Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Last Salute to Tricycle Press

I want today to express my sadness that after this week Tricycle Press will be ‘shuttered’. Tricycle, the children’s imprint of Ten Speed Press (founded by Philip Wood in 1971) was launched in 1993 and bought by Random House in 2009. The announcement of their closing was made just this last November. The 31st of this month will be their last day. It was a shock. I had known about this fine little (formerly) independent publisher for years and they were always on my list of houses I’d like to send submissions. They had an excellent reputation and an excellent track record. I signed with them before they were bought by Random House. I hoped the inevitable changes that would take place would only be for the good and that what was special about Tricycle would not change. I can’t have ill feeling towards Random House. They put out excellent, beautiful books.

The reality is that publishing books is a business and closing Tricycle was a business decision. I just wish the reality included keeping the fine imprints that are willing to take on some of the unusual and eclectic projects that Tricycle has been known for. Tricycle published really interesting books, award-winning books, quirky and eclectic books. They did multicultural books, books about the environment, books with GLBT themes. They bought my own book Signed, Abiah Rose – a wordier-than-usual picture book, kind of girls’ lib – at a time when picture books were getting shorter.

There are still independent houses and some great little independent-minded imprints. I hope we all will support them. There should be room for little publishing houses as well as the giants of publishing. There’s a place for all of them. Hopefully the backlist will be supported (that’s where my book is!) Hopefully the books that were in varying degrees of production will be published. For myself, it had looked like I might have a second book with Tricycle… a manuscript was under consideration and my editor and I had spent a lot of time working on it. I was hoping for a second experience with them as pleasant as I’d had with Abiah.

Many writers and many illustrators have had their imprints close, their editors move, their books orphaned, their projects abandoned. But it’s always sad and every time an imprint or a house closes down there’s fewer places for us writers and illustrators.

I salute all the brave, creative, progressive, innovative small publishers who are marching to a different drummer and not blending in with what may turn out to be one huge homogenized interchangeable publishing business.

So goodbye to a great little house, and good luck to all the fine and talented people who were Tricycle Press – especially my very excellent, generous, talented editor, Abigail Samoun.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Noah’s Ark at The Skirball --A fun and Creative Place for Children

The Skirball Cultural Center has an amazing permanent award-winning site for children (and everyone else!) – their very creative imagining of Noah’s Ark.


I recently visited for the first time and it won’t be the last!

Illustration from Signed, Abiah Rose

I had spent some time 18 months ago thinking about, researching and painting my ark illustration for Signed, Abiah Rose.
I wish I had visited the Skirball ark first. It would have put me in the right frame of mind for my endeavor!

There’s a lot to look at aboard their gigantic wooden ark, especially the wonderful hand-crafted animals.

There are also hands-on things to do, storms to ‘conduct’ and rafters to climb as you involve yourself in the whole experience of this fanciful and whimsical world.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dreams, Obstacles and Goals – Continued

Since the beginning of the new year I have attended four meeting of writers and illustrators where the topic of conversation was our new year’s 'resolutions'—our mission statements. There was a repetition of advice at each meeting which was good, because apparently we humans often don’t do very well in keeping our new year’s promises to ourselves.

The suggestions of all four of these creative meetings are very do-able. I believe that if I don’t understand the process after discussing it four times in two weeks there’s no hope for me! I’ll address this subject in future posts to see if I am putting any of these good ideas into practice!

Below is a collection of good ideas and quotes gleaned from my marathon of resolution meetings.

Writer to Writer—Catherine Linka’s monthly writer’s group at the Flintridge Bookstore.

• “If you know your dreams you know your direction.”

• Verbalize your dreams so you know what you’re aiming for. Recognizing your obstacles and look for solutions, changing what you can and naming your goals, making sure they are realistic and measureable by setting a deadline.

LA FAN (Los Angeles Fine Arts Network)—my fine arts painting group, founded by Belgin Kaya Wedman.

• Dream, recognize obstacles and make achievable goals. (Yes, it’s the same message)!

• Re: Obstacles: If I am sabotaging myself or resisting success, why? How am I doing that?

• Be specific about goals and what’s stopping us from achieving them.

