Crow Proofs

Cornell Lab Publishing Group recently sent me the color and content proofs for my forthcoming book, Crow Not Crow (written by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple).
It was a perfect way for me to approve the colors, but also made a great teaching tool for my students at Hollins University.
     First in the pack was the cover with an overlay showing where the spot varnish will go. Groovy, eh?
Next were several example spreads for color matching. They looked great!

Last was the content proof - a stapled gathering of all the pages in sequence.

Everything looked great! So the book is off to the printer in Canada. Some stock will be available as early as late July to send out for promotionals. It's getting so close to holding the actual book in my hands - YAY!!!

Todd Strasser's PRICE OF DUTY

How I Learned to Write What I Knew
by Todd Strasser

      In a few weeks, my new YA novel, Price of Duty, will be published. To the best of my knowledge, it will be my 103rd novel. I guess I’ve learned a few things about writing over a career that’s spanned more than forty years, but perhaps the most important lesson I ever learned was the one that came from writing my first novel.
      This goes back to 1977. I’d just completed a semi-autobiographical story about a teenager on Long Island who, among other indiscretions, is arrested for selling drugs. Not aware of the budding new genre of literature called young adult, I found myself concerned that my story about teenagers falling in love and getting in trouble lacked the international scope, adult appeal, and historical perspective necessary to catapult it onto the best seller lists.
      My solution to this problem was to purchase a copy of Writer’s Digest, from which I learned that at that moment in literary history the two essential ingredients necessary to insure vast commercial success were Nazism and cocaine.
      Having failed to include either in my fledgling first novel, I immediately got busy creating a Nazi submarine commander who escapes in his submarine at the end of World War II and sails it to Colombia, South America. From there he regularly smuggles cocaine, via his submarine, all the way to the north shore of Long Island, New York (as opposed, say, to Florida). And, to tie it into my story, I made this Nazi the uncle of one of my protagonist’s best friends.
      Thanks to an unrelated stroke of luck, I was able to secure the services of a reputable literary agent who began to submit the manuscript to publishers. A dozen rejections quickly piled up and the future for my first novel began to feel grim. Then came fantastic news: an editor named Ferdinand Monjo at a publisher called Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, wished to have lunch with me. A week later we met in the restaurant of a small, elegant East Side hotel. Mr. Monjo was a refined, dapper man who smoked cigarettes in a long gold cigarette holder.
      We chatted amiably through lunch (his: three vodka gimlets and a salmon-egg omelet; mine: a hamburger and a Coke). Finally, over coffee and dessert, Mr. Monjo got down to business. Would I, he asked in a most genteel manner, possibly consider rewriting my story? The question was not unexpected. My agent had already warned me that this query would be the crux of the lunch. I replied that I’d be glad to. And did Mr. Monjo have any suggestions as to how he thought the story could be improved?
      “Yes,” he replied, appearing pleased and relieved. He then launched into the small speech he had clearly prepared for the occasion.
      “In this business it is important to write about what you know, Todd. And it is obvious that you know a great deal about being a teenager in the suburbs.” At this point he paused to clear his throat and take another sip of his vodka gimlet. “However, I hope you will not be offended if I add that it is equally obvious that you know very little about Nazis who steal submarines and smuggle cocaine.”
      Like the editors at the publishing houses that had rejected my manuscript, Mr. Monjo had found the original story I’d created neither plausible nor interesting. But unlike the others, he had detected a glimmer of potential which, given an opportunity, might eventually develop into something decent.
      These days there are still many devoted and erudite editors around, but I wonder how many would be allowed to gamble on a brand-new author and an unmarketable manuscript the way Mr. Monjo did. The impression I have is that nowadays editors are rarely allowed to speculate on what a manuscript might become, and must instead base their decisions on what they have in hand (provided the marketing and sales departments give them the green light. I cannot imagine any marketing or sales department approving the manuscript Ferdinand Monjo read.).
      Mr. Monjo offered a $3,000 advance to see if his hunch was correct. While small by today’s standards, in 1978 this was not an inconsequential amount to pay an unproven first-time novelist with only the promise of a story. In the months that followed I took his advice to heart, tossed Uncle Nazi and his submarine, revised extensively, and eventually produced a book that was driven much more by character, and much less by plot.
      Sadly, Ferdinand Monjo died in October of 1979, just a few months before Angel Dust Blues was published, and never got to see the fruits of his sage advice (very good reviews and an auction for the paperback rights). I consider myself very fortunate to have caught the tail end of the era when publishing was called a gentlemen’s occupation, and to have received from him perhaps the most important writing lesson I ever learned.

