Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Women’s History Month -- 19TH Century Women Folk Artists….what inspired Signed, Abiah Rose

Years ago I saw a wonderful PBS documentary by Mirra Bank called Anonymous Was A Woman.
Largely told through old diaries and letters, the film was about mostly unknown, unsung women artists in 18th and 19th century America.  In the accompanying book one woman spoke of the 25 years of hopes, fears, joys and sorrows, loves and hates she put into the making of a quilt.  Another expressed the belief that eventually it would not be strange for women to step off the beaten path, to be preachers, or sculptors.  Everyone coming later would find their path easier.  She’d worked all her life but most of her work was the sort that “perishes with the usin’.”  She wanted to be remembered and appreciated, and thought her quilts would achieve this.

I found these women’s paintings, needlework, fiber arts and drawings remarkably charming.  I was so fascinated and moved by the glimpses into the lives of the women artists in the film and book that I wanted to tell something of their story to children.  Eventually Signed, Abiah Rose would be the result…..

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Signed, Abiah Rose -- in My Hands

My first picture book, Signed, Abiah Rose, will be released June 8!
I had seen F&Gs, but knew there would be color modifications and other small changes and looked forward to seeing the actual book.  So on Friday, when my fabulous editor (Abigail Samoun) handed me an advance copy of my book in person it was quite a treat.  Abigail was passing through on her way to the Orange County writer’s retreat in Temecula, where she was a guest editor.  I had met her briefly at an SCBWI summer conference (before she had read my manuscript), but in the last year and a half we’ve just communicated by e-mail and phone, working together on Abiah.  It was fun to spend time with her, made even better by the surprise of having my very first picture book actually in my hands!  Thank you, Abigail!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Writer to Writer Rocks!

I love independent book stores, and one of my most favorites is the Flintridge Book Store.  Catherine Linka, the children/young adult book buyer (a writer herself), hosts Writer to Writer as an ongoing store event. She has invited writers (picture book to young adult) and illustrators and agents, too, to speak at monthly meetings. I try never to miss this – it’s always enlightening, and fun. Paula Yoo, Alexis O’Neill, Marla Frazee and Dawn Knobbe are just some of the talented speakers.

I don’t write boys’ books, but last month I was glad to hear a couple of experts on boys’ thinking, likes and dislikes. Michael Reisman (the middle grade Simon Bloom series) and Ben Esch (YA Sophomore Undercover) were both instructive and very funny!


Ben, for instance, has an amazing memory for his own childhood experiences, including actual conversations he had and memorable moments in school. For more information, D.M. Cunningham (who takes better notes than I do) has a great entry on his blog.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Re-Created World and a Renaissance Faire Reunion

As a writer I try to create (or re-create) whole worlds with words, as an illustrator I attempt the same with my pictures. In the 60s school teacher Phyllis Patterson and artist Ron Patterson did create a world in three dimensions – a small Elizabethan village faire where craftsmen, food vendors, entertainers and visitors could come together.

And for almost 20 years the fabulous experience of going back in time, believing one was living in the 16th century, and reveling in it, was recreated at Paramount Ranch in Agoura and at Blackpoint in Northern California.

There are still a number of us fanatic and die-hard fans of the Agoura faire! I’ve been meaning to attend the annual (original) Renaissance Faire reunion at the Agoura site for years. Sunday I finally did, and it was wonderful to see the old oak trees again.

Renaissance Faires still exist, all over the country. Starting on April 10 the California ‘first Renaissance Faire’ will start. But it’s not the Patterson’s faire (it was sold years ago) and it’s not at the Agoura site, which is still beautiful but ghost-ridden and has the feel of the lost Brigadoon.

But unlike Brigadoon, it won't return.......

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Women’s History Month -- WWII Fliers and a Timely YA Book

As a child, watching TV and going to Saturday matinees, I saw lots of old WWII movies. Some of them touched on the work of women in the airplane factories and various other war work. I had no idea, however, (as most people didn’t) that the WASPS – Women’s Airforce Service Pilots – didn’t receive the same recognition or awards as their male counterparts. They were considered civilians, though they had been sworn in the same as the male pilots, and if they were killed a collection had to be taken to pay for shipping them home. No flags draped their coffins. In 1944 when they were disbanded they paid their own way home with no honors and no benefits. They were not considered veterans. The approximately 300 survivors out of 1000 are now in their ‘80s and ‘90s. But finally this March 10, when most of the WASPS are long dead, Congressional Gold Medals (the highest congressional honor) were finally awarded to them: long overdue.
A few months ago I attended a very enjoyable talk by writer Sherri Smith at the Flintridge Book Store in LaCanada-Flintridge. Sherri had written a YA novel, Fly Girl, which is about a young black girl who passed for white in the 1940’s so she could join the WASPs. Sherri was inspired to write Fly Girl by a story about the women pilots on NPR. Her fascinating book, which rings true for the period, is about what it took to be a WASP. Even more, it’s about denying one’s true identity and all that means, and deciding who you really want to be. This is a perfect book to read for Women’s History Month, about what a strong and determined young woman can achieve.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Women’s History Month – Hurray for History Detectives!

