Saturday, December 21, 2013

Musical Interlude, for the Winter Solstice

A pretty little something I've been enjoying on this dark first night of winter. This is Grizzly Man by Rockettothesky. 

Later, I will be reading The Longest Night, written by Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by Ted Lewin (Holiday House, 2009). 

Possibly, my ten-year-old may think she's too old to listen, but she'll be wrong, and when it gets to the part with the chickadee, we'll sing together,

        "And dee and dee and dee," she sings.
        "And dee and dee, again."

You're never too old for a great picture book.

Happy Solstice, to you and yours!

Monday, December 9, 2013

What’s wrong with my picture book text?!

You just can’t quite put your finger on it.

You’ve written and rewritten and revised and tweaked and proofed. You’ve fabulous, well-rounded characters, the language sings, and the hilarious gags only underline the importance and depth of your theme. You had some POV issues, but you’ve fixed those now. It might be something about the pacing, but the story seems to move along all right. It must be something about the beginning… or perhaps it's about the end…

This is common in the picture book manuscripts of less experienced writers, but I’ve seen it many times in unpublished manuscripts by published authors, too: a fundamental weakness in narrative and character arc, an essential flaw of logic that affects pacing and much else. (And you can apply this to stories for older readers, too.)

If you can't put your finger on what’s wrong, it’s quite likely you simply have a problem with your skeleton. The basic narrative/character arc is your story’s skeleton. It is the structure upon which all else sits.

McGregor Museum.
Click image to visit original site.

Let’s stretch this analogy to its limit: characters are vital organs, their details and the setting are muscles, and the events within the story are like the tendons to push and pull them. The language and style are the skin, dialogue like clothing. Correct grammar and spelling are like fine jewelry. (Proper formatting is a waft of intoxicating perfume. If it stinks, an editor/agent will want to get away. If it’s pleasing, we may want to get closer.)

But it doesn't matter how fancy the clothes, or how exquisite the jewelry—if the skeleton isn’t strong and symmetrical, the story won’t stand up straight.

Start by asking yourself the following questions:
  • What promise do I make to the reader in the beginning?
  • Does the ending deliver upon that promise?
  • Does the beginning set up the conditions for what I deliver in the end?
  • Do I steadily escalate the problem I set up at the beginning all the way to the climax?
  • Does the resolution come immediately after the climax?
Strong story skeletons have symmetry. The beginning and end are in balance, the bookends to the middle. One asks a question, and the other answers that question honestly. Other things may well come to light in the quest for the answer, but the beginning tells us what must be answered. The end must comply. But the middle is far from symmetrical; it is a steadily steepening slope toward the climax.

The most common narrative mistakes I see include:
  • Stories that start in one place with one problem, then continue and/or end in a completely different place with quite a different problem solved. A story about a quest for a friend suddenly becomes a story about dealing with a bully.
  • The protagonist changes halfway through. A story starts with a mother cat worried for her kittens, and segues into the story of a young cat who just needs a good friend.
  • The parts of the narrative are not in the right places or of the right duration:
o   The manuscript has a lengthy, introduction-style beginning, rather than just diving straight into the story.
o   The climax comes too early, making the resolution far too long and often off-track, or even well into a second story.  
  • The problem doesn’t escalate enough; the tension remains the same or even decreases over time.
  • The correct problem is solved, but not by the protagonist.
Your story’s beginning should convey who your protagonist is, their desire, and why they want it. If the problem isn’t introduced by about two thirds of the way—or less—down the first page of your properly formatted manuscript, it’s probably running late.

Once you know how your story begins, you’ll have cues to how the story must end. The protagonist must—through their own action—either achieve their desire or have grown beyond it. How that achievement and growth comes about is all the rest of your story—the middle, ever escalating toward the inevitable climax.

And be thoughtful when defining your protagonist's real desire. The protagonist's true desire is usually not something material or concrete, though it may manifest itself that way. The protagonist’s desire for the material is a projection of a much deeper desire or emotional need. The emotional need is the “why” of the desire—why the protagonist really wants whatever they want. It’s the emotional need that must be satisfied in the end, whether or not the material desire is acquired. This is where character growth truly lies. And a strong, symmetrical story skeleton requires growth and change. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wordy Bird Studio on Facebook

To accompany the launch of my new website, I have a new Facebook page, where I'll be posting links about publishing, kidlit, writing, and illustration. 

