Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Peek at Christmas

Christmas is nearly a week over, but this break has been so crazy busy for me that I'm just now getting the pics on the blog.

By the time all the packages arrive from relatives, there are usually a decent amount of gifts under the tree, but Santa always leaves his right out front, in special Santa paper, with special Santa gift tags. Magoo had asked me earlier in the month if I thought he'd been a good boy.  I didn't realize at the time that he was wondering which list he'd made: naughty or nice.  If you know him, you know it's a silly question.  They put double the nice in that boy when they mixed him up!

Mike got a Magoo-made Han Solo T-shirt.

Even Java got some gifts, but she was pretty happy with the wrapping paper.

Can you guess who didn't want to be in this photo?  I MADE him stand with me for two WHOLE minutes.  I'm the worst!

Later, Gramma, the aunts and Uncle Tom came over.  Magoo got a magic kit,  (I'm pretty excirted about the magic kit myself!) and showed his new trick off to Aunt Pam.

We opened presents, ate lasagna and ice cream pie, played Wii (because we were all stuffed) then I curled up by the fire to enjoy my new gift, a ukelele.

It was a very lovely Christmas at home.  Much thanks to all of the family and friends who sent gifts!  We hope you had a lovely holiday as well!


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Julie Grades the Movies

Hi guys -

I should probably post some holiday pics, but I haven't gotten my act together enough to upload them into the computer.

Instead, since I've been to the movies quite a lot in the last month, I thought I post a few brief reviews.


If you like The Hunger Games books and/or the first Hunger Games movie, this one is a no brainer.   I think the writers have done a fabulous job bringing these books to screen, the special effects are fabulous (at one point I had to remind myself that the characters weren't really riding through a giant colosseum in clothes bursting in cool, wearable fire.) and the cast is great.  Jennifer Lawrence - come on!   (I kind of particularly like how much Effie Trinket grows in this one.)  You kinda know what you're getting here, but it's still a dish well served.

My grade: A-


I really liked the Dallas Buyers Club.  Both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto play transformative rolls where you barely knows it's them at all.  I mean - WHO KNEW Matthew McConaughey who I first saw as a sleazy stoner in Daze and Confused was going to be such a strong actor?  (Mud, Bernie, he was even great in Magic Mike.)  Anyhoo...  The year is 1985 and Matthew McConaughey plays a rodeo rider names Ron Woodruff.  Ron lives a kind of wild lifestyle between riding bulls, gambling, drinking, and having lots of good-time company - until he winds up in the hospital, given a diagnosis of HIV positive and an estimate of 30-days to live.  Ron does not take this at all.  When he can't get in on the hospital's drug trial, he bribes an orderly to get him the drugs.  When that falls through, he goes to the library and learns about drugs in Mexico that haven't been approved by the FDA. Then, of course, he goes to Mexico.  Basically, the dude won't quit and because he proves himself to be smart and a fighter not only for his own life but for the lives of others, he's a very likable and worthy hero.

I will say that the story started to falter towards the end.  It's a true story and you can't just rewrite the ending because it's not Hollywood enough.  (Well, I suppose you can, but they didn't. And I'm not saying they should have.) What happened happened.  But I will say that it was only the last fourth of the movie that lost it's momentum, up until that point it was one hell of a rodeo ride.

My grade:  B+.


Saving Mr. Banks is the story of how the author P.T. Travers was lured to Disney to make her book Mary Poppins in to a movie.  Walt has been trying to get the movie rights for twenty years, but Mrs. Travers did not want the movie to be made into a fluffy Disney la-la film and it's only after she had hit financial hard times and risks losing her house that she agrees to go to Hollywood and "try" to work on the movie.  (Throughout the process Mrs. Travers retains the rights and all decisions must be approved by her.  Basically, she makes the creative team's life a living hell.)  In my opinion this movie works because Emma Thompson is an exquisite actress.  It would be SO EASY for Mrs. Travers to come off as unreasonable, uptight, and sour for the sake of being sour.   But Emma Thompson's portrayal convinces the audience that Mrs. Traver's stubbornness is born out of a deep love she has for her family, because so much of Mary Poppins is based on her own childhood and the intense love she had for her flawed father.  (Much of the past is shown with Colin Farrell as the young author's father.)

