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Archive for the ‘writing fiction’ Category

Some great pictures of my visit to Hogan Cedars Primary school in Gresham. I had an awesome time. So many great questions from kindergarten kids up to 5th graders.  We discussed books, writing, illustration, animation and even video games. All creative work that students can imagine themselves doing.

Here’s just a few pictures of the art they made for my visit. I met some of the artists who created these. Just great stuff!

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And a present from Lisa who coordinated the visit! FruitStripe Gum! My daughter and I are in chewing gum heaven. Thanks for such a wonderful time!

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beckett

 Happy Blue Creature & S. Beckett

I am often asked about my favorite books and inspirations. I’m uncomfortable with that question in regards to kids lit as I don’t separate genres and styles well. I like what I like and it all plays a part in my work.

I understand from a business perspective why we have genres and demographics, but I have a difficult time relating to the world according to marketing categories as I think most of us do.

Starting in high school I fell in love with the writing of Franz Kafka. (I even illustrated a take on one of his short stories)  The ultimate young adult existential gateway books. And yes – that lead to Camus and Sartre and Borges. Many of the books introduced to me in an excellent high school literature class taught by Mr. Bernauer. (Thanks again for World Lit!)

And that experience propelled me to becoming a Comparative Literature major in college. And while I loved it, I had good reasons for moving on to 2 or 3 additional majors before I graduated with my BFA.

But all the books I love wash together. Some of Stephen King’s short story collections, Lord of the Rings, the picture poems of Kenneth Patchen, The Unamable (by Beckett), Jim the Boy, The Book of Illusions – the list goes on and on – and these run hand-n-hand with Bannock Beans and Black Tea, The Peanuts comic strip collections, The Little Prince, comics by Lewis Trondheim and picture books by Mo Willems. Low art, high art…it doesn’t matter. I enjoy them all and love when a book mixes in a bit of all those disparate human point of views. But to effectively sell a book, you best be one thing. But of course, the best books never are just one thing.

My literary enjoyments remind me of a Joseph Campbell quote: “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”.

He was addressing mythology, but I find this is an apt description of what drives my desires in reading too.

 

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cvr_duk_9
I’m hearing so much about ‘young reader’ graphic novels from librarians and teachers – it’s like it’s 2001 again.

Back in 2001 and 2002 there was a lot of interest in graphic novels at schools and from bookstores. But that first wave of interest from the large publishers resulted in older reader GN’s and now the interest seems to be in projects for 1st grade and up, or even K and Pre K.

My GN, Earthling! reads too old for where the interest is now. But no one is quite sure what they want. It seems they are looking for a book with slightly more plot than a typical picture book and some of the graphic sensibilities of a GN, but with smaller page counts. I see some books out there that seem to fit into this new description but they are exceptionally slap-stick in tone and that gets old fast. I’d like a little more story.

I’d love to do a hybrid GN project like this and honestly I’ve been working on a few – not ready for unveiling yet – but there is a ton of potential in a format that is picture book like, but an easier sell to older readers. It’s interesting how far we’ve come since graphic novels and comic book style art were considered a poor cousin to the High Art of illustration.

 

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subitclb

Yeah, it’s one of those posts – all about me. Anyway, The folks at Sub It Club (a fine blog to follow if you are into publishing or writing or need help getting through those rejection letters and emails we all get from editors and art directors!) called me up (well, emailed me) and asked if I would partake in an interview. Said interview was done and it’s posted now. Apparently I talked too much (no surprise there…my teacher taped my mouth shut in first grade)  so the interview is in two chunks. A double chunk interview. Yum! Served with whip cream and cherries I hope.

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I talk about the self promotion I have attempted to do and about my current projects and such.

Sub It Club has a ton of useful info and posts about submitting work to publishers and interviews with lots of artists on how they make their way in the world of being freelancers.

 

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pencilpaper

I talk about the power of pencil and paper when I speak at schools and libraries.

Tools that every kid knows how to use and yet, when combined with an active imagination, they are the best starting points for any type of idea: A film, a book, a video game. The humble pencil and paper is far more dynamic tool than my Wacom tablet or Photoshop or my iPad.