Todd writing at Beloit College in 1973


“Compact and suspenseful, the novel raises important questions about war.” – Kirkus Reviews.

“This thought-provoking book is both welcome and imperative.” – Booklist * (starred review).

"Rather than attempting to sway the reader, it offers awareness." - VOYA

“A tightly wound and compelling story... appropriate for an older middle school and high school audience. VERDICT: Highly recommended.” – School Library Journal

“A timely, relevant critique of the American war machine and its dependence on idealistic and impressionable young people.” -- The Horn Book

"A hard-hitting, thought-provoking, page turner that could change the lives of young readers. Encourage them to put down their video game controllers and pick up this book." - Richie's Picks

"Although readers may be divided on [Jake's] final choice, they will respect the ethical struggle that led him there."--Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books (Recommended)

"War does not determine who is right -- only who is left." - Bertrand Russell

Hawks at Hollins

The studio where I teach at Hollins has a fantastic view of trees, rolling hills, and the Appalachian mountain range. It also has a fabulous dead tree that hawks love to land in. I've noticed this for years, but I'd never seen two hawks in the tree at the same time. One of my students noticed it and we stopped class to go have a closer look. Click the image below (of the two hawks, if you can see them) to watch a short video clip on YouTube.

National Writing Day!

June 26th is National Writing Day in the UK, because everyone has a story to tell! Watch this cute promo video starring Michael Rosen...
And CLICK HERE to learn more!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Troll Music Parade!

     For Independence Day, let's have a parade!
CLICK HERE for more coloring pages.
If you use my coloring pages often, please...

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CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week.

     I create my coloring pages to draw your attention to my books! For instance...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

Packing for Hollins

I finally got all my tech sorted for teaching in the Children's Literature Graduate programs at Hollins University. It usually takes a few days to get all the kinks out and get set up each year. Hence, these posts are a bit out of order.
      You may wonder what it's like to travel somewhere for six weeks, especially when life doesn't stop for that sort of thing, and there are also books and supplies I want to share. Well, here are my bags on the tram to the Edinburgh airport.
That's it. My backpack, a suitcase that could fit in an overhead, and a secondary bag. (I check the latter two.)
      Over the years, I've left quite a few items at Hollins so that I don't have to do this all over again every year. Things like my picture book collection, lamps, shampoo, summer clothes (that I don't need in Scotland), etc. I've got the whole system pretty streamlined. And if I miss something really important, Stan can mail it to me, as he stays in Scotland.
     It's an odd thing to live this two-continent life, I'll admit, but it's doable! And faculty housing has become my second home. Of course, Appalachia will always have a strong hold on my heart. I'm back!

My classroom at Hollins

This year at Hollins University's Children's Literature Graduate Program, I'm teaching Picture Book Design in the same classroom I was last year (we base this on the number of students, and some other factors), so it doesn't look all that different.
Next year we may have to switch it up as we have a ton of new students coming through the program who will start needing my class. We'll see. But for now, I have the luxury of just three students.
Well, 2 1/2 really. One of my students needed an accommodation, so we're filming the morning portion of my class with a video camera, which she reviews over lunch. We weren't sure how this was going to work...
     Turns out, it's working quite well and with funny results. The camera has become like our invisible friend and we (students and I) interact with it all morning. Students hold their sharpened pencils up to the camera - TA DA! And the student leaves her homework out on her desk for me to go through each day. (It's like Christmas morning for me!)
     Here was her desk after our module on 'What Makes Good Design?' Do you know about the Golden Ratio?
Here's another of my students, Deanne, settling into her space.
Of course, we have to have our reading corner where we do my Heart Art project, share picture books, and discuss assigned texts. It's the heart of our studio.
And we're off and running! Next time you see this classroom - it will be a mess! No, really!

