Yap Ye Iswa Swamp Festival

Since moving to South Carolina, I've been working with members of the Catawba Nation to try to set up workshops to help the Catawba share their myths and stories in picture book manuscripts appropriate for publication through new imprints like Heartdrum at HarperCollins - specializing in books featuring First Nations people and communities. Several fellow faculty have joined me on this endeavor and after many meetings (and Covid), we're getting closer to making this a reality. Because the Catawba people have lots of stories to tell and very few have been shared in books. In the meantime, I didn't want to miss the Yap Ye Iswa Swamp Festival at the Catawba Nation on a recent, gorgeous fall day.
I met up with Casey Cothran (former English Chair at Winthrop University), Casey's friend and New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis, and Laura Gardner (Professor Emeritus of Book Making). Here they are with a totem pole featuring local Yehasuri - mysterious creatures of the forest.
We ate fry bread, bought jewelry and books, and ate roasted corn. But the main reason for attending was to watch the dances. Alongside the resonating sound of drumming and singing, the women did a Bird Dance.
A man did a Warrior Dance.
But my fave was the Ribbon Dancers (?). Their job was to flatten the grass to create a good performance area. Their costumes rippled with their stomping.
We had a marvelous time.
And I made a new friend.
I'm trying not to say 'no' to much right now. I don't know what life will look like going forward without Stan, but I know I have more adventures ahead, partly to honor all the fun he and I had together.

Visiting Jane in Massachusetts

This is my first post since sharing the news about losing my sweet husband. I was reluctant to let that post sink from the top listing, but life must go on and I have to get back into the rapid river of it all...
      I was already slated to visit Jane Yolen, author of over 400 books, in Hartfield, Massachusetts via a funded research grant for a project she and I are working on. (I illustrated three of her picture books.) The tickets were purchased, and the trip was arranged before my life went pear-shaped. Jane and Heidi Stemple (Jane's daughter, manager, and author of over 40 books) encouraged me to come anyway, despite the rawness of my emotional state. Jane lost her husband (and Heidi's father) 20 years ago. "We know grief." I thought the change of scenery, and the hugs, might do me good - so I went. It was the right thing to do.
      That said, the initial plan was to just go hang out and attend a book signing on Saturday. And then Jane's schedule did what it does... it grew, until it was positively jam-packed! Jane is a hard woman to keep up with. At 83, she has more energy than most people half her age, and she is in demand!
     Friday night, she hosted an illustrators’ critique group at her house - Phoenix Farm - mostly led by my dear friend Ruth Sanderson. It was fun to look at people’s work and make some new friends.
Saturday, we drove towards Boston for the book signing at The Silver Unicorn, that was packed with kids, parents, and budding children's book creators.
I even signed a few books!
The manager, Casey Robinson is the author of the new Iver & Ellsworth, that made me cry, so I had to buy it (it's about loss and healing). She's also Heidi’s writing mate, and she was so nice - I loved her immediately.
We all went to lunch afterwards at a cute little restaurant, Not Your Average Joe's, that was very good. The first thing the waitress asked is “are there any food allergies I need to be aware of?” OMG! NOBODY in the south does that! Otherwise, Peter Tacy, Jane's new/old-ish beau, cooked for us every night - and he’s a very good cook - a lot like Stan - steak, chicken, lamb with veggies and potatoes - yum. They make a good pair.
I walked on the dike that runs along the Connecticut River Sunday morning. It was drizzly and grey and suited my mood - lovely. Although, I did get stared down by a cow.
Jane and I finally had our sit down to talk about our project after that. We came up with some good, workable ideas that I'll be implementing. (Can't really share right now - top secret!)
      Sunday late afternoon was the annual children’s book show opening (first time since Covid) at the R. Michelson Gallery. It was jam-packed with Caldecott winners and authors. I was thrilled to be able to pose with the published attendees.
No wonder they all want to live up there! It's a creative triangle formed by The Eric Carle Museum, the Norman Rockwell Museum, and the Dr. Seuss Museum! The concentration (and support) of talent in Massachusetts is truly impressive - like nowhere else. For instance, here is my dear friend Lauren Mills with some of her gorgeous work. (She recently lost her husband too, illustrator and professor Dennis Nolan. I taught alongside both of them at Hollins University.)
I was rather glad we were all wearing masks as noone could tell I was gaping like a goldfish!
Monday, Lin Oliver (author and founder of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) flew from Los Angeles to film/interview Jane for six hours for a new Legacy series they are creating - interviews with some of the greats in children's literature. (Jane was also a founding member of SCBWI.)
      While they were filming during the day, Ruth took me on a tour of her studio, which I'd somehow never visited before. Here she is with some work from her newest book, A Storm of Horses.
Here's her scratchboard set-up.
Truly, the amount of museum-quality work in Ruth's home is overwhelming. This is just a small portion of her work in storage.
After visiting her home, Ruth and I went to downtown North Hampton. It's an adorable town with five colleges within a short distance, so it is thriving. We went to the gorgeous Forbes Library to scout a space where she’ll have an upcoming exhibit, and visited the sprawling and welcoming children's floor. We also had lunch at a little hippie cafe, Haymarket Cafe, that was fun. We had a lovely time.
     When we got back to Jane’s they were just wrapping up the interview. Lin gave me a big hug and asked all about how I was doing and what I was up to. She is such a love. When you talk to her, it's like the sun has turned to face you directly.
     Here are Heidi, Me, Ruth, Lin, and Jane.
And one of my faves of me and Jane.