• Cut out distractions. Narrow the focus. Do the work

Westside SCBWI Writer’s Schmooze—Coordinators Lee Wind and Rita Crayon Huang

• “Hope is not a plan” was the well named topic of the discussion. We used writer Holly Black’s exercises for our discussion of “dreams, internal opposition and internal resources to overcome that opposition” and named short term and long term goals—(keeping them realistic). Yes, different words, but same message!

• “You want something, you go for it despite opposition and you win, lose or draw… but really you win no matter what because you’re changed by the journey!“ Because you’ve done the work and have something to improve upon….

Westside Illustrator’s Schmooze—Coordinator Suzy Engleman Block

• Set SMART goals—which means goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time Based

• Baby steps are a good idea. ”Success is a result of achievements in small increments.”

• “At the moment of commitment the universe conspires to help you.” Goethe

So the consensus is:

Dream. “Begin with the end in mind” but also set realistic goals, SMART ones. “Let go of the outcome and work with energy to attain our goals!”

Yes, it’s the same message! And a good one.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Experimenting and Journaling at The Skirball -- My Design on a Journal Project Cover

Ten years ago a designer named Brian Singer had the idea to have various artists decorate the covers of a series of blank journals (1000) and then he sent them off around the world with the invitation to journal. So far the original journals have travelled through 40 countries. Poetry, musings, scribbles and lovely works of art now grace these modest little books.

Right now the Skirball Cultural Center has an exhibit of 15 of those original journals. The project is still on-going – the next batch of journals (the 1001 journals) have cover art by several Los Angeles based artists. The books have circulated around the city and then gone back to the Skirball to be added to by visitors to the cultural center. They will be added to a number of new volumes already launched to continue Singer’s dream of journal-sharing.

The exhibit will be at the Skirball until February 13, and if you can get there before the books continue on their way around the world, you can draw, write or add collages onto the pages of the books (art materials are supplied!) and there’s a wonderful sense of fun and creativity in the room, which has work areas, supplies and even a couch where you can create in comfort. The point of this project? To be creative and to promote understanding, interaction and connection between people all over the world. 
Winning Cover Design (image on right)

In December I joined other SCBWI members for an afternoon visit to the Skirball. We met Jason Porter, the co-curator (and SCBWI member) of the 1000 Journals Project exhibition. We each created journal pages -- it was fun to see each other’s work and I found them all to be excellent! Then we voted on our favorites. I’m pleased to say my design won, and it will be on the cover of one of the journals which will go on to “destinations unknown.”

Check out more photos on the Skirball's flickr site....

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cats on Wednesday -- (Actually Saturday) at ALA Mid-Winter Conference

I'm always happy to see cats -- anywhere -- whether real or otherwise.

At the ALA Conference in San Diego Saturday I came across these delightful cat characters brought to 'life' -- Splat, Pete and Skippyjon.

I couldn't resist taking their pictures!

Splat the Cat (Rob Scotton, author); Pete the Cat (Eric Litwin, author; James Dean, illustrator);  Skippyjon Jones (written/illustrated by Judy Schachner).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

American Library Association’s Mid-Winter Conference in San Diego

On Saturday I attended the American Library Association’s Mid-Winter Conference in San Diego. The exhibition hall was filled with librarians, publishers, writers and illustrators enjoying the displays and (like me) loading themselves down with free ARCs, posters and publisher’s catalogs as well chatting with each other. Emphasis among the publishing houses seemed to be on YAs, but I particularly enjoyed the picture book displays. I was gratified to see my own book, Signed Abiah Rose, on display at the Random House booth.

It’s always nice to see familiar faces at such an event—Candace Ryan and Mina Javaherbin were there, Caroline Arnold was signing Polar Bear’s World, and Sherry Shahan was dressed in pretty purple 60s hippy attire in honor of her book Purple Haze, which she was there to sign. Arthur Levine and Dan Santat were chatting and checking out the booths. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. There was the occasional piece of cake or petit four or glass of champagne to energize those of us with tired feet or sore shoulders from toting heavy goodie bags.

It was a fun and enlightening day and a good chance to speak to librarians and publishers alike, and then of course Monday the ALA youth awards were announced! Here’s a few of the awards. I enjoyed both reading tweets and then (once I located the site) seeing the naming of the Caldecott and Newbery award winners just as they were announced! Very fun.

