Posts Tagged ‘writing fiction’

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on the film The Shawshank Redemption. It’s focus is on the continued revenue stream the film provides for the studio that owns it. What’s more interesting is how a movie is released, is pretty much ignored by the  movie going public and then lives on as one of the highest rated films of all times.

This has happened before with films like Citizen Kaen and Casablanca.  These movies came out and no one seemed to care that much. But they go on to entertain generations.

In the WSJ article they mention that the film may have been overshadowed by Forrest Gump at the box-office which was the BIG movie the year it was released. Forrest Gump was an enjoyable film, but when I watched it again a few years ago it seemed pretty forced. The truth is that Forrest Gump has not held up very well through the years, while Shawshank has.

This same situation happens with books. There are of course mega-hits right from the start.  But often those works hit so big because they channel some moment of cultural zeitgeist perfectly and it resonates. Like a flashlight bouncing off mirrors, it can light up an entire room. But ultimately it’s only got a triple A battery behind it. It doesn’t last.

The strength that comes from perfectly capturing the moment can make the work feel flat and dated in a short time. For me TV shows, especailly sitcoms, are the most obvious examples of this. (with a few notable exceptions.) If you watch the most successful shows from the past, say 1956 or 1973, it quickly becomes obvious that they are badly dated in both big and small ways. Watching the show becomes an exercise in irony.

Even the shows that were tops in 1982: Dallas, Three’s Company, Joannie Loves Chachi – ouch! Yet, at the time they commanded huge numbers of viewers.

This is just a permutation of the debate on commercial art vs. fine art. Is what we’re creating going to stand the test of time? Does that issue matter since we can’t consciously control that aspect of our work anyway? Do we too often make alterations to work to feed into the current trends and desires vs. making something that might resonate with a deeper sense of ethos, pathos and logos?

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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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The book below looks like a great read. Creativity, INC. by Ed Catmull, he of Pixar fame, talks about the need to make mistakes.

No, it’s more than that, he talks about how making mistakes means you’re pushing yourself and looking for new solutions. After all, if we don’t try anything new and only do what’s been done before and how it’s been done before – we guarantee we don’t do anything new.


I like advice like this, but I’m always a bit suspicious of advice and UNLOCK your creativity type books. The cynic in my head says things like, “I’m better at the mistake making part of life. Just not good at the doing it right part.” or “Great advice. But I don’t want you to be a pilot of a plane I’m on.” But I will be getting a copy of this book.

Here’s a link to the Brain Pickings site and an article by Maria Popova.

From the book about mistakes:

“[Many people] think it means accept failure with dignity and move on. The better, more subtle interpretation is that failure is a manifestation of learning and exploration. If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it. And, for leaders especially, this strategy — trying to avoid failure by out-thinking it — dooms you to fail.”

Below is an interesting quote which speaks to me as I like to keep my work evolving as I do it. I don’t like planning out that one tight, super specific sketch. I like to discover and react as I paint a page in a book. This is a more difficult route no doubt, as I never have a point where I just turn off my brain and ‘color’ or ink lines. I’m reworking the whole thing as I work. At times I think I make doing picture books as hard as I can…

From the book: “If you seek to plot out all your moves before you make them — if you put your faith in slow, deliberative planning in the hopes it will spare you failure down the line — well, you’re deluding yourself. For one thing, it’s easier to plan derivative work — things that copy or repeat something already out there. So if your primary goal is to have a fully worked out, set-in-stone plan, you are only upping your chances of being unoriginal. Moreover, you cannot plan your way out of problems. While planning is very important, and we do a lot of it, there is only so much you can control in a creative environment. In general, I have found that people who pour their energy into thinking about an approach and insisting that it is too early to act are wrong just as often as people who dive in and work quickly. The overplanners just take longer to be wrong (and, when things inevitably go awry, are more crushed by the feeling that they have failed). There’s a corollary to this, as well: The more time you spend mapping out an approach, the more likely you are to get attached to it. The nonworking idea gets worn into your brain, like a rut in the mud. It can be difficult to get free of it and head in a different direction. Which, more often than not, is exactly what you must do.”

Thanks George for sending me the link!

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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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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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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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