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Monday, October 29, 2007

Blog Book Tour - Alan Gratz!

     It's Fall and new books are in the air. Several of them are coming from my talented friends. Today I'd like to introduce you to Alan Gratz, who you may already know from his blockbuster premier book, Samurai Shortstop (Junior Library Guild Selection (Dial)). Well, his newest book, Something Rotten just came out and it's a rompin' good read!

     Alan - I just finished reading your new book yesterday (in one day - the pace wouldn't let me put it down) and I've got questions!
     First, I adored Samurai Shortstop so was anxious to read your second novel. (Drum roll please . . . ) Congratulations on the release of Something Rotten (Dial Books)!

     Thanks, e! Something Rotten is a project that is near and dear to my heart. I've been working on this character (Horatio Wilkes) since I was in college, and it's taken me this long to find a story-home for him and to get him into print. It was well worth the wait! I like to tell people that Horatio is as old on paper as he is in real life. I created him almost exactly seventeen years ago for a Mystery and Detective Fiction class back at the University of Tennessee. He's evolved quite a lot since then, but he's always had the same snarky character that has made me come back to him again and again looking for a place to use him.

     Something Rotten has a great Mickey Spillane kind of thing going on. Your main character, Horatio, is such a smart arse, it has an almost pulp mystery feel in a modern day setting. Tell us about your approach to writing Something Rotten in this style.

     I set out to write a contemporary YA mystery with a very noir feel – first-person narration, cynical world-view, strong moral code of ethics. I used what I hope are pithy metaphors and snappy dialogue to evoke a noir tone, and built my detective on the model of Raymond Chandler's private detective, Philip Marlowe. At the same time, I didn't *really* want to write in that 50's/60's noir voice, because though it's nostalgic and amusing to read now, it's sometimes hard to comprehend the slang and the patter. It would be too forced to have one character in my book who walks and talks like he stepped out of The Big Sleep. My idea was to keep the sarcastic tone and quick pacing of those novels, but to make sure that Horatio is contemporary. He's a real teenager who is up on his current slang and pop culture just like most teens. I like to imagine Horatio as Philip Marlowe if Marlowe had been born seventeen years ago instead of seventy years ago. The character is definitely an homage to that archetype, but he's not a pastiche. Horatio's his own man.

     I know you're a huge fan of Shakespeare (might you cross over into obsessed?). Along with the main character being named Horatio, the story is an adaptation of Hamlet, right? What was the tie in with Something Rotten and how did all that come together?

     I wouldn't say that I'm obsessed with Shakespeare, but I did take a few college courses on his plays, and I have been known to read and attend Shakespeare plays that *haven't* been assigned for a class. :-) Yes, Something Rotten is Hamlet rewritten as a contemporary YA murder mystery set in Denmark, Tennessee, with the minor character of Horatio recast as a wry, sarcastic, teenage detective. The Horatio character from Hamlet was an inspiration for my detective as far back as my time at the University of Tennessee, even though I didn't delve into the play itself then for a plot. What I like about the original Horatio is that he's practical. Down to earth. He's so down to earth, in fact, that Hamlet gives him crap for it in a famous line from the play, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Hamlet's telling Horatio he needs to think about the bigger picture, to reach out to the deeper philosophical questions that surround them--but ironically, it's that very philosophical nature that is Hamlet's undoing. Horatio, on the other hand, is one of only to or three characters left alive on stage at the end of a play with a significant body count! *That's* my kind of hero--a guy who's grounded enough to still be standing at the end of any story, no matter how tragic.

     Once I built the character of Horatio, I tried him in a number of stories (and occupations) that never worked. Years later, when I had shifted my full-time focus to writing YA novels, I realized that Horatio--snarky, smart, sarcastic, lazy--would make a perfect teenager. But what about a story? Well, I figured that since I had already stolen the character from Shakespeare, I might as well steal his plot, too. :-) No, seriously, I've read a great many well-done "updatings" of classic literature, and I loved the idea of retelling Hamlet in a contemporary setting. I once taught Shakespeare to eighth graders, and I know what a challenge his plays can be. Besides the sometimes Byzantine story lines, there's the tremendous hurdle of the language. I think if kids can be exposed to just one of those at a time--say, first reading a contemporary novel that follows the story but has much more accessible language--then it's easy to approach the second, the blank verse, in context. I wrote Something Rotten first and foremost as entertainment--and worked very hard to make sure it stands alone without the reader having read Hamlet to begin with--but I do hope that it eventually gets used in conjunction with the teaching of Hamlet.

     Please share some of the hidden jokes you added to the story for the Shakespeare fans. (Something about a bear exit stage left?)

     Well, the bear joke isn't in this book, but I've set it up. One of my favorite lines in all of Shakespeare is a stage direction from The Winter's Tale, "Exit, pursued by a bear." That has to be one of the greatest stage directions of all time--and coming from Shakespeare, who was so stingy with them you sometimes don't realize a character has even *left* the stage, makes it all the more priceless. So, to use this line--even if I don't eventually use that play--I've decided that the athletic team mascot at Horatio's school is the Bears. Now, some day, I will be able to have Horatio chased out of a locker room by a football player in uniform, and I'll be able to say Horatio "exited, pursued by a Bear." That's a lot of set up for a joke very few people will get, but that's the kind of thing I enjoy. The original draft of Something Rotten had many more allusions to the play, but some got cut out as too-obvious attempts at humor that did nothing to further the plot. Some things remain though for careful readers of Hamlet: Horatio goes to Wittenberg Academy, named for the university Hamlet and Horatio attend in the play; the paper plant at the heart of the story is called the Elsinore Paper Company, named for Elsinore castle, where Hamlet and the royal family live; and I work in allusions to famous lines here and there too, like the obvious "There's something rotten in the state of Denmark."

