Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Blast from My Past

Yesterday I received a large envelope in the mail.  Large envelopes are always fun, aren't they?
Especially when you don't know what's in them. 

This was a package from my step-mother who had been cleaning my dad's office and came across some old drawings of mine.

I'm calling this one Happy Birds.

The birds don't necessarily look happy, but everyone else is happy so I figure the birds are too.  Actually, I really like the composition of the birds.  I might try to recreate this in a collage.  That could be a fun project, going through my old drawings and remaking them.  Hmmmm.

Anyway - back to the post.  I think this sums up a big part of my childhood, Happy Little Julie. 

Here's a self-portrait.

I wish I still had those eyelashes!  And I wonder who the tiny person to the right is?  Is she far away or just small?  I do enjoy the amount of detail given to my dress.   Look at my pretty little pattern.  It's so cute.

There was also a CD in the package that was an interview with my grandfather in 1985.  A niece of his was asking questions about where he grew up and what some of his memories were.  It was crazy to hear his voice again and the stories were funny.  (Some funny ha-ha and some funny-odd.)  I haven't finished the whole thing yet.  I have no idea how long it is.  I was listening while making cookies and it lasted about 30 minutes. 

Maybe I'll take it up to Boston with me next week.  It's about a 2 hour drive.  We'll see what he has to say.  Pretty cool.

Thanks Pam!  (Step-mom)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #12: Finding a Publisher

By now, you should be in the revising, polishing stages of your manuscript.  I don't mean to say you're almost done at this point.  This can be a long and winding road.  Be patient.  Do your best.   Seriously.  Do your absolute best.  (You don't want a big stinko with your name on it in the remainders pile three months after your book is published.)

Even if your manuscript isn't ready yet, I think it's OK to go ahead and make a list of dream publishers.

You may start by going to the bookstore and finding some books that are similar to yours.  Did you write a picture book about a frog who loves to surf?  Well, that new book about a rabbit who ice skates is kind of similar.  Who published it?  Write it down.  (Note: It's always a good idea to take a look at what's current in your bookstore anyway.  When some big-wig asks "Have you seen the new book Captain Blah-Blah?"  You can say, "Yes!"  Or if a potential agent asks you who your favorite authors are, you can name someone current and not just Maurice Sendack.)

I would also HIGHLY recommend picking up the most current edition of Children's Writers & Illustrator's Market.  This book lists all the publishers, what they publish, and what they're submission requirements are.  It should be noted that not all publishers allow unsolicited submissions.  Or some do, but only in November.  Each and every publisher has it's own set of rules and you must follow them to the letter to prove that you can.  So, once you've made your list of places you want to send your manuscript, you must then go onto that publisher's webpage and find the submission information there as well to make sure you have the most up-to-date information.  You're making a list and checking it twice!

It seems like a lot of work, but it saves you time in the long run and it saves them time in the slush pile.

Do you know about the slush pile?  The slush pile is where everything goes that the publisher/agent did not ask for.  Usually there are interns who read them.  And usually it's filled with garbage because lots of crazy people write books.  I'm not talking about YOU.  You are here trying to learn how to hone a craft.  I'm talking about straight-up crazy people, or, people who did not do their research and sent a fantasy manuscript to a non-fiction company.*  That happens too.  Check out SlushPile Hell if you want a tip on what NOT to do.

Here's another link to check out:
SCBWI has 10 FAQ's about publishing

Happy writing!

*I've come back to this post because it occurs to me that I have not stressed enough the importance of looking at what the publisher actually publishes.   Do not send non-fiction to a house that asks for humorous fiction just because your non-fiction is humorous.  This is not a tag sale.  There is no haggling.  Your work must meet what they are looking for totally and completely because there are so many manuscripts out there that will. 

Know what your story is.  Know it's genre.  Find a good fit. 
It's time consuming.  It's research.  But you can do it!

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Flats              April 2013                J. C. Phillipps

Every since I did a collage of a friend's house a few years ago, I've been slowly coming around to doing more collage architecture. 

I've always liked architecture, but I wouldn't say it has ever been a passion of mine.  But when you think of it, the clean lines of a building are not dissimilar to the clean likes of a cut piece of paper.

What can be challenging are windows.  When I did my friends house, it was a large piece, so I cut the frames and slats and everything.  This is a small 8X10" collage, so I cheated on the windows.  I used a sharpie on white paper. 

My greatest achievement here, in my opinion, is the little stamper I made out of foam and a domino to create the tiled roof textures.  It's so cute and I love the texture of a stamp. 

