Chickens and Superheroes

I’ve talked about Superhero Instruction Manual, which is a picture book I illustrated written by Kristy Dempsey and here is an early page from Chicken Story Time, written by Sandy Asher, which is another of the 2015 books I finished.

I’m not 100% sure of the release date (I think Nov. 2016). Now I have to update my website with these books too. I better get busy editing HTML…so old school I am.

chickenstorytime1

 

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Very Big Computers…

Screens just keep getting bigger.

office_bigger_better

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boxer

An older digital sketch.

boxer

 

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An older quick digital sketch

fly_away

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No. Really. Rules for Picture Books?

As you can probably tell from yesterdays post I recently did some interviews about writing picture books and when I do that I usually get a pent-up need to be sarcastic. I’m not a huge fan of ‘rules’ about such things as writing a good book. There certainly are many decisions you must make when writing and those decisions can be informed by what has worked in the past, but as they say on Wallstreet, past performance is not an indicator of future earnings.

But honestly, I feel very inadequate to offer advice on these things. Picture books, unfortunately, are most often seen as an ‘easy book’ to write. Anyone who has tried knows this to be false.

The best quotes about writing picture books I’ve found usually talk about what strange beasts they are. It’s a poem compared to prose. It’s a short story to a novel. It’s a character study compared to a plot. This all seem true and sometimes not.

And there’s the rub. The best picture books don’t pay heed to many of the rules at any given time. My agent offers the soundest advice to young writers by saying, go out and read what’s selling right now. Don’t just refer back to your childhood favorites. And this of course is true in any part of the media world you work in. One needs to be part of the here and now. That doesn’t mean accepting everything the way it is, it means being aware of the culture you live in, where you hope to sell your work.

Don’t write TV shows as they were in 1950. Don’t make movies as they were made in 1940.

That’s not to say you can’t learn from the huge amount of amazing work done in the past. It doesn’t mean you can’t love the books you grew up with. But you cannot recreate them. If you try, you are most likely to end up with a lifeless imitation.

Let the qualities you enjoyed find a new life in your work. Understand them and why they resonated when they did. (If possible. I’m not sure it’s easy to understand why something succeeds or doesn’t in the marketplace.)

Best advice – read a lot of picture books and then do something completely new and different.

Posted in picture books, writing fiction | 3 Comments

Not Seven Rules for Writing Picture Books

Not Seven Rules for Writing Effective Picture books.

1 – Any animal can be cute – with big enough eyes. Or go the other way and have really small eyes. Either go BIG or just make them ‘dots’. Eye dots are good for deeply meaningful and sensitive portrayals of misunderstood and odd animals. Like my new book about the North American Spiked Water Mole. An ugly creature, but those ‘dot’ eyes – endearing! Usually I go with BIG eyes. But I worry that my characters get headaches because of this.

2 – There are never enough books about cute dogs. Never.

3- Ninjas. Just add Ninjas.

4- It doesn’t hurt to have a surprise ending. In my new book about how Ronnie doesn’t like school – on the last page he simply drops out. Surprise! There are several surefire surprise endings including: being eaten by a tiger, a funeral, falling into a time vortex, growing so small you fall between the spaces in atoms and of course the one Dr. Seuss always relied on – your main character turns out to be just a dream in the mind of a cute dog.

5- You will always be really happy with when you finish a manuscript. This lasts roughly 13 minutes. Use those 13 minutes to get your life back together: see friends and family, laugh, go to lunch, sit in the sun, take a short vacation, read a novel (a short novel), pay bills. OK. Back to revisions.

6 – Don’t ever start a picture book with a funeral. I can’t tell you how many times this has been brought to my attention. Now I leave it for the surprise ending.

7 – Picture books work best when the words and pictures combine to make something that makes no sense. For instance a page might read, “Jack was so angry he fell out of his chair.” But the picture should show a cat sleeping on the couch and a ninja sneaking up on it. If that doesn’t get the old synapses firing, what does?!

This is a companion post to my most famous post on this blog, The Three Keys to Kids’ Lit Success.

Posted in Blatherings, picture books, writing fiction | 2 Comments

My retirement. Career change. Interview.

I’m announcing a career change today. This is abrupt and I haven’t been able to talk to my agent Sean about it yet but I’m sure he will understand.

I’ve decided to become a Literary Agent for dogs and Cats.

catdog

The following is a short interview with me conducted by a blog focused on trends in American Letters.

Ann – First off Mark, thank you for taking the time to sit-down and talk about this exciting new chapter in your haphazard career.

M – You could say I’m good at sitting and staying!

Nervous, excited laughter.

Q – This seems rather preposterous, do dogs and cats need a literary agency?

A – As everyone knows dogs and cats produce over 45% of the content read on the Internet and they aren’t being paid what they deserve.

Q – Do you have proof of this?

A- Just last week a cat, Mr. Mousekins, wrote a spectacular, sprawling piece about the history of Belgian Endive for a literary focused weekly (which will go unnamed) and do you know what Mr. Mousekins was paid? A can of Fancy Feast and two crocheted mouse toys.

Q – That’s an outrage! Do you represent Mr. Mousekins now?

A – You better believe it. And he ain’t working for Fancy Feast no more.

Q – I’ve never heard of a cat or dog writing a book. I read Marley and Me but that was clearly written by John Grogan, now you say differently?

A – That was written in third person omniscient by Marley.

Q – Is it true you are also going to represent possums?

A – That’s ridiculous. Possums can’t write.

Q – That’s not what I heard.

A- No really, they literally can’t write. Can’t hold pencils. No concentration.

fenimore

Q – I think everyone knows about ‘I’m Not Dead Yet’, the break-out bestselling novel by Fenimore Bite who is plainly identified as a possum on the jacket flap.

A – Most of us ‘in the business’ know that was a book written by Shadow.

Q – You mean a shadow writer?

A – No. I mean Shadow. A four-year-old long haired German Shepard mix. And the first client I signed.

Q – Well, thank you Mark for the insights into this new trend in the literary world. Do you have any parting advice? Are you open for submissions?

A – Thank you Ann. My advice is: if you know a canine or feline with a literary bent, encourage them. Give them plenty of positive reinforcement and treats. Granted felines are more likely to write in secret, in the attic, but they too will respond if you are willing to give them an occasional grooming. But not too much or they’ll bite you. I am open to submissions. I just remind canine and feline authors to proofread their work and if I see too many paw prints upon a submission, honestly, I just send it back. I don’t read it.

Q – Thank you again Mark!

A – No, thank you. Really. Will you buy me lunch for doing this interview?

 

 

Posted in Blatherings, Internet, writing fiction | 2 Comments