     The Copenhagen River in Something Rotten is horribly polluted by the local paper company. Is this a piece of your own history or completely fictional?

     The origins of this part of the story are in the play itself. I was looking for a way to parallel the scene in Hamlet where Ophelia drowns, and I got the idea for my Ophelia character, Olivia, to be an environmentalist hell-bent on cleaning up the river. That in turn reminded me of my experiences as a child, witnessing the Champion Paper/Little Pigeon River pollution controversy that played out in front page headlines in Knoxville, Tennessee, where I grew up. I went back and did some research into the public efforts to clean up Champion's act, and while I change names and fictionalize things, that situation is definitely at the heart of this novel. I found the environmental angle ended up giving the book a real heart too, and I've now made a point of focusing on some environmental or social issue in each of the sequels. Something Wicked for example, which takes place in the mountains of East Tennessee near the tourist meccas of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, will touch on the issue of urban sprawl and commercialization.

     Do you have more Shakespearean type mysteries in the works? In other words, what are you working on next?

     Something Wicked, based on Macbeth ("By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes!"), is up next. Horatio is back, and this time he goes to a Scottish Highland Festival with his friend Mac and Mac's girlfriend Beth (yes, you may groan now) where he solves the murder of Duncan MacRae, the man who owns Birnam Mountain. The third book in the series, sold but not yet written, will be Something Foolish, based on A Midsummer Night's Dream ("What fools these mortals be.") In Foolish, Horatio attends an all-night keg party where he must solve a date rape, and he also has some lingering issues from Wicked he's got to face as well. My publisher, Dial, has been very supportive of this series, and they seem as excited as I do about exploring both the Shakespearean canon--and Horatio's character--in more depth. I've got more ideas in the hopper for Horatio too--a college visit to a frat house that mirrors Julius Caesar (can you say toga party?), as well as a riff on The Tempest in which Horatio is an intern at a Florida amusement park run by a Disneyesque "magician"--and I can only hope that the series does well enough to warrant more books. I don't have clever titles for those novels yet, so I've given them the working titles "Something Else" and "Something Completely Different." :-)

     Thanks for a great read Alan!

     You're welcome--and thanks for hosting me on my blog tour!

Look for Alan's forthcoming books over the next few years:
     Samurai Shortstop (Junior Library Guild Selection (Dial)) (2006)
     Something Rotten (2007)
     Something Wicked (2008)
     Something Foolish (2009)
and check out Alan's Blog where you can enjoy the custom construction of his new home in the Appalachian mountains from your cumfy chair without the noise of hammers and saws.

Alan is on tour this week, so go read more about him and his work at these blogs:
Monday: Elizabeth O. Dulemba
Tuesday:Kim Norman's Stone Stoop
Wednesday: Karen Lee
Thursday: Kerry Madden's Mountain Mist


Friday, September 21, 2007

Blog Book Tour for Karen Lee!

     It's Fall and that means a wave of new book releases. Once again I am surrounded by talented friends with new creations for you to drool over. Today, I'd like to introduce you to my bud, Karen Lee.
     Here's a pic I got of Karen on our recent trip to the SCBWI Portfolio Show at the Society of Illustrators in New York. (You can read about our trip here.)

Me: Congratulations on your latest release, My Even Day, which paired with One Odd Day has just won the Learning Magazine’s Teachers’ Choice Awards for 2008!! Wow!
Karen: Thanks!

Me: Your artwork adds so much to these zany stories, adding all kinds of fun elements that weren’t in the text. How did you come up with your ideas?
Karen: I start with some simple brainstorming and develop my ideas like a hungry spider in the middle of her web – building out from the middle and adding threads, following them as far as I can. Ultimately I can end up with ideas that are so far of the center of the web that they seem unrelated – but by my logic they are. To belabor my analogy - whatever ideas fly into the web for the next few days I offer up to the hungry spider “How bout this one?” What about this?” then I see what gets chomped on. I work that way for both writing and art.

(Note: Karen is also one of the top illustrators for Highlights Magazine and illustrated their recent 60th anniversary issue cover!)
Me: What was your method and do you feel like you’ve had to stretch yourself as an illustrator with these books?
Karen: I start the illustration process with super scruffy rough thumbnails in ball point pen. This keeps me trying new ideas and layouts and view points - if I don't like what I've done I am forced to start over.Once I've narrowed it down I redraw in larger storyboard format, revise, then a draw at full size.Once I've had approval and am ready to paint I transfer the least amount of line I can to maintain the layout. I work in watercolor and don't like the way line shows through where you least want it and I don't want to inhibit the spontaneity of the process by trying to color in the lines. It gives the work a much fresher feeling than I used to get when I did follow outlines more.
     This series of books has been synchronicity for me and I hope for the authors and publisher as well. The stories are absolutely wonderful but they needed the right artist to really pull off the wackiness. Donna German at Sylvan Dell saw this potential in my work when she offered the first book to me and it started me down an avenue that has opened up my whole focus. I always liked doing funny, silly images but there is a fine line before it crosses into a more cartoonish approach. I can hardly do a piece of art now with out having some wry or humorous elements in it.