Wishing you a lovely Spring Sunday!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Magoo's Paint Job

When I was pregnant with Magoo, I painted his room like a Medieval countryside with sky, hills, dragons, castles, etc.  It looked good and Magoo liked it (see above)  - but now he's ten and he doesn't want castles on his wall anymore.

(Below)  Here he is, posing one last time with his castle on the wall.

And here he is painting over the castle with his new shade of blue.  I can't remember what it's called, but it's kinda like a soft turquoise with a touch more blue in it than green.

Bye-bye castle!

Here's what it looks like now. 

I still need things like a lamp for that corner and new curtains and something for the walls.  When you have a mural, you dont need a lot of art, but the plain walls look really bare to me.

Might need to go to IKEA.  (Twist my arm.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #11: Critique Group

Once you get into the writing process, it's very important to have people you trust read your work and give feedback.  I cannot tell you how many times I have turned in what I sincerely felt was a very good draft, only to have questions and comments come back at me that pointed out that my vision wasn't clear at all.   And I don't mean that in a bad way.  These were excellent questions, excellent comments and they helped me shape a better draft. 

Writing is a bit of a "can't see the forest for the trees."  As writers you focus on small goals so often, that it becomes very difficult to see the big picture with clear eyes.

That said, part of the critique process is knowing what advice to take and what advice to leave.  Sometimes one person feels a scene is too long and another feels a scene is too short.  Sometimes you read critiques and you feel like they just didn't get it at all.  In which case, did everyone not get it?  If so, you didn't present the idea clearly.

Getting critiques can be nerve-wracking as well.  It's never easy to give your work to someone and ask to be judged.  I'm still defensive about it.  But I know I'm defensive about it and I know it's all me and has nothing to do with the critiquer.  So here's what I do:

-Get myself some cocoa
-Read through a crit
-walk away, do something else, mull (Because it always seems more negative the first time you read it.  It seems like they hated it - it's awful!  You gotta get a little space.)
-come back, pull up my original document (with no notes)
-pull up crit and re-read.  (See, it really wasn't that negative.)  Make the easy changes - the no-brainers: like maybe my grammar is off in one sentence or I shifted POV's mid paragraph or my phrasing is awkward.
-if there are suggested changes that you're not sure of, don't do anything yet.  Just let the suggestion percolate in your mind.   It will either fade away or reveal itself to be an idea you can't let go of.
-rewrite and resubmit.

I'm very lucky to be in an excellent critique group.  We call ourselves The Litwits.

Here's three of us at a conference:  Kip Wilson Rechea, me, Ammi-Joan Paquette

Subtract Kip and add Natalie Dias Lorenzi in West Virgina.

We meet online.  Each week one of us submits out piece, either a picture book text or 10 pages of a longer work.  The rest of us have the week to crit and send back.  Everyone sees everything.  For example, if I'm sending a crit of Kip's work back to her, I also send it to Joan and Natalie.  Sometimes I'll see someone else's crit first and I can say something like, "I agree with Joan's comment here but I disagree here."  They're like email discussions.  I've been with these lovely ladies for nearly, what... six years?  Seven years?  Long enough for my pre-schooler to be in fourth grade, a set of twins to come into the world, and Natalie had just had her third child when we formed. I know them.  I sometimes know what to expect of them.  And I trust them to help me develop my work and rip pieces apart so that I can build them up better and stronger.  

Your critique group is your first line of defensive against professional rejection and they are your support group when that rejection does come - because it will.  But when you do get something accepted, you're critique group will hoist you on their (cyber) shoulders and cheer from the mountain tops, because sometimes they are the only people who truly understand how much you've put into your work.

How do you get into a slammin' crit group?
Try SCBWI or the Blue Boards on Verla Kay.  Or, if you'd like to meet with people face-to-face, try your local library or, again, SCBWI might be able to help you out.

Good luck! 

And big hugs to The LitWits!  Can't wait to see you in May!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Author Visit: O'Brien School

I had a wonderful author visit at the O'Brien Elementary School. This was my first full Monkey Ono visit, with a large group power point presentation and art projects. It went really well.

The presentation was about picture book story structure. Monkey Ono is a good read for younger kids, so I wanted to make sure the presentation had something of value for the older kids as well. I talk about character, goals, and obstacles in stories. And I also ask lots of questions like What's Cinderella's goal? What are the obstacles in The Lorax? I try keep the kids engaged. Then when I finally get to Monkey Ono, they can either sit back and listen, or they can be analyze the story structure as I read. (I even use one of Magoo's stories, No Gas, to show how a first grader can write using story structure.)