     Tuesday morning, Heidi and I went for a lovely, COLD, walk around Hartfield.
I showered, packed, and Jane and Peter drove me to the airport. The trip was a whirlwind, but I was sorry to leave. Throughout it all, I took a lot of naps, but I kept waking up at 3:30am. Heidi called it “The Goddess Hour” - I like that.
     Stan wasn't planning to be with me on this trip anyhow, so the pangs hit when I wanted to call him and tell him about everything going on... and, of course, when I returned home - with a cold. It's not been easy, but I'm lucky to have so many good friends in my life to help see me through this tough time. Especially my friends in Massachusetts.

Stan Dulemba (February 25, 1961 - November 2, 2022)

Deep breath... it's time to share... Wednesday, I lost my husband of 21 years, Stan Dulemba. I am heartbroken. It's such a strange time of grief and joy as friends from all over the world have rushed to my side to offer love and support. Everyone loved Stan and repeatedly call him "A Lovely Man." He was, he was. I am in the process of creating a memorial page on my website at https://dulemba.com/Stan and information about his upcoming Celebration of Life on December 10th can be found at https://fb.me/e/2ZL9Sd2Oy. Please keep us both in your hearts.
Dear friend and author Jane Yolen wrote a poem in tribute...
There Was Stan
A lovely man, we all said,
but Elizabeth knew best:
the once lively mind,
the rider in the wind,
the cook and bed warmer,
the hand to hold,
that wonderful laugh,
the constant love.

Lovely yes.
But so much more.


Publishers Weekly: “Covid, Inclusivity, and Mindfulness: Three Years of Picture Book Trends”

My article, “Covid, Inclusivity, and Mindfulness: Three Years of Picture Book Trends,” was the lead story in Publisher's Weekly yesterday - woohoo!!! A LOT of hard work went into writing this and Publishers Weekly is the top news source for the publishing industry. I'm SO proud!1!

Logan Kline's FINDING FIRE

I was blown away when Candlewick sent me a copy of Logan Kline's FINDING FIRE. It's a mostly wordless and gorgeously-illustrated account of something we take for granted today - easy access to fire for heat and cooking when we need it. Logan stopped by to tell me more about this very special picture book about reslience and friendship with some wonderful insights about how picture books work. Read on!

e: How do you approach your craft, and how might your thoughts or this book help readers do things or think about things differently?
When it comes to making a picture book I want to say something that may not sound right but I think that it is true; words and art do not need each other. There are many great books out there that do not need illustrations. There are many great works of visual art that would not be enhanced if we wrote a few choice words on them. That said, we obviously enjoy putting words and images together… we do it all the time… for lots of different reasons. The paradox of picture books is that you are trying to create a situation where two things that do not need each other, find themselves in a desperate need of one another. All for the sake of a task that can range from poignantly simple to gobsmackingly complicated… I’m talking about telling a story to small children. A demographic that is notoriously fickle and impatient (tough words, yes… but you know it’s true). The real challenge to the craftsmanship of the artist and writer is creating a situation that does not feel forced. For me, this comes as the result of a great deal of revision.

e: What was your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
Typically it starts with a graphite drawing, made up of mostly light outlines and strategically placed cross hatching. This drawing is then scanned at the highest resolution I can manage. After that, there are several digital techniques that are completed almost exclusively in Adobe Photoshop. The amount of layers I utilize is fairly extreme. My art director at Candlewick found my Photoshop files unusable (a fact that I devilishly take delight in). The detail you see above is from a file that is 11.68 gigabytes… for some unhealthy reason I take pride in that.

