Posts Tagged ‘picture books’


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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So I’ve been negligent in talking about what I’m working on right now. I think this is because it’s real work to me. Something I already focus on all day long (and often evenings) and when I get to my blog duties I like to get away from all that. I’d much rather talk about important stuff like National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day – which is May 15th.


Cropped sample from The Great Thanksgiving Escape. Out Sept. 2014 from Candlewick Press.

But what AM I DOING?

Right at this moment I’m typing and – drinking tea. Really good Chinese Breakfast from Numi Tea. (no I wasn’t sponsored to say that – it’s just  that they make the best bagged black teas right now)

I am also finishing a picture book I wrote and illustrated for Penguin that will be out next year.  I’m also about a third of the way done with a picture book I’m illustrating for Hyperion.



I’m starting to plan some marketing for the picture book I wrote and Illustrated coming out this Sept. called The Great Thanksgiving Escape, which is being released by Candlewick Press. (I just received the first two sample copies on Saturday!) This is a book inspired by Oregon in many ways. You’ll see when you read it and get to the end (So order it now! what are you waiting for!?) This is the first picture book I wrote and illustrated. I got to wear both hats. And a wig. And clown shoes.


After that I have a bunch of exciting projects I will blab on about later, including three more picture books I am thrilled to be illustrating.

Now I need to walk the dogs, yet another of the quotidian that keep me from ‘real’ work.

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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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Q: Why is it I never seem to have good endings for the picture book stories I write?

A: This is a classic case of FOGK (Fear Of Going Kaput). It’s a fear of death thing for a writer based on the fact that no picture book can have too dark an outcome. What’s the solution? Well if you can’t have the main character die (it’s a picture book after all!) then have them happily go to bed (it’s a picture book after all!). Other choices include: happy to go to school, happy to eat their dinner and happy to walk the dog. (Hey, that last one is mine! No stealing it!)

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I’m just finishing the cover on the first picture book I wrote and illustrated. It will be out in the autumn of 2014 from Candlewick Press.

Let me say this about book covers – they are the toughest element in the book making process for me. This is no surprise because they have proven to be enormously impactful on a books’ success, so a lot of different people at a publisher have input. The covers are important not just for consumer sales in the retail environment but also when the publishers show the books to the retail buyers.

I used to believe that covers were pretty straight forward. But the more I tackle picture book covers the more I realize they have a unique set of communication needs. This is due in part to the duel audience of young reader books. They need to communicate to both adult book buyers and young non-reader book ‘readers’. A few books back I had done a cover I was pretty happy with and I got feedback from the marketing department on my design/illustration ( it should be noted that with picture books the cover is most often a collaboration between the illustrator and an art director or book designer ) and you know what, they were right! I know artists are always supposed to be upset and willing to fight the fight against ‘marketing’ department advice, and I have done that from time to time, but on this project that had a great POV that I hadn’t thought of. And we created a really good cover because of the notes.

So I’m open to plenty of discussion when it comes to the cover. And plenty of revisions, as long as I think it’s headed in a good direction.

bepawrdOne of my favorite covers from a book I illustrated is for The Book That Eats People. This was conceived of by the designer and editor I believe after we made a few runs trying out different approaches. The designer had the idea to make our names look like sharp teeth. What a great touch!

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I’ve always liked scary things. Eerie things. Things that go bump in the night that aren’t just one of my dogs rambling around the house. Growing up my father had reels of 8mm ‘monster’ movies. The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man. And this was before VCR’s, DVD’s or streaming movies on your phone…for gawd sakes I feel old. But watching these black and white films nearly every weekend was a highlight for me.

In my teens I liked slashers and gross-outs. I had a subscription to Fangoria magazine and made plenty of gruesome masks and did Halloween make-up year-round. But I grew less interested in the gore factor as I got older, but doubled-down on good, old fashioned scare stuff. I  usually enjoy horror that includes a big dose of metaphor.

I’ve done a lot of illustration work that would fall into the scare file including The Thing with No Head, which if you know me, you are tired of hearing about.


And sometimes do the odd bit of photoshop retouching.


And considering my first major publisher picture book was The Book That Eats People, I think my last name can’t hurt.

A few years ago I received offers to illustrate two ‘monster’ type picture books and I had to pick one. I picked George Shannon’s A Very Witchy Spelling Bee. (Soon to be released!)

It’s about witches and spelling. This topic comes directly from the ‘monsters who like to spell’ classical canon. And who says a witch is a monster anyway? I did make them green after the editor and I discussed this at length. I believe it was her seven year old daughter who said, ‘If they aren’t green I don’t believe they are witches.’ Green it is.


My daughter is fully involved with the monsters she comes across. How many vampire picture books do we own? Every one that we can find. But my daughter has made clear – there is a need for more vampire and witch picture books! So, come on editors, get shipping.

