Friday, June 28, 2013

From Messy to Clean (with the help of garbage)

The other day, I was driving down the street when I saw a large organizer.  I don't know what to call it exactly, but picture your elementary school classroom, and picture a set of shelves designed for students papers.  Abby had one.  Bobby had one.  And at the end of the day the kids would go to their "shelves" and pull out the papers and take them home.  THAT's what I saw!

So I said to myself, Hey Julie, that looks like the kind of thing you could use.

Then I replied.  Sure, but do I have any place to put it?

So First-me said, Who cares!?  Just grab it and figure that out later, Dork!  (First-me is a little mouthy.)

So I turned the car around, parked it, and shoved the organizer into my back seat.  As I was doing this, a man pulled up and said, "You must be a teacher.  I was going to grab that for my wife."

Because I am from the midwest I said, "Oh, do you want it?"  (My inner voice saying, Shut up, Julie.  Finders keepers.)  But the nice man said no.  So I brought my new garbage treasure home and sure enough, I found a place for it.

Now all the papers here:

Have gone into here:

And I have a nice clean desk...

 ...for now.

In other news:
The heat has died down but it is still humid.  I never want to clean my house when it is humid.
I never want to clean it when it is not humid, but I still do.  But the house is pretty bad now.  Every room is littered with crud and most of that crud sticks to the bottom of my feet because it is so humid.
Grrrr humidity!

I am taking Magoo to the movies today to escape the humidity.  Yay Monsters University!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shifting into Summer

Yesterday was the last day of school. And it was hot!  So, to celebrate, the boys busted out the hose and played water games on the front walkway.

So now it begins: summer. 

As a mother, I need to find the right balance for Magoo of free time and structured activities.

Too much free time = boredom
Boredom = too much TV/computer time

 I want him to work on keyboarding this summer.  He'll be needing it more and more in his life from fifth grade on.  I want him to write a story, like always.  But I want there to be more editing and revision involved, which will probably involve frustration on his part.  No child likes to revise the work they never wanted to do int he first place.  And worse yet - your mother telling you what to do. 

Still, writing is a skill he will need in school and I think we both love looking at the result when they are through.  For my part, I can allow him to write about anything he wants.  Killer chipmunks?  Go for it! 

We also discovered a new app called DIY which is an activity site for kids.  Lets say a kid wants to earn a badge in Duct Tape Construction, there's a bunch of activities he can try.  There's science, dance, art,  music and bunch of other things.  When a child completes a project, you upload it to the site, and they get a "badge."  Rewards are the best!  I'm hoping when he's puttering around, he can go on the site and find something to do.  And if it costs be $30 in duct tape or whatever, so be it.

But back to me...

As an author/illustrator, I will struggle to find my own time to work without the constant call for "Mom."  I used to exercise first thing in the morning, but I may need to shift that to wake at 6am and work on my books before the house starts stirring.  Exercise can wait, because the best part about summer, for me, is the pool.  Instead of pilates or the treadmill, I can swim laps.   It's low-impact, a great workout, and cooling.  And when I'm done I can kick back on a lawn chair and read a magazine.  That's the best workout/reward package ever!

I'm sure it will take a few weeks before we're really into our new groove, but we'll find it.  And if not, summer is only 2 months around here.  First day of school is August 28th!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #19: Help An Author Out

If you're like me, you are an author who has a few books out but none of them are RUNAWAY hits.  You are a mid-list author.  Or perhaps, you have your first book coming out.  Or, perhaps you're not a writer at all, perhaps you're reading this because you know an author.  In any case, let me tell you a published author secret: Having a book published is great, but having a book published and no one caring about it is pretty embarrassing.

I'm talking reviews people.  And not Kirkus, Booklist reviews.  Not New York Times reviews.  People reviews.  Reader reviews.  Amazon reviews.  Your reviews.

They matter.

A lot.

When MONKEY ONO came out I had big hopes for it.  It got good reviews from Kirkus, etc. Yay!  It got a very good reader review on Amazon right away.  Yay!  But it only had 1 review for months.  Not Yay.  Not Yay at all.  The Amazon numbers were not good.*  So I had to do what I see more and more of these days, I had to swallow any pride I had and ask friends and family to go online and review my books.