• The Newbery Award was won by Moon over Manifest, written by Clare Vanderpool.
• The Caldecott went to A Sick Day for Amos McGee, illustrated by Erin E. Stead, written by Philip C. Stead.
• The Geisel award was won by Bink and Gollie, written by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile.
Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi, took the Printz award.

You can find the rest of the awards listed here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Heidi Illustration Challenge from Tomie dePaola

The theme of Tomie dePaola's annual SCBWI contest was to illustrate the first paragraphs of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi. Not knowing whether I would have time to finish my entry by the deadline (just before the holidays), I resolved to make the attempt – if only as an exercise.

As well as the problem of dealing with a classic character many are familiar with (in this case I consider Jesse Wilcox Smith’s beautiful illustrations for the 1922 edition to be perhaps the most loved) I believe the very text chosen to be illustrated to be a problem. Spyri tells us where Heidi is going and with whom, describes the terrain and her outfit (both in elaborate detail), gives her age and even her complexion. With so much spelled out, and with Jesse Wilcox Smith’s illustration of the scene fixed in my mind, how was I to portray the scene in a different manner? Indeed a challenging contest idea from Mr. dePaola! And did I mention he wanted something unique? I considered portraying Heidi as a tan-faced, rosy-cheeked Swiss mouse or other creature..... but finally approached the challenge by trying several angles of Heidi on her journey up the mountain with her companion. (I’ll show three sketches – there are even more!)

I did not have time to enter the contest and can’t say my preliminary attempts rose to the challenge, but I feel I learned from the process and became even more aware of the difficulties involved in creating characters for classic works of fiction.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cats on Wednesday -- Style: The Many Visions of Puss in Boots

I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite books is Fred Marcellino’s Puss in Boots, whose cover graces my computer screen. I recently came across one of the most famous portrayals of the iconic cat character. Gustave Doré’s wonderful engravings were done for an 1883 edition of Charles Perrault’s 17th century classic. (Interesting fact: Perrault was the brother of the designer of the façade of the Louvre!) Apparently the story of the courageous, crafty and clever cat who defeats a horrible ogre was written by Perrault as a parody of the musketeer stories of his time. Illustrators have long enjoyed creating new versions of the brave cat, but still stay rather close to the Doré version – the tall cavalier boots, the plumed hat, the insouciant look.

An illustrator faces a great challenge when re-envisioning a familiar, much-loved, classic literary character. The excellent interpretations of Fred Marcellino, and the delightful animated version in Shrek 2, are distinctive in their own way while still bringing Doré’s early version to mind.

On tomorrow’s post I’ll show several sketches I recently finished as an exercise, showing my attempts to address the problem faced by the Puss in Boots illustrators. As I sketched I attempted to depict another iconic figure – the heroine of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dreams, Obstacles and Goals

On the second day of the New Year Catherine Linka, the founder of Writer2Writer, met with fellow writers (including me!) to discuss the way forward in 2011. The over-used phrase ‘new year’s resolution’ did not come into our conversation, but our discussion was definitely about resolve, about what we want as writers, and what is realistic to try to achieve as goals this next year. Catherine stressed the importance of actually verbalizing what we want to have happen: “If you know your dreams, you know your direction”. We each wrote down a dream we have involving our writing, and read each others’ aloud (anonymously) so that our individual dreams were actually verbalized.

Next we discussed the obstacles we face, writing them down, sharing them (anonymously again) and discussing possible solutions. It wasn’t a surprise that there was quite a similarity of difficulties in all our lives. It was helpful to be able to discuss them and to try to think of useful advice for such issues as too many claims on our time, dealing with discouragement, our own perfectionism, and achieving self-discipline. When we discussed our third topic -- goals for the new year -- we agreed it’s very important to set goals we can achieve, goals that are measurable. Finishing that novel by a certain date and submitting our work to an agent or editor are examples of realistic goals. Our own hard work, innovation and dedication are what we can control. Worthy goals for 2011.

I believe it was a very helpful, encouraging and positive meeting, and a great way to start the New Year!