You can find it here: Wordy Bird Studio on Facebook

Copyright © Marlo Garnsworthy 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013

Another Musical Interlude: Breathe

And another gift from Scandinavia, this time from Norway. This is Breathe by The White Birch. 

Yes, it's another melancholy one, but it's quite pretty and atmospheric, lovely triggers for writing hard in my experience. 

Shall we write hard on this dark December night, my fine feathered friends?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Musical Interlude: Olafur Arnalds

I've got to tell you, I love Spotify. It just keeps giving me good stuff. 

I often (not always) tend to like moody, melancholy stuff when I write, because it usually gets me into the zone very fast. Cello and piano really do it for me; those of you who read my blog already know what music I tend to put forth as good music for writing. 

This is what I'm listening to right now. It's working like a charm. And I like this video, too.

Does music work for you? And if so, what kind?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Website and Interview

It's a happy day!

I have been interviewed over on author Joanna Marple's Miss Marple's Musings blog, which I was quite thrilled to do. Joanna regularly blogs about illustrators, her traveling adventures, and kidlit in general, and I suspect she might love kayaking almost as much as me. It's worth following, so check it out. 

If that weren't cause enough for thankfulness, I've also just launched my new website, which you can view by clicking on the Wordy Bird Studio tab above, or by clicking here. It is still a work in progress, and I look forward to completing its evolution with a page just for kids, and the Wordy Bird Studio store, where you'll be able to purchase giclee prints of my work and other items. 

AND... I also have a new Wordy Bird Studio Facebook page, where I'll be posting links about writing, publishing, illustrating, and all sorts of kidlit goodies. You can find and follow it here

Thanks for dropping by the birdhouse. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Coming this week... new website!

Stay tuned...

In the meantime, enjoy a little song. 

From the Mouth of an Injured Head, by Radical Face.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


I am still glowing from an illustrators’ retreat and kids’ book illustration extravaganza weekend, staying in the Berkshires with my fellow illustrators Hazel Mitchell, Russ Cox, Carlyn Beccia, Greg Matusic, Sean Bixby, Kevin M. Barry, and Teri Weidner. It’s hard to explain just how good it was, but I’ll give it a shot.

On Friday afternoon, I drove down a steep gravel road through woodland as early wintery darkness set in... 

...and finally found my way to an old barn converted into a warmly lit and inviting home, mere footsteps from a lake surrounded by soaring wooded hills. 

The company was inviting, too, and although I knew everyone but Teri, I didn’t know them well. But we were soon sipping cocktails and laughing, enjoying a gourmet dinner cooked by Russ, poring over the many picture books we had brought to share, and sketching when we felt like it. The boys may have flattened Teri and me at the Foosball table (sorry Teri!). Carlyn read my fortunes in the crinkles on my palms. She knows why 52 is my lucky number, but will never tell. I fell asleep to a jaunty banjo and laughter upstairs, which continued well into the wee smalls. 

Greg and Russ 
The next day, after a veritable feast a la Hazel, I enjoyed a solitary woodland walk. 

Carlyn, digital painting master, gave us a Corel Painter demo, convincing the skeptical that it is, indeed, awesome.

There might have been second breakfast, followed by elevenses, and a hearty lunch. And then a low key afternoon of sitting around drawing, with music, occasional chatting, and an afternoon tea or two. If you’ve ever quietly enjoyed making art among a group of like-minded others happily doing the same, you’ll understand the wonderfulness. And to top it off, Hazel's haunting rendition of the Skye Boat Song on some kinda wind instrument took my breath away. Perfection.

On Saturday evening, we put on our glad rags...

...piled into two cars, and went to New York State…for all of 30 seconds (I was excited), and then we turned around, returned to Mass, and the opening of the Wendell Minor Retrospective* at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. I did plenty of drooling over Rockwell’s paintings. 

...and Russ did some hard pondering.

Carlyn and I did manage to slip in some sneaky, creepy author stalking. She was successful...
Carlyn pokes David McCullough  
...but I never did find the elusive Buzz Aldrin. If I had, no doubt I would have poked him, too.

And Hazel? Well she's a networker extraordinaire!

Hazel, David McCullough, and somebody else.   
On Sunday, after another Hazelian feast, we cleaned our home-away-from-home and trundled off to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, where we perused the Mo Willems* exhibit...

Mo Willems's progress charts. Works of art in themselves. 
heard Chris Van Allsburg speak... 

Here we (sans Greg) are waiting to hear C.VanA. speak. From left to right: Kevin, Hazel, Sean, Sleepy Carlyn, Somnambulant Russ, Teri, and me. 
...and as we had the night before, stood in a very “popular” line to have our books signed. For quite a while… Simply an occasion for more chats and bonding, and that long wait is actually one of my nicest memories from the weekend.

Sean and Chris (VAN ALLSBURG!), just, you know, two dudes hangin'. 
And from there it was onto the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton for the 24th Annual Children’s Book Illustration Exhibit*, where we hobnobbed...

...with such esteemed book creators as Caldecott winners/honorees ChrisVan Allsburg, Mordicai Gerstein, and Tony DiTerlizzi, and where my critique partner, Dave Bird, was honored for winning the R. Michelson Galleries EmergingArtist Award in the NESCBWI 2013 Poster Competition. I also caught up with some kid-lit friends I haven’t seen in a while.

Published authors & illustrators at the show. Image courtesy of R. Michelson Galleries, Seth Kaye photography. 
It was such a fabulous weekend, and I can’t wait to do it again. It just underlines to me how important it is to find and spend time with your peoples, the peoples who are on the same journey, who “get it,” and who are in it for the long haul. It’s an effortless and frequently hilarious way to make new friends, not to mention get a lot of art done, eat, and make much merry. 

Tablecloth evolves... (I think this is Russ Cox's section)
And evolves... (Sean Bixby's section)
...and ends up like this.
Thanks so much, Hazel, and to all of you. When are we doing it again?

*Each of these exhibits are running, and are within an hour and twenty minutes of each other in Massachusetts. Well worth the trip.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Book Cover Illustration: My Process for "The Genie's Gift" by Chris Eboch

I have just completed a most enjoyable project: illustrating the cover for author Chris Eboch's new middle grade book, The Genie's Gift, soon to be released, and I thought I'd share my process with you.

Chris provided text from the scene she wanted illustrated and some notes about the characters. In order to get a feel for her taste, get a fuller sense of her vision, and to see if we were on the same page in terms of what we liked (we were), we looked at a variety of middle grade book covers. Pinterest is a wonderful tool for sharing ideas.

I immediately formed an image in my mind, and used Pinterest again (I like to use a “secret” board while I’m actively working on a project), compiling reference images and images whose tone spoke to me in some way.

I wanted to give the genie an imposing air, to have him hanging in the air above the protagonist, and inspiring awe in both her and the viewer. Concurrently, I did some very rough sketches and thumbnails, which I then refined until I’d come up with six possible designs:

Once a design was chosen, I did the line drawing, scanned it in, and threw in some color to further convey my vision to Chris.

Chris had stipulated that the genie not be demonic or scary, and so we settled on this kind of face and expression:

I redrew the line drawing, scanned it in, and then the painting began. I use Corel Painter, which is an extraordinary program. One of many great things about Painter is that you can combine mediums such as pencil, water color, and pastel with oil paints, which you’d have a difficult to impossible time doing with traditional media.
By this stage, Chris had decided she wanted a wraparound cover, so I extended the drawing to the left. The book designer was, of course, involved at various stages along the way as we took various aspects such as title and byline placement into consideration.

Since gold was going to be a predominant color in the painting and would provide warmth, I laid down a gold gradient on the lowest layer (which you’ll note in the image below), with the highlight behind where the genie would sit. On top of this (but under the pencil layer), I began an underpainting, throwing in the basic tones and colors. (I have found Digital Painting for the Complete Beginner by author/illustrator Carlyn Beccia invaluable as I have learned to use this program. The book is equally weighted toward those who prefer to paint using Photoshop.)

And from there, it was a process of layering paint, over many hours, until I achieved the look I wanted. I was very excited about painting his shimmering pants:

Mr. Shimmerpants
 Here’s the very blue-green genie before I did warmer glazes on top. Using cool tones allowed me to give him form without losing light:

Copyright © Marlo Garnsworthy 2013
At multiple stages of the process, I sought feedback from my critique partner and my artist mother, who both provided invaluable input. If you’re serious about illustration or writing, get yourself a good, trustworthycritique partner(s) or group who won’t just say “It’s great” but will lay it on you as it is. So even when you think you might be done…

Copyright © Marlo Garnsworthy 2013

 …you’re probably not, as some trusted other eyes should tell you. 

Here is the image ready for cropping and text. YAY!

Final cover illustration for The Genie's Gift by Chris Eboch
Image Copyright © Marlo Garnsworthy 2013


And here's the cover with text in place:

Learn more about Chris's side of the cover design process in the March/April edition of the SCBWI Bulletin. The Genie's Gift is available HERE

And be sure to visit Chris's website and check out some of her other books. I'd also highly recommend Advanced Plotting, which I have found an excellent resource for working out narrative kinks and strengthening story-line.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Liberation of the “Shitty First Draft” (or Don’t Get Stuck in the Bog)

© Marlo Garnsworthy 2013

Years of editing have taught me a great deal about writing, and I’m very grateful for it. But an editor’s path can be a tricky one when it comes to writing her own book. As so many of you who are inclined toward self-editing will know, it’s so easy to get mired in the morass of perfecting each paragraph in chapters one to three, when you really know you should be leaping with abandon though the narrative.

Anne Lamott, in Bird By Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life (what’s not to love with a title like that?), speaks of the importance of allowing yourself to write “shitty first drafts”:

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep       you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.  

Possibly you, like me, have more than one manuscript that has been well and truly stymied before the halfway mark by agonizing over individual scenes (or, more often, sentences) before you have the basic plot down. If one is lucky enough to feel the rush of love that comes with a new project, one should keep going and not fuss it to death a few steps in. There will be time enough for revision and the subtleties of each phrase later on. Plenty of time to fill in the richer details. Loads of time, in fact, as revision should be at least nine tenths of writing a book. (If you love revision and editing, as I do, that’s great news. But if you’re past the honeymoon phase with your project, or if you never really fell in love in the first place, you’d still be well advised to forge ahead and not edit. You’re already on the edge of a soul-sucking quagmire.)

I'm finding it's very freeing to allow yourself to write stuff that sounds awful (rather like this sentence). I’m taking my own advice on this project I started a few weeks ago, and I’m writing mad wonderful garbage. At least, if I were to read it as an editor, I’d think, “Oh dear, we do have quite a bit of work to do here, possibly starting with the basics of sentence construction, but there’s something special about the story.” But I’m not editing; I’m just getting scraps of scenes down. I’m letting characters say what they want to say even if it’s repetitive or nonsensical right now. I’m catching incomplete impressions, jotting unfinished and ridiculous sentences, and I’m ignoring my spellchecker until the end of each writing session. I’m letting the story reveal itself as I forge about it without stopping—and lo and behold, it is.  

The only time I’m returning to a paragraph is when something additional or better occurs to me in a flash of inspiration as I pass by it. I must admit there have been a few sentences that I have tweaked, but only—and this is the kicker—ONLY when a better way to say something comes to me as part of this naturally energized process, that is, only within the pure flow of inspiration. If I catch myself starting to fuss, I stop and move away from the paragraph or scene. Among other strategies and even more strategies I’ve discussed before, try simply scrolling through the manuscript or through your notes until something else catches your attention. Turn your focus to another scene altogether, whichever tugs you hardest, and then start writing forward afresh. 

Your draft might sound like muck, but you’ll be finding your way across the narrative terrain, though possibly chaotically. Sure, you might arrive muddy, disheveled, feathers askew, but you’ll be creating a map, almost by default, which you can later refine and revise. You’ll know the basic way, relatively quickly, and with MUCH more FUN. It doesn't mean you won’t write some dead-ends on your map along the way, because there will be some, of course. 

Move on through that mucky, messy, probably non-linear first draft, before the energy and the will to make the journey flee. Before you lose sight of what you really wanted to write about. Before the maps for possible plot-lines are so thick around you, you cannot see your way past them. Before you're afraid to even try. Don’t get bogged down planning the trip and what you might need along the way, or whether you even know where your story is going. Start somewhere (wherever you are is just fine), and just get on your way. Because it’s extraordinary how you tend to get where you want to go, if you keep your gaze fixed on the horizon, stare less at the stuff by the wayside... and just start writing.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Out On a Limb

© Marlo Garnsworthy 2013

Beginning another new project has been the very last thing on my to-do list. But phrases have been whispering in my mind, repeating and growing in number, as I go about doing other things. While I scramble some eggs or dump out the compost, phrases have been turning into sentences and racing by me, soon sucking along in their wake characters and flashes of scenes. I’ve found myself clutching my notebook at all times (especially between 1 and 4 AM), pencil to page in sudden, unstoppable bursts in order to capture them before they slip away.

This story is the type that comes out all at once, all scattered little pieces blowing about, beginning, middle, and end all right there just waiting to be caught and shuffled into place. It’s a powerful feeling, when a story comes at you in an unbidden whoosh like this. It makes me chuckle out loud as I write, even though it often comes when I’ve been thinking about things that are hard. When I’m in it, I wish writing were always like that; probably, it would be exhausting if it went on too long.   

But it is magical, rare, and powerful, and feels somewhat like falling in love. But as in any passionate relationship, one comes to the end of that first rush; the flashes of pure inspiration are starting to hint that they might be slowing just a little. I haven’t hit the wall yet, but experience tells me it’s coming. What seemed pure and beautiful has some warts, and sometimes it’s grumpy or uncooperative in the morning. My mother talks about the “13-Week Rule” in relationships—the thirteenth week being make or break time. I’m closer to thirteen days into this story, and I’m pondering: How do we know whether to commit to further exploring and developing a manuscript? How do we know when to let go?

Sometimes you have to break up with a project, I’m convinced. Over time, some projects become, like some relationships, pedestrian, uninspiring, unsurprising, detrimental to your psyche, and ultimately unworthy of continuing. And sometimes you just grow out of them. I’m sure most of us have a few manuscripts like that in the drawer. But sometimes you’re so connected to a project that your belief in its worth doesn’t alter much over time, even though the project itself may have its ups and downs, even though you must step away from it now and then to get some breathing space. 

Have you ever broken up with a project? Did you say goodbye amicably, simply lose interest, or was it a tumultuous separation that left you weeping and gasping? Did you dive straight into another to replace it? Have you gotten back together with a project you thought you’d left behind? Do you juggle several at once? Have you plodded through a literary relationship you dreaded was going nowhere but had invested too much in to drop? Would you rather take the safe route and stick with a project you’re sure to handle easily, or would you dare go out on a limb for the challenge that truly inspires you?

It can be all too easy to retreat when you find yourself in the weeds. Because if you don’t really love the project deeply in some way, you’re making an enormous and somewhat dubious commitment if you decide to marry it despite your ambivalence. So doesn’t making the decision to fully commit to a project come down to how it makes you feel deep down?

I think creating a truly strong manuscript worthy of submission is like having a deep, true love: worth sticking with when things go from pure inspiration to tangled complexity; something you can’t seem to let go of no matter how much easier it would be to do something less challenging; always worth exploring just a little bit longer. And it’s something that won’t let you go in return.

So if you’re brave, you commit to it (as I’ve decided to commit to this story), even though you know it will be pure hard work at times, even when you might not have expected to be writing it, even when you’re not sure how it ends, or even quite what it is. Because, like falling in love, who knows? How often do you experience something mind-blowing? And isn’t that why we’re really doing this? 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Sendakify Project

School Library Journal posted the fun and interesting results of the Sendakify Project today, in which illustrators were invited to depict a scene from a Maurice Sendak book in the style of another illustrator. 