Me: Do you have a favorite layout or element in any of the illustrations? Or have you hidden any personal jokes, like the family dog or somesuch?
Karen: My favorite is the breakfast scene in My Even Day where the two headed mom is flipping pancakes. It was pure fun for me to paint and the bees I put in where a last minute inspiration. I do find myself adding some of the same things in my art over and over again but not one specific thing.
     I do add some very personal things to the art sometimes. Each of my kids has done the childish artwork on the dedication page of One Odd Day and My Even Day. A heart with my husband’s initials and mine are carved into a tree in ABC Safari (note: Karen is both writer and illustrator of this beautiful book.) and the trees on that page are inspired by the view from his grandma’s front porch. It seems like the more personal things I put into an illustration the more keenly I feel connected to the art, then the more delight I feel. When this happens during the process the pieces are always pointed out to me as my most successful works. I think they resonate more with the viewer because they resonated with me and I put details in that convey that feeling.

Me: Will there be another book in this series?
Karen: Yeah – I am painting on My Half Day (about fractions) right now. It will be released in 2008. After that – maybe time?

Me: What other projects can your fans look forward to?
Karen: My fans – ha!
     I don’t know what will see the light of day but I have one story that I’d like to collaborate with my husband on the finished paintings with – it’s a silly, creepy Halloween story – perfect for the two of us to work on together. I have a few other writing projects in progress. Other than that – pick up a copy of Highlights For Children and sometimes you’ll find something I did in it.

     To learn more about Karen Lee, visit her website and get the latest news at her blog.

     Karen is also on tour the rest of this week, so to get more in depth information, follow her to the blogs of other talented friends (links will be updated to static as the tour continues):
Elizabeth O. Dulemba
Kim Norman
Ruth McNally Barshaw
Barbara Johansen Newman
Dotti Enderle
Kerry Madden

     To visit tours I've hosted for other talented friends, click on the category "BlogBookTours" to the right or go here.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Blog Book Tour for Kim Norman!

Drum roll please . . . today I'd like to introduce Kim Norman, author of the newly released Jack Of All Tails (Dutton). Kim is a multi-talented gal with tons of energy to share. Enjoy her interview!

Kim, congratulations on your newest release, Jack Of All Tails (Dutton)!

Thank you!!

So much of your life is in the public eye (you're a born performer). What is your pull to write and why this story?

As I mentioned on Dotti's blog, it was a "found gem" of a premise that just stuck with me. I tried it about a thousand-and-one ways; my poor critique group read it SO many times. They are saints! Originally, it was plotless; just kind of a slice-of-life: "Here's my family; here's this odd thing we do, (impersonating pets); tra la, isn' t it funny; the end." It had a lot of humor at that stage, but I was worried editors would complain there was no plot or conflict. So then I tried cramming in all these plot twists, (mean dogs; a lost dad; I think there was even a monkey in there for a while!), but it just wasn't working. It didn't have the freshness and humor of the original.

By this point, Joe Kulka, one of my crit group members, was jumping up and down, screaming, (I'll paraphrase), "No No NO! These plots are terrible! You've got to take it back closer to the original." (Did I mention how much I love my critique group? We've developed close friendships, but the group would mean nothing if not for that kind of honesty.) So I finally followed Joe's advice, took it back closer to the original version, and he was right. I did eventually find my conflict, (Kristi, the main character, struggling to figure out what kind of pet she's good at), but it wasn't a forced conflict with a lot of running around the park. It was an internal conflict true to Kristi's character.

How long did it take you to write Jack Of All Tails and what was your path to publication?

Once I found an angle, that first draft went fairly quickly. In fact, I THINK the closing line of the book has never changed from the first draft to the last page in the finished, printed book. But with all those revisions and back-tracks, it was months and months, probably over a year, before I got it to a level that it was ready to submit. I queried it around a few places, got a few nibbles as I recall, but I'm really the laziest writer on the planet when it comings to putting things in the mail. In October of 2002 I met a Dutton editor at a Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference who liked the manuscript; she even had a revision letter to hand me when we met. I revised it two or three more times for her and she bought it the following April.

I clearly remember that final revision: I sat down on the couch with the manuscript in my lap and printouts of all my group's critiques fanned out around me, highlighted in a rainbow of colors. I especially liked Terri Murphy's suggestion that, each time Kristi is "fired" from a pet job, the customer would say, "No, No! Bad kitty/doggie/pig/whatever." That strengthened the story with repetition. I'd also had a lot of good council from my editor, who helped me with the pacing of the story, encouraging me to make a "turning dummy," to make sure all the funny, surprise elements landed on a left-hand page, after the page-turn.

It was April, the height of allergy season when I got up one morning with a migraine, popped a couple of extra-strength Excedrin, then stumbled to my computer (ever the junky) where I found my editor's offer to buy the manuscript. With that darned headache, I surely couldn't leap of joy! That would have to wait. I dug out a book I'd bought a beforehand on negotiating contracts. Thumbed thru it and could see that it was a good offer for a first-time author, so I emailed my acceptance.

You were the illustrator of The Museum Duck (Pearl Line Press). Was it hard to let somebody else illustrate Jack of All Tails?

Not at all. If you ever got a peek at The Museum Duck, you'd see that – while I'm a perfectly skilled graphic artist – I'm just not a strong illustrator. Not like pros such as you, Elizabeth! I have no strongly defined style, and I'm a bit too literal when envisioning scenes. I love how you guys add to the story with elements in your illustrations. I always point that out to kids during my school visits, noting how this or that detail is nowhere to be found in my text.