There is plenty of heart in this story, lots of great actors, and it's fun to see the story behind Mary Poppins.

My grade:  B+

(Note to my mother: You will probably like this movie.)


Before I begin, I must admit I knew nothing about this movie going in.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I knew it was about a struggling folk musician in the early 1960's.  And I knew that the critics were going nuts for it!   Then I saw it.   When it was over, I looked at my friend Heather and she looked at me.  We mirrored expressions of utter confusion.  What the ... huh?

Inside Llewyn Davis is, indeed, about a struggling folk musician in the 1961 New York folk music scene.  Llewyn is depressed because his former singing partner killed himself and his solo album has not done well at all.  He feels misunderstood and unappreciated.   He loses cats, gets girls pregnant, and fights with his family.  He shows signs of momentary gratitude when someone lets him crash on their sofa, but then quickly picks a fight because he thinks no can possibly understand his art and/or his pain.

So okay.  Llewyn's not a great guy.  So I'm thinking this movie will be a journey of him finding himself.

Nope, not really.

Okay.  Then I thought, maybe he'll struggle then get a break and it will be a rags to riches story.  Nu-huh.

What I figured out after coming home confused and reading articles about the film online is that it's really more of a symbolic journey.  Different people represent different choices.  There's a great article all about the cat.  (The cat was a highlight for me.)  But Llweyn's journey is not linear.  He does not grow or learn.  He is doomed to repeat most of his mistakes because he may be talented as hell with a guitar, but he only cares about himself and can't navigate a life outside his most immediate need.

For me, it was a story without hope or satisfaction.  

No, had I known a bit more about it, had I read a synopsis that said, "Here's what you're getting into..." I might have been able to make more sense of it at the time and that might have changed my perspective.

All that said, here's what I liked: 

Oscar Isaac is great in the title role.  
The music is beautiful.  
The shots are gorgeous.  (There's a great scene where Llewyn is toting his neighbor's cat on the subway and we see the cat's POV as it looks out the window, fascinated by the platforms whipping by.)  
Like I said above, enjoyed the cat scenes very much.  It was high quality cat acting!

But the story - as a whole - did not work for me.

My grade: C-

(Note to my mother - you will not like this movie.)

In other news:

I don't think there will be a Picture Book Workshop or Picture Book Life entry this week.  I am plugging away on my wordless picture book but I have no blog-worthy insights.

I WILL get some holiday photos up for those who like to peek into my life.

We have a few more lazy days before we get back into the school schedule, so I intend to enjoy sleeping in and wearing my pajama pants 80% of the time.

Hope you all had a lovely holiday season and that it continues on!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wishing you a Merry Christmas!

 Santa                 2013                   j. c. phillipps

Before I prepare to clean my house, wrap the last remaining gifts, and prepare food for tomorrow's gathering, I wanted to take a brief moments to pop on the blog and wish you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS!

(And if you don't celebrate Christmas, I wish you happiness in whatever holiday you celebrate and a lovely 2014.)

It means a lot to me that people stop in to see what I'm up to.  I try to reply to comments, but sometimes I don't get to them.  If so, please know that I read and appreciate every single one.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

You guys are the BEST!  Now go off and give some hugs, eat some chocolate, and relax!


Monday, December 23, 2013

Picture Book Life: My Rejection Playlist

Have you gotten a rejection lately?  I have.  I'm in the thick of it as I have a couple things going out right now.  It's gotten me thinking about how different songs effect me when I'm in this fragile state of ego.

For example...

Sometimes you've worked you butt off making changes for an editor, and they still reject your manuscript.  You're red-hot angry!  Try track 1 on my Rejection Playlist: SABOTAGE by The Beastie Boys.  Make sure you have plenty of space to throw cathartic karate chops and power kicks.

Sometimes a rejection seems more silly than serious, or rather, it's more about them than it is about you.  My own library told me that they had a policy that wouldn't allow for local authors to read their works there.  My own library was against me!  How ludicrous!  But what can you do?  Pop on F*** YOU by Cee-lo Green.  You're still giving someone the finger, but it's in a fun, boppy way.

