Saturday, January 30, 2010

Too Long?

So, you might know this already, but I'm writing this young adult novel. It's not really my first novel, but it's the first one I'm going to finish. All. The. Way.

I used to think I couldn't do it, ya know. I write short. I write picture books. How could I possibly write something so long?

But I think I've finally got it figured out. This thing I'm writing right now, this first draft, is just an outline. A very long outline with lots of things going on, but there is more to add. More details, for sure. More suspense. More twists. More, more, more. With this first draft I am just getting the story down. Outlining what will become the manuscript. Dare I hope? The book.

Figuring this out has freed me to keep on pushing forward with this novel and not worry about the things I need to fix. Yet. I mean, I have gone back and revised some chapters and if I have an idea for some part of the book I definitely write it down, but completing the first draft is my main goal for now.

Then comes revision and all the fun that comes with it. I'm looking forward to it. I've dedicated myself to completing this book. I am betting that I will.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Party Time!

Jean Reidy is having a fabulous party for the release of her picture book, TOO PURPLEY! She'll be sending gifts to all her guests, giving away door prizes, and having drawings. Writers can win a picture book critique. Teachers and librarians can enter to win a 30-minute Skype visit. Head on over to!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Unread - Interview with Deb Marshall

Deb Marshall is one lucky lady. This is a photo of her at a writing re-TREAT that her husband gave her. He treated her to a stay in the mountains of Canmore, Canada for a couple days. Just Deb, her computer, and her wips! (Those are works in progress people!) A writers dream come true!

Not only does Deb work hard on her writing, she has worked in the field of literature for children and teens since 1986, when she began working for Calgary Public Library. Out of that grew her love of storytelling which she now does with her company, Storyworks. She finds stories everywhere and in everything, writing them into picture books, poetry, and novels for young adults.

Writing is a tough job, why did you choose it?

I feel as though I am in a constant state of storytelling in my head. I have to get those words out to make room for everything. An exploded head would be unpleasant. Plus, I love the feeling of seeing an idea, a spark, an overheard conversation, a first line become a story with a beginning, middle and end! It’s quite a gratifying experience.

Do you think your background in the library and a storyteller helps you as a writer?

Absolutely. It helped me find my voice as a writer, and gives me a sense of what I love to do, how to shape a story that will work in story time, and define the kind of stories I like to tell. If not for the library and working with books and materials for kids and teens my passion and knowledge would not be there. When I look at my evolution as a writer I know being a part of the library and working as a storyteller was an important part of that. And might I add…libraries ROCK.

What kinds of stories do you write?

You know, every now and then I go through this who-am-I-as-a-writer stage because I do tend to write all over the map. Picture books, poetry, novels for kids and teens. It’s at those times I have to remind myself I write whatever story comes to me, sometimes it is a story best suited to a short poem, sometimes a story for picture book, sometimes a novel. My picture books range from quiet and sweet to wild and ridiculous. I have a YA paranormal (think neat freak ghost meets girl seeking happily ever after) and a Middle Grade about a girl giving herself an extreme personality makeover.

What are you working on now?

Right now I am working on revisions for my young adult (KEEPER) and revisions on a picture book called EMILY WHO LOVED TO SING. If I’m not singing along with Emily thinking what a sweet little girl she is, I’m scaring myself with thoughts that my house might be haunted. It’s amazing what bumps in the night you hear when making a ghost in a book come to life. (heh heh…ghost come to life…)

What do you think is the hardest part about writing? What part of writing do you enjoy most?

The hardest part for me is revision. I enjoy coming up with the initial idea and creating (once I think the idea can go somewhere) a beginning, middle and end. The rush of getting that first draft down is fantastic. And also really, really enjoy the final stages of revision, when you know the story is there and done, and you are just tweaking line by line. But, the early revising is killer for me. I struggle with thinking I can’t make the words work, I can’t tell the story in my head, I can’t make the words sing, I can’t, I can’t. In other words, it is a battle royale with an internal editor! It’s a tough slog, but worth it because in the end you have a story.

What keeps you going?