The Museum Duck is a nice little book for what it is: a local book which raises funds for our county museum, but I'd have to study and practice long and hard to reach the level of you pros! I enjoy composition & layout and adore typography, so I'm happy enough as a graphic artist, but I think I'm a bit misplaced as an artist. I think my true calling is as a writer.

As good as you are onstage, I know you must have exciting events planned with the release of Jack Of All Tails. Can you share?

Well, there was the launch party. Glorious! And so kind of my boss and his wife (the owners of The Smithfield Times, our local weekly newspaper where I have worked for 12 years), to host it for me. It was in the garden at the beautiful, historic Smithfield Inn.

I've got a busy summer of signings lined up, several around town, and also one in the library in Lovell, Maine, near Kezar Lake where I wrote (if I may say so) astrong revision of The Crocodaddy a few summers ago. So if you're anywhere near Lovell, Maine in early August, look me up!

Then, in the fall, it's back to school visits & educator conferences, which I've been building for a few years now. I started kind of early with the school visits, with nothing but an appearance in a Meadowbrook anthology as a credit, (a nice, dust jacketed hardback which I always donated to the school libraries) but I figure what I lacked in publication credits, I made up for in stage experience. I mean, how many authors can sing and tap dance for you? (Okay. I'll admit, I have never tap danced yet for a school performance. Those tile cafeterias are slippery. I'd fall and break my Jack of all TAILS!)

Now you've got me thinking I need to do something really zany! I am planning on creating my own Standee-type sign to put near my signing tables. My skills as a graphic artist go that far, at least. That has been a real savings for me, in fact. I can create press-ready layouts for postcards, brochures, etc., with my own equipment.

This was fun, E! Thanks for having me in for a chat!

Thanks back Kim!
Check out Kim's blog at, and follow the rest of Kim's tour as she visits:
Monday - my blog
Tuesday - Dotti Enderle's blog
Wednesday - Kerry Madden's blog
Thursday - Barbara Johansen Newman's blog
Friday - Karen Lee's blog
Saturday - Ruth McNally Barshaw's blog


Monday, May 21, 2007

Blog Book Tour for Kerry Madden!

Today, I am pleased to introduce Kerry Madden, author of Gentle's Holler and the just released follow-up, Louisiana's Song. Kerry and I have much in common including a mutual love for all things Appalachian. In Gentle's Holler I love the strong sense of place Kerry portrays, transporting you to the beautiful smoky mountains and Maggie Valley with all their charms and spirit. I'm thrilled to be able to revisit in Louisiana's Song.

Congratulations on the release of "Louisiana's Song" (Viking), the follow-up to "Gentle's Holler" (which I loved). In this second book, we follow the story of Livy Two. Is this eleven year old shaped after you or somebody you know?

Thanks, Elizabeth! Livy Two was inspired by my sister-in-law, Tomi Lunsford, a Nashville songwriter, and the third oldest of thirteen children. I tried to imagine what it was like for her to grow up one of thirteen kids and be a songwriter. Livy Two is also a little of my love of books…

Now, I know you’re based in California. How did you come to write about the Smoky Mountains?

I lived in ten states growing up…and I lived in North Carolina as a small child and later moved to East Tennessee in high school when my father started coaching for the Tennessee Volunteers. I soon learned that kids always went mountains for everything – hikes, retreats, romance, field trips. I fell in love with the mountains – and in 2001, at a dark and desperate writing time (ghostwriting, penning shadow soap operas where I had to write garbage like “My, that bathrobe looks very familiar” …I was also writing health articles like “how to stay healthy if you sell insurance”) Anyhow, I made a decision to write a children’s novel and set it in the most beautiful place in the world just to save my sanity. I also wanted to write it with love...

You catch the flavor of the area so well. What do you especially love about the region and try to portray in your books?

I read CHRISTY by Catherine Marshall in high school, and that inspired me to go teach English in China in a very remote village after college. Then I read Lee Smith as a young mother, and her books were a huge comfort and inspiration – FAIR AND TENDER LADIES and ORAL HISTORY, especially. I married a man, Kiffen Lunsford, whose great uncle was a songcatcher in the Smokies, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, and I have to say COALMINER’S DAUGHTER broke my heart, too, so it was a culmination of so many things. I also grew up drawing pictures of big families. I love the language, the music, the way folks talk – my ears perk up in the mountains, and I just want to soak up the words. I miss in living in the South. I ran away from it (Knoxville) and went as far away as I could – all the way to China with my husband our first year of marriage – and yet, I go back to the South every day in my writing.

Do you think growing up as the daughter of a football coach (but not that football coach) and moving around so much, contributed to you being a writer now?

On each moving day, I was the kid who went kicking and screaming to the new football town, but I know now it was my training to be a writer. My father would order me in the car (I was sulking on the curb or crying in the empty house), “Cut the dramatics! You’ll forget all about these people! You want to stay in the same town your whole life? What kind of life is that?” Out of pure defiance, I vowed I would never forget and my childhood became my football novel, OFFSIDES, about growing up a freak on the gridiron – a little like THE GREAT SANTINI with a football backdrop. We had to dress in team colors and we were Panthers, Demon Deacons, Volunteers, Cyclones…but my dad always did say, “Follow your dream!” and my mother got us library cards and told us things would be great because we were the children of a football coach. And sometimes, they were…
Read Kerry's beautiful essay I AM NOT JOHN MADDEN’S DAUGHTER.