Then there are the days when you just feel so darn heart-broken, you wonder if you will ever write again.  You start thinking of other things you could do with your life.  Bagging groceries sounds OK.  You could always do that.  You need to pop on track 3: TITANIUM by David Guetta STAT!

After you've gone through all the many emotions that come with rejections, and you've listened to some music that will help you purge those nasty doubts, you might be ready to get back-in-the-saddle again with revisions or a new project altogether.  Listen to BEST DAY OF MY LIFE by American Authors to give yourself the final jolt back to your awesome self and WRITE ON!

Have any suggestions for my Rejection Playlist?  I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sugar Cookies and Snow

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here.  We had a lovely snowstorm last Saturday night - which meant Sunday morning was PERFECTO for making cookies.

In a perfect world, I would make batches upon batches of yummy baked goods for all my friends for the holidays.  But, since I have to cook and bake so much for my dietarily-challenged family, I tend to only get in a wee bit of holiday baking.

But some did get done.  The house smelt awesome.  Magoo was a fabulous helper (and he doesn't even get to eat these because they are not GF, Sugar-free, so bonus elf points for that.) And I got a few boxes of goodies out to my besties.

Then we hit the hill.

I really can't manage a superior sled shot.  I never quite capture the fun of it.  Plus, my hands were cold and I can't wear mittens when I shoot, so there are limited sled shots.  Just know this: good sledding was had by all.

This shot is nothing more than an illustration of my son's crazy long, snowflake-catching eyelashes that I would LOVE to have for myself!

The snow is supposed to melt over the weekend when it's going to be 60 degrees!  WHAT?!!?  So we'll have to try to squeeze more sledding in before then.

Thanks so much for stopping by.
Wish I could send cookies to you all!


Monday, December 16, 2013

Picture Book Life: The Game of Picture Book

Howdy all!

Today, since I'm in the midst of getting a rejection for two projects, my agent showing two projects, and working on another project, I thought it'd be fun to do a little visual of what it's like to work on a single project start-to-finish.

I still think it's a widely believed misconception to a lot of non-professional-writer people that it's easy to write and publish a picture book.  (All my writer friends can insert a hearty chuckle here.) 

But on some level, it's true.  It's not very difficult to write a first draft of a picture book.  It's not even  hard to take a good, hard look at that story, rip it apart, and put it back together even better than it was before.  But once you start showing to people and taking notes and doing layers-upon-layers of revision, I think that's when most non-professional-writer folks would call it a day.

I show a similar visual to kids when I do school presentations to illustrate the amount of work that goes into a single 450-word project.  It's a lot of work - but it is kinda like a game too.  There are baby steps forward along the way.  There are certainly many places where you have to scrap everything and start all over.  And there are no short-cut ladders.  (I'm sure in the special Caldecott Award Winner edition, there might be a few ladders - but not in my edition.  :)

But I think the way that creating picture books is most like a game is that when things are going well - ideas are flowing, the work is chugging along - it's really fun

I hope you're all out having some fun today!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Magoo's Acting Debut

West Hartford is such a lovely little town for so many reasons, one of which is their community theater, Playhouse on Park.  I smack my own hand in shame that I haven't seen more shows there, but I did get the joy was watching Magoo in his first acting showcase.

For nine weeks, Magoo has been going in and learning improv games, vocalization exercises, and how to create a character.  He even learned a monologue!

On Monday night, the young actors invited their parents in for a showcase, to show us what they've been doing.

I was certainly impressed.  The kids did a great job.  The teacher seems to be a perfect combination of craft and fun.  The kids were not overwhelmed with huge speeches.  And they each got a chance to shine.

If you're in the Hartford, CT area and what to check it out, here's the link to the theater.

I think Magoo was pretty nervous before the show - which is normal - and very brave to go out there and do his best.  It's such a rush!  And it's such a great way to set a small goal (a showcase), work towards it, succeed, and get a big reward (applause.)

Thanks so much for stopping by!  I hope your holiday season has been wonderful so far!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Holiday Bookmarks for the Class

I'm a class parent this year, which basically means I help organize classroom parties.  One of my favorite things to do is come in and do projects with the kids.  Once upon a time in my childhood, half a day could be wasted on a classroom party - but such is no longer the case.  There are things to do, band concerts to see, etc.  So no class project for this party. 

