Archive for the ‘writing fiction’ Category



I’m looking forward to speaking at the 2014 Jackson Elementary Writer’s Festival on May 7th. One of the goals of the event is to give young writers an audience. Student writing is shared and displayed in the school and local writers and writing enthusiasts are invited to mentor small groups.

Every time I visit a school I meet several kids who are already dedicated writers and illustrators. They are looking for readers (aren’t we all!) and searching for more information about the process. If you read this blog regularly you know my feelings on ‘process’. Everyone has one. And mine isn’t yours and yours isn’t right for me.

But writing is best practiced by – writing. (same goes for illustration) Writing is more important than reading if you want to write professionally. You can be a great reader – by reading. And no doubt it helps your writing. But to be a good writer you can’t just read. You need to make all those mistakes you will make while you write. And then fix them.

At least you have to try and fix them.


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One of the most common questions an author, cartoonist or illustrator receives is, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’

This is somewhat straightforward to answer when you are contracted to illustrate a manuscript. I literally was handed a story to illustrate. Granted all the visuals must be created, so you are definitely generating visual ideas that must come from somewhere, but you have the architecture plans in hand – the manuscript.

John Cleese has lots of great quotes about creativity and ideas.

“We get our ideas from what I’m going to call for a moment our unconscious — the part of our mind that goes on working, for example, when we’re asleep. So what I’m saying is that if you get into the right mood, then your mode of thinking will become much more creative. But if you’re racing around all day, ticking things off a list, looking at your watch, making phone calls and generally just keeping all the balls in the air, you are not going to have any creative ideas.” ~ John Cleese

I recite an answer to the question of where I get my ideas when I give talks, which sounds much like every other author’s answers I’ve ever heard. And I think I began to believe it. It makes it sound likes it’s a discipline. Like you can take Idea Generation 101 at a university where you practice and develop and study and craft creating ideas. NO. You craft and refine and revise a manuscript or a sketch – which is based on an idea that comes from…????

When looking back on things it’s easy to think we see dots connecting to create an outcome. I think we mostly create those dots to fulfill a preconceived notion of ourselves. For those very same ‘dots’ could produce an infinite number of different outcomes. That they resulted in any particular event is simply a product of odds. So the looking back and pretending to know where an idea generated from is a comforting fiction we tell ourselves so that the world continues to unfold in an orderly action-reaction state.

A few weeks back I was sitting in the waiting room of a local athletic club. I was tired, a little bored, thinking about what I was going to make for dinner while I waited for my daughter to get done with swim team practice. And I was writing/doodling in my sketchbook, which I do all the time. And a story simply developed from a few sentences and a quick sketch.

I have NO idea where it came from. And of course no idea if it’s any good. But if I continue to revise it and if it is submitted to editors one day, I will follow up on this post.

But the fact is – I see no logical reason for that story to have appeared in my head at that moment. I hadn’t been working on it. It doesn’t have to do with swimming… it was totally random.

So much for knowing where ideas come from.

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Anxiety dogs me. Will anyone like my work, why are my drawings so tight/or too lose? You’d think I’d be a better speller by now, will anyone like my new manuscript, will I need another root canal soon?

Much of my anxiety is about work. Maybe its the same for you. I guess it’s an issue of control.

I don’t feel like I control much. Even my hair on my head. I mean, it’s MY hair on MY head. But it pretty much does as it pleases.

True I can resort to extremes when I need to – I can have it cut. That’s how I wrestle it under control.

When I comb it – it just laughs at me. I can put Dapper Dan in it. That may work for a short bit. But my hair still does what it wants. Everyone who knows me is used to seeing me and wondering if I ever comb my hair. I do. I try to get it to behave. But short of shaving it all off, it will do what it wants to do. So if I can’t even control the hair on my head, what hope do I have in controlling ‘real’ issues?

Many times it’s best to just go with it.

And that’s how to keep anxiety at bay.

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Are there REALLY hidden, deep messages in kids literature? Are they intentional or are they brought to the work by adults accustomed to looking for meaning? You can read the article on hidden messages in kids books by Hephzibah Anderson online at the BBC.

It seems to me the more explicit the intention of a kids book the less intriguing the book is. And yet everyone LOVES a kids book with a message. Tastes change through the years and the overly moralistic tomes I ran across as a kid are definitely out of favor. And yet the vey best books in kids lit can always be read on multiple levels. But that’s not just a sign of a good book. It’s a sign of great art.

