Friday, February 04, 2011

Blessed In-Person Author Tour in NY, NJ, Philly Area

Please join me on a stop of the Blessed (Candlewick, 2011) tour!

Events that are open to the public are indicated as such on the schedule below!

Authors Daniel Nayeri, Jen Nadol, Sarah Beth Durst, and Shannon Delany will be joining me here and there along the way!

Sunday, 2/6/11

1 p.m. to 3 p.m. - Books of Wonder - reading/Q&A/signing to public with Another Pan author Daniel Nayeri (PUBLIC EVENT)

18 W. 18th St., New York, N.Y.

Monday, 2/7/11

10 a.m. to 11:34 a.m. Francis Lewis High School

6 p.m. Borders Bookstore - reading/signing (PUBLIC EVENT)

Borders Columbus Circle
10 Columbus Circle, New York, N.Y.

Tuesday, 2/8/11

4 p.m. to 5 p.m. New Brunswick Free Public Library - reading/Q&A/signing (PUBLIC EVENT)

6:20 p.m. to 9 p.m. Rutgers University -- guest lecture, "Materials for Young Adults" -- room 203

School of Communication and Information -- 4 Huntington St., New Brunswick, N.J.

Wednesday, 2/9/11

10 a.m. NYPL Mulberry Branch - visit with schools

10 Jersey Street (Between Lafayette & Mulberry Streets) New York, N.Y.

8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. New School Creative Writing Graduate Class - guest lecture

66 West 12th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues

Thursday, 2/10/11

11:15 a.m. to 12 p.m. Brooklyn Public Library - Professional Development Day

Central Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza

4:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. Brooklyn Public Library - Will You Be My Paranormal Valentine Party (with teens)(PUBLIC EVENT)

Central Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza

Friday, 2/11/11

2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m. Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School Visit

Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin HS, LREI

272 Sixth Avenue, New York, N.Y.

7 p.m. The Voracious Reader - "Will You Be My Paranormal Valentine?" event with Daniel Nayeri, Jen Nadol, Sarah Beth Durst, and Shannon Delany (PUBLIC EVENT)

1997 Palmer Avenue, Larchmont, N.Y.

Saturday, 2/12/11

1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mercer County Library Event -- West Windsor Branch (PUBLIC EVENT)

333 North Post Road, Princeton Junction, N.J.

6:30 p.m. Barnes & Noble, Cherry Hill, N.J. (Greater Philly area)(PUBLIC EVENT)

911 Haddonfield Road, Cherry Hill, N.J.



Not on the Tour? Attention Event Planners!

It's two YA authors for the price of one! Book now for the 2011-2012 school year and beyond!

"From Classics to Contemporary:" a joint presentation offered by Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of the Tantalize series (inspired by Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)) and Jennifer Ziegler, author of Sass & Serendipity (inspired by Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811)).

The authors will discuss how they were inspired by these classics, why Stoker and Austen's themes are still relevant to teens/YAs today, the ongoing conversation of books over the generations, and much more.

Contact Dayton Bookings for more information and to schedule.

Cynsational News & Gveaways

Patchwork Collective Virtual Mentors for Writers of Color is accepting applications for its Virtual Mentoring Program. Peek: "Participants will be invited to join an online group and receive personalized advice from mentors on manuscripts and technique (no more than one critique of 10 pages of a long-form work, or one PB over the eight-week period), industry- and craft-related information (books, conferences, helpful organizations, Web sites, etc.), and more. Mentors will not be offering referrals to any agents or editors. If you are a writer of color in the 'intermediate' stage of your pursuit of a career in children’s literature, this is an opportunity for one-on-one online communication with a published children’s book author (PB-YA)." Via Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. Source: Mitali's Fire Escape.

Strauss-Gabel Named Publisher at Dutton Children's Books from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Dutton will become a “boutique middle grade and young adult imprint with a focus on titles of exceptional literary quality and strong commercial appeal..."