I felt like the Queen of the Losers. 

Since I have done this, two other writers I know have also done this.  I'm sure many of us have done this.  I can speak only for myself, but it doesn't feel good.  It's humbling and embarrassing and super icky.

So here's a suggestion to all of us, myself included; if there's a book you really like, go write a review about it.  (I just posted a 5 star review for C. J. Omololu's INTUITION which I just finished and loved!  I also tweeted about it.  And here I am blogging about it.  And it has cost me nothing but a wee bit of time.)

Perhaps you'll say, But Julie, I don't really know how to write a review.  

Let me help.  As a consumer of books I want to know a couple things. 
1. Did you, the reader, like it? 
2. What's the vibe?  Romance?  Thriller?  Zombies?  Teen-age Civil War vampires? 

That's basically it.  There's always an editorial blurb that sums up the plot, so no need to rewrite that.  If you want to comment on the writing: slow paced, fast paced, lots of details, that's cool.  Go for it.
Have a favorite part that doesn't spoil anything?  Tell me about it!
But short and sweet with a nice juicy 4 or 5 stars and BOOM - you're done.

Julie, what if I didn't like the book.  Should I still leave a review?

NOOOOOOO!  You want to help your author.  Not hurt.  It's not a malfunctioning microwave, in which case I think a negative review is OK.  It's a book.  It's subjective.  If you can't say something nice ... you know the rest.

Julie, what if I didn't like a book but I still want to help this author out?

Well, write something like, This book is perfect for someone who likes A, B, and C

Julie, is this whole post about you begging for more reviews, you sneaky monkey?

No, I swear it's not.  It is so difficult for authors to get published in the first place, then when they do, the sales numbers matter.  When the book comes out, the game changes for us.  It is no longer about sitting at the computer and crafting a story.  It is about climbing every mountain we can find and putting a billboard up there.  We have to blog, tweet, pin, interview, etc. and try to let people know our books exist, which is not something a bunch of introverts who work alone at computers want to do.  So I try to help my fellow authors out when I can.

That said, if you'd liked MONKEY ONO and you'd like to leave a review, I'd really appreciate it.  :)

*FYI There are more numbers than the Amazon numbers.  But authors don't get them right away.  Amazon numbers are immediate so I think I can speak for many when I say, we check.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Camp Crafts

Summer Camp at the West Hartford Art League starts July 1st.  Since this is my second year, I am repeating some of the popular projects we did last year.  But some projects weren't as successful as I had hoped, so I had a lot of fun yesterday whipping up some new craft projects.

This is a painting for African Adventure week.

Coming up with crafts can be a wee bit tricky.  They have to be easy enough for a 4-yr-old to do in an hour, yet nice enough to justify sending the kids to the West Hartford Art League.  No wimpy crafts!

One of the things I learned last year was that the kids are great at watercolor!  That said, I can't do all watercolor all the time.

Here are a few projects for Asian Exploration week:

I could take credit for all the lovelies above, but I have to confess: I did not create these projects.  I mean, I DID PHYSICALLY MAKE these examples here, but I pulled all the ideas off of Pinterest.  Thanks lovely artists on Pinterest!

I have one more example to make today, watercolor monkeys, otherwise I have my project lists and my master supply list and I'm pretty much ready to shop 'til I drop!

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Happy/Not Happy

This makes me happy.  This is a self portrait of Magoo that he just did at school.  I know exactly what shirt that it!  For some reason his eyes seem to be filled with black ink, otherwise it's spot on.

You know what makes me not happy: end of the school year craziness.  There is simply too much to remember.  Too many different appointments are being thrown my way when I'm in the car or reading on the couch and they're not getting checked with calendars and it's just nuts.  I won't go into it more than that - but I HATE forgetting things. 

So I will just look at Magoo's picture and be happy.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #18: Video: Why & How


These days an author has to wear a lot of hats to compete in the picture book world.

Now, I'm going to step out of the pre-published arena for a little post-published post, because this is the stuff I'm dealing with in my career right now.  It's really not enough to have a book published.  You have to get the word out.

