Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Box of Sunshine

It's a grey, rainy day in New England but I have a box of sunshine to keep me happy.

My copies of Monkey Ono arrived!  YEA!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Picturebook Workshop #5: Keeping Your Audience in Mind

A common mistake that can be easily made by a parent/writer or educator/writer is forgetting the audience for a picture book is a child.  And what I mean by that is it is not ideal to create a story where the child protagonist has a problem that is solved by an adult.  Another faux pas would be a story where some knowing adult doles out wisdom so that the child learns a lesson.  Both of these are talking down to the child reader.

Now, I don't want to sound like I am above this mistake.  Oh no!  I have made it myself.  My agent pointed it out to me in one of my earlier manuscripts and I thought No way, then I looked at the story again. Yes way.  I had done just that.  The parent was all-knowing and great.  The kid had a lot to learn.  D'oh!

I don't mean to say that all the parents in stories need to be idiots or antagonists or all the children should be correct all of the time.  I'm just trying to remind writers to think about who they are writing for.  Who's the ideal audience for your story?  Will they identify with your character?  Will they root for that character?

Let's imagine a story where a child character is having trouble falling asleep and Mom comes in and makes it all better and the child falls asleep thinking, My mom is so great. 

I know Mom is really going to love that story.  But is a kid?  (And that's not to say that kid's Mom isn't totally great, but a kid wants to read about how the kid is totally great.)

Let's say that same child character is having trouble falling asleep, maybe Mom comes in and offers a few suggestions but they don't take.  After Mom leaves that child has to take matters into his/her own hands.  Now we have an interesting story and a child reader will be much more engaged with the character and story because the child character is making choices and is in control of his/her own problem. 

In Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak,  Max learns how to control his own temper and emotions before he's ready to come back home to hot soup.

In Wink the Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed by me, even though Grandmother suggests going to the circus to cheer Wink up, he ignores the advice until he's ready to discover his place in the circus on his own terms.

There's one exception to this rule (that I can think of.)

It's the Charlie and Lola books by Lauren Child.  These stories set up some idea that Lola is opposed to (loosing a tooth, eating a tomato) and Charlie, her older brother, creates a situation that gently nudges Lola to a certain way of thinking.  (It's soft love.)  I think this works because Charlie is also a kind and because he does it in such a clever way.  Lola never feels pushed into a solution or like some lesson is being shoved down her throat.

I'm sure if you asked Lola, she'd insist she solved her problem all on her own without any help from Charlie at all! 

And that's exactly what you want: the child to feel like the winner!

Happy Writing!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bookstore Cats

Yesterday we went to the Book Barn.  It's always fun to go there: play games, looks for books, feed goats, and go cat-spotting.  Magoo was one happy boy when he was granted the attention of not one cat, but two.

GIDDY - he was!

In other news: there was a CRAZY amount of Depeche Mode CDs there.  Like - easily 20 Depeche Mode CDs at this used bookstore.*  Mike and I were floored as we skimmed the shelves.  "Here's another Depeche Mode!"  "And another one!"   Did someone die and leave their gold-star collection of Depeche Mode CD's to the Book Barn or do the Book Barn buyers have very specific music tastes?

* Twenty might not seem like a lot, but there weren't that many CD's there on the whole, so a good percentage were Depeche Mode.  And, it wasn't like there was a lot of Beatles or Rolling Stones - it was Depeche Mode.  It's like a finding a secret stash of 50 Kajagoogoo CD's.  Weird.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Stop Motion Animation & Book Trailers

I really enjoy stop-motion animation.  It's awesome to watch.  It's fun to make.  And because my illustrations are usually cut paper collage, it's a good medium for making book trailers.

So when I made a trailer for my new picture book Monkey Ono (available March 7th), I decided to film a Making Of... short movie.

Here it is.  (It's 6 minutes long.)

I was lucky enough to take a 3-day summer course in making stop-motion animation through my local library last summer.  That's when I, and another student Jon Bristol, made a little stop-motion film called Five Stages of Grief (for a Zombie.)

You can check that out here.  (You'll notice a fondness for Benny Goodman music.)

But I also want to spread the stop-motion love out to a few videos that I think are fabulous.

Here's a fantastic stop-motion video.  Her Morning Elegance by Oren Lavie.  Beautiful song, too.

This one is called Western Spaghetti, by an artist named PES.  You'll want to call the kids in for this one - it's pretty fantastic.