How Writing Careers are Like Snowflakes by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "The fear of failure nips at our heels no matter what stage of our career we're in. It is so, so easy to sit from the outside looking in and be certain--absolutely certain--that Author A is a raging success and has it all and their books are selling like hotcakes. But the truth is rarely that simple."

China: A Kaleidoscope Kids Book (Williamson Books, 2008) Giveaway from Debbi Michiko Florence. Deadline: Feb. 2.

English-Language Children's Books Related to Modern Egypt, compiled by Bernadette Simpson (PDF/bilbiography). Source: Mitali Perkins.

The Future of Publishing Poetry for Kids: an interview with Lee Bennett Hopkins by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. Peek: "So many factors enter into a book doing well in the marketplace. A strong collection with a fine artist will do as well as any picture book might."

New Agent Alert: Stephen Barr of Writers House by Chuck Sambuchino from Guide to Literary Agents. Note: Represents picture books (from author-illustrators) through YA.

Williams-Garcia's New Children's Novel Gains National Attention: an audio interview with Rita Williams-Garcia from Vermont Public Radio.

How to Mingle at Publishing Events by Alvina Ling from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: "The best 'pick-up line' is to simply say 'hello' and introduce yourself. Honestly, everyone at these type of events should be there to mingle, and even if they're not, they at least expect others to introduce themselves."

28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature from the Brown Bookshelf. Check this link daily to learn about terrific books, authors and illustrators. Note: highly recommended.

Places in the Heart: Celebrating Black History Month by Rick Margolis from School Library Journal. Peek: "...we asked some of the top kids’ book creators to choose their favorite children’s book about the black experience. The title could be for kids of any age—from a picture book or graphic novel to a chapter book or collection of poems. We told them it could be new or old, fiction or nonfiction. The only requirement? It had to be a book that they truly loved—and, of course, it couldn’t be one of their own." See also Black History Month: 15 Fabulous Reads for Children from Donna Bowman Bratton.

What Do Children's Book Consumers Want? A new study looks at how they decide what to read—and where they buy from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Moms, teachers, and dads, in that order, affect book selection for 7–12-year-olds. Teens overwhelmingly turned to parents, teachers, and close friends for book suggestions. Librarians affected 24% of YA reading decisions, bookstores not so much."

Blogging Dos and Don'ts by April Aragam from The Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "Remember that anything you say in your blog can be read by anyone including the person, editor or publication you are criticizing."

Tips to Surviving Book Promotion (How to have fun storycatching too) by Kerry Madden from A Good Blog is Hard to Find. Peek: "Begin laying the groundwork for your book promotion six months before your book is published. Write a press release and fax it to newspapers and TV stations closer to the pub date along with a review or two if you have them."

Win Your Dream Gown with The Vespertine from Saundra Mitchell from An Incident We'd Rather Not Discuss. Peek: "I’m offering you a chance to win your dream gown. Or, more accurately, this Visa Gift Card, worth $300.00..." Deadline: March 6.

Roxie Munro/Artist: official website of the author-illustrator of Hatch (Marshall Cavendish, 2011), Ecomazes (Sterling, 2010), and many more. Note: though currently based in Long Island, New York, Roxie was born in Mineral Wells, Texas and has created six books on Texas and environs.

Writers Links: Promotion: a mega compilation of tips, resources, and insights from Cynthia Leitich Smith Children's-YA Literature Resources. See also agents, editors and publishers, education, and publishing.

Exploring Diversity through Children's and Young Adult Books: Background Reading from Cynthia Leitich Smith Children's-YA Literature Resources. See also Themes & Communities.

Wedding and Funerals and Everywhere in Between by Diane Roback from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "We asked editors about the strangest place they’ve been pitched a book, and have collected a number of their stories." Note: best to stick to the submission guidelines.

Celebrate Chinese New Year with Dragons, Dumplings, Drums...and Books by Joy Fleishhacker, Curriculum Connections from School Library Journal. Peek: "In China and across the globe, billions of people are preparing to celebrate Chinese New Year, which falls on February 3, 2011, and ring in the Year of the Rabbit. Determined by the Chinese calendar, this important holiday begins on the night of the first new moon of the year and ends 15 days later with the Lantern Festival, when the full moon is welcomed with cheerful parades of lights." Note: includes annotated bibliography.

