language. I've heard "Cheezers!" exclaimed at events. And a dear friend's artist son once told her he was having "an Ellie McDoodle moment."
Kids tell me about their families, using characters as shorthand: "My brother is just like Ben-Ben" or "He's like Er-ick, when Ellie draws him like a monster."
I find it funny, flattering, and sweet.

Likewise, this video.
I didn't make it; it's a fan-fiction video.

Some enterprising kids came up with a script and shot a little movie for a contest on
I don't know if they won, but I'm honored by the name of their main character.
Video Description:
Ellie McDoodle is exploring an ancient bathroom and finds an American Idol Singer whose dreams were crushed and a CRAZY lady who has a plastic pinapple husband. Please watch it and comment. No insults. If you don't like it, just don't comment! I hope we win the contest! :) p.s. we will make more vids
See the video here.
It's silly and fun and the actors show great enthusiasm. If I were grading it, I'd give them an A for Awesome.
Ellie exploring an ancient bathroom, hm. . . Two summers ago at a writer retreat I talked with archeology professor and future famous author Jeannie Mobley about using an archeology theme for a future Ellie book. It could still happen. Probably won't be bathroom-centered, though maybe a pineapple will make an appearance. ;)

Best of luck to all the young filmmakers out there.

Keep reading!