I was bummed (because it's all about me - ha!) but then I had an idea.  If I couldn't do a craft with the kids, I would do a craft for the kids.

I decided I would make every child in Magoo's class their own individual bookmark.

Then I had to think, Okay Julie, individual bookmarks for 24 kids is a big project.  What's the best way to do it.  Do I scan their photographs?  Do I draw them all?  Watercolor?

In the end I decided I would use some of my clip art skills.  (See above) I made six different coats.  Six different pairs of legs.  Six different hats.  I used the class photo as a reference and drew all their faces in a lose cartoony way (not like actual portraits) and scanned them all into the computer and colored them.  Then I pieced them altogether like puzzles, one by one.

Here's a shot of my computer as I was working.

When I finished the bookmarks, I sized them according to my clear packing tape - which is 2" long.  That's my at-home laminating trick: clear packing tape.  So I made all the bookmarks 1.75" wide, then I covered each one with packing tape.  Then I punched a hole in each and tied a white ribbon.

This project cost me nothing but time, and each kid gets a bookmark with their likeness and name on it. 

I hope they like them!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Gingerbread House Construction

I love a good gingerbread house!  I don't think I ever made any in my own childhood, but I really enjoy watching Magoo make them now.

One year, I was very bold and made my own design from homemade GF graham crackers, so Magoo could actually eat it, but I've resigned myself to the tradtion of making the houses and not eating them because A.) it's much, much easier  B.) Who has the time? and C.)  Who has the waistline?  Well, Magoo does, but you know I'd be munching on it too.

So, every year that I can manage to snag a box, we make a lovely Trader Joe's Gingerbread House.

In other news, it's a SNOW-TASTIC wonderland today.  So many schools in the area are closed, but not hardy West Hartford!  I'm thrilled that I have no other responsibilities than dropping Magoo off at school (mission: accomplished) and then picking him up.  I am also thrilled that we live within walking distance of the school. 

The snow is gorgeous and we have out boots.  Bring it on!

Also, in case you were wondering, Java is doing very nicely after her day of oral surgery.  The vet had to extract three teeth and grind down some dental bone - yeesh!  She was wobbly when I brought her home, but oh-so-happy to be with her people and her familiar smells.  Today she is fine and over-the-moon to be fed luxurious soft, canned cat food.  I think she's going to get spoiled!

Have a lovely Tuesday!

Monday, December 9, 2013

My Crazy Day

I like a mellow day.

I LOVE it when all I have to do is take Magoo to school and pick him up and the rest of the day I can be home, working, sipping cocoa, watching TV at lunch, making dinner, flipping on the Christmas lights, and hanging with my fellas in the evening.

Today was NOT a mellow day.  I knew it wasn't going to be.  But it got way crazy when things didn't go as planned.

See my mind down there?  Today it was like a train schedule board - flipping, flipping, flipping.

I was supposed to take Magoo into school at 8:30, then take Java to the vet at 9:00 for a tooth extraction.

But there was snow and ice last night and I saw the school was delayed 90 minutes.

Flipping, flipping, flipping.

So I decided that I would need to reschedule the vet appointment to 10:30 OR Magoo would have to walk himself to school by 10.  He's nearly eleven so he could handle it, but still, he's the kind of boy who would remember to wear his boots and take his backpack, but then he'd leave the front door wide open.  

Then, guess what.  I was wrong!  The school was not delayed.  Every other school in the county was delayed, but not our school. 

Flipping, flipping, flipping.

So Magoo went to school on time and I had to drive slowly over the mountain on less-than-ideal roads to drop Java at the vet.

Fine.  Done.  Relax.

I did something fun.  I made a Dot.  Check it out.

I expected a call from the vet around 1pm or 2 pm.  (Because last week they said that they'd call around 1 or 2pm.)  No call.  So at 1:45 I called them.  They were just starting to take the teeth out!  I might not be able to pick Java up until five - which would be fine except Magoo needs to be at the theater for his acting showcase by 5:30! 

Flipping, flipping, flipping.

We only have one car, so if I have to pick up the cat at 5:00, then I have to whip back over the mountain (takes 15-20 minutes) to take Magoo to acting. 