Do you have any book signing tours planned for the release of "Louisiana's Song?"

Yes, I’m doing lots of reading and signings here in Southern California this month with mountain music and story-swapping. Then later this summer and again in the fall, I’ll be going to back to North Carolina and Tennessee to do writing workshops with kids. I set up my GENTLE’S HOLLER tour as writing workshops for kids, and I met some wonderful young writers and teachers and librarians. Thank you for these great questions, Elizabeth!

Go read more about Kerry and Louisiana's Song during her blog book tour this week. She's with me today, Dotti Enderle tomorrow, Alan Gratz on Wednesday, Kim Norman on Thursday, and Ruth McNally Barshaw on Saturday.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Blog Book Tour for Barbara Johansen Newman!

     No personality here. Nope, nada, zip. Whatever!
     This week I would like to introduce you all to a talented and crazy lady, Barbara Johansen Newman. She's been an artist since day one, and a highly successful children's book illustrator as her latest artistic incarnation. And now she's a writer too. Her first book which she both wrote and illustrated has just been released by Sterling Publishing, and it's a hootenany of a humdinger!
     Barbara's book tour took her to Dotti Enderle's blog yesterday, mine today, Ruth McNally Barshaw's blog Wednesday, Kim Norman's on Thursday, and Karen Lee's on Friday. Read my interview with Barbara, then visit the other blogs to learn more. Click the cover to buy a copy of Tex & Sugar.

After an impressive lineup of books illustrated by you, congratulations on your first book with only your name on the cover! Tex & Sugar, written AND illustrated by YOU has just been released by Sterling Publishers! Give us a quickie about the story.

     Thanks, Elizabeth, for nice words and the congratulations!
     The story of my first book as author and illustrator is a saga.
     Tex and Sugar began as a little poem written in 1983, called Tex Mex Rex. It was part of a collection that I had written about work-a-day cats called, “Seven Working Kitty City Ditties.” Each cat had a different job.
     On a trip to NYC to show my portfolio to publishers, one art editor, then at Knopf, came downstairs to meet me, pointed to Tex Mex Rex and said, “Turn this into its own book.”
     I made plans to do that, but life came along. I got busy with editorial work, buying a house, and adopting our first child. And I continued to be sidetracked with more magazine work and two more sons, not to mention extended family. Seventeen years passed by before I pulled that old collection of poems out and started working on Tex.
     Eventually I had a story for him, and the first publisher I sent it to was one I was working with. They were interested in the story but not with me as illustrator. They wanted to “stardust” the story with a big name illustrator, since I was unknown as a writer. I said no. Not that story. Too personal. I was told I was crazy, but I just could not part with the character.
     The manuscript went through rewrites and revisions, in between my illustration jobs and family life. It came close to being sold, and then not. But every time I pulled it out for rewriting, it got better.
     Finally, in in the spring of 2005 I committed myself to working on getting this story published. I sent it out simultaneously to about 7 places, and Meredith Mundy Wasinger at Sterling loved it right away. Sterling made an offer and I withdrew it from consideration at the other houses. I was thrilled because it meant I would be able to work with Meredith again.
     So there you have it: 22 years from first draft to sale! A long time to cook on the stove. I tell this story because I think people should never give up on dreams.

You have such an energetic colorful style. How do you achieve it?

     During the only year in college that was of any value to me, a professor looked at some of my work and said: “Barbara, draw from your head.” I think he realized that the work I did that was purely drawn from my heart and not from life was so much better because it was intuitive, as opposed to tightly rendered. When I want to work on a project, I need to get to the part of me that draws by instinct, instead of by replication. I try NOT to plan, but work instead from that subconscious place that does what needs doing without thinking too much about it. You know – like when you doodle while talking on the phone. Those drawings are always so pure and fresh.
     Color is important to me. I love color and always have, but I worked for many years with a lack of it. Not sure why, except I was drawn to line, with color being secondary. I needed to become a colorist. I learned to work with color in the last few years I made the dolls. And then, once I started illustrating I found such pleasure in color.
     And here is something else: my house has gotten more and more colorful, too.

How was writing different for you? Was it a completely different way to work?

     I have to remind myself that I need to write the way I draw – like a stream of random thoughts and ideas that I will make sense of later. “Just get those ideas down,” I have to repeat over and over to myself. It is not easy for me to do this, but I think I write better stories when I write with my own voice, from “that” place, like finding my own style of drawing. I am still working on that.

You have an extensive history in puppetry and soft figure sculpting. How does that influence your style today?

     Making dolls and puppets is all about being character driven and finding those nuances in the details of dress and behavior that make protagonists who they are. When I write, I work from the character and the setting, because that is what I like: portraits full of details that paint the picture and tell you who this person is. I worked that way as a puppeteer and I worked that way as a doll maker.
     It is a bit of a struggle for me though, because characters alone do not make a plot. I can create great characters and very detailed, believable settings and situations. Plot is much harder. It is my biggest challenge.

I love the boots you wear while promoting Tex & Sugar. Where'd you find them?