The love of story and being part of a community of writers and readers that are passionate about books, kids and sharing those stories with them. Plus, the knowledge that someday I might actually go into a school to do an author visit, talk to the kids about my books and be a part of encouraging them to read and write.

You belong to two great critique groups. How do you find your critique groups help you?

They give you honest feedback, they want you to write the best story you can and critique accordingly. Those extra sets of eyes are vital, even when you think you have nailed a story, they can help you make it even better.

Plus, you can brainstorm ideas, get help with first drafts if you wish, share market information, discuss issues related to the book industry and books for teens and kids in particular, talk about the craft of writing. All of these things make me a better writer.

Best of all you get to be a part of your fellow critters journey, help them get closer to their dreams, celebrate the ups and be there for the downs.

I hear you’ve been to quite a few conferences and workshops. How do you find that they help you as a writer?

What helps me the most is what I learn about the craft and how other writers develop the stories they want to tell. I come away inspired and ready to write, which is one of the reasons I like to try and stay an extra day when I can. Back in the hotel room I can capitalize and focus on everything I’ve learned and apply it immediately to my works in progress. My writing has improved because of them.

What have you done with the manuscripts you’ve written? Do you have a submission strategy?

I do. I am looking for an agent. Although finding one, especially for picture books in this market, is difficult. It’s the path I want to take because I want to work on a team. I believe I still need to know the market, be aware of what is happening in our industry, but with an agent I can really focus on my writing and they take care of the submissions, making the contacts.

How far would you go to get your book published?

Bribery. I make a pretty mean fudge, life time supply promised on signing of contract. So, agents with a sweet tooth? Call me.

All right, I have to know, if you could live in any book which one would it be and why?

I would live in Harry Potter’s book because I want to go to Hogwarts, I belong there, amongst all the magic and learning. The other reason I would chose this book is because I need to go shopping in Diagon Alley and be assigned my wand. Of course, the other book (I know, you didn’t ask, but I couldn’t help myself) is Anne of Green Gables—I'm pretty sure I am a kindred spirit and I want to meet Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, sit in their kitchen, eat oatmeal, drink tea and just talk with them, and not just because my middle name is Ann(with an E).

Want to see more from Deb? You can find her at

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One Hand

Some things that are hard to do with one hand:

type - this is the most important one! Who cares about the rest, really.
cook - but I got someone else to do it. Score!
laundry - it sucked, but it had to be done.
drive - good thing there was absolutely zero traffic all the way to town.
snowmobile - you drive with your hands on the handlebars. I walked instead.
carry two cups of coffee - two trips!
put gloves on - had to use my teeth.
zip & button - kinda self explanatory huh?
stoking the fire - logs are heavy!

Oh who am I kidding? Pretty much everything is harder. But, there are definitely worse things in the world. Still, I'll be really happy when my typing gets back to normal! Guess I have extra time for research.

Monday, January 18, 2010


I used to have a teacher that loved to point out the irony in the novels we were reading. He'd say it extra loud, with emphasis, "I-RONICALLY". I think he was well aware how irony plays a part not only in novels but in our lives.

Case in point. I have been telling the kids over and over again, "do not use the skim boards to sled on. You will get hurt."

So, dad is outside with the kids. They are sledding. On the skim boards. It's icy so they're working really good, just sliding on and on. I come out and say something about it being dangerous but am quickly distracted by the sliding good time.

My little one wanted to go up the hill but he didn't want to go by himself. Dad was too heavy, he broke through the ice when he tried to sled, so I went up the hill to sled down with my little guy. He went down. It was great. He went fast and laughed all the way. I went after him. For some stupid reason I went on my knees, probably because I wasn't sure how the heck to sled on something where there was no where to hold on. I didn't get very far.

I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I managed some crazy maneuver where I ran into my own arm. My husband said I wasn't even going that fast, but I say no way, I was just starting to jam. My arm put an abrupt stop to it. Board to mid-arm. It was gonna be an awesome ride too.