Analyze Your Plot Arc for Action by Chris Eboch from Write Like a Pro! A Free Online Writing Workshop. Peek: "Hopefully you have a strong emotion in every scene, probably a negative one—fear or grief or anger, for example. Strong emotions drive the story forward. But any emotion, no matter how strong, seems to flatten out over time."

Save Libraries

Library Issues and Taking Action from the Texas Library Association.

TX Love LibrariesSave Our Texas Libraries! Peek: "Proposed state and local budget cuts are threatening the provision of local library services. From school libraries to public and academic libraries, our local libraries are in danger of losing significant funding for staff, programs, digital and print resources, and hours of operation."

Authors for Librarians from the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations. Peek: "ALTAFF is bringing authors and libraries together in a unique partnership to connect authors with libraries, Friends of the Library groups, and library Foundations as well as to keep authors informed about issues and concerns affecting libraries on a national level." Source: Liz Garton Scanlon at Liz In Ink. Note: soak up some Library Love at Liz's LJ today.

Visit the new Austin Public Library Friends Foundation website!

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Cloaked by Alex Flinn (HarperCollins, 2011).



Check out this book trailer for Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by Dan Santat (Amulet, 2010).



In the following video, Brent Hartinger offers Seven Reasons You Should Read Shadow Walkers (Flux, 2011)(excerpt)(discussion guide):



Meet the Author: Kate DiCamillo from Adlit. Peek: "After college, Kate wrote mostly short stories for adults, submitted them, and collected hundreds of rejection letters. During a long, cold Minnesota winter, Kate felt homesick and wrote a story for kids that took place in the warm South. That story, Because of Winn-Dixie (Candlewick, 2000), was not only published; it received a prestigious Newbery Honor. When The Tale of Despereaux (Candlewick, 2003) won the Newbery Medal, Kate solidified her place as one of today's most popular authors for young people."



"The Bookanistas are dancing because we’re so excited that Beth Revis hit the NY Times Bestseller List for Across the Universe (Razorbill, 2011)." - Shana Silver



More Personally

Snow is on the ground, the rolling brownouts are over (we lost power nine times), my work in progress is resting, and I'm packing to leave town.

So, Cynsations is going on hiatus as I take off for my N.E. U.S. Blessed Tour! Those of you in New York, New Jersey, Philly & surrounding areas, I hope to see you on the road Feb. 6 to Feb. 12. I'll resume posting on Feb. 14!

Blessed is now available from Walker Books Australia and New Zealand! See details!

Cat Calls (Candlewick, 2010), an e-book offering a short story set in the Tantalize series universe, is #15 of the Free Books on the Kindle bestseller list!

The winner of the Blessed Grand Prize Giveaway is Melissa in Washington! Congratulations! Thanks to everyone who entered. Cynsations giveaways will resume once I'm back in town.

Thanks again to everyone who attended or raised awareness of the Blessed and (Mari Mancusi) Night School Launch Party last weekend at BookPeople in Austin.

See the party pics and event report! You can order/pick up signed stock from BookPeople! Budget a little thin? Look for the Tantalize series at your local public library. If it's not there, request it on loan.

Is the series not yet available in your country? International releases are still forthcoming (and I'll keep you posted), but you can order the books from Book Despository, which ships free to anywhere in the world? Click to order Tantalize, Eternal, and Blessed. Note: my Native American powwow picture book, Jingle Dancer, is also available.

On a related note, see information from Mari on Finding Night School.

See also congratulations flowers from my mom (side) and a dear pal (below).

Blessed Blog Tour: Interview with Bradley and Giveaway from Pirate Penguin Reads. Peek: "Cursed Internet. Deception was such a readily available snack in the early-to-mid twentieth century." Giveaway deadline: Feb. 6.

