Friday, September 20, 2013

Making the Deadline: Submitting the proposal



I had set September 20th as my personal deadline to submit my proposal to a publisher. Today, on 9/20/13 I dropped hard copy of my proposal at a publisher's and also sent the proposal via email. SO now the waiting begins. 

Since my last blog-post I redid two illustrations and completely reformatted one page using PhotoShop. I bought the program this week, and my friend Maddy showed me the basics. It really is amazing what it can do, even without an experienced operator!

I learned how to make pages, how to erase, how to add and edit text, how to work on layers. It's really a super tool. I thought that technological applications had no place in my hand drawn art. But it's so neat the way that you can modify a drawing, move elements around, copy all or segments of a drawing. For example, this box turtle can now be introduced into other pages than the one on which he was originally drawn.
Box Turtle
He was on a page that was originally formatted to be vertical, but now the page is horizontal. I was able to redesign the page in a few minutes, rather than having to redraw eleven images. I was even able to re-size things to better fit the new format. PhotoShop is still a mystery to me in many ways, but it has saved me hours of work and it was certainly a big part of what allowed me to meet my deadline.

So what now? I have submitted a proposal. I know that it will be weeks - or more probably - months, before I hear back from the publisher. So what will I do while I wait? This weekend and next week I will focus on other projects: the program for the Ole Bull Music Festival, creating my fall garden and making a kaper chart for my Girl Scout Troop. But the following week, I plan to get to work on other illustrations for my book. 

It has become clear to me that, just as the text improves with each revision, so the illustrations become more finished with each iteration. Every time I work with pen or pencil, I find new ways of making the illustrations come to life. Working on the same drawing over a period of time allows the drawing to evolve. I see the early versions of some of the pictures and I wonder that I thought they were pretty good. Now I see how very much better they have become with repetition and revision.By the time the book is published, I hope that they will be something to truly enchant my young readers.

I will also continue searching for pictures on line and in nature to use as references.
Photos like this one of dew on clover will help me to improve the drawing of clover wet with dew. I will continue to study other artist's work. My dear friends Gene and Ashley just sent me a wonderful book called Show and Tell by Dilys Evans. It promises to provide hours of enjoyment and many revelations about other artists and their work in illustrating children's books. There is so much to learn!

I'll be busy reading for the Book Fair, gardening, Scouting and working for The Spunky Norwegian Foundation, but I'll be on the lookout for emails or letters so I can report to you on the next stage in writing and illustrating a Caldecott winning book.

Til then, I will work on polishing my writing, my illustrations and my patience. I expect they will all be stronger by the time I hear "Yay" or "Nay."

Monday, September 9, 2013

What Keeps Me From Writing

It's 9 days into September, and I am not much further along with my writing and illustrations than I was on the 1st. What is my problem?  In a word, overcommitment.
Stave Church at the Ole Bull Museum  

Planning for my Girl Scout troop, volunteering at the library, working on a variety of projects for The Spunky Norwegian Foundation, keeping up two of my three websites ( and, blogging, FaceBooking and reading for the book fair. It all takes time. I think I need to do less FaceBook, to start with. Unfortunately many of the other projects are in crunch mode, or will be if I don't keep up with them. Sigh! Less TV will help too, but a lot of my time on TV is multi-tasking doing email/FB or blogging while keeping one eye on the U.S. Open, "Who Do You Think You Are?" or other faves.

Today at the library, I picked up another book to read for the book fair and told my friendly librarian, Nola, how much I had enjoyed two others I've read this week. For those who don't know me personally, I have served as the Book Fair Ambassador at the school where I used to teach, for the past four years. This involves reading as many of the books we'll be selling as possible, so that I can help students find books they will enjoy reading. So far this year, I've read 46 books, including 10 for the book fair. I have eight more books in my fair pile so far, and have read a lot of the other books we'll be selling in previous years, so I'm doing reasonably well on that schedule. I have 'til the beginning of November to get really into the mode. Of course, by then, I also have to come up with a cool costume to go with the theme "Reading Oasis".  Suggestions are welcome!

Nola said I should blog on the books I liked, so, Nola, this one's for you.

The books I read are ones featured by Scholastic on their Book Fair website, best-sellers from a variety of book lists, or books that our committee chooses as "special orders" for a variety of reasons, including that the authors are visiting our school.