So, I-RONICALLY, I got hurt by doing the thing I kept telling everyone not to do. I'm typing this post one handed. Guess what? My kids all know what the word ironic means now.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Touch the Art

You know kids, they want to touch everything. It's good! Touching is a great way to learn. But what about fine art? They just might want to touch that too.

Sterling Publishing has a great Touch the Art series written by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo that's perfect to get the little ones interested in classic art. The books feature fine art with a kid friendly addition, something to feel.

In Catch Picasso's Rooster, the first page is my favorite. The art featured is The Rooster by Pablo Picasso (1938). It's bold and eye catching and has been made extra fun with the addition of a fluffy red feather where the rooster's comb should be. It makes you want to touch it right away. Many great paintings are featured in Catch Picasso's Rooster. Blue Fox by Franz Marc (1911) has a soft, shiny blue tail. The Tabby by Henri Rousseau (date unknown) has long, stiff whiskers. A Couple of Foxhounds by George Stubbs (1792) have little floppy ears.

Tickle Tut's Toes is another book in the series. It features Egyptian art found in different museums around the world. From King Tutankhaman's gold coffinette topped off with a golden ribbon to an ancient wall painting of Nefertari and Isis with a spakling jewel, learning about Egyptian art is made interesting for the little ones. A book on Egypt wouldn't be complete without a photo of the pyramids of course. This one has bumpy sides that are fun to feel. My kids loved running their finger up and down the pyramid because the bumps made a sound. They got so excited about it.

Short rhyming text guides readers through the pages of each book, although kids who can't read yet like to look through the books all by themselves. I gave these books to a two-year-old friend of mine and she sat right down and looked through them both very carefully, all by herself. For further learning there is a great addition at the end of each book for when the child (or parent!) is ready to learn more. In Catch Picasso's Rooster each artist is featured with a paragraph about his life and art. Tickle Tut's Toes tells about each artifact.

Catch Picasso's Rooster and Tickle Tut's Toes are just two titles in the Touch the Art series. Kid's can also Brush Mona Lisa's Hair, Make Van Gogh's Bed, Pop Warhol's Top, and feed Matisse's Fish. Touching the art is a fun way to introduce young children to fine art.

Catch Picasso's Rooster and Tickle Tut's Toes are published by Sterling Publishing.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Illustrator of the Month--Bonnie Adamson!

I decided to kick off a new feature in the new year: Illustrator of the Month! Who better to start with than the illustrator of my forthcoming debut picture book, Bonnie Adamson. Bonnie was kind enough to agree to be my guinea pig and let me ask her prying questions and feature some of her beautiful artwork on my blog.

Bonnie is a graphic designer and children’s book illustrator as well as a writer (as yet unpublished—stay tuned!). She is also the art director for Pen & Palette, the quarterly newsletter of the SCBWI-Carolinas region; is active in organizing writers and illustrators in her area; and co-hosts the great #kidlitchat Tuesday nights on Twitter (follow @BonnieAdamson). She and her husband have two daughters, two sons-in-law and three granddogs who offer endless encouragement and support.

When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator? What drew you to children’s books?

I remember when I was three or four years old, my father made a little cartoon flip book for me: a stick figure wearing a bowler hat, kicking a football. As the football arced away in one direction, the man’s hat fell off his head behind him. I was hooked right away. I was “the kid who draws” in school, but didn’t really consider illustration as a career until I was working as a freelance designer after college, and began commissioning myself to do the illustrations for design projects.

©Bonnie Adamson

As to why children’s books, mine was the generation Little Golden Books were created for. I was NEVER without a book. I think I always dreamed about creating children’s books. I remember laboriously copying favorite books onto tablet paper and stapling the sheets together to make them “my own.” They were such magical things to me. (I still think magic is involved!)

Have you had any artistic training?

I had a very supportive art teacher in ninth grade, and private lessons with a local artist, but didn’t really get into serious art training until I already had a B.A. in English. I went back and got my B.F.A. in graphic design—which was a field in its infancy (before computers!), and still very much a part of the fine arts department—so the core curriculum was drawing, painting, printmaking, and sculpture. I stayed for graduate school, but was married by that time and left the program early when my husband was transferred.