Blessed Blog Tour: Secondary Characters & Giveaway by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Badass Bookie. Peek: "Secondary characters mirror individual qualities of the hero. Illuminate them. Secondary characters challenge the hero. Fuel their growth. Secondary characters comment on the main characters. They help tell the readers what we need to know." Giveaway deadline: Feb. 4.

Blessed Blog Tour: Top Ten YA Recommendations & Giveaway by Cynthia Leitich Smith from A Good Addiction. Giveaway deadline: Feb. 6.


Cynsational Events


Blessed In-Person Author Tour Schedule in Central Texas and the Northeastern U.S.: sponsored by Candlewick Press. Are you in Austin, New York, New Jersey, or the Philly area? Come join me along the way!

12th Annual Southwest Florida Reading Festival will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 19 in Fort Myers, Florida. Note: speakers include Cynthia Leitich Smith.

SCBWI-Wisconsin Novel Revision Workshop with author Cynthia Leitich Smith from March 25 to March 27. Note: "Registration is limited to 25 persons."


Thursday, February 03, 2011

New Voice: Mark Shulman on Scrawl

Mark Shulman is the first-time novelist of Scrawl (Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, 2010)(excerpt). From the promotional copy:

Tod Munn is a bully. He's tough, but times are even tougher. The wimps have stopped coughing up their lunch money. The administration is cracking down. Then to make things worse, Tod and his friends get busted doing something bad. Something really bad.

Lucky Tod must spend his daily detention in a hot, empty room with Mrs. Woodrow, a no-nonsense guidance counselor. He doesn't know why he's there, but she does. Tod's punishment: to scrawl his story in a beat-up notebook. He can be painfully funny and he can be brutally honest. But can Mrs. Woodrow help Tod stop playing the bad guy before he actually turns into one . . . for real?

Read Tod's notebook for yourself.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters?

The lead character in Scrawl is a tough kid named Tod Munn. He arrived in my mind like a lightning bolt, and because I wasn’t a novelist, I had no use for him.

Tod showed up one afternoon when my friend, the author Alison James, included me in a story-writing exercise. It was an experience that bordered on mass hypnosis. A group of writers lay on the floor while Alison spoke softly about… well, I don’t exactly remember. I drifted into something like sleep. Then, suddenly, she sent each of us head-first into a place. Any place.

I ended up back in my old high school. The hall was the same, the floor was the same. A kid was getting beaten up. That was the same, too. But wait, something was wrong. I was the one on top, doing the hitting. That’s not right – I’m supposed to be the other guy.

How is it I’m breaking this kid’s glasses? Me? Who am I? And then, without warning, Alison told us to open our eyes and write.

So, in one five-minute epiphany, I had a location: my old high school. I had my character: he seemed to be an amalgam of several thugs and punks I encountered in my inner-city high school. And I had a few surreal paragraphs written, in which my fictional bully eloquently contemplates delivering a beating as if it were an artistic experience.

And that’s how I discovered Tod. Then I put away the notebook and went back to all the picture books, nonfiction, humor, and preschool books I’d been writing for years. As for getting to know him, I had no intention of doing that. What did I want with an oddball character like him? He’s not such a good fit for a picture book.

A few months later, I was speaking with my future editor, Neal Porter at Roaring Brook (pictured right). He had looked over all my various books and asked me, point blank, what I really wanted to be writing. And who among us doesn’t want to write a novel?

So write one, he said.

Well, Mr. Famous Editor, I don’t know how to write a novel.

Oh, he said, don’t worry. Just send me something.

That afternoon I went back to my office, and this character Tod, elbowed his way forward yet again. Just to shut Tod up, I typed up and mailed out the paragraphs I’d scribbled down in the sweat lodge. Then Neal asked me for a few more chapters. And a few more. And somehow he coaxed a book out of me. I guess that’s why he’s Neal Porter.

In those early character/discovery chapters, which make up the front of the book, I didn’t try to dissect Tod. I didn’t work out his home life or his goals or his fatal flaws. I didn’t try to get to know him at all. I tried to be him. Or, more accurately, I became him while I was writing.