You can see the results here. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Musical Interlude: Running Through Woodland

Picture by me, in the woods near my home.
I am heavily into a new story this long weekend, the kind of story that began whispering phrases at me over a week ago, whispers that grew louder and became sentences wailing at me to write them down. A character and a story appearing almost out of the ether. 

Writing is most enjoyable, and often more powerful, when it comes like that.

So, today, a little writing music. Enjoy.

Monday, September 30, 2013

He Deflected, She Retorted (aka “He Said, She Said” or "Basic Tips for Writing Dialogue")

Image from FFFOUND!

            “Hey there,” whispered Wordy Bird. “I think it’s time we had a little chat.”
“Who? Me?” asked Mr. Flippinflapper.
“Yes, you.” She frowned. “Who else?”
He gulped. “Do you think that’s wise?”    
“I think it’s necessary,” said Wordy Bird, leaning in conspiratorially, “even though we’d both love to avoid it. After all, it’s tricky to talk about—” She snapped her head away and gazed at the steam wheezing out of the Fluff Factory. It was particularly pink and puffy this evening.
“You don’t mean…” His beak slowly dropped open. He grabbed a plate of pickled herrings and thrust it hard toward her. “Here, wouldn’t you like some? They’re scrumptious,” he squeaked.
Wordy Bird took a deep breath and swept aside the suspicious looking fish. She slowly nodded her featherbrained head. “Yes, my dear friend, it’s high time we talked about dialogue.”

Dialogue. We all know it’s important. It connects characters to each other, and gives the interactions between them life. It makes a scene interesting. And of course, it helps show—not tell—who each character really is, what they think, and what they feel.  
This is not intended to be an exhaustive treatise on what makes great dialogue. It is simply a discussion of some of the very basic dialogue issues I very frequently encounter while I’m editing and teaching. What your characters say is up to you. But here are some things to avoid when you’re writing it, some things that will help you self-edit as you revise and develop your manuscript.

Identify the speaker early, especially in dialogue for young people, not at the end of multiple sentences of speech. This is especially pertinent when you have multiple characters in a scene, each of whom might conceivably be speaking. Sometimes, when there are multiple sentences of dialogue without a dialogue tag, if there’s any ambiguity about who might be speaking, I often I assume it is one character and then get an odd little shock to find it was someone else. It makes me stop and backtrack and readjust. It’s jarring. You don’t want anything in your manuscript that catapults the reader out of the story, even for a moment.

Avoid verbose dialogue tags such as responded, interjected, inquired, questioned, and queried. Use said most of the time. Said will disappear into the dialogue, not stick out like the awkward guy at the party, poking the reader in the brain and saying too loudly, “Hey, did you know—I am a dialogue tag. No, really, I am. I mean the same thing as said, but I’m a different word for it! How about that? The laaaaadies love it.” That’s what they always shout to me, and a lot of editors will agree. The dialogue tag’s primary function is to just show us who is speaking. Let them mostly sink away into the background.

Avoid superfluous dialogue tags.
“But I like pickled herrings,” said Mr. Flippinflapper. “Especially red ones. You’ll like them, too,” he continued, stuffing several in Wordy Birdy’s beak. “Won’t you try some?” he asked. “Here,” he said.
Second or third or fourth dialogue tags when the same speaker is still speaking are usually superfluous. You almost always only need one to identify the speaker near the beginning of his/her speech. The exception is when the speaker’s manner of speaking suddenly changes dramatically, for example:
“But I like pickled herrings,” mumbled Mr. Flippinflapper. “Especially red ones. You’ll like them, too.” He stuffed several in Wordy Birdy’s beak. “Won’t you try some?” he squealed.
Sometimes, you won’t need a dialogue tag at all.
Wordy Birdie chewed thoughtfully on the herrings, but something didn’t taste right. She very discretely disposed of them by coughing daintily into her handkerchief. “So, as I was saying about dialogue… shall we discuss grounding it?”