When it comes to fantasy books another interesting question is how important is the delineation of good vs. evil? How much real world nuance does a reader of any age want? George R.R. Martin (decidedly NOT a children’s book writer) enjoys setting his characters up to face decisions where there is seemingly no RIGHT choice and the results are always unexpected (impossible to clearly foresee) much like the twists and turns of our lives – although these days our life decisions usually involve less swordplay and dragons (unfortunately).

Check out the article. It’s a short read and interesting read.

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I never have the right things to say in situations like this either. I just read news that Barbara Park passed away last Friday. It made me stop what I was doing and put my list of STUFF TO DO aside for awhile. I really enjoyed reading the Junie B. Jones books she wrote to my daughter, who was obsessed with them her final year of pre-school and in kindergarten. I loved them because they were a joy to read as an adult too. And that doesn’t always happen with kids lit, as we all know.

The voice in the books was so clear my daughter and I would pick out ‘Junie-isms’ that other people said.

Great books. I’m sure she realized how much joy those books brought to lots and lots of kids. So sad she said goodbye at only 66. What else can you say, she’ll be missed but those books will live on.

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This is more ‘story-booky’ than I usually do. It’s inspired from less a kids book than a short story I was playing around with. But now I really do need to get back to deadline work. So much for letting my creative side run amok. Click on it to make it bigger.


Not a cat, a bear or a lion. He’s just Mr. Rare to you and I.

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I work digitally. So I have no final art on paper. I have sketches that I scan. But that’s about it. There is little of my work that exists in non-digital reality other than the finished project – a book usually.

Recently my archive back-up drive failed.

Now – the projects I am currently working on are backed up on two drives and a third drive every two weeks. I would never risk a book in progress on one drive.

But completed projects – I was lazy. I just wrote them off to a large 2 terabyte drive. And there they sat. Until click-click-click. The sound of a hard drive dying.

I rescued about 3 files before the drive stopped working at all.

Now I need to decide if it’s worth getting a data rescue. There’s a great place in Portland that pointed me in the right direction and at a good cost. (more on the details later!) But I’m trying to remember what exactly is on the drive and is it worth spending a grand or so to ‘get it back’?

The biggest directory is – all of Earthling!. All of it. The high res line art, the color pages. The roughs. The Adobe Illustrator text pages. All 250 plus pages. I have the book, it’s printed. But what is the value to me of those digital files?

I have 3 older published picture books archived on there to. When I say I have a ‘book on there’ what I mean is the original files. The multilayered Photoshop files.

The publishers get final flattened 300dpi files from me. But I work at 600dpi, and when I finish a book I export a new set of flat files at 300 for the publisher. But I keep those crazy, 25 layered Photoshop files. I’m not sure why I do. Perhaps I feel like if there is an issue I have those high-res files that I can easily manipulate. But do they matter?

I think there are also old animation development files, animated shorts in progress, picture book dummies that haven’t sold and some family pictures which I think I have backed up elsewhere.

Digital loss. Are their grieving steps for that?

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It’s that time a year here in Oregon. The grey is here. The rain is back. And being inside at a cozy keyboard, or with a blanket and a sketchbook (Can call a keyboard cozy? That’s for another post.) make for plenty of time to get writing and drawing. I was taking some pictures for reference the other morning and this reminded me of what the next 5 months will be.


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There are a few really good days being a full-time author/illustrator. Getting checks is nice of course. After all, the food doesn’t buy itself. But really the best days are when you get the book you worked on for a year or more for the first time.  Seeing the final proof for the first time is also a good day.

This past week I’ve been busy working on the second picture book I wrote and will illustrate. The dummy is coming together, though it’s at that point where I spend a lot of time wondering if a particular page communicates the right story beat.  I was concentrating so hard that my daughter and her friend snuck up to my studio and gave me a big “BOO! ” on Saturday. Twice to be exact. Each time  I screamed out loud. My wife heard it from the front porch. Well, it is the season for scares.

But the other cool thing this week was seeing the final digital proof of the picture book I wrote and illustrated that will be released  by Candlewick Press next Thanksgiving. The cover, the flap copy, the final art with final type…very cool to see. And I am looking forward to the first hardcopy proofs in a few months. You will hear me talking more about both books as they near release.

Now, back to work. But I better make sure my daughter isn’t sneaking up the stairs.

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