I have noticed that many of the books have quite different themes from past years.  Hold Fast by Blue Balliette and Almost Home by Joan Bauer, both deal with the topic of homelessness. In our current economic situation, it seems like a very important topic for young people to be able to read about, since they, or their friends or classmates may very well find themselves in this situation at some point. Both books handle the situation with great sensitivity and are more thought-provoking than depressing or worrying. I enjoyed both and look forward to meeting Blue and hearing about her writing when she visits our fair in November

The two books I read this week that particularly struck me were Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. The first is about an eleven year old girl with cerebral palsy. While it is a novel, it clearly reveals much of the reality of life with this dreadful disease: how it effects the individual and his/her family, as well as how others perceive the wheel-chair-bound person. It helped me to better understand our church-friend, Joseph and his frustrations in trying to communicate with me and others. It has made me much more aware of the concerns and challenges facing special needs students in schools everywhere. This book would be an awesome book-club pick for students in communities or schools with CP students or others who are being mainstreamed. 
Dante and Aristotle, in the second notable book of this week, are teenaged residents of El Paso, Texas. Both are loners, until they meet at the swimming pool one summer and Dante volunteers to teach Ari to swim. This is an extremely sensitive coming-of-age book with a gay-self-discovery twist. A great read for boys who are trying to figure out those big secrets of the universe: Who am I? What is love? Where do friendship and loyalty fall in the greater scheme of things? What is the place of family secrets in a teen or a grown-up world? 

There are so many wonderful books out there!! I better quit blogging and get busy making another one!! Let me know what you think of these books. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Recording FIrst Weeks at College: E-Books vs Paper and Pen

Lots of you have probably seen the article that appeared in the Star Ledger yesterday. If you missed it, it's worth a look, whether you have a child going to college this year or not. It's an interesting view on then and now.

The blog got me thinking about my first days and weeks at Boston University, where I spent my undergrad years and set the goal of writing and illustrating a Caldecott-winning children's book. The first thing I noticed about the article was something I've been noting for several years. College begins WAY earlier than it did in the 1960's. My first day of college (Moving In Day) was Sunday, September 8th, 1963. Like the author of the blog above, I had no computer, no Apps, no cell phone and no clue!

No iCal and no iPad, so I bought a paper calendar. It was a Charles Schultz, Peanuts calendar with a square for each day. Even without a digital camera and Instagrams, without a computer and without a single App, I can tell you where I went, what I wore and what the weather was like every day of my first 4 months of college. I can tell you when I met my college boy friend and when I visited my newly-wed sister and her husband. I can tell you how I wore my hair  and when I did volunteer stints at the University radio station (WBUR). I know when I first learned a number of folk songs and when I got home for Thanksgiving vacation.Yes, I have a great memory, but I also have that Peanuts calendar in which I drew each day of those first four months in Boston. Art endures in a way that electronic records don't. Maye this is part of why I still believe in real books, as opposed to e-books.

This is what my first month looked like. Well, the Saturdays don't show, but I can tell you that on my first Saturday it was sunny, I wore a turtleneck  and an a-line skirt and attended three open-houses at three different fraternities on Bay State Road. I also met a cat.

The next day, which was partly cloudy, I wore a jumper (probably my rust colored corduroy one), with a black turtleneck. I went to church at Marsh Chapel and went for a motorcycle ride, I think with a housemate's boyfriend.

It was my third day in Boston that some of my housemates took me to meet some of their friends, and I met the boy I dated for the next two years. It was Tuesday, September 10th and we all played guitars and sang folk songs. My long hair was braided that day.

So what does this have to do with writing and illustrating? Well, I was illustrating my life and making "journal entries" about my daily life. It was these "in the moment" sketches that allow me the joy of reliving those months with rich detail fifty years later. It is this illustrated calendar that could provide me with a fine primary source if I ever choose to write a book about college life in the 1960s, including the historic event shown by the black draped frame and flag at half-mast on Friday, November 22nd. I spent most of that day working at the radio station and most of that night crying on my boyfriend's shoulder.

If you have a child going off to college this month, plant this idea (an illustrated journal - on paper) which he/she can look back at 50 years later. Stories and pictures and books on paper will outlast electronic diaries and FaceBook Timelines. Despite great strides and wonderful aspects of technology in publishing, I am banking on books on paper well in to the future.

Here is one way in which I envy today's students regarding "real" books. I remember the cost and the weight of the books I had to buy and lug around campus. One semester I had 17 novels to read. (Tell your students not to take two novels courses the same semester). It would have been a lot easier to read those books on a Kindle, I bet. And less costly too.

New technologies allow me to "take notes" quickly with my camera. For example:

Gazpacho with additions

City crest with murcielago (bat)
                                    Candies in store on Calle Di Pi, Barcelona

So use the technology. Record the moments. Draw or doodle. But whatever else you do, keep drawing, taking photos and journalling, so that you can write and illustrate rich, real, readable stories to share with the world.  And save important things on paper!