Monday, June 16, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour!

Children's non-fiction lit writer Laurie Thompson writes a mean blog and tagged me to answer some bookish questions this week. The deal is, she answered three questions, then asked fellow kid lit writer Dan Richards and me to do the same. You can see what she wrote here, but please wait because she writes really well. Dan too. Let's get started with

Question 1) What am I currently working on?

Initial sketches for two books. These are like rough drafts to submit to my art directors for approval (or edits) before going to final art. It’s a balancing act: I want to work fast and loose, to let the ideas flow without getting too tight - especially when I know I’m going to be making changes. But sometimes it feels so right that I get carried away and get too finished - never a good idea. I didn’t write either of these projects. Digger and Daisy Go To The City is the fourth in the series written by Judy Young and published by Sleeping Bear Press (due Friday!) and Bob Books - First Stories, another in the Bob Books series is written by Lynn Maslen Kertell and published by Scholastic (due Wednesday - ack!) I’m sketching directly on my Wacom tablet for Digger and Daisy, something I’ve never done before. I usually draw with pencil on paper, scan that and color in photoshop. I will still do that for the final, but want to get better drawing with a stylus, so I’m giving that a try. 
You're seeing this before Melinda Milward, my wonderful and patient art director at Sleeping Bear Press. Don't tell.

That little muggins Digger can't stand shopping for shoes. Daisy evidently does. Who knew?

These Bob Book sketches are much tighter because I never learn and am quite the optimist. My other wonderful and patient art director, Angela Jun at Scholastic, HAS seen these and called my crab "adorable." I LIVE for "adorables," fyi.

Question 2): How does my work differ from others of its genre?

You know, I got a degree in Comparative Literature and still never really figured out what they meant by “genre.” I guess I either liked a book or didn’t.  And my critique group can verify that I have a hard time  remembering if I write “fiction” or “non-fiction.” I know that one is making up stories and one is truth, but can’t remember which is which. I guess that’s a long-winded way of trying to avoid this question. Let’s move on.

Question 3): Why do I write what I write?

Revenge! At first. (we’re supposed to be honest, right? I think that’s non-fiction) Ozzie and the Art Contest was a reaction to losing out on a contest that I was sure I was going to win and didn’t. I was really surprised at how disappointed I was - even a little angry. Okay, a lot angry. I thought I would turn all this tsuris into something positive and funny - plus, if I got published, then I would show those misguided souls how wrong they were! Unfortunately, the lesson I went for in the book - that we should do things because we like to do them, not just to win - worked on me too. So now I’m thankful I lost and grateful for the lesson. Don’t you hate being hoisted on your own petard? (I told you I got a Comp Lit degree). I’ve learned a lot from Ozzie. He’s really quite a positive little guy and doesn’t take himself too seriously. In fact, my favorite scene is when he realizes his mistake and gets a big, roaring laugh out of it. I’m trying to be more like Ozzie.
This would be my book. Find your independent book store here if you want to buy it!

Look at that guy laugh. Still my favorite picture. At a recent school visit, a kid pointed out that Principal Polkadot and the goldfish, Bubs and Goldy, were also laughing. I love school visits.

My other book, Kay Kay’s Alphabet Safari, was written about the Star of Hope Centre, a real school and orphanage in Kenya. Our son got us involved by volunteering at an orphanage in Kenya when he was 19. We visited a few years ago and I knew these beautiful children and their loving caregivers needed a book telling the world (and themselves!) about them and where they lived. I was really wrestling with how I could write a picture book about orphans in a very poor country, with all kinds of problems most of us in the U.S. can hardly imagine. When I walked into the classroom the villagers had built and saw the walls covered in beautiful paintings of animals and things to help the kids learn their alphabet, I started crying (“like a little girl,” says my sweet Vicki) and knew what my book would be about. Kay Kay is a very real man who drives a taxi and is a wonderful artist, dedicated to the kids and the school. I’m very excited about this book, which launches August 8 at Secret Garden Books in Seattle. But if you need to see an advance copy, want to help the kids of Star of Hope OR just want to have a great night of dancing and eating, come to our Fifth Annual Star of Hope Fundraiser Dance July 12! (That’s the “Shameless Commerce” genre)
come to my launch August 8!

Kay Kay is quite an artist
The real Kay Kay, on the right, with Leonard Muyelele, founder and director of Star of Hope

Okay, YOU look at these kids and the art on the walls and don't cry.

The kids of Star of Hope, Bungoma, Kenya

Next up for me is a middle grade novel, heavily illustrated (by me, I’m thinking) about a  kid who gets advice from his dead dog on everything from girls, to art, to dealing with his alcoholic mom. Sounds hilarious, yeah? I’m working on that. I guess the shorter answer to why I write what I write is to possibly give kids (and me) encouragement, to show them they’re not alone with their problems and that there are adults who care. But that short answer wouldn’t plug my books.
Max was the inspiration for Ozzie and the Art Contest and will figure heavily in my middle grade novel. It's always uplifting to have an ex dog who lives in an urn in your book.
And he's getting a bit impatient

Question 4): How does my individual process work?

I usually start with a character and a problem. I use a “clustering,” a technique I learned from Suzanne Morgan Williams at an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) meeting a few years ago. You draw a crude, stick figurish picture and write a word or two about what it means, then circle them both. That’s your first idea and you keep at it, giving the character more problems and moving the story along until you’ve filled up a page or two and think you might have a story. It’s really important to draw and write and circle, because it tells your brain to relax, that you’re engaging both sides (I think they’re called the “Fiction” and “Non-fiction” sides). 
This is a real cluster start for a possible Ozzie sequel. You don't need to be able to read it, but I do.