I have been working digitally for close to 16 years now but my sketchbooks carry my history is such a satisfying way. The biggest technology change to my pencil and sketchbook in that time is that I use automatic pencils now instead of having 4 or 5 sharpened pencils (well, they started out as sharpened) in my backpack. But keeping enough pencil leads in the pencil is easier than keeping a battery charged.

 

 

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youngmarkI often get asked how I got into this field of work but the more interesting question is how I did not get into this field of work. Here is how it DIDN’T all start.

Let’s get into the Way Back Time Machine and set the dial to 1992 or 1993. I’ll figure it out when I get there. You have to pump the time accelerator, the space-time spark plugs are corroded.

There. Now it’s working… A few years after graduating college I was working at a connectivity software company doing interface/ interactive design and would soon be working on some very early websites. (Can you say grey backgrounds?) I was also doing some freelance illustrations and was in love with picture books.

A local author/illustrator named Kevin Henkes (Yeah THAT Kevin Henkes. Still have all his books) was generous enough to spend time on a phone call or email with me (I don’t remember which now) and he explained enough about submitting that I decided to try it out. A generous bunch these author/illustrators. My career has depended on the generosity of people like this.

I researched an imprint that fit my work, called the publisher and got an editor’s name (man was I energized!) and rules for submission (I was a worker bee back then!). I had my dummy in pencil roughs and two illustrations with color finishes (Kinkos color photocopies – at the time color copies were like magic), my manuscript properly printed out and proofed (spelling was mostly pretty good – I like to say), included a SASE – and off it went.

Back to work for me and checking the mail every day. Three weeks later I walked home for lunch (I lived just down the street from where I worked.) and in the mailbox was my SASE. I was expecting the worst (the Minnesotan in me I think) but a sliver of me hoped that maybe, just maybe – they decided to buy my book, had sent me a check for twenty thousand dollars and decided already it was the best picture book ever written.

I was enthusiastic, inexperienced, naive – a perfect fit to jump into publishing! My hands were shaking as I sat at my cluttered kitchen table and opened the envelope.

Inside was my dummy, my manuscript – and a letter from the editor! (I still have it filed somewhere) And it basically said, this is a pretty good book. Here’s some ideas to work on. When you are ready send it back.

WOW! Yowza! Holly SASE Batman! It was encouragement which means so much when you are starting out.

I immediately set to work thinking about the ideas from the editor that afternoon. I didn’t get a lot of work done at work that day… Within two weeks I sealed up another envelop and sent back my revisions. (MAN! I was efficient back then.)

I had started to believe that it was within the realm of possibility that I could do this and I waited.

About 2 months later I got my SASE back. And no, there wasn’t a check or a publishing contract inside (let the kid dream) – but there was another letter. It said that the editor I had corresponded with was no longer with this publisher (I hope she wasn’t fired for encouraging a slub like me!) and that no other editors had any interest in this project. (She must have been fired for questionable taste when she encouraged a slub like me!) Bye and thank-you-very-much.

And that was that. My introduction to picture books. It would be more than a decade before I would look at this industry seriously again and submit a picture book.

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plot_chThe issues of plot and character consume a lot of time in many writing courses. Identifying which of these you are naturally inclined towards writitng can help you focus on improving the other one.

But plot vs. character can also be a way to view your life.

The mechanistic rhythm of jobs worked, schools attended and deadlines met doesn’t compare to what those things mean to you, how they shape your point of view, affect your relationships and alter how you perceive the world.

Ultimately all human plots have the same finale. The process of getting to that final act is most interesting not because of the external biography. The details of place and time and outcome matter of course, but understanding how events resonate within you and the other people in your life is the stuff of life..

As a fiction writer it is easy to depend on plot, just as it is attractive to see and live life via plot. Yet, it is ultimately unsatisfactory to plot your life if you desire to elucidate something more meaningful than a pie chart of addresses lived at, hours worked and time spent sleeping.

You can’t ignore plot, but ultimately it is only in service to you – and your characters.

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