The traditional components of page 35 are scanned and digitally combined.

e: What was your path to publication?
Finding Fire started with a sketch of a Prehistoric child, a little boy. He had a lot of charm and charisma right off the bat (that is not always the case with the characters that I design). It only took a few attempts to get him ‘right’. He was a fusion of my two sons; my eldest's wild hair and my youngest’s wiry frame. In the beginning, this was accidental but I embraced it once I started rendering him in the way that he would appear in a finished illustration. After that, the basic story almost wrote itself…it just tumbled out of me in one quick session. It was rather organic and it blended a lot of my interests into one compact story. It was not long until I had a rough version sketched out in the form of a storyboard. Once it seemed to be working as a story, I let my agent know that I might have a picture book concept ready to go. I pitched her the idea, we reviewed the rough sketches and she agreed that I had something worth pursuing. It was two and a half years before we had a dummy book that was truly ready to submit to publishers. That may seem like a long time but keep in mind I was a full time teacher and I had two young sons that I was raising with my wife. And candidly, my agent (Ronnie) and I were keenly aware of the competitive market for picture books. If we received a rejection, it was not going to be because we were careless or made poor decisions about pacing or page turn. Oddly enough I worked really hard on the written aspect. Ronnie was always pushing me to reduce the word count, to boil the writing down to the most essential words. If only we knew at that time what was in store for the words of Finding Fire.

The first treatment of “the boy” and “the creature”. Taken from their first appearance in my sketchbook more than 5 years ago.

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of FINDING FIRE?
Yes, originally Finding Fire had words (throughout the entire book). Here’s an example of pages 34 & 35. The first version is from the dummy book that I submitted to Candlewick Press. You can clearly see that it had text. The second version is the spread as it appears in the finished book… wordless.

Originally Finding Fire was presented to publishers with words. The dummy book had 140 words used sparingly but throughout the entire book. The final published version has 30 words, all on the third page of the book.

      My editor, Kaylan, started asking about the possibility of going “nearly wordless” shortly after we submitted the dummy book. I love wordless books so it’s rather amusing to me that I was so resistant to the idea. I take pride in my effort to explore all options when working out an illustration project. Yet after several requests I had to admit…I had not really explored the possibility of a wordless version of the book. What if that was the better version? So, I reworked the dummy book, removed all text (except the opening line) and showed the new nearly wordless version to my wife (who was in truth my first editor and art director). I still remember those first moments as she thumbed through the book “I hate to say it hun…it’s better without the words”. I took a deep breath and never looked back. Kaylan was right…the images told the story better.

e: Love it! What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
I think my whole life has been an attempt to figure this out and after 45 years of making art, I can say with the utmost certainty; I have no idea whatsoever. Now don’t get me wrong, I have some strong instincts in regards to this endeavor but it is far from a science. I do know that everything I make, absolutely everything, is an attempt to produce what I think you are referring to as “heart art”. I’m really hoping my work connects with a variety of people and is cherished by them. I do not like the idea that someone would walk by my work and not pick it up. I work really hard to make artwork that is sincere and accessible.

The very first illustration I created for my picture book, Finding Fire.

e: How do you advertise yourself (or do you)?
With a lot of discomfort and awkwardness. This may be my least favorite part of being an illustrator and now author/illustrator. Don’t get me wrong, I have a website and an agent… I’m on Instagram… I manage okay. But advertising myself… yuck. Instead, It’s better for me to focus on promoting my work. In turn, this becomes much easier if I think of promotion as a means towards connecting kids with books.

e: What is your favorite part of being a creator?
Until recently it was a toss up between a few aspects. One…I’m never bored, never. I don’t even know what that feels like. In fact, give me hours of unscheduled time, empty sheets of paper, with nothing to do and I will fill every minute of that day and be ready to repeat for the rest of the month. No TV, no internet, nothing and I’m still good. Two, problem solving…especially with picture books. You always have too much to say and not enough space to say it in. It’s like a puzzle and the box is missing the cover. What a satisfying moment to have when you finally figure it out. I will often emerge from my studio yelling, “I love being an illustrator!” Three, is just the sheer delight of seeing something that was only in my head…suddenly materialize in the form of an illustration. Have you ever tried to tell someone about an amazing dream that you had, only to watch their eyes glaze over as you describe it? As an artist, you can show other people your dreams and not bore them. They may even pay you real money to show them more of your dreams. That said, each of these has been overshadowed considerably in my mind. The photos below show my new favorite part of being an illustrator; sharing my book directly with children.
I’ve participated in three signings with Finding Fire and two were at events where no one knew me and they had certainly never heard of Finding Fire. Watching children connect with my characters from across a lawn or at a busy fair is incredibly rewarding. And on top of that, to see them become immersed in a story that I worked on for so long...I don’t have the words for how grateful I am for that. Win, lose or draw…shame on me if I ever forget how lucky I was to see this happen right in front of me.