I'm hoping Java is ready earlier.  I plan to show up earlier than 5:00 to get the procedure paid for at least.  Then I'm going to grab my drowsy, annoyed cat and boogie.

Then, it occurred to me, that I had to think about dinner.  Flipping, flipping, flipping.

Solution = soup!
Soup is easy.  Heat & eat.

So, it's 2:30 I just got back from Whole Foods with soup & crackers. I'll pick up Magoo in 40 minutes, and I'll take it from there.

I can tell you this, I'll be exceptionally happy to go to bed tonight and turn the train schedule off.

Tomorrow I have NOTHING planned. 



Thursday, December 5, 2013

Unintentional Male-Dominated Christmas Village

Ho Ho Ho - everybody!

This last weekend we broke out the Christmas decorations.  I thought I'd share a little Vine video of our ever-expanding Santa's Village (on our mantle.)

We start out with a Christmas Zombie, then move over to a couple of burglars, Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins, and Spiderman.  Then we have Santa's castle with Santa and Mrs. Claus on top, observing who's being naughty and nice.  At the base of the castle is Eager Bob (a creature Magoo made when he was very young.) and Tom Brady of the Patriots.  Finally, by the grey house, we have Master Zutsu and Wink.

You know what I'm noticing?  There aren't a ton of women in this town.  I need some women!  Any suggestions on distinctive women?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Picture Book Life: Suggestions

Hi Picture Book Peeps!

I am starting a new series, PICTURE BOOK LIFE.  I will continue PICTURE BOOK WORKSHOP, but I really want that to focus on helpful tips for writers, whereas PICTURE BOOK LIFE is more about making observations about my life as an author/illustrator. 

They will interchange willy-nilly depending on what I'm thinking about that week.  I can't be tied down, people!  ;)

Today, I wanted to talk about SUGGESTIONS.

Ever since I started writing, people have given me many suggestions for books ideas.  The word "should" is always in the sentence.

Because this happens so often, I've actually become a little sensitive to it.  Despite the fact that I know that all these suggestions are coming from places of enthusiasm for what I do, and many of these people are good, kind friends of mine, every time I hear "should" it feels like someone is putting another job on my to-do list, another book in my arms, another load to carry on my back.

This weekend, Mike called me into the kitchen because some radio program was talking to poet Billy Collins. 

I LOVE Billy Collins!  Years ago, Mike and I went to a reading he did in Connecticut.  I didn't know much about him, but after that reading I was a life-long fan.  If you get a chance, get one of his audio recordings.  He reads his work beautifully, and it is so, so funny.

Anyhoo, Mr. Collins was reading was of his new poems called, The Suggestion Box, and it hit home.

In it, he talks about all the people who suggest or predict what he'll write a poem about.  The first is a waitress who spills some coffee.  "I bet you're going to write a poem about this," she says.  Then a student suggests he write a poem about a fire drill, and so on and so on.

Why is everyone being so helpful?  Mr. Collins wonders in a way that is layered with annoyance.

Finally he noticed some ducks, paddling gently in a calm pond.  He pulls out paper and a pencil.  "I knew it!" quacks the duck, thrilled that she has inspired a poem.

Why is everyone being so helpful is a line of perfection, because really and truly these people think they are being helpful.  And that is good.  It is kindness. 

What they don't understand is that story ideas come from an individual's views of the world.  If the suggestion people find something inspiring, then they should write about it.  Their inspiration can never be my inspiration.  I have to find my inspiration on my own.

And, in addition, I am never at a loss for ideas.  My problem is quite the opposite.  Sometimes I have so many flying around in my head, completing for attention, that I become confused and overwhelmed.  But that's a focus problem for another time.


I've decided that the next time someone says "You should ..." to me, I'm going to think Why is everyone being so helpful? and the humor of that line will carry me through.

EXCEPTION - I do, however, love when people tell me stories, just because they have a story to tell.  If someone tells me a hilarious story about a girl and her teddy bear named Talulah and I think there's a nugget there, I'll write it in my idea book.  So it's not that I don't like people sharing their stories, I just don't need folks prodding me with their ideas for books for me to write.  

Thanks so much for stopping in!  I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving and Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate!