Friday, July 22, 2016

Ten Things I Know I Need to do for a Successful Revision: Illustrating is More Fun Than Writing

The year is more than half gone and I have succeeded in producing a mouse illustration for each of the 204 days to date. I am encouraged that picture number 200 has garnered more  "Likes" in FaceBook than any picture so far.
"Mousekin Reunion - 200 Mice" took pretty much an entire day to complete, but it was fun. It is quite a different style than most of my drawings. I was amused when I finished to discover that I had included 206 mice, so I had to eliminate six of them. But I am very happy with how it turned out. SO happy that I have ordered a picture puzzle of it. If I like the puzzle, I will be selling it on my "MousekinMarket" on

Maintaining the commitment to produce a mouse illustration every day has been difficult at times, but the joys of social networking provided constant feedback and encouragement, so I have been able to keep it up. Friends and family have "Liked", "Loved" and commented on every picture I've posted. Beaucoup thanks to all who watch for Mousekin every day. This really helps me to keep energized, though I admit that some days (or evenings) the inspiration is hard to gather to make it happen.  Discovering that a number of my drawings are now turning up on Google Searches for mice  or Mousekin, is encouraging too.

Perhaps that is why the writing seems more difficult. Distractions abound in everyone's lives, I am sure. But getting the energy so sit down and rewrite something that you've already written and rewritten dozens of times, something you've loved, is really the pits! I know the rewrites are needed to improve the book, but so many people loved it in the original form that it's hard to get motivated to revise.

Here are Ten Things I Know I Need to do for a Successful Revision:

1. Make time (Schedule it in writing on a calendar) to work regularly.
2. Work at my desk in my studio, not in the living room where distractions are legion.
3. Make a new storyboard with sketches and text on post-its for easy rearrangement.
4. Research wildlife species to find local species that can reasonably provide the numbers required for the counting book at the right time of year (late summer). [I included plants to count in the original version, but I think having it all animals to count will be more engaging.]
5. Get to know (more fully develop) Mama Mouse - now my main character. Have her guide the story where it needs to go.
6. Use Cheryl Klein's idea of writing a letter to a friend about the story, what it's about, what the story is, what I want the book to do, what I love about it and what I think needs work. Then actually share the letter with two or more sympathetic friends.
7. Map the backyard and mark where the action is happening. Accept that some things may need to be fudged, but try to make the story fit the scene.
8. Create a better hook for the first page.
9. Become more conscious of page turns and consider how Mousekin can improve them.
10. Keep reading about revising, but also keep writing revisions.

I'm going to work on #4 right now and see if that gets me off my duff and into the mood.  I'd like to join Mousekin for a strawberry daiquiri, but I think I'd better stick to iced tea for a bit. The day will be more productive that way, I'm sure.


Friday, January 29, 2016

On Revising Picture Books, Second Sight, and Drawing Mice

I am almost a month into the 2016 revision process on my children's book. Although I have been called in to help out at my old school, I am still making time to work on the book. I am finding a great deal of very useful information in Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising & Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein. My copy of this treasure is now sprouting dozens of post-its, marking  important points to consider. I have made quite a few changes already, and am certain many more will follow.

Ms. Klein has pulled together a number of talks that she presented at conferences around the country and has added some of her blog posts, worksheets and other helpful tips and tools. If you are working on a book for children, I strongly recommend this book as an incredibly useful reference. I couldn't find it at my local independent bookstore, so had to order it on line, but you can find it at It is well worth the price.

The Mouse Project is progressing well. I have drawn, painted or collaged a mouse every day. It appears that folks love the mice which I am posting on my personal Facebook page. You can see them on my website Use the navigation bar and got to "Projects" and you can click on "The Mouse Project" to see images that have been posted so far. This week, each mouse is rendered in the style of a different famous artist, so you can see a Princess Mouse after the style of Velazquez, a VanGogh Mousekin and tonight I will add a mouse in the style of Gaudi.