I can’t explain how it happened, but it was a genuinely natural experience for a guy in his 40s to become an angry teenager. And I should point out that I wasn’t an angry teenager myself. I was a dork and a troublemaker, but I was upbeat about it.

Tod is a smart kid, as well as a smart-mouth. He’s got a good sense of humor. He’s an interesting kind of bad boy, full of bravado and opinions and he’s got an answer for everything. He likes to hang out in the library and read after school because he can’t afford his own books. He’s also an extortionist and a thief, but nobody’s perfect.

They say a writer should just follow his character around. That’s what I did. Because the book is in journal form, each entry is essentially a day’s worth of writing.

I sat down with a loose goal in mind: say, write a scene with Tod and his friend Rex. Okay. First they’re walking down the street after shoplifting (at the same corner deli my school’s basketball team robbed with the starter pistol, ski masks, and their personalized team jackets.) Now there’s a street preacher. Now Rex is in his face. Now it’s getting out of hand. And suddenly Rex was saying and doing things that blew me away as I was writing them. Tod takes a back seat and ends up as stunned as I was.

Growing up, there was a type of kid – skinny and street-smart with a nervous tic and menacing eyes. They look rural, but they thrive in the city. That’s Rex. Every time he showed up, the story darkened.

My other favorite character is Luz. She’s a classic scene-stealer. I only wanted her for a quick purpose – to be the artsy, elusive goth girl whose creation, a statue, becomes the touchstone for Tod’s awakening. I didn’t need the girl, I needed the statue. But when you meet Luz, you’ll understand how such a fireball could barge her way into the book and make herself indispensable from beginning to end. She is a work of art herself, and it was fascinating to watch her develop. I’ve never met anyone like her. Luz’s back-and-forths with Tod make for some of the snappiest dialog in the book.

And finally, Mrs. Woodrow, the guidance counselor, looms omnipresent. Her time on stage is relatively short, but she writes notes in Tod’s journal and that allows her to have her own voice. She’s also the person Tod’s writing to throughout. It was fun for me to write in the second person, and make the reader actually become her, through Tod’s eyes.

Each of the characters began as a type, more modal than human. In each one’s case, Neal encouraged me to have them do something counter to expectation. And that’s how they all evolved – from a type to an unpredictable human. It’s the characterizations, rather than a plot, that drives the first third of the book. Once the plot kicked in, the characters did a lot of improvising, and it stayed in the book.

One last word about the characters: It would be easy to typify this as a “boy book.” Yeah, there are confrontations and fights and nefarious behaviors. But it’s more than that.

It’s a realistic story of a person who is a boy. Also, Tod and his droogs may be in the center of the action, but they’re not the moral center of the story. That honor goes to a trio of women, all no-nonsense types: Luz, Mrs. Woodrow, and Tod’s steely mother. They do not let the smart, sarcastic, difficult boy get away with anything. They’re the guardrails. And try as he might, Tod does not dent them.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn't address these factors? Why or why not?

On the whole, I don’t think it’s a good idea for adults who aren’t deep in the teenage culture to attempt building any bridges to modern technology, cutting-edge slang, or the newfangled social situations of our nation’s youth. It’s so gosh-darned tough to get jiggy with the hep lingo, or stay fresh with the gadgets, or 2 b edgy. That stuff changes all the time anyway.

I’m told Scrawl has a ring of reality to it. I think that partly comes from my determination not to date the book in any way. Or, rather, to set it in the present but not root it there.

Because I don’t have kids in high school (yet…though my eight-year-old thinks she is), my teen observations are limited to school visits, subway rides, and street chatter. The only teenagers I could draw from were the ones I knew from childhood. So that’s what I did.

And aren’t the most important situations and issues universal anyway?

