Black & Orange!

     Penelope does it again!
     The creator of the insanely popular Illustration Friday (which I try to participate in almost every Friday - you can check out my submissions HERE) has created yet another "I must participate!" creation. This one is called Black & Orange. It's a gallery of Halloween themed art, with judges and everything.
     I reworked a piece I originally did in colored pencil several years back. I always liked this piece, but the more I stared at it, the more the weak spots screamed at me, so I pulled it into Painter and reworked it. I think I can live with it for a while longer, although I ought to change . . .
     But don't just look at my piece - there are some truly wonderful submissions in Black & Orange. And if these don't get you in the mood for the ghosts and ghoulies this evening - I don't know what will!
Happy Halloween Y'all!

Pumpkin Carving!

We had our annual pumpkin carving party Saturday. I've been throwing this party for about seven years now, and it's always so much fun. Everybody gets gooey and messy. We roast the pumpkin seeds and then line up the gallery. Here are some of this year's creations with neighbors, Isaac (Buzz Light-Year) and Hannah (witchie), to show them off. I love Halloween!!

Illustration Friday: Wind

Wippee! This week's theme fits with this piece I just finished for a friend. The wind is carrying their balloon away, when they suddenly realize, they don't know how to get down! To see a larger version, click HERE.

Real Beauty

Wow. You've got to see THIS. It's about how "real beauty" gets distorted in our society.
I knew about make-up, and I even knew about photoshopping out imperfections, but this goes beyond. They change the size of the girls eyes, the length of her forehead, the length of her neck, etc. The end result may as well not even be a real human.

SCBWI Southern Breeze Fall Conference

     Wow. I arrived home Sunday, unpacked, then fell on my bed. That was all she wrote.
     What a great weekend. This is going to be hard to cover (and I'm still tired so please forgive the sloppy writing), but I'll try.
     My traveling buddy, Liz Conrad, arrived about 2:00pm on Friday and we headed west. The party in Birmingham started almost immediately after we reached the hotel with a faculty dinner followed by a dessert party. The room was filled with fellow writers, and I was surprised and thrilled at how many were already friends, such as Alan Gratz, Robyn Hood Black, Diane Z. Shore, Hester Bass, and Vicky Alvear Shecter. (Pooh, I know I'm missing somebody!) For the rest, I put faces with names from the message boards, and made some new friends too. Ami Blackford was assigned as my "Angel." Too funny, they didn't know we were already friends!
     Saturday started early. I shared a quick breakfast with the dynamic and highly-respected literary agent, Rosemary Stimola. Mary Ann Taylor drove several of us to the school to start our busy day. Editor Alexandra Penfold (of Paula Wiseman Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster), gave a great keynote, and the speakers for the day were introduced. . . including me. I have to admit, I was honored and incredibly humbled to be introduced with this group of amazing speakers. Wow.
     We headed to the classrooms and I gave my "Nuts and Bolts" talk first thing. My handouts were waiting in the classroom, which was soon full of attendees. It's so fun to share this information, and there's so much I want to share! I definitely got my "teacher fix." It's not an "I know so much, I must teach you!" kind of feeling (I swear). It's a "isn't this cool!?" kind of feeling. I would be a teacher if I wasn't doing children's books. I really do love it. Several people came up to me afterwards saying how much they appreciated my talk, so I was glowing.
     From there I rushed in to John Margeson's talk on creating characters. John is the talented book designer for Darby Creek Publishing and designed the award winning "Wild Dogs" written by my bud, Kelly Milner Halls.
     We filled the cafeteria to overflowing for lunch. Afterward, we had a book signing. Each of the published authors (and illustrators) had an assigned seat, and I signed several copies of "Glitter Girl and the Crazy Cheese." While we were signing, they announced the winners of the recent Southern Breeze Writing and Illustrating Contest. I was surprised and thrilled when they mentioned my honorable mention for "Queen Bea." They also did a call out for Liz's Third Place Illustration contest win. Wippee!
     Back to the classrooms, I attended Alexandra's talk, "Nothing Wrong with Self Promotion." Alexandra came to editing from a background in publicity, and it has made her an astute editor. Kind of like my years of graphic design which help me enormously in my current career, I imagine she has an edge above other editors with her background.
     I also attended Jen Weiss Handler's "Pitch Letters" session. It was a laid back exchange of valuable thoughts and opinions, and I was surprised I learned so much. (Thought I was an old pro - ha!)
     We headed back to the auditorium for a panel discussion with Rosemary, Jen, John, and Alexandra. Again I was humbled as I joined this group to go to our classrooms early for our professional critiques. We ended up with quite a bit of spare time, so hung out talking. I actually had a manuscript critique with Alexandra first, and she was generous with her time and positive comments. How nice!
     I gave three portfolio reviews, all very different. It's such an interesting thing to take a moment and really get inside somebody's work. This is when my seventeen years of experience really shine. It's fun to have to find the words for my opinions. I always have a reason for doing things the way I do them (or believing something), but having to put that reason into words for somebody else is just as educational for me as it is for them. And then again, there's that "teacher fix." I hope I helped them out some. I think I did.
     Back at the hotel, I scraped myself off the bed for yet another party. This time it was at Joan Broerman's house (Joan is the founder of the SCBWI Southern Breeze chapter). Turns out she opens her home every year for a "fall apart" party after the big day. We all signed her guest book (I was so tempted to hang out and see what groovy names were in that book). We spent more time just hanging out and getting to know each other over a great lasagna dinner. After dinner, Hester Bass did a blues number - an adaptation of Queen's "We are the Champions": "We will be published!" - with a young guitarist (son of one of the organizers), and y'know what? She's really good! What a trip! Not that I'm surprised. We finally did a swap of "Glitter Girl" with "So Many Houses," her new book.
     We piled into the party van to return to the hotel, where I slipped into a coma until the next morning. Ahhhhh.
     The drive home was easy and Liz and I compared notes and reminisced about the conference all the way back. What a great time, what a successful event, what an amazing thing. I love that writing has become such a social event with such valuable activities. If you missed this one, try to make the Southern-Breeze Springmingle Conference in Atlanta next March. I'll see you there!

Illustration Friday: Ghost

     Bwahahaha! I love Halloween. It's my fave.
     This is a pencil spread from my picture book dummy, "Lula's Brew."
     Lula wanted to be a famous chef with her very own restaurant. But her Aunties Zelda, Tippy, and Dink were notorious witches, and they were determined that Lula would be the wickedest witch of them all.

     Well, Lula get's her restaurant. This scene is "Lula's Cafe was a hit." (Click on the image to see it larger.) See Mr. and Mrs. Ghostie going out to dinner? :)
     Here's a peek at Lula in color:

Off to B'ham!

     I leave for the SCBWI Southern Breeze Fall Conference in Birmingham, Alabama tomorrow. Now you may ask, why would anybody voluntarily go to Birmingham, Alabama? (I have lots of family from there - I'm allowed to say that.) Well, to learn new things, meet great people, get some valuable feedback, and most of all - to be inspired.
     I was an attendee at this conference two years ago, now I'll be giving the "Nuts and Bolts" talk and doing several portfolio reviews.
     This will be the third time I've given this talk now, so I'm pretty comfortable with it. I basically hand over five years of research in one inconspicuous handout. It's overwhelming, and I imagine most people won't recognize it for the treasure it is. In it are links and information that I dug for during my years of research into how this business works, how to get published, and most importantly, how to be the best writer/illustrator you can be. I would have loved this information when I was starting out.
     I love giving this talk. It's part of that whole "pay it forward" mentality, although I'm paying it backwards. I've had so many kind people help me along the way and share good information. If I can keep that flow of positivity going, that makes me very happy.
     I'm traveling with fellow illustrator Liz Conrad and I'm sure we're going to have a great time. She's very cool.
     I'll report back at the end of the weekend (and what I imagine will be a much needed nap).

"Moi and Marie Antoinette"

     Saturday, hubbie and I stopped by my favorite independent book store, Little Shop of Stories, to see Lynn Cullen sign her new picture book, "Moi & Marie Antoinette" (illustrated by Amy L. Young, Bloomsbury).
     Lynn and a friend were dressed to the nines in bustled pink dresses and wigs. I honestly didn't recognize her when I first walked in. They looked great.
     The store played baroque music and served petits fours . It was a most refined event.
     There were even pugs! Of course, there had to be pugs as the star of the book is Marie Antoinette's pug. I bought a copy for my sister and her pug, Geisha.

     OMG - you get to see! Lynn sent me a picture of her with the pugs and the petits fours. Ain't it great?

Illustration Friday: Smitten

     This is an illustration from my first picture book, "The Prince's Diary." It's a Cinderella story, but from the Prince's point of view (and boy was he smitten). Not only was I honored to work on this story adding to Shen's Books collection of Cinderella stories from around the world, but "The Prince's Diary" was named No.1 2006 Valentine's Day Pick by Book Sense in conjunction with the Association of American Publishers. (Click the image to see it larger.)

Stats Addiction

     There's been an awful lot of talk lately about stats. Even editors and publishers aren't immune. So I thought I'd talk about my own stats addiction.
     I use a free service through The coding is hidden on most of the pages of my website, so I can track a lot of visitor traffic. The information falls off quickly with the free version though, so I do have to visit often (hence the addiction). But I've found checking in the morning and again at the end of the day seems to give me a good idea of whose been dropping by. It's part of my routine.
     Somebody on my SCBWI message board recently asked if keeping stats serves any practical use. I find my stats highly valuable.
     For instance, I watch my stats closely for hits from New York right after I send out my latest round of promotional postcards. Most of the big publishing houses' servers are named for the houses, so I can see if Scholastic or Random House has been to my site. I do a screen capture of these little snippets and keep them in a file to see who is showing the most interest in me. It helps me direct my mailings better, and it's a nice boost on those days when I feel like throwing in the towel.
     It's helped me recognize which marketing strategies attract more visitors to my site. For instance, when my blog was included in the megablog at Jacketflap my stats shot way up!
     If I've posted some work online for a particular client, I can see when they've visited (or if they haven't yet).
     I can see if people are downloading my art. For some reason, my "Angels and Devils" submission I did eons ago for Illustration Friday is extremely popular. I have no idea why, it's one of my least favorite pieces. Hubbie thinks people are using it for their personal icons. Could be.
     But my favorite part of following my stats is when I see that somebody in some faraway place like Kazakhstan or Taiwan has downloaded one of my coloring pages. Glitter Girl is on the other side of the globe! I wouldn't know it if it wasn't for my stats, and what a groovy thing to know.