And you want to send the kids away for this one (trust me) - but it's pretty fantastic as well.

The key to stop-motion is patience.  The more time you take with it, the better it looks.  But it's a great way to make little videos because you can do it, you're kids can do it, you can use all kinds of things.  It's a very imaginative and creative medium.

I've done stop motion using photos and film camera, but the best, easiest way is to have a program.  I use SAM Animation.  It's designed, I think, mainly for teachers to use in classrooms, so it's not a big fancy super-expensive program.  And then you're going to need some kind of camera.  And that's pretty much it.

If you're interested in making your own stop-motion animated films, check out this book and have fun.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #4: Obstacles


Since last week I posted about Character Objectives, today I thought I'd write about Obstacles.  Without obstacles, it's a very short story indeed.  It'd be like The Simpons episode where Marge makes The Itchy & Scratchy Show stop using violence in the plot line, so the cat and mouse just sit on the porch drinking lemonade all day.

I'm not saying violence is an obstacle.  I'm just saying NO OBSTACLES = BORING STORY.

Let's look at some popular stories.

Who's the main character?  Cinderella
What does she want?  To go to the ball.
Why can't she go?  For starters her step-mother and step-sisters keep her so busy that she doesn't have time to prepare.  Then, when they do leave, she doesn't have a dress or shoes or transportation.  Obstacles.

Now, in a modern story, a fairy godmother who comes in and solves all the problems wouldn't really fly.  (Pun intended.)  We would want our Cinderella to be more pro-active and solve these problems for herself in some creative way.  But it's a fairytale, so, whatayagonnado?

Even the fact that the spell ends at midnight is an obstacle.
These are all probelms that the main character has to work through.

Let's look at something modern.


Who's the main character?  Wink
What does he want? He wants his ninja skills to be noticed
Why can't he?  All the things that he wants to do to be noticed  - yell Yahoo! or wear bright costumes - go against the core of being a stealthy, unseen ninja.

One of the first things Wink does is show off balancing on a ball and yelling "Yahoo!"
He gets sent home from ninja school.
Okay, he thinks, I can't yell. (Obstacle)  He makes another choice.  He wears a bright outfit.
Nope - can't do that either.  Too bright.  (Obstacle.)

I have Wink meeting a roadblock and then making another choice, meeting another roadblock, and so forth, until Wink finds the circus family and finds a place where he can be an awesome ninja and he can be noticed for it.

I love the short story COOKIES in FROG AND TOAD TOGETHER by Arnold Lobel because the obstacle in this story is that there aren't strong enough obstacles to keep Frog and Toad from eating all the cookies.

Who are the main characters?  Frog and Toad
What do they want?  To stop eating all the delicious cookies
What are their obstacles?  Everything they try to do to secure the cookies away - tie a ribbon around the box, put them on a high shelf - are too easily undone. 

So when you're writing your picture book story, remember to think about the things that are standing in your main characters way, and the different choices that character can make to get around or solve those problems.

But also remember that the way a character approaches a problem says a lot about that character.
Cinderella is a sweet girl.  She's not going to solve her problem by locking her sisters in a closet and stealing their gowns.  It would be a solution, but it would be out of character.  Just keep that in mind as you're coming up with ideas.

Happy writing and Happy President's Day!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Black Currant Cloud

The other day, my mother commented that I hadn't posted any of my knitting projects in awhile.  That's because I've been sloooooooooowly working on a sweater.  If I'm to be honest, I'm very bored with it.  I don't want to frog it yet, but it isn't inspiring me.

So I took a break and made a cowl.

My friend Heather and I went to the yarn store and found this GORGEOUS mohair/silk blend yarn that is so soft and fuzzy and wonderful.  We each bought a couple balls and made these cowls.

The knitting of it is very simple - very chat and TV friendly knitting.  It takes a little while to knit up because the yarn is very thin.  But it creates this light, yet cozy, textile that feels like a little lamb draped around your neck.  PERFECT for looking good in the wintertime!

Here's a close up of the textile.

See, it's very airy.  The color is a bit off.  It's really a deep eggplant purple.

My notes are here on Ravelry.

Now I'm working on some fingerless mitts.  Will I ever go back to my sweater?  Dunno.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #3: Character Objective

Hi everyone!

Welcome back to part three of my PICTURE BOOK WORKSHOP. 

Today I thought it would be good to start crafting a story.  The first thing you're going to do is create a main character and then, establish what the character wants.