While I was writing Scrawl, I kept my story simple and relatively timeless. A seemingly hopeless boy gets in trouble, and with some help from a teacher, the power of words and art ultimately show him a path. Like any writer, I cut patches from life to make my quilt, and that’s the point where I had to update the story. The more clever and heartless bullies of my day would have to sneak something humiliating into the school newspaper to broadcast their fun. Now there’s the internet, with its enormous, unrelenting reach, and I had to include it. Why draw a cruel cartoon when students can post a cruel photo? And when it comes to out-and-out intimidation, destroying something electronic lasts a lot longer than throwing a bookbag into the trees.

Once I had the story finished, I spent an entire draft removing every reference I could find that would date the book. Laptop became computer. MP3 player became music player. DVD player became video machine. Xbox became video game. Camcorder became video camera, and so on. Out went YouTube, Facebook, Google. (Remember Prodigy?) If there was even the hint of obsolescence – an icebox or a jalopy – I wrote around it. Now that the book is printed and in stores, I’m told there can be no more revisions. That’s too bad, because I found cable TV and a CD reference I couldn’t improve on.


And, on that note, one of my reasons for not wanting an image of Tod on the cover was because he’d eventually look to future readers like the denizens of disco look to us now.

How do you know what’s going to persevere and what’s a hula hoop? I can’t say, except it’s an instinct. Cole Porter had it. In his 1934 song “You’re the Top” he seems to have had a time machine to pick some of the everlasting references he used. There were countless entertainers available, but he chose Irving Berlin, Mae West, Greta Garbo, Fred Astaire. Mickey Mouse was only seven years old and he got mentioned. Gandhi wouldn’t free India for another 14 years. Even Pepsodent is still on the shelves. In fact, the song itself is more dated than its references. But that’s another matter altogether.


Can you keep a secret? I want Scrawl to last. As long as possible. For a book in the second decade of the third millennium, “as long as possible” is usually three months. I know the odds, but still, I set my sights for the ultimate goal: being book-report-worthy. And to do that, I had to leave out the temporary stuff. I hope it worked.

Cynsational Notes

From Roaring Brook Press: "Mark Shulman has been a camp counselor, a radio announcer, a maitre d' in a fancy restaurant, a New York City tour guide, and a creative advertising guy. He's written many books about many things--sharks, storms, robots, palindromes, gorillas, dodo birds, "Star Wars," Ben Franklin, how to hide stuff, how to voodoo your enemies, and how to make a video from start to finish. He's written picture books for Oscar de la Hoya (the boxer) and Shamu (the whale). Mark is from Rochester and Buffalo, New York, but he has lived in New York City for so very long that he tawks like he's from da Bronx. So do his kids. His wife Kara, a grade school reading specialist, has perfect diction."

Where the Trouble Began: Scrawl by Mark Shulman from Get to the Point: a blog by Macmillan Publishing Group. Peek: "The literacy rate hovered at about 50%. The dropout rate was maybe 25%."

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Guest Post: Neil Numberman on Illustrating Big Hairy Drama (Joey Fly, Private Eye, Book 2)

By Neil Numberman

When I first read Aaron Reynold’s manuscript for the second Joey Fly, Private Eye (Big Hairy Drama (Henry Holt, 2010)), I was blown away.

The characters were exceptionally crafted, the plot had the twists and turns like the smartest "C.S.I." episode and the wit and irony of the best "Frasier" episode, and best of all, it almost all takes place in a theatre!

Little did Aaron know, I have a background in theatre too. Besides a ton of school plays I participated in, I worked at the famous Merriam Theatre in Philadelphia for over five years while in college.

It’s like he wrote this thing for me!

Beautiful, isn’t it?

So the first thing I did after I read the script (which is pretty much what it looks like, with “stage directions” and all), I called my old bosses at the Merriam and asked if I could stop by for the day and shoot the outside and inside of the theatre with my camera.

I took a day trip from New York, and spent a couple hours shooting everything, dressing rooms, backstage, box office, lobby, secret hallways and dark storage spaces. I was armed with plenty of reference going into this book!


Ah, the Merriam.