Ground Your Dialogue. Let us see what the characters are doing, with what they are doing it, and where they are as they speak. Nonverbal communication, such as body language, as well as the character’s general behavior, and how they interact with their setting and other characters can give the reader strong cues about their emotional state, what is important to them, and even what they might be trying to avoid.
It is rarely necessary to tell us that Character A looks at Character B while A is speaking to B. That is implied. It’s only worth noting if there’s something interesting or remarkable about the way A is looking B while they’re speaking to them, otherwise just leave the “turning and looking” out. What can be interesting and important is if a character doesn’t look at the person they’re speaking to. That can say a lot about what’s really going on between them, and/or draw attention to whatever is happening around them.   
“Isn’t this wonderful?” said Wordy Bird, twirling around in the sunshine. “Aren’t you glad we had this chat?”
“I am.” Mr. Flippinflapper said, staring long and hard at the herring. He tossed it over his shoulder. It plopped into the pond, scattering the floating autumn leaves. “I suddenly feel much better. That wasn’t so hard after all.”
Wordy Bird watched the bubbles rise to the surface of the murky water and smiled. “I’m glad you agree,” she said. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Musical Interlude: The Lion's Roar

Al little writing music, 
a little life music.

Monday, May 6, 2013


My submission for the poster contest.
Poem "Infirm Pachyderm" by Jane Yolen.

If you’ve been, you know why I’m squealing with delight. If you haven’t, then what I say here can’t possibly fully convey how wonderful it is to spend three days with kid-lit folk, see old friends, meet new ones, and soak up wisdom, energy, and knowledge from so many esteemed writers, illustrators, editors, and agents. I return feeling warmed to my core and full to the brim: with knowledge, with inspiration, and with love for these folk and what we’ve all dedicated our lives to. Full and gushy and overflowing.

I’m also shocked and delighted to be able to say that I won 1st prize in the “published” category of the NESCBWI poster illustration contest. I’m still shaking my head in wonder.

I'm also thrilled and excited to say that my wonderful, extremely talented crit partners and dear friends, Dave Bird and Mary Davison, took out 1st and 3rd in in the "unpublished" category, including Dave winning the major prize of the R.Michelson Galleries Award. Congrats, guys, I'm so, so proud of you. 

Thank you, thank you to the incredibly hard-working and dedicated organizers, faculty, and volunteers who make these conferences possible. You are full to the brim with AWESOME. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Beyond the Wall of Terror

I’m not posting much these days. I started this blog to cure a wretched case of writer’s block, which wasn’t just affecting my writing. It was my visual art, too. It was my visual art especially, in fact, though I wasn’t getting any books finished, either. I’m in a very good creative place these days, and so my spare moments are easily filled with non-blogging creative activity.

But a little over two years ago, being back in this good creative place was all but impossible to imagine. Writing was—at best—difficult, and the mere thought of drawing or painting made me nauseous. I had grown frustrated and desperate creatively, and almost everything I tried to draw or paint (if I even dared try) seemed only to bolster those feelings. I was sitting slumped against the Wall of Terror that causes so much creative paralysis, trying to scramble over it, or using my head as a battering ram. Something had to give, and it was not going to be my desire to make things; it would have to be the Wall.

And then, quite suddenly, just when I really needed it, things began to shift.     
So much of my creative time since then has been about reaching out, opening up, and simply walking through the Wall. I’m finding it’s not that hard if you set a small goal and a firm deadline, and only focus on those. Having strong, like-minded allies is vital, too.

From illustration for NESCBWI poster contest 2013.
Sure, taking a chance, creating your soul out, and exposing your work can be as emotionally treacherous as they are joyful, but on this side of the wall is only stagnation, disappointment, and then bitterness. After all, if life’s end is your only deadline, you can have no concerns about making it.

I am off to the New England SCBWI regional conference on Friday, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve submitted a piece for the poster illustration competition. Huzzah! That fact alone speaks volumes. So if and when I reach it again, I must remember the Wall of Terror is like a membrane—stretchy, transparent, and porous; just look a little beyond it and push gently.