Here's an example.  In the wonderful picture book, STUCK by Oliver Jeffers, Floyd's kite is stuck in a tree.  He tries tugging on it, but it won't come down. 

Who's the main character?  Floyd.
What does he want?  To get his kite back.

Simple enough.  Right?

The humor and charm comes from the different things Floyd throws up into the tree to loosen his kite.  And, as you can imagine from the title, they all get stuck in the tree.  The list starts with normal things, like a shoe, and escalates far beyond reality.  

It's crazy funny and OH HOW I LOVE THE ART!  (But that's another blog post.)

Now, in a book like I MUST HAVE BOBO by Eileen Rosenthal, illos by Marc Rosenthal, everything is a bit more routed in reality.  A boy, Willy, wakes up and can't find his beloved monkey, Bobo.
So he searched for Bobo around the house.

Who's the main character?  Willy.
What does he want?  Bobo.

This one's actually a little more of what I call a STATUS QUO STORY.  Willy doesn't want something outrageous or even out of the ordinary.  His status quo has been interrupted because his cat, Earl, keeps stealing Bobo.  All Willy wants is to return his life to normal.

Also, there is an antagonist in this story: Earl the cat.  Willy and Earl are fighting over Bobo.  Earl causing all the conflict in this story.

In STUCK, Floyd has to solve his problem, but there is no antagonist. 

That's something to think about as you're building your story, what's causing conflict?  Is your story about a character who has to overcome something within himself?  Is there a "villian?"  Or does the character want something that is so far out of reach there are a ton of obstacles in his way?

In MONKEY ONO, by me, I took an regular picture book character, a stuffed monkey, but gave him an irregular goal.  This particular stuffed monkey loves the beach.  He wants a fabulous beach day.

The problem for Monkey Ono is that when his family of humans goes to the beach, he gets left behind. 

The core of the book is Monkey Ono making Mission: Impossible-style plans to get to the beach, failing, and making more plans.  Because he's just a little stuffed monkey, his goal is beyond his control.  He only has limited skills and resources - I mean, he can't drive a car.  He can't call a cab. -  but he has unlimited imagination and gumption.

I won't go into the endings of any of these stories, because that's a different blog post as well.  But if you're getting started with your own story, think about your character, what that character wants, and what's standing in the way.

If you can create a scenario with a lot of fun possibilities, you're on the right track.

Have fun!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Magoo's Snow Tunnel

Magoo is ten.  Yesterday, when I was shoveling, part of me thought I should probably get Magoo out here to lend a hand.  He's getting to be old enough to help out with this kind of chore.

But the other part of me, the part that knows that childhood is a finite amount of time, and a wonderful amount of time, wants to let him enjoy it as much as possible.

Really, there's a place for both.  A little work, a little play.  And it's good to teach him balance.  But that wasn't the argument that won.  Fun factor won.

After all, there hasn't been much snow.  Let there be snow forts!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Blizzard 2013

I got up this morning and there was snow up against the windows.  Yowza!  It certainly did come down overnight!

The good news, of course, is that we did not lose power.  (knock on wood.)  So it may take us the day to get the roads and sidewalks clear, it is quite lovely and I think I'll get a pot of chili going to fill out house with warm, savory smells.

Here's some visuals.

(Above)  The railing on the front steps just leads into a sea of snow.
(Below) You can see my car a.k.a snow-mobile (har-har) off to the right of the shot.


I went out for an hour and shoveled.  Whoo-doggie!  It really is amazing how much snow fell in one day.  I had to shove open the front door enough to squeeze out.  I started shoveling from the step!

(Below.)  Here's my path out to the sidewalk.

Here's a shot of the house - pre-roof rake.  (After Mike raked the roof, I had to re-shovel back to the house, but whattyagonnado.  Gotta rake that roof!)

And here's out lovely, diving neighbor David, plowing out our sidewalk and the front of our driveway (and saving us old folks a lot of back pain.)  THANKS DAVID!

The job is not done - not by a long shot.  But I thought it best to take a break and get my chili on.

Despite the fact that this is a big job - it's also really beautiful.  I love New England on days like this.  The people who live here seem to rise to the challenge.  And I find it fun to get outside and chat with the neighbors, breath fresh air, and feel useful.  It's a good way to start the day.

But now, it's cocoa time!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Snowy Friday

It's almost 2pm.  It's been snowing since 9am, but lightly, like sifted flour.  Magoo is home.  Mike too.  I just finished my work, so now I can sit and knit and enjoy the snow from my cozy sofa.

