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Posts Tagged ‘picture book’

thanksgiving_escape

I updated my website with info about my next book, The Great Thanksgiving Escape, which escapes in September from dank, dark warehouses.

It’s a Thanksgiving story. I hope the title didn’t give that away.

The first review ran for it in Kirkus, and they said very nice things and I could breathe again – so I guess I can start my publicity push…which mainly focuses on me walking around town with a copy of the book under my arm and when people look at me I say – “I noticed you seem interested in my NEW book!” and I read it to them. Out loud. After all, picture books are meant to be read aloud. This does lead to some delays and frequent calls to the police, especially when I do this while I’m in line at the grocery check-out at around 5:30.

OK. That’s not true. That’s not ALL my promotional ideas. I also super glue several copies of the book to the outside of my car and I update my website and blog.

OK. Sadly enough, my main publicity idea is updating my blog and website.

And the radio ads I’m taking out for it.

 

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A few more rescue scans of stuff headed to the recycle bins.

I often really like a small, quick sketches on a page of a sketch book. Sometimes it wasn’t even the focus of what I was doing on that page.

7

 

I like ‘rough’ art. The mistakes, the signs of struggle. The coincidence. I’ve always like the improvisational aspects of work in a sketchbook.

 

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Below are rough page layouts and character designs for a counting book I did. This never sold, but I created a dummy from it that I showed in my portfolio until I had published work.

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ideas

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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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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I am preparing to present a workshop on picture books later this month. I’ve been working on the presentation and one of the last issues is creating a reading list. I want some key examples that demonstrate not only the amazing history of picture books but also how they have changed.

ducks_pigeons

I don’t want to write too much about it here but when you compare Make Way For Ducklings and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, you can immediately see the changes. Picture books are often read by a child now, or a parent reads WITH a child. It’s not always just an adult reading to a kid. There are exceptions, but word count in a modern picture book rarely exceeds 900 words.

A friend asked if that meant the old books were ‘bad’.

No it doesn’t. There has been a lot of change across our culture in 40 some years. And the old books reflect the culture of the time. True, some don’t hold up well, but many do. You should accept them as being part of the time they were created in. You can’t watch a silent film from the 1920’s and expect it to look and feel like Star Wars. Most modern writers wouldn’t write a play in the vernacular and style of Shakespeare but the power, originality, beauty and craft of Shakespeare’s work is still recognizable today.

I’m not saying Make Way for Ducklings is Shakespeare but it’s a beautiful picture book that is amazingly well crafted and still holds a place in the market all these many years after it was made. It creates a world that is welcoming and charming. It can seem fantastical/fairytale like but it also resonates as nostalgic to a modern reader. How we perceive the book has changed. But the book is still a beautiful read.

Now don’t get me started on The Pokey Little Puppy…

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I’ve been working on a new picture book. More like STUCK on it.

And one thing I start doing when I get stuck is I tell the story whenever I can. I tell it to my daughter as a bedtime story, I tell it to myself before I fall to sleep. I recite it in the car on the way to the postoffice. And each time I remain open to having it change. I’m looking to see what happens when I tell it. What momentary inspiration comes along and kicks my sorry intellectual efforts and says, “Here’s how it should be done!”

My daughter and I had finsihed eating lunch and we were waiting for my wife. My daughter was bored so I told her the story. When I got to the end, she looked at me and said, “When did you get so cheesy dad?”

I laughed, I cried! It was amazingly deadpan and funny. And I asked her if she knew what that meant and she had a good explanation.

She’s 6!!!

And you know what – she’s right. I was stuck on a horrible cheesy line. An ending all too pat and very much an ending that an adult thinks a kid needs.That’s NOT what we should be doing.

Se beware fellow kid’s book writers. The little ones are on to us.

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Sendak and kids’ books that don’t suck.

Ok. That headline is garbage. But here is a great read from Steven Heller about Tab00-busting Sendak and the kids book world. Click the link and read it!

It’s from a panel that Steven Heller was on sponsored by the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators in New York. Check another time I wish I was closer to New York so I could have attended.

But what about the issue of kids books that spout mainly platitudes? Or books that want only to live in an adult-imagined world of flying bunnies and silly rabbits? This is an issue near-and-dear to my heart and I struggle with it every day. The desire to create something in kids lit that allows for more recognition and reflection than the average ninja-adventure story.

No easy answers here. Several of the books that have tired this (let’s explore the true meaning of being a kid and include lots of art that most kids will hate) – I don’t like. And many books that may seem as trivial as a popsicle on a summers day are awesome.

You don’t want to disconnect the entertainment portion of what you are creating for the sake of making a hefty statement about being a kid. You can’t bore your audience to death and expect them to like it. My UCLA animation professor, Dan Mclaughlin used to say similar things about making animated shorts. There is a tendency to want to say something IMPORTANT by us artsy types (unless you are lucky enough to be Michael Bay). And so, it becomes sleep inducing instead of entertaining.

Sendak walked the rope exceptionally well – most of the time – and still inspires me. But so do Richard Scarry’s Busytown books which didn’t challenge any assumptions I had on the world as a kid or reflect any deep emotional meaning.

The big question is –  in todays publishing climate are any publishers interested in trying something that is even a tad bit challenging? Or are they afraid if they do, audiences will just grab more licensed books instead? I mean Dora is always ready to have a perfect day!

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Third in a series of unknown numbers!

winter_nothing

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Second in a series…shower_nothing

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Some nice pics from a wonderful event at Red Balloon Bookshop in Minnesota on Sunday the 21st to celebrate the release of How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans. My thanks to author David LaRochelle and many thanks to the marvelous Red Balloon Bookshop for being a gracious host!

And it was wonderful meeting so many friends and book fans whether they eat green beans or not!Long line of people wanting autographs

David, Mark, and an evil green beanFull house at the Red Balloon

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