The next step was to thumbnail the entire book. There’s a good reason they call these sketches "thumbnails," but even though they’re super tiny, they do give me a number of things I need to know before starting the real sketches. They help me pace out the entire book, to make sure scenes and act breaks end at the end of a page or spread. I also need to roughly figure out where everyone in the scene will be and their word balloons, in each panel.

It may not seem like it, but it’s a real pain to make sure the character who speaks first in a panel is on the left, and continues to be throughout the scene.

The thumbnails also give me another chance to read the script more in depth, and make notes in the margins to remind myself later for the sketch stage, like hiding hints and jokes, or an expression I know I want to give Sammy (usually along the lines of rage, confusion, or hunger.)


Our editor, Reka Simonsen, always requests to see these little thumbnails. I love that she wants to be so involved in the process, and she claims she loves looking at my thumbnails, but I have no idea how she gets anything from these sloppy little drawings.


What’s going on here?

Next up, I needed to create the panels and word balloons for the book’s designer, April. It’s a step I skipped with the first book, and I regretted it. I miscalculated the size the word balloons would be, and I had to expand them after the sketch stage, which meant I had to move a lot of the characters around to avoid being covered up by their own balloons!

But this time around, I created every single page, with every single balloon or caption box, sans any art whatsoever. Then April can throw the type in and make sure it works before I ever have to draw a thing.


Seen here, with text.

After that, it’s sketch time! That’s the best part, for me, of the whole undertaking. This is the most creative part, where I get to flesh out the characters and the world they live in, without having to worry about pacing and compositions, because I already took care of that with the thumbnails and empty panels.

This period involves a lot of research into the insect and arachnid kingdom, not to mention architecture, theatre, and old film noir movies. I don’t think that’s a very common crossover!


Insects and crime, who woulda thought?

The sketching took me about three months, which is pretty good time considering it’s a 128 page book. That’s almost a page and a half a day, and taking into account all the other junk one must get accomplished in daily life, I’m quite impressed with myself. The same would not be true for the finishes!

So, after the sketch stage, I hand ‘em over to Reka, and she hangs onto them for a month or two, making notes and passing them around to other folks at the publisher, so when I get it back, I have a giant printout of the entire book, with little stickie notes on them. There are often a lot of notes, but nothing major, since she’s been so hands-on from the beginning.

I can then make those changes as I start the finishes. This is by far the longest and most tedious part. The finishes require a steady hand for the inking, careful scanning, and pretty repetitive digital coloring. I’ve often been told I should get an intern for this stuff, and I even had one for a little bit, but I think it’s best if I take care of it on my own for now, especially because there’s a very specific look I’m going for with the Joey Fly universe.

So I print the sketches out at about 140%, trace them with a careful pencil line. Most artists use ink here, and I still call it “inking”, but I find I get the same results from pencils, a tool I’ve been using non-stop since I was two or three and can’t move on.

Then I scan those in and start the coloring.


Seeing this makes my hand hurt.

What makes the coloring stage even more boring, though, is that I actually color the entire thing in grayscale first. This makes it easier to get the monochromatic colors I need at the end, but whoa boy, it’s not exactly a party filling in 800 or so panels in graytones.

And how long do you think the finishes took? If you guessed something around six months, I commend you for thinking it took me that long. But you’re wrong. It took me longer. All in all, almost a year. Granted, I had other projects and jobs going on, but I at least spent a few hours a day on the book, and at most, twelve or thirteen.


Getting there…

Then I had to figure out what colors I wanted for each scene, and exactly how I wanted to get those colors. It was mind-numbing and technical, but after many back-and-forths with the art director and a printing specialist, we found some great tones to use in the book.

The first Joey Fly was mainly filled with a dark blue and rose colored monochromatic schemes. I got to have a lot more fun with the monochromatic palette this time around. Our blues are much more of a cyan, to really highlight that a cold snap that blows into Bug City. The inside of the theatre is a warm, royal orange. I also assigned different colors for each of the characters’ dressing rooms, borrowing from their personalities and interests. There’s also a major scene that takes place completely in the shadows back stage, and I used a deep purple to contrast with the warm oranges I use out in the theatre lights.