Saturday Vicki Leon, writer and history detective, gave a talk in honor of Women’s History Month. She was full of information about some fascinating and spunky women in history. Vicki entertained the packed room with stories about a woman general in Ancient Egypt, a very successful counterfeiter in New England, a 17 year who sculpted Lincoln, and many others. Her stories are full of women who did more than what was expected of them, and blazed a trail for future generations of women.
How does Vicki do her research? With hard work and persistence. She says she looks for the trouble-makers in history. And that the best stuff isn’t in the history books….but in letters, diaries, memoirs and works of art. It’s a great area for amateurs, who have a fresh perspective on research. Too many people give up when research gets tough or dull. Persistence is all. It’s a scavenger hunt. Vicki teaches workshops on doing research – from her talk I can imagine what fun that would be!

As a child, as well as wanting to be an artist and writer, I wanted to be an historian. At ten I particularly loved Tudor and Elizabethan history and I read everything I could find on the subject. I went about spouting 400 year old gossip about Court intrigues and misadventures. I would have loved Vicki Leon’s books then. I still do! Hurray for history detectives!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Social Networking – A-Ha Moments in Santa Barbara

A late-comer to the world of computers and all they offer, I decided a crash course in social networking was just what I needed. It’s time to catch up and join the rest of the world of writers and illustrators out in the virtual world.

Writer Alexis O’Neill (SCBWI’s Ventura/Santa Barbara Regional Advisor) organized a great weekend at the Santa Barbara Mission, with a prestigious and generous band of experts: Harold Underdown, Anastasia Suen, Greg Pincus, Lisa Yee and Peepy, and David Boeshaar.

Here are Harold Underdown, with April Halprin Wayland,

the two Gregs (Pincus and Trine),

Lisa Yee...........


and David Boeshaar.

Along with having a great time with the experts and fellow attendees, here are some really helpful things I learned:
  • Start small, be realistic – no one can do it all, so do one thing at a time.
  • It’s an on-going process – you’ll make mistakes: correct them and learn from them.
  • Just keep moving forward – if you fall on your face, at least you’re moving forward.
  • There’s never been a more exciting time to be a writer or illustrator – with social networking, you can have more influence on the success of your work.
  • If you resist, you’ll be left behind!
  • And -- very important! – don’t forget to leave time to create your books and pictures.
My biggest a-ha moments:
  • I can do this! (well….some of it) soon (well….it may take me a while longer…).
  • It’s not that hard! (well…..not too hard).
  • I don’t have to do it ALL at once!
  • Since the retreat fellow attendees Erica Silverman, Mary Ann Fraser and Caroline Arnold have produced trailers for their books. Thanks to the instruction of David Boeshaar, and Tina Nichols Coury’s helpful input, I think I could do one now!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Questions Answered by the Fabulous SCBWI

I would give a testimonial for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) at the drop of a hat. Though I live in California, I discovered this wonderful organization years ago while studying with Uri Shulevitz in New York State. Other class members told me I had this group right in my own back yard! Since then I’ve been a regular conference/workshop attendee. I joined a wonderful schmooze group of really generous, fun writers and illustrators, and we have continued to learn and grow together.

When I joined SCBW (before they added the “I”) I had a ton of questions about the children’s literature field, and publishing in general. They were all answered through SCBW(I) and every year I learn something new. Quality starts at the top, and Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser have done what seems impossible: create a possibly (dare I say it?) perfect organization. Well, it seems that way to me!

By the way, I sold my first book because of SCBWI. It came to the attention of my editor at a summer conference year before last….but I was a fan of SCBWI long before that!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Women's History Month -- Artists, Known and Unknown

I want to start my web-log with a celebration of Women's History Month -- particularly women artists in history.  My mother was an artist and Art was her passion and her profession all her life.  When I was a child her portrait of me was exhibited in the Dallas Museum of Fine Art, but in the adjoining rooms of the museum I don't remember seeing any paintings by women artists hanging among the Peter Paul Rubens and the Vincent Van Goughs.  Because of my mother I knew talent wasn't dependent on gender, so where were the women's paintings in the museums?  Eventually I discovered the Morisots, Cassatts and O'Keefes, but the famous women artists seemed few and far between.  You can go through an entire book of famous paintings and not find even one.  So here's to women artists of the past, including the many women folk artists -- those who are known and the many who never signed their names.  This subject has been close to my heart for years -- especially in the last year while I worked on my picture book, Signed, Abiah Rose.  And here's to today's women artists (not history yet!), especially my fellow illustrator and painter pals.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My First Post!

I've achieved my life-long dream of being the published author/illustrator of a children's picture book. It's about a girl who wants to be allowed to sign her art. I'm here to share some thoughts on art, artists and their dreams.