The sad fact is, your publisher may not do that much for you.  (And I'm not trying to be whiney, this is just reality, folks.) Let's break everything down to small numbers and say JOE PUBLISHER has ten books coming out this Spring and $100 to market them.  JOE's not giving each book $10.  He's picking a front runner or two and putting $90 behind them.  You, my friend, might get $2 of marketing.  Sure, they'll send your book to Kirkus and all that jazz, but they might not pay to have your book shelf-out at Barnes & Noble or all the other things they do that I don't know about.

This is why more and more, authors have to become their own marketing machines.  (That was the WHY right there, people.)  And for someone who is very comfortable being alone for 7 hours a day, this is not easy.

Author/illustrator Katie Davis is a HUGE advocate for authors making videos.  So much so that she has an online course called Video Idiot Bootcamp for those who are step-one beginners.  (And let's just say right now, she's way more technically savvy than I am.  No joke.  That woman knows things.)

But I have a BA in Theatre and an MA in Theatre Education, so I don't shy away from scripting things or filming myself.   The problem lies in the HOW.

Back when Magoo was a baby, I used to take a lot of video and I knew how to use iMovie '02.  Fast forward 10 years and I'm a little lost.  So I made an appointment at the Mac Store for a one-on-one video tutorial this morning.

I had already made a storyboard.  Shot the video.  Uploaded the music.  Basically, I got my act together so when I went in, I had all the raw materials and was ready to roll.  I spent an hour there, learning how to trim video clips, speed them up, lay music down, and record voice-overs.

Here's what I made:

(FYI, it looks like the video is a little cropped on the right side when viewed via the blog.  This is not a major deal, but if you prefer to see it in all it's glory, go here.)

So, to recap.

Q:Why does an author need to make videos?

A: To promote their work on the internet and social media sites.

Q: How does one do it?

A.  For me, it's iMovie. But if that doesn't work for you, I would highly recommend cruising around Katie Davis' webpage and podcast and see if you can find something more you.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Town Fair Getting Fairer

We have discovered the secret to enjoying the rides at the town fair - bring a friend for your child.  When you bring a friend for your child, you don't have to ride the rides at all!  This is good because my husband and I are now old enough that the rides are less thrilling, more barf-enducing. 

Also, the rides are incredibly over-priced.    If we had to ride the rides, we'd be spending that money on ourselves.  But when a friend comes with his mom, all the parents can spend money on their little angels and not have to use tickets to ride rides we don't want to ride.  Win, win.

Now, I may sound negative about town fairs.  Couldn't be further from the truth!  I look forward to the fair every year.  Our town really does a nice one and the weather was perfecto.  But I don't want to ride the Tilt-o-Whirl or the swings anymore.  I want to take pictures of them, preferably from the shade.

I don't want to waste $4 so I can ride a sack, slowly, down a long slide for 15 seconds.  I'd rather spend $6 so my son can win a giant inflatable alien, which he later named Mr. Pickles.

Then, the boys went home with Mike while my friend, Heather, and I got to stroll leisurely through the art fair.  Ahhhhhhh.

It was a lovely fair!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #17: Copyright

I recently did a Picture Book 101 library talk to a group of aspiring adult writers.  (Meaning that the writers were adults, not that they were writing adult content.)  One of the questions that came up was about copyright.

I didn't really have anything prepared about copyright because it hasn't been a big issue for me in my writing career.  I mean, sure, when Viking or Houghton Mifflin publishes a book, they register it and boom - there's a lovely copyright.  But I have never sought to have a manuscript registered for a copyright before it became a book.

When asked, I said that I believed once you write a work it is protected as yours.  I think you're suppose to whip the good ol' © on there for good measure.  A gentleman in the audience raised his hand and told me that I was incorrect.  He was an attorney and you had to register your work formally to be protected.  Well, this started a lot of panicked "clucking" of sorts, because here's what it breaks down to:

These new writers are overly concerned that the ideas in their head will bring forth golden apples that literary thieves are lurking in the shadows, waiting to steal.

All I can say is this.  This has never happened to me.  I share my work with my critique group with zero worries that they will lift my ideas and/or work.  Also, I have never had someone share their work with me and I've thought, D'oh!  I wish I had written that!  I want my name on that!