Thumbs Up for Thumbs Up

We just had a new diner move in to our area, and the groovy thing . . . it's in walking distance. Okay, I know there are lots of places where walking to restaurants is a way of life (you lucky New Yorkers), but we don't happen to live in one of those. Just at the edge really. So, this is a great thing. This morning, we threw on baseball hats and running shoes and walked to "Thumbs Up." It was pretty good and I love people watching on Sunday mornings. They're stripped down to their bare essences - no showers, not awake yet, and don't really care. It's like peeking behind the curtain.
What a great way to start a Sunday.

Illustration Friday: Trouble

     No Paco! Don't take the seeds!
     Okay, well just about everything in my portfolio can fit with this week's theme, but then, I think most good art should represent trouble (a.k.a. tension) on some level.
     This piece is from the bilingual picture book I'm currently working on for Raven Tree Press, "Paco and the Giant Chile Plant ~ Paco y la Planta de Chile Gigante." It is a retelling of "Jack and the Beanstalk" with interesting parallels. Here, Paco sells his vaca for chile seeds.
     Look for it in Spring 2008! (And click the image to see it larger.)

Lunch with Liz

     It's what keeps me sane, lunch with friends. Working from home, it's often my only social contact. I get a bit o' cabin fever, y'know. Not to mention, I have so many interesting writer and illustrator friends close by now (since we left the mountains). I love talking the biz with such talented people.
     Today I had my monthly lunch with illustrator Liz Conrad. She has an incredible 3-D style, cut paper. She says she has callouses on her fingertips from working with an X-acto blade so much. I've got to watch her work someday. I imagine she weilds that thing as easily as I do a pencil. Her method is just more . . . dangerous.
     Anyhow, had to share the piece she did for Illustration Friday's "Quiet" theme. Ain't it Great!?

     We're teaming up as roomies for the upcoming SCBWI Southern Breeze Fall Conference. It's going to be a blast!

King Dork!

     I just finished reading KING DORK by Frank Portman and I loved it.
     King Dork is a high school boy at the bottom rung of the social scale. He's just trying to make it through school without getting beat up, while trying to establish a band and figure out the death of his father six years earlier. This may sound heavy, but the main character (a.k.a. Chi-Mo) is intelligent, irreverent, and funny as all get out. I laughed out loud several times (often receiving funny looks in public places). Most of the story was about getting into this boy's head, which I found to be a very entertaining place to be. His voice struck me as extremely accurate. He does experience some sexual awakening, so this is definitely young adult, but I highly recommend it, especially to anybody who loves good music or ever felt picked on in school. KING DORK is a great read!

Podcasts and Audiobooks ROCK!

     I’ve recently returned to something I used to love doing when I was a staff artist at Buster Brown Apparel (please don’t ask how long ago that was) – listening to books while I work.
     In illustration, once the concept drawing is finished (and approved), and the base colors are decided, there’s a lot of fill in rendering and shading which requires my hand more than my brain. So, lately I’ve been listening to podcasts and audiobooks while I work.
     I am absolutely in love with the Authors on Tour podcasts available from The Tattered Cover Bookstore in Colorado. (Bookstores and publicists, hint hint - this is a GREAT marketing tool!) I get to know the author by hearing them "in person," making their book much more personal, I get a good feel for their latest creation, and I learn what makes a good (or bad) author talk. I even subscribed to the feed so I know when the Tattered Cover has a new podcast available.
     I do wish there were more MG/YA authors to listen to. Anybody know of more podcasts available in kids lit? Pleases share!
     Along with podcasts, I'm back to audiobooks. The other day, I tried out iTunes new selection. They don’t have many choices available yet, but I was glad to see my bud Karin Slaughter’s "Triptych" is among them. I already have that in hard cover though, so I downloaded Brad Meltzer’s "The Book of Fate." It had an interesting premise and was a kick to listen to while I worked. And wow, I was amazed how much I got done in what felt like very little time.
     I want more! So I checked out You have to sign up for a year or some-such, and I may end up doing that since audio books can be way expensive, but I wanted to see what my local library had available first. They do have a good selection, but most are still on cassette. We retired our cassette player when we moved, so those aren’t an option right now (hubbie may have to dig it back out of the attic). What I did find on CD was M.T.Anderson’s "Whale on Stilts!", Susan Cooper’s "The Dark is Rising," and a classic, John Irving’s "The World According to Garp" (it’s been so long, I want to refresh my memory).
     So, I have some great listening ahead, and watch my hand fly while I do!