Most importantly, it’s crucial that you don’t edit yourself or criticize your ideas. I think writer’s block is really a case of criticizing your ideas before you can put them on paper. Put them on paper! Paper’s cheap and you don’t have to show it to anybody. Then I dummy out a 32 page book. This is a vital step, because you really don’t know where things happen until you see them on the page. My dummies are very crude things, because that’s when I’m still coming up with ideas. Once I spend time on a drawing, I don’t want to change it, because I’m lazy. So I keep it loose. Looking at my finished work, some people might wonder if these are still my sketches. Some kid at a school visit observed that I’m kind of messy. I told him that was to inspire all the kids who don’t think they can draw to keep at it, but he fell asleep halfway through my Important Life Lesson. Oh yeah, then I draw it out on real paper and color it with real watercolors or real photoshop and send it to my real art director with my fingers crossed.

Dana, quick, before you keep writing, who's next on the blog tour? And are they as long-winded as you?

Great question! Margaret Peot and Kate Sullivan (no concrete relation) have agreed to take up the blog tour a week from now. Megs, who lives in NYC and is a painter, printmaker and writer, has written all kinds of things, most recently Ink Blot: Drip, Splat, and Squish Your Way to Creativity  and Kate, who lives in Newburyport, MA, is the author/illustrator of On Linden Square. She's got a past life longer than an English mile and plays the musical saw. Check both of these women out next week and it will make you stop regretting reading all the way to this point.

Question 5): What else do you want to drone on about?

Another great question! Vicki and I went to Paris for two weeks in May! Some wonderful friends lent us their lovely and amazing apartment and we can’t thank them enough, so we won’t even try (ha!). But two of my favorite people in the world, Agent Anna O and sister Cait, refuse to Facebook (you go, girls!), which means they haven’t seen the sketches from my trip. So here they are. Wonderful city, Paris. And such lovely people who tried to help us with our French, god love ‘em. Thanks, everybody. And thanks Laurie!
In the Musee L'Orangerie, which means  The Orangerie

We heard Vivaldi in Ste. Chapelle, which was magic

If you're in the Morais district, buy a scarf from Couteur & Cachmire

the Metro is full of beautiful women!

When you get tired of looking at art in the D'Orsay, draw something

This woman just walked up to me for a hug! I love Paris.

The secret to good sketching is finding a view from a nice outdoor bar

Or a park bench

Or across the street from a bar

also important: stay in an apartment with a great view

if you're in the Loire Valley, stay at the Auberge De Launay

another bar scene. Seeing a pattern?

these motorcycles were parked near a... bar

The train home from Giverny had a lot of sleepy passengers

Vicki went INTO  the Louvre. I sat outside at a (guess?) bar and sketched it instead.

Man, did I miss Bennie.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Calling All Dummies!

No, no, I mean BOOK dummies, the kind you submit to publishers. I'm teaching another round of Introduction to Children's Book Illustration at Pratt Fine Arts Center and Kirkland Arts Center, starting next week. This is a 4 and 6-week boot camp for finally completing that book dummy you've been putting off. We have fun doodling, story boarding and even painting with some of the finest sticks Vick's garden has to offer. This class is not just for illustrators, but also for writers who want to look at their story from a whole different angle. Check it out! Tell your friends! Come draw!

Digger and Daisy About To Launch!

Digger and Daisy Go On A Picnic, by Judy Young and illustrated by ME is about to come out next month! Can't wait to see that crazy Digger's shenanigans again. Kirkus Review, who can usually be kind of cranky, had this to say:
In Digger and Daisy’s second outing, Digger learns that—all appearances to the contrary—sometimes it is best to have a nose full of dirt… It’s almost Shakespearean, until the skunk arrives on the scene, its dashing black-and-white look a fine counterpart to the waxy crayon sheen of the rest of Sullivan’s artwork.

Even the best of brothers can cause a stink from time to time, but rarely are they so sweet. (Early reader. 4-8)
Here's a little inside story on how the art comes about: the publisher, Sleeping Bear Press, sends me the manuscript by Judy Young, with the pages broken out for me. I draw pencil sketches of the scenes and they savagely tear them apart review them to give me helpful advice on how they can be improved.
Here are two sample spreads:


final color
final color

Odds and Ends

Those author events are lots of fun, but they can be kind of brutal

You ever wonder how dogs stay warm in such cold weather?

Our neighbor wants us to train Bennie to quit leaving presents on his lawn. First things first, I say.

Some days are harder than others. Some of you would say "most" days are harder for me than others.

Signing books at Costco can be quite fun

We went dancing at a local martini bar, where Vicki briefly gave some thought to a career change 

Vicki had a little dental work done for the holidays

Just yesterday Vicki had THREE interviews. Go Vicki! (this is a reference from one of our favorite movies, "Raising Arizona," from which we learned everything we know about parenting.  Sorry Kyle.

We've been working on our wills, which has Bennie quite excited. If you've been putting off this cheery little chore, this site might help you.

At the Movies

Don't you think Vicki could be the next "Girl on Fire?" Her mortal enemies, the Moles, sent me a screenplay, but it ends badly. Bennie gave it two paws down, but liked her costume.

Vicki and Monica walked out on "Her." Glad I didn't go. It reminded me of that show I watched as a kid. I don't think I liked the whole "relationship with a machine" thing then either. Now "Blade Runner"...

Based on a true story. There was much rejoicing.

We've been re-watching "Firefly." Those Reivers are really tough. Sorry, my sticky notes don't have spell check.

I highly recommend the "True Facts" video series. It's very funny and you learn real stuff about real animals. This one's about the Land Snail. Warning: mostly PG-13. Still educational.