     I love cowboy boots and have many pairs in different colors. But when Tex and Sugar came out I decided I needed a genuine, custom pair of cowboy boots to celebrate. I went on line and found Rocketbuster Boots in El Paso, Texas. How perfect was that? Sugar leaves El Paso to hit NYC! The styles they showed on line knocked my socks off! I told them what I was looking for and they customized their design for me. BTW, one of the owners of Rocketbusters left NYC for El Paso. I found that little twist to make the whole thing even more interesting and maybe ...even...of ....cosmic significance.........
     Here is a big problem, though: I think I would like more pairs of boots from Rocketbusters.

Me too! Thanks Barb!


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Blog Book Tour for Ruth McNally Barshaw!

     Today's blog book tour is for Ruth McNally Barshaw and her new release, Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel. Ruth's story is an inspiring one, so enjoy reading my interview with her today and visit the other stops on her tour. Dotti Enderle on Monday, Karen Lee on Wednesday, Kim Norman on Thursday, Alan Gratz on Friday, Barbara Newman on Saturday, and Greg Fishbone on Sunday!

     Ruth, Congratulations on the release of your first book "Ellie McDoodle" (Bloomsbury), written And illustrated by YOU!! The story of how you sold your first book is truly magical. Can you share?

     Thank you! I could not be more thrilled. It's still hard to believe it's all for real.
     Harken back to October, 2004. I'd been studying and creating picturebook dummies for two years and loved it, and was at the personal rejection stage. That's where the editor says, "Nice, no thanks, but send us something else you've done."
     I met my idol, Tomie dePaola, at a local bookstore (and incidentally had declared on a few email lists that if I ever met him in person I would wash his feet. I did remember to offer but he declined politely). I stood near his snaking booksigning line and drew him a few times, laughed at all his jokes, and when it was finally time -- two hours later -- to get his autograph he treated me like an old friend. Bear in mind I had my squirmy toddler grandson on my back and my 8-year-old daughter at my side the entire time. I was desperate to get a few minutes with Tomie.
     What he said ended up changing my life: "Come to New York for the annual SCBWI Conference in February; we're doing more for illustrators this time." I said I would go.
     All the way home I beat myself up for it. I had no money, no means to go to New York. But I felt he meant there were specific opportunities for me.
     Well, magically the money materialized -- a cartooning job, and reimbursement from a cousin for art done many months earlier. Suddenly I could go. But I was scared, so a friend arranged to go with me, splitting the cost of transportation and covering the cost of the hotel. The friend backed out at the last minute, and I couldn't just write off that $400 in tuition. We were broke!
     I begged the bank for a $500 loan to cover the train and hotel (showed them a painting I planned to display at the conference), and I went. I had no hotel room for the first night. Had never been to New York, never been on a train. It was a total leap of faith, and somehow it all worked out.
     While there I drew everything, like I always do.
     I came home discouraged. I'd put myself "out there" and nobody discovered me. Although it was a glorious and inspiring time, I wondered when I would finally get my work published. I vowed to improve it until they HAD to hire me. (In fact I read books on color theory on the train home).
     On a lark, I put my sketchbook online, and sent the link to a few writer/illustrator groups and was deluged with email.
     They convinced me to do a kids' book in that style. A week later, an agent found me. We signed and she sold the book to Bloomsbury soon after.
     My life completely changed, almost overnight.
     My agent and the staff at Bloomsbury are so brilliant and wonderful to work with. I feel very lucky. And my writer friends have my undying gratitude. I've come to realize conferences aren't about the editor or agent connections you make. They're about the other writers and illustrators. My peers helped get me published, and they have mentored me and nurtured me through every step in the process.
     My family didn't understand what I was doing -- in fact they actively opposed it. But my writer and illustrator friends -- gosh, what truly great people they are. The book is dedicated to them.

     Wow! Some story, eh? To see Ruth's SCBWI-NY sketchbook for 2007, go to: To see the sketchbook that started the whole thing, go to: Ruth's 2005 NY-SCBWI sketchbook.

     Thank you! The link for the original sketchbook, from '05, is on my website, too. And the one from '06. Each one has almost 200 pages of sketches and conference notes.

     They're worth the look-see too - I've enjoyed every page!
     So tell us the story of Ellie McDoodle!

     Ellie is almost 12, and she gets stuck going camping with relatives she cannot stand, and she writes and draws all aboutit in her sketchbook. She always has a sketchbook handy. Eventually she discovers things aren't always as they first seem, and there's more good to her relatives than she originally thought.
     That's the surface stuff. Deeper, Ellie is about loss and despair, and hope and how things eventually work out ok. Most especially it is about living in the moment: Inventing fun, sharing, noticing small things, and enjoying whatever path you're on.

     This is your first book, but you've already lined up the sequel for 2008. A two book deal! What's that been like? Did you already plan to create a second book?

     When I was writing Ellie I kept thinking this could be a series, but it wasn't pitched that way to the editor. I kept squirrelling away ideas for a sequel but it wasn't until the revisions stage that I realized Bloomsbury was looking ahead also. My editor said something like, "Can you make this character her little brother instead of her cousin, so he can be featured in future books?" I felt like I had hit the jackpot.
     A few months later my agent returned from an editor meeting saying they wanted a book every year for a while. I don't think I will ever forget that day.
     I'm working on the sequel right now. It wasn't hard to write the synopsis, but sitting down to do the writing was daunting. I procrastinated for weeks. I was scared to even try to produce something better than the first book. I know it has to be great for people to want to read it. What a huge challenge. And the deadlines are extremely tight because it's such a complicated book to produce, both on my end and the publisher's. It's a big, intense job.
     Staring down all that hard work is not easy. I'm learning to pace myself, though. Last year during the revisions I either got very sick or attended a funeral every single time I took a break. I'm determined to make it go better this time.