VIDEO: Town Is By The Sea

Click the image below to get a quick read-through of this year's Kate Greenaway-medal-winning-book TOWN IS BY THE SEA, written by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith. The way Smith captured the light on the water is an absolute miracle to me! I am thrilled this book won the award!

Chalk Talk at Hollins University

It's been a crazy and busy week, as usual when I get to Hollins! I've been having difficulties with some of my tech this week - making the trip back and forth overseas and such, so I don't have a lot of images to share. But this image was taken by our talented student, Monica Archuleta, right before I gave a Chalk Talk about the making of Crow Not Crow.
     The tradition of chalk talks has a long history. Of course, they usually involve actual chalk, a chalkboard, and such. Creators (usually scientists) talk through their processes and thinking. Of course, all my supplies and original art is on another continent right now, so this one was a slideshow.
     I shared my sketches, bird studies, color scripts, style studies, paper studies, and final art. The questions were specific and observant, such as questions about resolution, file size, scanners, paper variations, etc. It's always fun talking to your peeps, to people who speak the same artistic language.

Lisa Lowe Stauffer and Angelika Scudamore on TWO BY TWO

I love to help friends celebrate the release of their first books after seeing them work so hard to achieve publication! And that's exactly what I get to do today! Lisa Lowe Stauffer and I attended many a conference together over the years. Today, she and the illustrator of her new book, Angelika Scudamore talk to each other. Enjoy!
Angelika: Lisa, how did TWO BY TWO come about?
Lisa: I have two ways to answer that, both of which played into this story. First, when I was little, I desperately wanted a pet monkey. Finally, all these years later, that childhood wish became two mischievous monkeys on the page.
      Secondly, here’s the more adult answer:
      It’s been a long journey to publication of my first book. I’d been writing middle-grade novels for many years, without sales success, when I attended a poetry retreat led by the fabulous children’s poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich.
      I was certain I had no talent for poetry, after all, my background was in no-nonsense journalism and marketing communications. But I went because I’d had to return to full-time work and to keep my children’s writing going, I’d promised myself to attend every local SCBWI event.
      To my surprise, I found that playing with words at the detailed level of poetry gave me great joy. TWO BY TWO started at that workshop.
      Later, I was trying to get the ending right, and playing jazz on the radio. Monkeys got involved, jazz beats took over, and my originally staid lines became something a lot more fun.
      While I liked my crazy beats, I didn’t think anyone else would. But, having nothing else ready to send, off it went to the annual Southern Breeze (SCBWI) contest.
      When it won second place, I was floored. Maybe I could do this poetry thing after all!
      Six years later it sold to Zonderkidz.

Lisa: Angelika, when you received the text for TWO BY TWO, what was your creative process/medium for illustrating it?
The first thing I do is to read the story to get an idea and a feel for what it’s all about. Then get stuck in with the brief! I follow up with a lot of research with the type of animals and get started with preliminary sketches to plan out the composition of each spread. Once I’m roughly happy with those I start to add more detail and structure with the roughs. After this is approved the magic starts with the colour stage. I then start colour blocking, which I then start adding detail and texture. I have a few ‘go to’ brushes which I only use to make my work consistent.

Lisa: Angelika, which illustration from the book is your favorite?
My favourite spread was definitely the last one as all the characters were featured here! I really had fun creating this spread and love working with dramatic lighting too. I feel it adds to the drama of the story and brings the characters to life.
Angelika: Lisa, which is your favorite?
I love them all, but the double-page spread with the animals playing instruments is my favorite. It reminds me of how my family would play Christmas carols each year, with instruments ranging from piano to oboe to spoons!
Lisa: Angelika, what are you working on next?
I’m currently working on a few projects, an animal alphabet book, 2 story books, and a series of educational books. I’ve written and illustrated 2 picture books and my dream would be to get these published, fingers crossed :)
Angelika: Lisa, what are you working on next?
I’m in what I hope is the final major edit of a young adult novel, HOLLYWOOD MIRA. Here’s the elevator pitch: Accidental immigrant Mira’s plan to smuggle her sister into the U.S. goes awry on the same day that an “A to Z storm” of movie proportions hits L.A. Mira, 3 small children, 2 cute boys and 1 famous dog must navigate post-disaster Hollywood to find her sister and get themselves to safety.
      And I’m working with a mentor on the second draft of a middle-grade novel. This is currently titled KERILU. Here’s its elevator pitch: A small-town, 6th grade girl, who has confidence she can remake herself via checklists, tries out for the school musical as a way to fit in with the popular kids. But when she meets a cheerful, overly-helpful theater ghost, it becomes impossible to hide who she really is.
      KERILU is especially exciting, because I’ve been able to utilize a family cache of letters from the early 1900s in developing the ghost’s personality. The 170+ letters were written by a young man who went on to write a very famous children’s book . . .and that’s all I’m sayin’ for now.

Lisa: Angelika, where can readers see more of your work?
You can find a lot of my books on Amazon and in a few bookshops. As well as book illustration, I also work on greeting cards and custom illustrations for families and couples. You can find my work on my online folio, website, and my instagram page.
Angelika: Lisa, where can readers see more of your work?
I’ll be blogging about books, monkeys, travel, and more at my website. Plus I’m on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Coloring Page Tuesday - Amelia Bearhart

     All this flying over water has reminded me that, as a kid, I loved the mystery of Amelia Earhart. Not only was it about flying (which I wanted to do), it was a brave woman who supposedly disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle! (According to one theory.) My mystery-loving mind was captured!
CLICK HERE for more coloring pages.
If you use my coloring pages often, please...

Just love this one image? Consider a one-time donation...

CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week.

     I create my coloring pages to draw your attention to my books! For instance...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

Hollins 2018!

I hopped a plane and flew from Edinburgh to Chicago to Roanoke, Virginia. I return to teach in the MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating and Certificate in Children's Book Illustration programs, which I've been doing since 2013. So, this is where I'll be for the next six weeks. I love this joyous bubble of paradise we've created at Hollins and look forward to telling you all about it! Stay tuned!

Shoreline of Infinity Event with Jane

Jane Yolen and I were invited to speak at the launch party for the latest edition of Shoreline of Infinity - a sci-fi/fantasty anthology of stories, poems, and illustrations. (Cover art by Siobhan McDonald.) So Jane came down from St Andrews to stay with us for a few days.
     I love it when Jane comes to visit. It gives us time to sit on the couch and talk and talk and talk about all the things we're passionate about - stories, books, children's publishing, creating, all of it! And boy, did we!
     Although, the main reason for Jane's visit was the event. It was held at Frankenstein's on the George IV Bridge. It's hard to miss...
It's a funny, kitschy pub in the heart of a touristy area, so it's gimmicked up as much as a 17th-century structure can be. The event was in the basement space, with big long tables and bench seating.
     An electronic musician opened with a heart-thumping piece that could have opened Carl Sagan's movie Contact - very cool.
     Jane read first. She shared a piece from The Emerald Circus, some of her other collections, and she talked about a project that she and I are working on together (currently being shopped). We showed everyone the thumbnails for it on the two screens to each side of the stage.
     There was another poet, then me. I shared my haiku from Marginal Creatures collection since three of them were featured in the anthology.
I also shared the cover of Crow Not Crow.
     It was a good crowd and there were several speakers after us, including Russell Jones who stared Shoreline of Infinity (which has turned into a thoroughly groovy thing to be a part of).
     The event was filmed and shared on Facebook - you can watch by clicking the screenshot below.