If you're in my area of the world, I hope you are able to be cozy and safe.

Tomorrow - let there be sleds!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What's going on...

1.  I've been working on a new picture book project and that has been going quite well.  I'm about half way finished with the illustrations, so I felt I could relax a bit and focus my attention on some finishing touches on...

2. A new PB proposal that my agent, Scott Treimel, and I are getting ready to sub.  Normally, I do collage, but I wondered if I should try something different.  Once upon a time, when an illustrator got published, they'd want to stick with a certain style.  I mean, you can picture what an Eric Carle book will look like because that dude nailed his brand.  But nowadays it seems like that doesn't really hold.  Lane Smith does all kinds of things.  And looking at the recent Caldecott winner, THIS IS NOT MY HAT, I just started getting inspired to branch out.

So I started playing around with watercolor yesterday.  I'm not saying it's going to go that way - but it's good to try new things.  It might help me shake up what I already have going or give me ideas for future projects.  We'll see.

3. Gotta hit the store today.  Mother Nature has us scheduled for a gullywumper tomorrow afternoon so I want to buy my soup and crackers today.  And rock salt.  And batteries would be good as well.
And valentine pencils - but that's for another project.

4.  Someone hacked into my Twitter account yesterday and tweeted something about doing surveys for money.  Argh!  I was so mad.   It feels really, really gross when someone makes you their corporate sock puppet.  But really, jokes on them, because I only have 14 followers and no one saw it.
Still, I had to spend some time changing passwords and other crud.  Then I stayed off Twitter all day yesterday - as if to punish them.  Ha!

But seriously, I am logging off more.  Signing out.  That closing that stuff up tight!  Hopefull that will be enough.



Monday, February 4, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #2: SCBWI

Hi all -
Welcome to the second installment on my picture book workshop.  If you missed the first one, it's here.

Today I want to talk about the importance of joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  This is the main organization for kidlit.  There are others, I'm sure.  But this is the Big-Daddy.

For one thing, you get lovely magazines with current tips on trends, and articles on author and illustrators and school visits and crafting characters, etc.  Once you've read one book on the craft of Children's Lit, it's nice to just read a magazine article and try that tip out for awhile.  Like lessons delivered via slow-drip. 

Plus, it's going to be more up-to-date than some books.  The world of picture books is changing a lot these days with all the digital options out there.  Gotta have the info.

But for me, the biggest reason to join SCBWI is the connections; connections you can make at conferences.  Connections you can make online in critique groups.  All that jazz.  Because despite the fact that I sit at home alone most days, I have a group of people in the industry that I bounce ideas off of, or critique my latest draft, or console me when I've been rejected, or cheer me on when something cool happens.  And that's crazy important.

But let's talk conferences.  Way back when I was just starting out and had sent a few dummy books out, gotten some rejections, and had joined SCBWI, I learned of an Illustration Day Mini-Conference that SCBWI was hosting in NY.  It was just a one day event.  Illustrators came in with their portfolios and dropped them off in a big room, and then we went downstairs and enjoyed a lecture.  I heard the great pop-up book artist Robert Sabuda speak, and I signed up to have my first ninja book critiqued by a professional editor.  (Most conferences have 15-minute critiques you can sign up for with agents and editors.)

Now, the picture book critique was off to a rough start when the lady asked, "What's a ninja?"  I kid you not.  She was older and apparently unfamiliar with kick-ass warriors of the East.  But I listened to everything she had to say, and I mean, it's good to put yourself out there even if it doesn't end in a contract.

But what was great was that while I was off explaining what ninjas are and learning stuff, editors and agents were upstairs looking at the portfolios.  If they liked what they saw, they left you a business card.

At the end of the day, I picked up my portfolio and headed to the train station and -much to my delight - I had some business cards.  Some were editors.  But the most important one was from an agent - Scott Treimel - who is my agent to this day.

Scott has worked with me on many projects.  My work has grown tremendously through his criticism and guidance.  And he gets me contracts.  Yay Scott!

And it's all because I went to a conference.


(SCBWI can also hook you up with a critique group - which is essential.  But I'll save that for a later post.)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Monkey Ono Book Trailer

Happy February, everyone!

Now that it's about 5 weeks from Monkey Ono's release on March 7th, I feel it's time to share the stop-motion book trailer I made.

Hope you like it!