And that's not to say others haven't written fantastic stuff.  But I want to write my stories.  Jane wants to write Jane's stories.  John wants to write John's stories.  And if you do your research on agents and editors, trust me, they aren't there to steal your ideas.  Editors are there to edit and help create awesome books.  Agents are there to help create awesome talent.

That said, I wouldn't recommend posting chunks of your writing on your blog.  The internet is full of sketchy folk.  (Hey, you're on the internet, aren't you.  Oh no!  So am I!) But a good reputable contest is fine.  You have to put your work out there, otherwise, how will you ever grow?

When I came home that night, my husband went on THE INTERNET (!!!) and found this from the U. S. Copyright Office:

When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Do I have to register with your office to be protected?

No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. 

All said, I'd recommend putting more of one's time and energy into crafting an awesome story than worrying about who's going to steal it.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Magoo Paints a Fish Spiral

I found out recently that one of the teachers at Magoo's school was retiring.  This is a teacher who has been very sweet and helpful to Magoo over the years, so I didn't want her to get away without letting her know how much we appreciated her.

Stealing an idea from Pinterest, Magoo painted a lovely batch of fish swimming in a spiral.  (He's using watercolors, then pen & ink.)

Here's the finished product.

I think it came out great, and it looks pretty good framed, too.  (Now I kinda don't want to give it away.)

This was such a great little project, I might have to work it into my schedule when I teach the pre-schoolers art at the West Hartford Art League this summer.  And you can do it too with your own little ones - or big ones - as the case may be.   Simply paint an oval with a tail.  Paint a few more with different colors.  Let them all dry.  Get a black markers and draw faces and scales.  Done!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

DIY: Monkey Ono Silk-Screen Shirt

Tonight is the school fair and this morning I decided that I NEEDED to have a Monkey Ono shirt to wear.  I had been meaning to make one for months - I had the shirt and paints - but I hadn't had the inclination.  Well, this morning the inclination smacked me on the head and demanded, DO IT NOW!

Okay, okay.  Calm down, inclination.  Geesh!

Then I decided that you, my dear readers, might want to make a shirt too, so I'm including directions.  These are specific instructions on making a Monkey Ono shirt, but you can do this technique with any design.

Here's what you need:

shirt: washed and dried.  Ironed, if wrinkled.
freezer paper
fabric paint (& sponges/brushes)
cardboard (to put under the shirt)
scissors/Xacto blade
cat (optional)

First you'll need an image.  Here's and image of Monkey Ono you can use, or grab something from the Internet, or draw something original.

Size your artwork on the computer and print it out.  Then tape it to a window and tape the piece of freezer paper over it (shiny side down) so you're drawing on the non-shiny side.  Trace your image.  (You're mainly tracing the outline of the image, you don't have to bother with little details like eyes or the nose.)

Next, cut out the image.  The important thing to remember here is that you want the outline more that the actually image because you are making a stencil, so be neat.  Take your time.  (I also cut out the face and belly b/c I don't want to paint that area.

Iron your shirt to make it nice and smooth and insert the cardboard behind the fabric.  Then, with the shiny side of the paper kissing the fabric, iron the paper down.  (NO STEAM)  The shiny plastic on the paper will stick to the fabric making a nice seal.  If you don't like where your image is, pull it up, adjust, and try again. 

Then, I ironed down the belly circle and the face until they were well sealed.

Make sure you have a nice, tight seal, then go ahead and paint.  I squirt a little fabric paint into an old lid and use a sponge to generously dab in on the fabric.

Since the hands, hair, and ears are different colors, I was careful not to paint those parts purple.

I had different sponges for those colors, then I carefully added the black and turquoise, avoiding the purple areas.

You'll need one or two coats.  Let it dry.

At this point, I lifted the belly circle and the face and painted those areas turquoise with a brush.  When it's all dry, lift the freezer paper off.  (This comes off without too much difficulty, but be gentle with it just in case.)

Your Monkey Ono should now look like this.  (Don't take the cardboard away yet.  We're not done!)

You need to hand paint the face.  Well, you don't need to, but that's what I did.   Monkey Ono's face is very simple.  Start with two big dots for eyes.  Connect the dots with a thin line.  Make three dashes down the middle to his mouth, then paint a big, happy smile.  You'll also want to paint finger lines on the hands.