Robyn and Jane and Artsy Letters

This has been a crazy, busy, and FUN week! Robyn Hood Black, a dear friend from years back in SCBWI Southern Breeze came through town with her entire family. They'd been planning it for months and we'd been emailing the whole time. They based their visit on DNA testing to visit their genetic roots. I sent her my 'visitors guide' that I put together for friends. When they arrived, we caught up for a lovely, long lunch at the Amber Room on the Royal Mile.
     Bonus! Jane Yolen was visiting us as well because we had an event the next evening (more on that in the next post). So, here are the girls: Robyn's daughter, Morgan, Jane, Me, and Robyn. Fuzzy love! :)
     Along with being a wonderful poet, Robyn has a small business she calls Artsy Letters for which she makes jewellery, note-cards, and sweet gifts for those of us in love with all things words and lettery.
     Happy me - she brought me a birthday/thank you gift - this gorgeous necklace she made for me!
I love it so much! The little map is of Edinburgh, and there's a looking glass, a cardinal direction charm, and an anchor. For some reason, the anchor really spoke to me, although I couldn't explain why. I asked Robyn about it and she said, "...the anchor called to me (really - wasn't planned). I pondered a minute, then thought about the courage and heart and pluck it took for you to pull up anchor in one place and go drop it in a new (old) world where you could thrive." That's IT! What an insightful friend.
     I think it so ironic that one of my favorite Edinburgh treasures was made in South Carolina.
     We didn't get to spend nearly enough time together, but still, I love how many dear friends come to Edinburgh so that I don't have to miss them so much!

R.I.P. Bernie

In 2001, Stan and I had just moved to a cabin in the mountains when a dishevelled puppy with a badly healed broken nose wandered into our yard. We took him in, bathed him, fed him, and he slept for three days.
He was so pitiful, our big, older, yellow labbie, Cajun took him in too. She house trained him and they became siblings.
Shortly after that, a cat showed up pawing on the window screen. We didn't decide to keep her - she decided to keep us - as cats do. And so came sibling #3.
We were a fuzzy household for a long time.
     Inside the house, Bernie never lost his puppiness. He chased the cat, and balls, and had this silly way of sleeping in his favorite chair.
But the second we opened the front door, Bernie would grow scared. The world wasn't safe! We never knew what happened to his nose, but it had obviously traumatized him. We called him our socialite trapped in a phobia. At parties, you could tell he wanted to be there, but that it was also a struggle for him.
The only time I saw him truly comfortable outside was when he caught the scent of deer poop. He was a hound after all (!!) and would follow his nose, howling towards what he considered the very best perfume to roll in! Deer poop was like Chanel #5!
      Bernie was fourteen-years-old when we decided to make the move across the pond. Not only did the vet advise us not to take him because he was too old, we knew it wouldn't be the right thing for him. Bernie was not made for a big, crowded city. What to do?
     That's when Dad #2 stepped in - illustrator and good friend, Mark Braught. Mark had three acres and an enormous heart. He also had Annabelle. Bernie fell in love with Annabelle.
Annabelle was a much younger doggie, and very attractive to canine eyes. I like to think she kept him young.
     Mark taught at Hollins University every summer, so every summer I got to see Bernie (and Annabelle and Figlet). As he got really old, his memory developed gaps, and then folded over on itself. One summer he didn't seem to know me. The next, it was as if I had just left the room and come back in. Through it all, he was loved more than I could have ever hoped for him by Mark, Annabelle, and Figlet; Stan, Me, Bootsie, and Cajun.
     Bernie passed away on Thursday at the ripe old age of seventeen (round 'bouts). Life is so bittersweet, so full of joy and heartbreak side by side. I'm sad, but I also remember that hard-scrabble little puppy who was loved by so many.
     I'll be looking for your wings when I get there, too, Bernie-meister.