Whew!

The most tragic part of the whole process came at the very end, though, when I made what I thought was a perfect cover. It borrowed elements from the first, but was wholly its own. I fell completely in love with it, and as I’ve been told as an artist, I should never do that.


I cry just looking at it.

Because, of course, it got rejected by the publisher’s sales team. They thought it would look too similar to the first book. And I have to say, they know more about marketing then I do (I hope), so I must defer to them. I made a second, decent cover.

Finally, my job was complete. But I still had to wait six agonizing months to see the book in all its glory. Once I got my copy, the first read was a nerve-racking one. I get very nervous, looking for mistakes on my end, or even typos. But y’know what? Not a single mistake!…

Well, a few, but no one would ever notice them except me. And my ladyfriend and I read the entire thing, each playing particular characters throughout, and I gotta say, this is my proudest accomplishment as an illustrator.

And major big-ups to Aaron, who wrote an incredible story, and Reka, whose patience throughout kept me going.

And, hey, maybe we can take that original cover and make a poster out of it some day, when Joey Fly is in the hearts and homes of every ten-year-old in the country!


Or, say, a giant Sammy Stingtail.

Cynsational Notes

From the promotional copy:

A cold snap has blown into town like an unwanted house pest. But there’s only one guy in the bug city with the power to put crime permanently on ice: Joey Fly, Private Eye. He’s always on the lookout for trouble, and he runs into it when he meets Harry Spyderson, proprietor of the Scarab Beetle Theatre and director of the much-anticipated Bugliacci.

Greta Divawing, the four-winged, long-legged leading lady, has gone missing. Harry hires Joey Fly and his assistant, Sammy Stingtail to crack the case. Can they find Greta in time to save the show?


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Guest Post: Mark Gonyea on Slides and Limits

By Mark Gonyea

I used to be able to work.

Six years ago, I left a great full-time art director position to take my chances as an author of nonfiction art books for kids (some would say one of my riskier choices that I’m happy to report has thankfully worked out so far).

In the art department, we played the radio, phones were ringing, people walked in and out constantly. I could work on my computer, meet with marketing and probably be thinking about what the next three things on my plate would be that day, all at the same time, all getting done.

I was a graphic designing machine.

Now, not so much. Now I can't have the television on, can't listen to the radio (do people even have radios anymore?), can’t work without locking myself away in an impenetrable studio fortress of silence and solitude.

What happened? When did I get so easily distracted? And why does my neighbor feel the need to mow his lawn every other day?!? Grass can’t possibly grow that fast, can it?

Okay, wait, where was I?

The slide didn’t happen all at once. For the first year or so of working at home, I had the TV on, the Internet browser open. I’m hungry. A quick trip to the store wouldn’t hurt, right? I jumped from project to project, idea to idea, an hour or two here and there, this and that.

Somehow things still got done, but the side trips kept getting longer and the work hours consistently shorter and shorter.

Then there’s that first month where nothing get’s done. That can’t be right, a whole month with nothing to show for it? I know there’re things I could be working on. How did I let this happen?

One word... deadlines, as in “I had none” or at least none of consequence. The first two books were done, the next one wasn’t due for a year.

I meandered. I got lazy. Nothing focuses the mind more than the “there is no tomorrow” feeling of a looming deadline, and I don’t think I ever mentally adjusted to the glacial pacing of book publishing. Where time is measured in months and years as opposed to days, if not hours, in a rather busy art department.

My solution to this was nothing original, but still something I had to learn on my own (like most things really worth learning).

Limits. Self-imposed limits spur you to be creative. For me it’s all about getting the process started, not staring at that blank page too long.

Tell yourself “this much, this week” or “do this with just two colors.” One throwaway idea leads to another and another and then eventually to a decent idea that leads to a downright awesome idea. Force yourself to do it.

I also went back to doing some freelance graphic design. Not a lot, just enough to keep me on my toes and under pressure.
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