Many of my Facebook friends are making suggestions. It has occurred to me that 366 mice (this is a leap year) is a LOT of mice. Any suggestions for topics are welcome. Please remember that all my mice drawings are copyrighted, but if you want to use one, please contact me for permission and fees, if appropriate. I am generous about sharing, but it would be nice to earn a bit, considering the hours I put in on each creation.

Working on this project is forcing me to push myself into new mediums and styles. I am enjoying branching out, as well as learning a bit of what I should have learned in Art History class about each of the artists whose styles I am borrowing. I can now really see the influences Picasso and Matisse had on one another. They were great friends and shared much during their most creative years.

 While I want my illustrations to be charming, I also want the intentionally realistic ones to be scientifically accurate. This point was brought home to me when I picked up a new
 children's book at Watchung Booksellers the other day. One of the staff recommended it. I will pass on naming it, because I am loath to criticize a fellow author. The drawings are charming and the story is kind of sweet, but it is BAD science. The premise of the book is scientifically impossible. Unfortunately, young readers and (possibly) their parents will not know this. I will take this lesson to heart and work to be sure that in my book things happen as nature decrees. While there will be tidbits of anthropomorphism, animals and plants will be doing things that real animals and plants do, and not behaving in unnatural ways.

This is not to say that I don't enjoy fun books like If You Give  Pig A Pancake by Laura Numeroff, or de Brunhoff's Babar stories and Beverly Cleary's Mouse and the Motorcycle. But unless your story is clearly make believe, it should be scientifically accurate. The mallards in Make Way for Ducklings and the dog in Because of Winn-Dixie act like real ducks and real dogs. This makes the books so much richer. You know that the authors and illustrators really studied these species to get it right. That is what I aspire to. If it's supposed to be real, it must follow the rules of nature. If the story is a fanciful fiction with fun as the desired outcome, than let the silliness, sweetness, exaggeration and exceptional behavior abound!

Witness, my "Cat-and-Mousekin" in the style of Picasso. Obviously created for fun, not as a science lesson! This is very different from my woodland mouse leaping among grapevines and over logs. 

So I'd better get to work on my next mouse and get back to Second Sight. Month number two and mouse number 31 are at hand. I'd love it if you would post a comment. I need to know I am not writing into a black hole. Thanks so much.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Setting Goals for 2016: Revising Text & Illustrations/The Mouse Project

The resolution to revise and get my book into the hands of an agent in 2016 is set. I'm committed to doing this. I have begun to revise the text in line with suggestions made at the SCBWI workshop I attended in October of 2014. I've done a lot of other thinking and have decided to include more animals and fewer plants in my story.

With this in mind, I am focusing on mice. Mice will be my page turners and will, hopefully, engage my young readers. So...I have set myself the goal of 365 mice this year: one drawing or painting or collage of a mouse every day.

Day one (January 1st) I drew a skeleton and also a mouse. Here is the skeleton from a photo on-line.  I think proportions were off, because the mouse I did from this skeleton looked really weird. I won't even post it it was so strange.

Day two, I think I did better. Here is my second fuzzy mousie.

He/she is much cuter than my mouse on steroids and the proportions are better. Front right leg is still probably too long. But a definite improvement.

Mouse #2 is followed by Mouse #3, which is kind of cute, but I think this one's right rear foot is too big. What do you think?

Now it's January 4th and Mouse # 4 (below) seems a good improvement. This exercise goes to show that if you keep drawing every day, your drawings will get better. I expect by February I can start doing some fun things with my little mice. I will have to train them to do my bidding, but I think they will help me with my book.

Tonight I began revision of the text and am now realizing I may have to scrap one of my favorite pieces of text and its accompanying illustration.

This whole revision thing is not fun, in that one needs to dump things one has struggled to create. Still, I hope that my pipevine trellis may be of use in another place, either in this book or in another.

Tomorrow I will continue work on the text, do another mouse and try to begin training the mice to follow directions.

I'll also go see the new Star Wars movie. Maybe I should try a robo-mouse sometime. So many possibilities.

I'd love to know what you think of my mice so far.