e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
I’m fascinated by the lives that people had long before we were recording our history. I think about the millions and millions of stories that will never be known, of people who survived through their own ingenuity and resourcefulness. How keenly knowledgeable they needed to be of a very real, raw, dangerous and tactile world around them. I think about how important it must have been to pass on knowledge and information. I think about how their definitions of parent and educator were probably indistinguishable. These notions are not critical to the story of Finding Fire, but they did motivate me as I worked on it.

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
I have four stories that I’m mulling over. One is about a Neanderthal girl who just might change the world, the other is a modern day Sasquatch child who does not follow the rules, the third is about a monarch butterfly whose white wings are not the only unusual thing about it, and the fourth is a secret…(my editor doesn’t even know about this one).

e: I can't wait to see more of your fabulous stories!

Coming up: SCBWI ALASKA!!!

I have been invited to talk to the Alaska chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators on Saturday, December 3rd, for their "Making Waves 2022 Online Illustrator Event" and give portfolio reviews, picture book dummy reviews, and graphic novel feedback!
How I wish this one was going to be in person - I've never been to Alaska; but I'll take the next best thing - talking to people in Alaska! And I'll be part of an impressive line-up including Will Terry of SVS, Julie Robine from Union Square Kids, Rachel Orr of The Prospect Agency, illustrator/designer Eugenia Mello, and illustrator/animator Young Vo. Heck, I'm looking as forward to attending as I am to talking! Click the banner to learn more and register. I hope to see you there!

SCBWI Carolinas Conference!

Last weekend I had the great pleasure to speak at the Carolinas chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.org).
It was hosted at the Hilton Charlotte Airport, where I had a lovely suite to call home for a weekend! Can you say "writer's retreat"? I sure did! But first, on Friday, I gave a talk about "Color: Identifying Your Personal Color Palette" - a topic I'm beginning to get known for and received compliments for all weekend. It had great attendance, and as so often happens, several people reported that knowing their personal color palette changed their lives! No kidding, it can be that significant! I also gave a portfolio review, which is always fun, although, is never enough time.
     I didn't take nearly enough pictures of the weekend, and the photos I did take are terrible, so my apologies on not providing better visuals for this post. But that just wasn't what this weekend was about for me.
     I did attend some wonderful talks. For instance, my friend Ashley Belote talked about using Procreate.
And LeUyen Pham, illustrator of over 100 books, who was also a lovely and dynamic person, gave one of the best talks about perspective that I've ever seen!

     But truly, being able to attend a conference again, in person, was such a JOY, I spent most of my time connecting and having wonderful conversations with people like Maya and Matt Myers, Stacy McAnulty, LeUyen Pham, Jake Burnett, Ashley of course, and Cinda Williams Chima in particular, or just hanging out in the lobby writing. (I finished two projects!) I wasn't trying to get published, or connect with the editors/agents/publishers - I already knew them and we all got to say "hi!" I wasn't trying to push my work because I already have enough to keep me busy for a lifetime (mostly mine and Jane's). So, I just got to relax and really enjoy myself and all the brilliant people attending the conferences - including some of my friends from Southern Breeze, my old SCBWI chapter - it was so good to see them! I even made connections with some amazingly talented people who I hope to invite to speak to my students sometime soon, like Caldecott-winner Gordon C. James, who, it turns out, lives in Charlotte!
     Truly, the weekend was all about people, and writing, and I didn't want it to end. But of course, that's why I so look forward to these conferences... I had such a great time!

#WomensWave 2022

I was so proud to be a part of the 2022 Women's March in Charlotte. I wore my shwag and was interviewed by the news channels!

You can see the news clip on Youtube at https://youtu.be/Slra6SrDcoY . See more photos at https://photos.app.goo.gl/sCk3XJprcq9p9yJo6 .