     You are just now starting to kick-off book signings and events for Ellie McDoodle. What do you have on the docket and what are you really excited about?

     I'm deliriously excited about a few things:
     - book 2, which is almost ready to hand off to my editor,
     - working on a picturebook project which is very funny,
     - seeing my book in stores, and hearing when it has sold out,
     - getting Ellie into the hands of people who love her.
     Yesterday a family strolled down my street, and I paid particular attention because their girls looked to be Ellie's age. My grandson ran after them yelling, "Hey! This is about Ellie McDoodle!" (he had a flyer about the Book Launch Party in his hand) and I'm afraid I didn't stop him. I want as many people to know as possible. The family thought we were weirdos at first but they eventually lost the deer-in-the-headlights look.

     Again, congratulations. It's been so fun to watch your success!

     Thank you! It's been fun living it.
     I remember when my kids were babies I used to sometimes cry myself to sleep, just certain that my extreme happiness couldn't possibly last. But it did. Similarly, I sometimes feel this, today, is too good to last. But it's one heck of a thrill ride in the meantime.

     Here's to Ruth's (and Ellie's) continued success!


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Blog Book Tour for Dotti Enderle

Another Blog Book Tour! As I promised, several of my friends have books coming out right now. Today I ask Dotti Enderle about her latest picture book release, "Grandpa for Sale."
Dotti was interviewed yesterday by Karen Lee, me today, and will be interviewed by Ruth McNally Barshaw Wednesday, Kim Norman Thursday and Barbara Johansen Newman on Saturday. Joe Kulka (the illustrator) interviewed Dotti on his blog as well. Visit around to learn more about Dotti's successful career with novels and picture books.

Hi Dotti.
Congratulations on your newest picture book release, "Grandpa for Sale!" This is your third picture book now, after many successful novels in your "Fortune Tellers Club" series. How do you feel about creating picture books vs. creating novels?

Picture books are definitely more fun to promote. I love seeing the looks on the kids' faces when I read one of my picture books out loud at a public event. But they are harder to write. With novels you have a lot more leeway, adding as much description and dialogue as necessary. With picture books you have to tell the story with both words and pictures. And since I'm not the illustrator, I have to make sure the plot and characters are lively enough to carry 14 various illustrations.

You actually co-wrote "Grandpa for Sale" with Vicki Sansum. Is there a story behind this collaboration?

There's a story behind everything I do! Vicki and I have been good friends for a long time. We met through the Houston SCBWI, and she and I got together regularly to critique each other's work. While she was reading a chapter from one of her novels that took place in an antique store, the idea for Grandpa for Sale popped into my head. I ran it by her, and she loved it. We each wrote our own version, then combined them. After several drafts, and lots of cutting, we ended up with a colorful and fun book.

What's your favorite part of creating a picture book. Is it when you first write the story, when you see the illustrations for the first time, when it's released?

Actually it's the anticipation of seeing the illustrations for the first time. Sort of like waiting for Santa. I always have pictures in my mind when writing a picture book, but they're never as fun as the ones that the illustrators come up with. So, while I enjoy seeing the illos, it's the anticipation of what they might look like that makes me happy.

What's next in the pipeline? Do you plan to do more picture books, or will you return to novels?

Hopefully both. I have two more picture books coming out next year. One is a follow up to The Cotton Candy Catastrophe at the Texas State Fair. It's called The Fat Stock Stampede at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. It'll be fun promoting it here in Houston during "Go Texan" week. I also have another picture book coming out with Pelican Publishing called Gingerbread Man: Superhero! I think you can guess what that's about. And I have two upcoming middle-grade novels, one this fall called Hidden, and another with Delacorte Press called Man in the Moon. I'm currently working on a YA.

I have to ask this. Do you still wear the pink wig?

Rarely. It was lots of fun for promoting The Cotton Candy Catastrophe, but it's cumbersome and limiting, and I've pretty much retired it. Though I'm not opposed to digging it back out should the occasion call for it. :-)

Thanks Dotti!


Friday, April 13, 2007

1st ever Blog Book Tour for Joe Kulka!

     I'm starting a new feature here at - a BLOG BOOK TOUR!
     What is that?
     Well, several of my friends have books coming out about now, and we've gotten together to help you learn about their new creations.
     Today, I interview author/illustrator Joe Kulka about his new picture book, Wolf's Coming! (Carolrhoda Picture Books).
     Joe will be interviewed by several friends this week (hence the Blog Tour): Ruth McNally Barshaw's brand spankin' new blog, "Ellie McDoodle" on Tuesday; Alan Gratz's "Gratz Industries" on Wednesday; Dotti Enderle's Blog on Friday; and Barbara Johansen Newman's Blog, Cat Jammers Studio on Saturday.
     Enjoy the interviews and go check out the book! (Click the cover to go to it's listing on Amazon.)

So Joe, congratulations on your new release, Wolf's Coming! (Carolrhoda Picture Books)! Is this the first book you've written and illustrated? Tell us about it!

     Thanks. Yes, this is my first book as both author and illustrator. The story is about the animals in the forest spying Wolf leaving his cave and heading towards their tree house. They spread the word that Wolf is coming, running and hiding as they do so. When Wolf arrives they are ready for him and the book ends with a surprise.
     O.K., I'll give away the ending here but don't tell anyone. They really are running because they have a surprise birthday party planned for Wolf.
     Hopefully little readers will get a kick out the story and especially enjoy reading it a second time with a new perspective once you know the ending. There are little clues in the illustrations that foreshadow the ending to the observant reader.