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A great review at the Tulsa City-County library for How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans.

And a nice post about the book at Cinjoella.

And another one here at the I-am-so-grateful blog.

David’s super funny story goes down well for all kinds of picky eaters!

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I was talking to a writer friend who is working on a manuscript. She’s in that part of the writing process called rewriting. You know, the part where we spend most of our time. At least I do. I stare at the same sentence for 2 hours. And since I write kids books the sentence isn’t: “Now is the winter of our discontent, / made glorious summer by this sun of York.”

I’m writing prose like, “Lily got all huffy and grabbed floppy rabbit back.” But it’s no easier to get it right. At least for me.

Anyhoo, my writer friend got notes from an editor on her book (a early reader chapter book is how I would describe it). This isn’t a manuscript that the editor bought, but the editor made notes on what they thought would make the manuscript an easier sell. That’s a great break.  These days, most editors don’t have the time to do this.

My friend is irritated at what she views as additional, unnecessary work. I understand her frustration. It’s a bummer that our every impulse at the keyboard isn’t perfect.

I  have also discovered, much to my unhappiness, that writing, rewriting and editing, does not work on an 8-hour, Monday through Friday  schedule. The 8 hours you spend on one project may get you a great revision. But that same 8 hours on another project may produce only a few new sentences. I’ve read that the more you write and edit, the faster and better you get at it. I don’t think I’ve experienced that yet.

This is not an ideal world and sometimes we have to hit a schedule that precludes spending another week or two, or a year to rewrite. So having some time to actually concentrate just on the details is wonderful. Once it’s sold and you are on a deadline, things get dramatic. Deadlines are sneaky things; always laying low and quiet until they jump up screaming and run at you, faces painted blue like a warrior from Braveheart.

But I hope my friend realizes the great value she received from the editor who took time to offer notes. Rewriting is frustrating. And in this era we seem to believe that anything can be finished in an afternoon with a really fast smartphone. In my experience that isn’t true.

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When I am not walking the dogs, trying to avoid cooking or getting speeding tickets in West Linn I sit at my desk and try and write books.

This should be the great pleasure in my life, no? I have strived and worked towards having this opportunity for many years. I feel increadibly fortunate to be doing it. I continue to do other types of work as well:  design, sculpture, animation and illustration, but having had  two picture books acquired as well as writing and drawing a graphic novel for Chronicle Books, I was thrilled to actually get results from all the hundreds, if not thousands, of stories that I have written that never made it off my monitor. In fact, many never even got an ending. At least a good one.

But sitting here writing ‘books’ it feels pretty much like work. It IS work. I’m reminded every time I feel like walking away from what I am writing. What I am TRYING to write. It’s challenging and can be creative, and fun and I feel amazingly lucky to be getting the time to pursue this. But it’s also good-old-fashioned, irritating, stress inducing work.

Now, back to work.

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Back in December of 2011 (so long ago, I was but a young lad…) I wrote a long winded post headlined “Can graphic novels make you smarter?” It discussed how combining the act of reading and looking at pictures to absorb a story activate different parts of the brain. You can read that post linked here.

At the time I hadn’t looked at the issue from the perspective of two interesting words which are usually used in the field of linguistics but have great resonance for the issue of using pictures and words together to tell stories.

Diachronic is a term for something happening over time. and ‘synchronic‘ refers to something that happens at a specific point in time.

In linguistics diachronic and synchronic have been defined as relating to the issues of examining language from a historical POV vs. a topological one. But I am interested in the broader meaning of the terms.

The big idea is that you gain meaning from language as it unfolds through time e.g. “Once upon a time there was a bear and a monkey who were best friends.”

Whereas you can absorb the impact from an illustration immediately e.g. an illustration showing a bear and monkey playing video games together.

Of course you can study the illustration, and gain more from it, but when you combine the experience of reading a story using words and have part of that story use visual imagery the brain is doing some extra work to build a larger meaning and context. Contradictions can arise and new levels of similarity can be gained.

I began to realize that a graphic novels and picture books activate different processes for a reader. And perhaps part of the intrigue and interest is that the brain is conceptualizing the narrative in different ways because of how we understand language vs. an illustration. (See this intriguing article from Science Daily about how a brain understands images) We read and gain understanding through time, while the image not only informs us in one ‘blast’ but they physically use different parts of the brain to gather meaning.

The brain likes to be surprised in a narrative. And by combining the use of language and image it’s a more dynamic experience.

I’m not saying that the more elements you add to a narrative creation the better it is. But it may explain why a graphic novel or a picture book brings such great pleasure and satisfaction to a reader.

I also suspect that better understanding how we experience words and pictures in different ways can help illustrators and writers better exploit what makes each form interesting and dynamic.

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