I took the kids through the Monkey Ono collage project and they did a fabulous job. I decided to have the kids draw Monkey Ono's hair instead of cut it out of paper – and that turned out to be super fun. Look at all the hair-do's!

I also had a Kindergarten group that didn't see the big presentation, so I read to them first, then I taught them how to draw Monkey Ono. So cute!

Big Thanks to the fabulous art teacher, Brandyn Barstis, who wrote a grant to have me and other artists into her school. And thanks to the wonderful students at O'Brien Elementary for sharing your art and enthusiasm with me!

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Couple More Collections

Collection of Robots        2013        J. C. Phillipps

Collection of Socks       2013         J. C. Phillipps

Adding to my Collection Collection, we have a Collection of Robots and Collection of Socks.
My goal is six.  It actually works out well because I'll make six Fairytale line drawings and pop the white mat out of the frames I bought for those because I want to use color matching mats.  Then I can use the white mats for the Collection Collection, because the black frames I bought for these don't come with mats.

It's a long way of saying it's not fun to cut mats.  So if I can find a short-cut, I'll take it!

I'm off to an Author Visit today, so I'll have pics up this weekend.  More collage Monkey Ono's - yay!  I'm also trying out a new presentation, so we'll see how that goes.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


The process of gluing takes patience, accuracy, and a respirator.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #10: Organizing Your Story

I've been going into the school library recently, helping my son's class prepare for an author visit.  (Not an author visit of mine, but of a local author who's making books with the kids.)  One of the things the students need to do is write a story, then the author is going to help them put it in book form.

I've been trying to help the kids write.

I created a worksheet to help them organize their thoughts, and shape the story.  This is sort of a kiddo-version, but the idea is the same of what I do when I craft my stories.  Ups and downs.  Obstacles and victories.  The only real difference is that my stories have more zig-zags.

Have you heard of the Rule of Three?

From Wikipedia:  The rule of three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.

Because I was trying to fit the organizer on one sheet of 8.5 x 11" paper, I only had space for 2 obstacles.  (And, really, two obstacles is fine for a fourth grader.) But I would recommend having AT LEAST three for your story to feel complete.

In Wink the Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed, Wink was kicked out of ninja school three times before he found a place within the circus.  In Monkey Ono, he comes up with three plans after he is left behind.  Three is a magic number. *

(* But that's not to say that you can't have more.  You'll find the balance for your story.)

There are lots of different ways to organize your thoughts/stories.  Every writer has a way that works for them that might not work for anyone else.  And it's also OK to just write and see what comes out, then trim away bits and pieces as you edit.

My best stories come from a little more thought and direction.  So a simple story outline often works for me.  (Often, not always.)  I hope you find something that works for you.  And if you don't like mine, Google "story organizer" and a BUNCH of things will come up.

Good luck!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Fairy Tale Drawings

Inspired by the eggs I did for Easter, I thought it might be fun to do some one-color drawings.
Since I started with red, doing a Little Red Riding Hood drawing was a no brainer.

Then I thought, Perhaps it would be nice to do a pair?

After I finished the second one, it occurred to me that since both of my summer shows were in libraries, that doing a series of fairy tale drawings might be just the ticket!  But I wasn't sure if I should continue in red or use other colors as well.

Magoo voted for other colors. 

I did two Three Bears drawings in blue.

My plan is to buy white frames and match the mat colors with the ink colors.  I think that will look way swank.  And I plan to do a couple Frog Prince green ones and maybe some Three Little Pigs.  Would I have to go pink for those?  I dunno.  I'll figure it out when I get there.  One drawing at a time.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Monkeys at Central School

Yesterday I had a lovely visit with the first graders of Central School in Simsbury. And it was a special visit for me, because it was the very first time I did Monkey Ono collages with kids.

I can't even tell you how many ninja projects I have done over the last four years – hundreds – I have got that down. But Monkey Ono is a little trickier than Wink because Monkey Ono has more components. And more placement. Some pieces have to be glued on top. Some pieces have to be glued on bottom. I had no doubt a fifth grader can handle it – but first graders? Well, I was a little nervous.

But they did GREAT!

Take a look.

The one with the orange background did Monkey Ono holding a picture on Monkey Ono holding a picture of Monkey Ono ....

 And look at the cute karate monkeys on the green one!

 And the eye - with it's shading and the highlight in the iris.  This is a first graders!  I wouldn't be surprised if that kid is in some Saturday morning art class somewhere.  

Thanks so much to Central School for giving me a warm welcome and sharing your enthusiasm for my new book!  I had a great time!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #9: Plot

Plot.  Aurgh - plot!

Before I write anything on plot, know this; neither my agent or my editor have ever said to me, "Julie, you rock at plot!"

