The most humble of tools.


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.



Awesome Card!

aswrth1I was thrilled to find this awesome card from Ainsworth Elementary in my mailbox the other day. How cool is this! It’s giant! And inside so many kids did their own thank you and drawing.


Yeah, this is one of my favorite parts of this career.


Mortgaging your soul.

The huge Laika auction confuses me. As much as well-to-do geeks with a few extra tens of thousands of dollars enjoyed the opportunity to buy this stuff, why would the studio sell off its creative output for pennies? They made about a million from the auction I believe, but after commissions lets say they grossed $750,000.

That’s below pennies on the dollar for what it cost to create that stuff. And they also sold off their heritage. Their history. Disney learned the hard way that the creations of the studio has value in and of itself. Development art, puppets, paintings these are the tangible creative results that result in a bit of digital-celluloid (to try and use a modern way of looking at film). Walt Disney originally washed down animation acetate in order to reuse them. Goodbye to most of the original animation from Snow White and Pinocchio and many other great films. They sold off cells at Disneyland when the park first opened for a dollar or 2 each. A little revenue and a lot of lost history.

They realized they were mortgaging the very things that all those artists at the studio created.

I suppose if you consider that so much of the stop motion figures are 3D printed faces ETC, perhaps none of this stuff is as ‘hand crafted’ as they would love us to believe. And maybe that’s why you can sell it. It’s already a copy of a copy of a copy.

It seems like some ‘money men’ looked at a warehouse of stuff, and coming from the land of Nike, they saw only ‘merch’ that should be sold instead of seeing the creations (the results of thousands of hours of work) as the studios history. It makes one wonder if the studio believes in itself at all.


And then…


And then there were none.

The sturm und drang of daily life stops most often when we suffer a loss.

She came to us with the name of Angel Baby. We shook our heads but she stayed Angel, that was a good fit for her sweet disposition. She came from rescue, so all we know are bits of possible life. She had a good first year or so. Then she was bartered about. And finally ended up with a ‘collector’ who had 50 dogs in a trailer. And there was a fire and some of them died and ours was scared of the fire in our fireplace and candles when we first got her.


But what joy she had in her endless, bounding run and her weakness for the instinctual demand to play fetch.



But in time she loved to lay next to a fire on a cold night. She was a friend to every animal, human or not, she met. Except perhaps for rats and gophers. She never developed an appreciation for them.

It was a protracted goodbye as her legs slowly gave out and she tended to breath hard and moan so as to seem in pain. And at some point she is only here because we can’t fathom saying goodbye and that is a poor reason to make another life suffer.

And it’s up to us to make the call. A responsibility that I would rather not face.

The quiet in the house will be overwhelming. The dog beds will be washed and bagged and wrapped. The bowls put away. No more water bowl to trip into and spill. And the tennis balls and toys – those must go to. Though it’s been a long while since last they were played with.

And the field across the street, a perfect field for dogs (one of the reasons we bought this house) that will become a foreign place for us now. Until perhaps, someday far away from today when the dog’s beds are unwrapped and the water bowls are ready to be spilled and toys once again sprout all over the floors for new friends.


Here’s a post from several years ago that talked about about Charly and Angel.

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.

Plot vs. Character in life

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.


The first review of Tommy Cant Stop! (that I have seen anyway) is in. You can click here and go read it at Kirkus. But I’ll post the whole thing here incase you are pressed for time. I know I have a lot of cat videos to catch up on after being away from the computer for 2 days!


Little brother Tommy is a perpetual-motion machine, and he is driving his family bonkers.

The tireless tyke bounces like a pogo stick, kicks like a bulldozer, clomps like an elephant and jumps hurdles like an antelope. He never stops, putting his parents and sister into an exhausted state of weary exasperation. Fortunately his sister, attired in a pink tutu, comes up with a solution and hands Tommy a pair of tap shoes. No pink! No tutus! But tap-dance class is a revelation. The teacher also bounces like a pogo stick. No, she informs Tommy, she is performing a “HOP.” The teacher kicks like a bulldozer. No, she informs Tommy, she is performing a “BRUSH.” Tommy is thrilled and is soon appearing on stage in a solo. Broadway veteran and middle-grade novelist Federle has good fun with language and similes in his picture-book debut. His little tapper is a strong and sturdy boy who finds the perfect outlet for his volcanic energy. Fearing’s full-bleed artwork is full of motion, with his Tommy sporting a mop of blond hair and googly eyes. An animated line of dashes that flits around the apartment allows readers to truly appreciate Tommy’s energy spurts.

An enjoyable performance for both the boisterous and the calm. (Picture book. 4-7)


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