How many books for you is this now? Give us the list!

     The other books I've illustrated are Granny Gert And the Bunion Brothers by Dotti Enderle published by Pelican, Monkey Math (Rookie Readers) by Larry Brimmer published by Scholastic, The Spitting Twins by Andrea Jones published by Frog Ltd, "Woodsy's ABCs" published by the USDA Forest Service, Have You Seen King Candy? by Jackie Glassman, and Happy Birthday Princess Lolly! by Jackie Glassman both published by Scholastic.
     I've also illustrated a number of educational readers and a sticker story book on pirates will be out this summer.
     Right now I'm working on my 2nd book as author and illustrator, "The Rope" which will be published by Pelican.

What "drew" you (sorry!) to picture books?

     Reading Rainbow and Charles Santore get a lot of the credit/blame. For a couple years after graduating college the only work I was getting was scientific and medical illustration for text books. On the way to the publisher's to deliver my drawings of spleens and kidneys I would walk past Charles Santore's studio. I could see him up there painting away at his drawing table. This was around the time he was working on The Wizard of Oz. When the book was released I was (and still am) in awe of how beautiful it was. I also would tune into Reading Rainbow every day when I would eat my lunch. I enjoyed seeing the variety of children's books that they showed. I realized that children's book was the aspect of illustration that I truly wanted to pursue.

What do you love about the business, and what do you . . . not love?

     What I love the most is that I've suckered people into paying me to draw pictures and now make up stories.
Little do they know that I would do it for nothing! However, let me quickly add that I pride myself on being an astute businessman as well as an artist and absolutely realize the value of my commodity.
     What I'm really trying to say is that I absolutely love what I do and I'm extremely grateful that I am able to make a living doing it.
     I love having a 5 second commute to work. I love being able to (and usually do) work in my pajamas.
     The thrill of my professional life was when I got to sit down and read my own book, "Wolf's Coming!" to my 3 and 6 year old sons as a bedtime story. Even if I were to win a Caldecott someday I doubt that would top that one. But I'm certainly willing to find out, so feel free to throw one my way.
     The aspects of it that I don't love... working into the wee hours of the morning more nights than not, work for hire contracts - contracts from certain publishers that require you sign over the copyright of your illustrations - I avoid those as much as possible. Other things that I don't love- computers that crash, brushes that drip, advances that are long spent before the book is finished and books that somehow get printed with the colors far off from what they should be. Thankfully "Wolf's Coming!" colors look great.

Can you share your journey into children's publishing?

     As I said above after I graduated from college, the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, I had my degree in illustration but not a clear idea of what avenue to pursue. Somehow while in college pursuing children's books seemed to be something that only women did. So I never took a children's book class. Other than Reading Rainbow and envying Charles Santore, the other eye opener for me occurred at the medical publishers I was working at. I was filling in as staff illustrator for a few months while one of the illustrators was on pregnancy leave. The publisher was part of Harcourt and around Christmas time a big stack of children's books would appear in the break area from the children's division in San Diego. Stellaluna was in there one year. It was a joy to look at and dream of doing something half as good someday.
     It took me quite a while to be able to revamp my portfolio and switch from scientific illustration to children's book illustration. About 8 years for the complete transformation.
     During that time I had a couple small detours. One of which was getting myself up to speed using a computer.
     I had always worked with pen and ink, watercolors and oils. I wanted nothing to do with a computer.
     However my clients were starting to ask for work delivered in a digital format so I saw the handwriting on the wall. I got myself a Mac and shortly thereafter was lucky enough to land an in-house job at a multimedia company. I was part of a team that was developing one of the first games for the original Sony Playstation. I was doing storyboards and they needed to be done digitally so I got to learn my way around a computer pretty quickly. I found out that programs such as Painter were really just another tool to help you create - the same way a pencil or brush is.
     As the company I was working for began to implode I decided it was best to resume my freelance career and get back on the track of pursuing my children's book dream.
     At this time I started to focus on my writing. I was confident in my drawing skills but felt like a novice when it came to writing a story. So I joined a Yahoo group on picturebooks and someone posted an email about wanting to start a critique group. I jumped in and was fortunate enough to fall into a group comprised of 7 extremely talented writers, some illustrators as well.
     The crit group has done wonders in helping me hone my writing skills. First by having a deadline - I need to have something to submit when it's my turn - I'm forced to write. I think my years of illustration background has me needing that deadline to get something accomplished. Another key aspect is having to critique the work of the other writers. Having to look at a story critically allows you to pick up on writing techniques that you might otherwise miss. You can really learn a lot. I feel as though I've gotten my master's degree through my crit group.
     So once I felt my writing skills were up to snuff and I had a story that was ready to go I made up a dummy and sent it out. And got it back rejected. So I sent it out again. And got it back again. The third time was the charm for me and CarolRhoda bought "Wolf's Coming!"
     My editor, Ellen, was an joy to work with. It was such a pleasure knowing that her suggestions were always on the mark and made the book the best it could be.
     So now I just hope that I can keep doing this for about 40 more years or so and then you plant me in the ground with a smile on my face!


All Artwork © Elizabeth O. Dulemba,  - Y'all play nice, okay?