 Let it all dry and follow the washing directions on your fabric paint.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #16: Rejection

Do you know why there are fire drills at school?  They have fire drills so that people know what to do when things go wrong.

We should have something similar in the writing/publishing world.  A rejection drill of sorts.  Because you're going to get rejected.  OH YEAH YA ARE!

And it blows.  Hard.  Every time.

But we all go through it.  Here's what happens to me.

My first stage is what I like to call "The Bagger Stage," and it's where I feel so useless, stupid, and untalented that I feel my only line of future employment will be bagging groceries.* 

*(Sorry.  I know I just insulted anyone who bags groceries for a living.  All I can say in my defense is that when I was younger, one of my first day jobs was temping at a store where I had to bag items all day.  It was OK at first but soon grew mind-numbingly dull.  It's kind of my personal employment low point.)

This is a natural phase.  It's really difficult to put a piece of your art out there to be judged and have it come back rejected.  Really, really hard.  And, in writing, most of the time you have put a tremendous amount of time and energy into a project before you send it out into the world.

So go ahead.  Have an hour or a day of pity.  Feel the sorrow.  (Make notes b/c you might need that in your writing someday.)  Except that YOU'LL NEVER WRITE AGAIN because you're so, so awful!!!

Now, my phase one usually last a few hours.  Then I listen to one of my kick-butt songs like Cee Lo's Forget You or Titanium by David Guetta featuring Sia.  That's wWen I work my way into Phase Two: The SUCK IT Phase.

The Suck It Phase can be kind of awesome.  It's very empowering.  Basically you think you're more kick-ass and smarter than everyone else and they can suck it.  Even though that's not true, it's important to feel this way because you need to build yourself back up and telling the world to suck it really helps.  At least it does for me.

When I've calmed down from my injustice/rage/superiority complex, then I morph back into my normal, rational, writer-ly form.  My Julie form.  I step back.  I look at the situation objectively.  Maybe my book is out with 8 publishers and I haven't heard back form 4 yet.  There's still hope.  Maybe I received some criticism I can look at it more clearly.  My sub-conscience might have been working out an issue in a story.  I'll have fresh ideas.  

Now I'm in Phase Three: Back-in-the-Saddle Phase.

I think if you truly are a writer, you'll always return to this phase.  People who are creative will always create, even if there's no money, even if there's no acceptance.  They have to.  I have to.

But, yanno, you have to let yourself feel bad and mad and sad and all the "ad" words when you get bad news because you're not a robot.  You're an artist.  And the bonus of being an artist when you feel bad/mad/sad/glad is that you can use all of it.  Nothing goes to waste.  So keep that in mind.  But here's a couple other important things to help you cope:

One.  It happens to all of us. 

and Two - in the case of book publishing - you only need one YES.

(Anyone else want to add a SUCK IT song to the list?  I'd love to know what you do to perk yourself up.)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

New Endeavor: Litwits' Log

One of the things one does not consider when dreaming of a writing career is marketing.  If marketing was my passion, I would go into marketing.  Right?

But unless one is super famous - which I am not - one must try to market one's books.

Long story short: On the advice of a marketing book, I started a newsletter.  I didn't feel I had enough to say on my own, so I invited my crit group to join me.

I think this is going to be great because we're all kind of "experts" in different fields.  For example, I write, but I'm also an illustrator.  Joan is also an agent.  Kip knows all the ins-and-outs of contests and conferences.  And Natalie is a teacher/librarian so she knows what's cooking in the school scene.

 We're the LitWits, so we're calling it the LitWits' Log.

We're aiming for a quarterly newsletter that talks about any of our upcoming projects (because, uh, marketing) but we'll also give our readers some practical tips in the kidlit world and recommend some books that we enjoyed.  So it won't be all ME ME ME.  It's a little bit me, and a little bit you.

Lots of visuals.  Lots of links.  Low word count.  It's like a buffet of kidlit info.

So if you want to check it out, fill out the little box below.  It's only a quarterly newsletter, so we won't bother you too much.  And it's super easy to unsubscribe.