In fact, my agent has pointed out that I kind of suck at it.  I have books on it - just plot - and I have improved.  But it's hard, people.  Writing a story is easy.  Writing a good story with a solid plot is very, very difficult.  I am constantly trying to improve.  So what I tell you here will be easy to understand, difficult to execute, and I don't necessarily think I'm going to be able to help you through it.

(That was super optimistic, yeah?)

Ideally, in picture books, a good plot will take you through a story to a logical, satisfying ending, via unexpected way.

That's the goal.

You know what story I LOVE for plot-talk, Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann.

Officer Buckle is big on safety.  He goes to the elementary school to give tips on safety but he's kinda boring so no one pays attention and they have accidents.  When Gloria, a new police dog arrives, things change.  When Officer Buckle gives his safety speech to the school, Gloria stands in back of his and acts out the consequences (unbeknownst to Officer Buckle.)  The kids think Gloria is fabulous and they pay attention and don't have any accidents.  But when Officer Buckle realizes that Gloria has been showboating behind his back, he is embarrassed,  (He thought the children were cheering for him.)  and hurt.  (He feels as though Gloria is making fun of him.)  So he refuses to go out with Gloria and give safety tips.  Gloria goes by herself, but with no partner, she just sits on the stage and the school has the biggest accident ever.  In the end, Officer Buckle realizes that when he works with Gloria as a team, they are effective in keeping children safe and the final safety tip in the book is, "Always stick with your buddy!"

The main character wants people to hear his safety tips and be safe.  So, logically, the book has to go there to have a satisfying ending - safety.  But who would have thought it would get there by pairing up a cop and a dog as a Abbott and Costello comedy act that only work when they are together.  That's the "unexpected way."

Another great story is Basho and the Fox by Tim Myers, beautifully illustrated by Oki S. Han.

Basho is a famous Japanese poet.  (And I mean he really was.  Basho is non-fictional.  The story is totally fictional as it has talking foxes.  It would be like Edgar Allen Poe and the Kick-Boxing Cat.  Fictionalized real person.)  Basho has chosen a life of solitude so that he can gel with nature and focus on the art of poetry.  Basho has few pleasures, but one of them is eating the ripe cherries off the cherry tree.  Oops.  A Fox strolls up and says that the foxes own the cherry tree and Basho cannot eat them.  In their conversation, Basho reveals that he is a poet and the fox challenges him to a poetry contest.  Basho has three chances to blow the foxes away with a truly great poem.  If he can do it, the foxes will surrender the cherry tree.  If he cannot, no more cherries for you, Mr. Basho.

Logically, Basho will have to win the poetry contest and the cherries for there to be a satisfying ending.
I mean, if he somehow loses to the fox, how can that be cool?  (Sometimes, you can have a story where a character meets an internal goal and therefore no longer needs to meet the external goal - and that works fine.  The example that's coming to mind is the movie CARS, where Lightning McQueen could win the final race but stops to help another car cross the finish line.  He wins a moral victory if not a material one.  That wouldn't apply in this story b/c Basho is internally correct.  He's not greedy, cruel, sad, whiney, selfish, insecure, or anything that he needs to work on as a character.  In Basho and the Fox the goal is purely external.  So he must achieve the goal in order for the story to be satisfying.)

And he does.  He wins the contest on the third try and impresses the foxes and they surrender the cherries.

HOW he does it is what I LOVE about this book.  I just ADORE it.

OK .... so ....  the first poem is about the scent of plums at sunrise.  (And these are all haiku poems FYI.)  The fox is like, "Yeah, OK.  It's alright but it's not great."  Basho is a little surprised that the fox wasn't more impressed.  He decides to work more diligently - really push himself.  The next time they meet, Basho recites a famous haiku about a frog jumping in a pond.  The fox is still unimpressed and it sends Basho into a spiral of self-doubt.  He starts to wonder if he is a great poet.  Finally on the evening of the last challenge, Basho really questions which poem he should read.  He's second guessing every artistic decision.  He is inspired on the spot and recites a poem about a fox's tail.

The fox is amazed!  He wants to hear it again!  It's the most marvelous poem ever!


Because it was about a fox.

You see, the fox isn't a fabulous judge of poetry - he's totally vain!

Basho won the contest in a different way than I had expected.  He didn't win because of his hard work or great poetry.  He won because of the subject matter.

In the end, because Basho is a cool guy, they all share the cherries.  Which is also good, because there are plenty of cherries - no reason not to share.  Everybody wins!

Now everybody go out and write an awesome plot!  Go on.  What are you waiting for?