Your first picture books, a two-book set: I Wish I Had Glasses Like Rosa and I Wish I Had Freckles Like Abby, written by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook, were published by Raven Tree Press in 2005. How did you break into the market?

©Bonnie Adamson

I joined SCBWI in 2000 and began sending out sample packets. I started to pick up some magazine work, and then the big break came in 2002 when I got a call from Troll Books to do a cover for a book-club edition of The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. I was thrilled! The sad news was that Troll Books declared bankruptcy while my cover was at the print separator’s (the stage just before it goes on the press), so the book was never printed. It was a great experience working with the art director and editor at Troll, though, and I gained confidence that perhaps I did have something to contribute to the industry.

©Bonnie Adamson

The next big break was a work-for-hire job for Raven Tree. They commissioned me to do a series of vignettes to accompany photo illustrations in a picture book about a little girl who travels to tourist spots around the U.S. with her parents. The project was shelved after I completed the illustrations, but the work put me on Raven Tree’s list, so I was one of the illustrators contacted when they put out a call for character studies for the “I Wish” series. I got the contract based on sketches I submitted. The first two books did well, so Raven Tree asked me to follow up with the two “I Wish” books for boys, which came out in 2008. (The original project for Raven Tree was also published in 2008, a three-book set called Traveling with Anna).

You also illustrated Feeling Better: A Kid’s Book About Therapy by Rachel Rashkin, for Magination Press. Can you give us any insight into how illustrators are paired with manuscripts?

©Bonnie Adamson

Oh, I wish I knew—that’s the great mystery! When you’re starting out, I think it’s really just a matter of getting your work in front of the right person at the right time, which is why you take every opportunity to get your stuff out there. Before I had my web site, I sent over a hundred packets of printed samples to art directors and publishers. Now I’m working on a redesign of my web site and contemplating a new round of mailings.

How did you develop your illustration style?

©Bonnie Adamson

For years as a freelance graphic designer (my first career), I was involved with one- or two-color print projects. My clients rarely had the budget for full-color art, so I was forced to become proficient with black and white line—pen and ink, mostly. (I used to joke that I thought in black and white.) When I began to put together a portfolio for children’s book illustration I realized that wouldn’t do, so I took a year off to develop a long-dormant fascination with watercolor. That was a lot of fun. My “go-to” style now combines line work (pen and ink, pencil or colored pencil) with watercolor washes, but I’m experimenting with flatter, more collage-like applications of color, which is a throwback to my more heavily-graphic past—so I guess things are coming full circle.

©Bonnie Adamson

What is your illustration process?

I do a lot of preliminary sketching. I like the underlying “blueprint” to be as tight as possible with regard to composition before I start painting—which is where I try to loosen up and keep a light touch.

©Bonnie Adamson

When approaching a book, I generally do character studies first. Then, because of the publisher’s marketing requirements, I usually have to get a cover image down. Then it’s on to a thumbnail storyboard of the text, which allows me to see the entire book at a glance, and allows me to play with page layouts. Then, because I do the design work, too, I establish the graphic look of the book, building on the elements used for the cover image (typeface, page numbers, any repeating motifs or colors) into a page template, and then I’m ready to do the full-size sketches.

©Bonnie Adamson

About how long does it take you to illustrate an entire picture book?

Anywhere from nine months to a year.

Is there anything you wish picture book authors would keep in mind when writing?

Well, I’d say it’s easier for an illustrator if there’s lots of room for interpretation—illustrations can take care of not only the incidental descriptive details, but can portray a good bit of backstory as well. In one of the first “I Wish” books, the text simply says something about one of the characters being splashed with paint on the playground. The illustration reveals why there was paint on the playground—the children were outdoors helping make banners for the school fair. You don’t have to slow your story down with explanations of that sort.

©Bonnie Adamson

I’ve heard other illustrators talk about being sure there’s action on every spread, that the setting changes to allow fresh illustrations—but I’ve had the honor to illustrate several books that were very “internal,” and did not have a lot of variation in setting or action, and I find them maybe even more satisfying to work on. My advice would be to concentrate on your story, and not be overly concerned with what comes next while you’re getting it down.

