Saturday, October 29, 2011

It's PiBoIdMo time!

Go to Tara Lazar's blog to read more.

PiBoIdMo is Picture Book Idea Month -- join the group and commit to thinking up an idea per day for a picture book. Read the official blog for inspiration each day. At the end of the month, choose the ideas you like best from your collection of 30, and maybe finish one. Sell it, repeat.

Click here to go to PiBoIdMo
The picture book has taken a bit of a beating lately in the press.
Some e-book supporters are quick to say the paper book is a relic.
An October, 2010 New York Times article claimed parents are pushing their kids to read more complex books, younger, and suggested parents don't find value in books that have to be read aloud to their kids, as picture books are meant to be shared. This set off a torrent of responses, including this charming one from an elementary school and this one in the Horn Book, more recently.

The truth is, the publishing world is changing (as is every other part of our world). To be alive is to change. I don't know where it's all going. Nobody does. Until we find out, I say we quit wringing our hands. Embrace your creativity, keep reading, keep writing, and keep encouraging kids.

I'm joining PiBoWriMo for several reasons:
- I wanted to join last year but didn't because I was trying NaNoWriMo for the first time and didn't want to split my effort. That's National Novel Writing Month, also held during the 30 days of November, and it's the long version of PiBo: Write a 50,000 word novel in a month. Stephen King writes that fast (though I hope his editors don't). Last year I ultimately met my goal for NaNoWriMo -- I wrote an Ellie McDoodle book in a month. The hard part was achieving a 50,000 word count for a 17,000-word book. I counted edits and rewrites, of course. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, I should have been able to add 170,000 to my final word count. Since the work I do is often half art, half text, and I am often on deadline, it can't always be shoehorned to fit the NaNoWriMo parameters. But it fits PiBoWriMo.
(Shutta Crum is doing both PiBoWriMo and NaNoWriMo this year. Cheer her on -- she'll need it.)

Why else I am joining PiBoIdMo:

- Before I started writing and illustrating Ellie McDoodle books, I tried creating picture books. I really thought that'd be my big mark on the world. Maybe it still will be. This is one way to find out.

- I have a neat idea for a picture book going right now. It'll take a while to write, edit and illustrate, but I'm excited about the idea and I figure, what better time to fire up the brain to think of more good ideas than when I'm already bogged down with something else? No, I meant, already stoked and paying attention to the sweet whispers of of the muse.

Are you thinking maybe you've got some picture book ideas that need corralling? Got a novel idea you'd like to explore? Push yourself to join PiBoIdMo or NaNoWriMo -- you won't know what you're capable of until you try.

(Hey, I just found out my writer husband Charlie has joined PiBoWriMo too -- awesome!)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Meet Children's Books Author Audrey Vernick

A very fun book.

My caricature of Audrey
Author Audrey Vernick is unflinchingly honest and gasp-for-breath funny, in real life and on the page.
When I first met her we were at our literary agent's writer retreat in an idyllic setting near Boston, with a reservoir perfect for kayaking, woodsy paths ideal for writerly contemplation, tables on the patio just right for manuscript  inspiration. And a wide, green lawn that I kept hearing hosts frolicking baby  foxes early in the mornings -- but I never saw them even though one morning I did get up very early to jog. 
This was a lovely backdrop for meeting Audrey and other stellar members of our agent's client list. 
At such events my strategy is to memorize names and analyze people quickly. 
Instantly I pegged Audrey as sort of a sister. 
To me this means she can take endless ribbing (and get even) but she also has a huge heart. She's deep. Compassionate. She plays fair. By now she knows some of my worst faults and insecurities but never uses them against me. 
We drove for ice cream one night --
Erin Murphy, literary agent, and Audrey Vernick, literary author

and Audrey's group got lost. (Probably her fault.) We gave up looking for them and drove back to the retreat center, but I remember worrying -- not for their safety, but for us. Audrey's little, but she's a big part of any party.

It was on this trip that I came to know Buffalo, of Publisher’s Weekly starred-reviewed Is Your Buffalo Ready For Kindergarten? 

Buffalo is fabulously illustrated by Daniel Jennewein who injects Audrey's visionary characterization with watercolors and caran d'ache to make a naive 
giant of a kindergartener, a sort of Baby Huey for today's kids.
And now the Buffalo book has a sibling! A second book, Teach Your Buffalo To Play Drums, debuted last month.