Afterwards, the best thing is to try to trust the editing team, the one that was enthusiastic enough about your story to buy it in the first place, to pair it with an illustrator who will add just the right seasoning to the stew. I know this is easier said than done. It took a long time for me to realize that I’m not the right illustrator for some of the stories I write and submit (!), so I know it can be a scary proposition to give up that control.

With picture books, continuity of the looks of the character is so important. How do you achieve this page after page?

©Bonnie Adamson

That’s something you have to be diligent about, especially as your familiarity with the character naturally evolves and affects your style over the months that you’re working on the book. I keep a character reference sheet handy, with measurements and proportions jotted down alongside sketches in several different poses. When painting, I try to work assembly-line style: I’ll have as many as ten illustrations stretched and ready to go on separate boards, so I can do all the skin tones at once, all the hair, eyes, clothes, etc. (I also keep notes on rough formulas for mixing paint colors.)

©Bonnie Adamson

How do you decide on which scene from the text to draw for the page spread?

A good picture book is written in scenes, so it’s not so much a matter of deciding what to portray, but of deciding on where the focus should be to get the point across (thinking of page spreads as camera shots is helpful: you want a good mix of close-ups and panoramas). The primary concern, I think, is getting to the emotion of the scene. A picture book is an emotional journey. In practice, I try to do two things: get the facial expressions right, and match the relative quiet or busy-ness of the art and layout to the pace dictated by the text.

©Bonnie Adamson

If you use an additional illustrated story line in a book, do you decide on it purposefully or does it grow organically?

Both. You look for something to tease out that can be a support or a counterpoint to the text, and then it develops a life of its own. For the second “I Wish” series, I decided that I needed for each of the boys to have a dog—the dogs are never mentioned in the text, but they became valuable allies in how they reacted to what was going on.

©Bonnie Adamson

What are you working on right now?

(Warning: I'm afraid I've baited Bonnie with this one!)

My latest project for Raven Tree is an adorable picture book by the fabulous Heather Ayris Burnell! (*blushing!) I fell in love with Heather’s main character right away and am hugely excited to be helping to bring him and his story to life. The book is called Bedtime Monster and is scheduled to be published in both bilingual and English-only editions in the fall of this year.
© Bonnie Adamson

Want to see more from Bonnie? Her shiny new web site is still under construction, but you can view samples of her work online at

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year's Action

New Year's Roundup--that sounds too depressing. Yes, I got rejected this year. No, I did not sub or blog as much as I wanted. That about rounds that up.

New Year's Resolutions--I made some last year on a whim thinking they could be motivational. I have no idea what they were.

This year I did something different. I didn't make plans, I took action. There is a major reason I don't get more things done. Believe it or not, I am disorganized. I know, it's hard to believe, my blog looking so nice and organized and all.

If you read my blog you may already know about my tendency to write things on any and all pieces of paper and then leave them lying around somewhere only to try to find them later when I need them.

Seems like I have a lot to do these days with interviews, blog posts, making a website, book promotion, subbing multiple manuscripts, etc., etc., etc. I used to spend an inordinate amount of time just looking for things. The blog post I wrote on some random piece of paper I thought I left on the kitchen table, the submission list I was sure I left by my bed... you know the drill (If you don't you are awesome).

So, I put together a binder for myself. I put a very cool book plate sticker I got at an SCBWI conference for the book THE INCREDIBLE BOOK EATING BOY by Oliver Jeffers on the front, which makes me happy. I made sections for the things I do most: blog posts, interviews, book reviews, books to order, promotion, website, and manuscripts. Then I put everything I had in there. Every book review I've written, every author whose info I've printed out for an interview, every single place I am listed and need to keep up on, and so on, and so on, and so on. I am actually amazed at the sheer number of things I have put in this binder.

It's good to have everything in one single place that I can take around the house with me and work on when I have a free moment. I'm hoping this will help me get more things done. Help me work faster. At the very least I'll save time looking for things. So far it seems to be working.