To celebrate, I cornered Audrey and begged her to answer six questions: 
1. Why drums? Why not a French horn? Piccolo? Bassoon? Or my favorite, the harmonica? It’s portable, not too loud -- the only problem is you can’t sing while playing. Does Buffalo sing well? If not, I recommend a harmonica.
Audrey's answer:
I'm still reeling from Baby Huey!

The answer to the buffalo question is embarrassing in that it paints me as kind of random and uncreative. But one day, when I was saying something stupid to my son about teaching his dog to bake, I said, "You know, I should write a whole series--Teach Your Dog to Bake; Teach Your Cat to Surf; Teach Your Buffalo to Play Drums." That last one kind of echoed in my head. And I never thought to look beyond the words I said. Your question makes me wonder why I didn't consider other instruments before committing my buffalo to life in the rhythm section. But drums allowed me to write one of my favorite lines, one that was ultimately cut from the final text:

You know what’s really cool? Your buffalo should walk around with his drum sticks all the time, everywhere he goes, just so everyone knows he’s a drummer.

It must be noted: Harmonicas are awesome, too. Do you know Bruce Springsteen tossed me his harmonica during "Promised Land" in 1984? True story.

2. I know you love to research because you produce awesome books that require a lot of it. Can you tell us about an unexpected discovery that still delights you?
Audrey's answer: 
You ask fun questions, Ruth Barshaw. I think I'm saving my favorite discovery for a book that keeps not getting written by me, but one I really hope to write some day. So let's go with these two tidbits.

Editing the text of SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY required cutting away some very important scenes. One of my favorites involved Branch Rickey. He's pretty widely regarded as being the man who, by signing Jackie Robinson to play for the Dodgers, integrated the major leagues. But from Effa Manley's point of view, he was more like a thief. This is a scene I regret cutting from SHE LOVED BASEBALL:

But Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Dodgers, wasn’t done yet. He signed five more Negro League players, offering to pay for only one of them, and just a tiny amount at that.
She couldn’t stay quiet any more.
Effa decided to do something about it.
She wrote to Branch Rickey, criticizing the way he took players without paying for them. She asked for a chance to meet with him. Rickey did not respond.
One day she happened to be at Yankee Stadium when Rickey was there. She marched over to him and explained that Negro League contracts were as real as major league contracts. She pointed out that she could take legal action against him. It is said that she made Branch Rickey turn very bright red.

I just love imagining the moment when Effa spotted him. Keep in mind this was the 1940s. She was both African-American and female. And she upbraided the great Branch Rickey right there in front of everyone in Yankee Stadium.

The other discoveries that don't exactly delight me, but make me laugh, have to do with the Acerra Brothers, subject of the forthcoming BROTHERS AT BAT: THE TRUE STORY OF AN AMAZING ALL-BROTHER BASEBALL TEAM. For this book, I interviewed two of the three surviving brothers from the twelve-member team of brothers. And my repeated refrain to their glory-days stories was, "It's a book for CHILDREN!!" The testosterone stories they told! My favorite example of incredibly bad judgment came from Freddie. He was determined to join the Navy during World War II, but despite living blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, he had one tiny problem: he couldn't swim. I can't tell this story without my head involuntarily shaking, but this is how he solved the problem: he gave his dogtags to someone else, someone who could swim, and had him take the swimming test. Don't think about it too hard.
Yikes!!! 3. What is Buffalo’s favorite martial art? 
Audrey's answer:
4. Are you working on another Buffalo book?
Audrey's answer:
I have submitted a list of possible titles; it's in my publisher's court right now.
5. How do you think Buffalo and Ben-Ben would get along? (Ben-Ben is Ellie McDoodle's hyper little brother)
Audrey's answer:
Buffalo would adore Ben Ben and be tickled by his energy. I think they would enjoy hilarious hijinks together, and I'd like to see how you'd draw that, ma'am. But I think Buffalo would need to nap after a few hours. I don't think a slumbering Buffalo would slow down Ben-Ben, though. I think he would continue, sometimes hijinksing atop a sleeping buffalo.

I totally agree. 

6. What’s the question you wish I’d asked? (And what’s the answer?)
Audrey's answer:
What is the derivation of babyhead? (A term I use to describe myself and others).

I don't know the answer. I just know it's a term I use, on occasion, to describe myself. And others.
You've called me Babyhead many times. I don't feel any more enlightened than before. :p   
Audrey, if you need to know what it feels like to wrestle in a Sumo suit, I can tell you sometime. My nephew rented Sumo suits for his graduation party last month, and of course I suited up to fight. (Don't do this on a very hot day. And try not to be the person who puts on the suit immediately after the kid in the wet bathing suit.) 
As to Bruce Springsteen's harmonica, I am in awe. "Promised Land" is part of why I wanted to learn how to play harmonica. I still can't play it... 
Thanks so much for today's duet. :)
  Audrey's other books:

Water Balloon
Clarion Books
September 5, 2011
Her first novel comes out in just a few weeks!

So You Want To Be a Rock Star
illustrated by Kirstie Edmunds
Walker Books for Young Readers
January 2012

by Audrey Glassman Vernick and
Ellen Glassman Gidaro
illustrated by Tim Brown
Overmountain Press, 2003

Indie bound link   
Amazon link  
Barnes & Noble link  

Audrey’s website link  
Please check out the other stops in Audrey's book blog tour: 
Jean Reidy’s blog (6/22) (Buffalo's bucket list!)
Peter Salomon’s blog (6/29) 
Laurie Thompson’s blog (7/13)  
And you'll love Audrey's blog.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Gangoblogging: Chris Barton

You long to experience the world on your own terms. You are smart and brave, but you're a cheat. You have a chance to trade who you are for something better -- for a new life. New thrills. New fear. Do you do it?

If yes, you might be the subject of Chris Barton's new YA nonfiction, Can I See Your I.D.?: True Stories of False Identities.

It's a fascinating read, even if your story isn't in it.
Barton follows ten imposters from history, many of them teens, and he digs into their past and what got them to that point of taking on a false identity, and he doesn't disappoint -- he also tells how they were ultimately found out.
Read this book. You'll be hooked from the first story, where 16-year-old Keron Thomas steals a subway train.
Publishers Weekly agrees:
*Starred Review* [I]mpeccably crafted ... The use of second-person narration is very effective, allowing readers to assume the identities of each individual. Barton's prose captures the daring, ingenuity, and quick thinking required of each imposter.

(Below: sketches from my Gang of Erin retreat sketchbook)
Chris reads from his work in progress in April, 2011.
You're in for a treat: this new book is AWESOME.
And that's about all I can say about it, for now.

I first came to know author Chris Barton many years ago, before either of us had sold any books. 

Hanging out at Texas Library Association conference
Like everyone else, I was charmed by his online persona. 
Random discussion at the retreat
When he signed with his agent, Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency (EMLA), our fate was sealed: we're agency-mates.
rubber-face profile
Intrigue and suspense built. . . I had to meet this guy in person.
Chris tests my patience with a Draw-Off

My chance came three years ago at an EMLA retreat near Boston. I watched him like a hawk -- and I took notes.
Late at night, all inhibitions gone,
Chris dances at the party in the EMLA room

I met him again last month in Austin, at the Texas Library Association conference and EMLA's fifth annual retreat. Again, I took notes:
Chris and Clint Young, EMLA clients
 And then, upon finding out that Can I See Your I.D.? was now out, I begged him to grant a quick interview on my blog:

Me: What were some of the surprises that popped up when you were researching this book?

Chris: One of the biggest surprises was how much in common my individual subjects had with each other, even though they were carrying out their masquerades under vastly different circumstances, for vastly different reasons, even on different continents and in different centuries. I figured I might find a few recurring themes, but the ingredients that go into successfully maintaining a false identity (at least for a while) are unexpectedly universal. Take Ellen Craft and Keron Thomas, for instance. Their stories take place nearly 150 years apart, and she was trying to escape from slavery while he just wanted to prove that he could drive a subway train. But each of them took advantage of the fact that we generally see in other people what's on the surface, and what we expect to see. We don't look at an apparently white Southern gentleman and see a female slave, and we don't look at a guy in a motorman's uniform shirt and see a 16-year-old kid.

There were surprises in my research into the individual stories, too. I discovered that Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr.'s sister had not died as a teenager, as had been previously reported (and which I wrote about in The Horn Book) -- that had a big effect on my understanding of what motivated him to become a serial impostor. And Forrest Carter, author of the supposed memoir The Education of Little Tree, was exposed as a fraud in The New York Times in 1991 -- but it turns out, the same newspaper had already identified him as racist speechwriter Asa Earl Carter in the mid-1970s, but nobody paid much attention at the time because he didn't yet have a bestseller, and by the 1990s the Times itself seemed to have forgotten.

Me: I'm in the middle of final revisions for my fourth Ellie McDoodle book, at the moment. For me, the process of writing each book has been different each time. Can you share some of your process?

Chris: Oh, Ruth -- I'm so glad it's not just me! The process changes each time for me, too. For my biographies, I used to assemble a timeline of the person's life and then use that to identify the beginning and end of that person's story -- my version of it, anyway. Now, though, I'm more likely to let a theme about that person's life emerge from my reading about them, and then start constructing the timeline.

For my fiction, I used to do a lot more freewriting, starting a story without knowing where it would end, or even whether it was an actual story. Now, though, I more often find myself seeing the whole story before I start to write. I don't know whether that's an improvement, but it's definitely different -- and probably not permanent. I expect my process will keep right on changing, and I'm perfectly fine with that. Discovering different approaches is part of the fun of writing. 

Me: What do you wish someone had told you about this author business, before you had to discover it for yourself?

Chris: I wish someone had told me how many distractions there were from the act of actually writing and how one of the most important jobs an author has is vigilantly safeguarding the time needed to produce the words that will be consumed by readers of my books. If I'd had all these distractions -- especially the ones involving publicity and self-promotion and community-nurturing -- when I started, I'd never have written enough or gotten good enough to get published in the first place!

Me, again: Boy, can I relate.

Check out Chris's new book, CAN I SEE YOUR I.D.? at your local independent bookstore. 
Or at our EMLA agency-mate's store, The Flying Pig.
It's also on Amazon.
Here's his Amazon author page.
And here's his website.

Get to know more about Chris and his fabulous new book at his other blog tour stops:
On Jean Reidy's blog 
And, coming in June 2011, on Jenny Ziegler's blog.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Digging into the archives

Our kid's cleaning the basement, and she found a notebook from my confusion days of 1999 when I was working with a career coach to try to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
I'd quit my nice job at MSU to work at home 5 years earlier. Had a two-year-old who was a fearless painter (and hair-cutter). I was doing screen printing art and knew vaguely that it wasn't going to last. Design work was dwindling as desktop publishing became ubiquitous.
Hence the career coach.
It's funny to me how close my current life comes to what I was wishing for -- and couldn't put my finger on -- back then.
The following angsty words are from the 1999 notebook, and I'll put an x in front of those in the list that are true of my career today, 12 years later (that's most of them).
I want to do fast sketchy art and some writing. Travel. Sketch journal. Publish/create books that matter.
I will somehow, someday, build a studio that works.
I think I know what I want to do (comic strip) but it has taken a year of self-discovery to get here. I need a backup in case the comic fails. Storyboarding?? Research it.
I still have not put all my best abilities/wants/values/etc. together for one career. I want the comic -- but might there be something better out there?
Most potent areas of interest and passion:
x sketchy art
x that makes a difference in the world
   earn $70,000 within 5 years
x art I can do at home
x seen by many
x pen and ink, some color
x some freedom, able to choose own subjects
x editor help/bounce ideas off
x some writing/editing
x fun/funny
x some poetry
x Shel Silverstein-like
x occasional presentations to groups and kids
x travel
   well-known in my area (hmm. Tough to judge. I'm getting there...)
x intelligent art -- witty
x loving art
x peaceful art
x poke fun at people who have power but shouldn't
x creative, lively
x freedom in schedule
x art I can do on the road sometimes
x art I can do ahead and stockpile (to accommodate travel)
x clear deadlines
x No or only occasional freelance stuff
   licensing or merchandising
x learn more
x improve my art
   become a modern day master
x have anonymity when I need it
x able to do my art by myself
x compatible with all lifestyles
x compatible with kids of all ages
x pays well from the start
If I could do ANYTHING, what would it be?
drawing/sketching, humor, writing, music, sewing, travel, history, costumes, kids, teaching, harmonica, humor, making presentations, debating, poetry, satire, tennis, skating, pets, family, publishing, book layout-design-typography, brainstorming, protecting kids, creativity, resourcefulness, organizing, library, parks, maps, event planning, being alone, being with people, don't help sell things that hurt, family parties, road trips, sketch journals, acting, chat host, html/websites, computer hardware/tech, embryology.
That was 1999.
In 2002 I entered the Simon & Schuster Margaret K. McElderry Picturebook Contest. I didn't win, but loved it so much I suddenly had a new career in children's books. My first book sold in 2005, to Bloomsbury. That's Ellie McDoodle, and I don't think it's possible to be happier with where I am in 2011.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March is Reading Month

In Michigan and other states in the Midwest (and elsewhere?), March is Reading Month. That means most authors I know are hitting the road, taking their presentation to schools and conferences far and wide.
So far this season (Feb-March) Charlie and I have presented at:
Averill Elementary in Lansing
Chelsea Library for a cartooning workshop (through Jerzy Drozd - went fantastic)
Winn Elementary in Winn near Shepherd
Elmhurst Elementary in Lansing
Attwood Elementary in Lansing -- my kids' old school, and how very cool to revisit
Shepherd Elementary
Borland Elementary in Imlay City
Kurtz Elementary in Milford
Smith Road Elementary in Temperance
Country Oaks Elementary in Commerce Township
Sodt Elementary in Monroe
Grand Rapids, One Book, One City:
Ken-O-Sha School
Harrison Park School
North Park School
Buchanan Elementary.

Coming up soon:
Kingsley Elementary in Traverse City
Gardens Elementary in Marysville
Garfield Elementary in Port Huron
Crull Elementary in Port Huron
Fair Haven Elementary in Fair Haven
Blue Water Reading Association Conference
Millside Elementary in Algonac
Algonac Elementary in Algonac
Blue Water Young Readers Conference
Our Lady of Victory in Northville
Dibble Elementary in Jackson
Frost Elementary in Jackson
Wainwright Elementary in Lansing
Clare Primary School in Clare
Cromaine Library in Hartland
Houston SCBWI Conference.

That sounds like a lot, to me!
I have a new presentation with a story-creation workshop that is getting rave reviews from kids and teachers. It all started in Sparta, last November. Standing in front of a group of three year olds I suddenly realized they could barely hold pencils and thus would not benefit from the normal Pre-K program I did (using letterforms to make doodles).
So we improvised, on the spot.
The program was such a big success with the littlest kids that we tried it with the older kids. Again, great fun. We used it for all of the sessions that day, and again at the next Sparta school (we visited Appleview and Ridgeview), and at the Holt schools (Wilcox and Midway) and in three Indianapolis schools (New Augusta South Elementary, Eagle Creek and Fishback Creek Elementary).
By December we knew exactly what would make a great program for the spring author visit season.

Thank you to the schools, libraries and bookstores who hosted us (and who are bringing us in still).
Mr. Barshaw (the timekeeper and presenter of votes) and I have had a really great time getting to know students, librarians, teachers, media specialists, principals, support staff, families and bookstore people.
And thank you to our fellow writers, to teachers and librarians and booksellers and PTA/O members who have referred us to other schools for events.
More to come -- and pictures! But right now I have an art deadline to meet.

PS -- Want to schedule me for a school visit? There's still time! Not in March, but in spring. :) Visit my website:

Friday, February 25, 2011

Back from outer space (that's revisions)

After spending many months with the next Ellie McDoodle book I can proudly say that I am done living in a fantasy world and am back to real life for a while. (until my editor's revisions notes arrive... then it's back to not-really-here-ness again).

The next book's about soccer. I learned a LOT about soccer while writing it. (Ellie learns how to properly kick the ball, for one thing)
I learned a lot about life, too -- like, for instance, email still comes even when I am not at the computer to answer it. (1347 in the in-box, right now. I'm starting to think I might not answer them all)
Here's a page from my rough art/rough writing for the book:

This picture has nothing to do with soccer but everything to do with teamwork. And there's a reason for the crazy hairstyles.
I hope this art will make it into the book. You and I will have to wait til next Spring to know for sure. :)