Category: KidLit

The Story of “The Story Circle” by Wendy Martin

Wendy Martin.
Smile for the camera, Wendy!

I’m excited to share this post from Wendy Martin, someone who’s art I’ve admired for many years. I love process stories. Whenever I talk to kids about what goes into making a book, either through writing or illustrating, I show them the work-behind-the-work. Why? Because finished books are magical things that look like they leaped out of someone’s head fully formed. And that makes them a little bit intimidating, and a lot a bit inaccessible as “something you could do.” It takes a lot of work to make a book, and I love to show people that that work is made up of attainable steps along the way. Sure, I get it, you can’t draw a straight line and your grammar is broken. That’s why we sketch, draft, and revise!

Here’s how Wendy works wonders. It’s great stuff. Enjoy!


Wendy Martin: Process

Jim asked me to share my art process. I’ll be explaining what I did for one spread of the book.
Upon receiving the story text from the publisher, I start with thumbnail sketches. These are very, very rough ideas of what and where I’ll be placing the image. For “The Story Circle,” I received the text in page breaks already. In some cases, I also have to decide the best way to break the text for the flow of the story.

Story Circle thumbnails.
Story Circle thumbnails.

The next step is to move to a half-size layout sketch in pencil. As you can see, this image changed a lot from my thumbnail.

2-StoryCircleLayout-9

Part of this book’s art requirements included unique vignettes for each spread. The vignettes are a visual separation for the English and Spanish text. In this instance, I created a larger version of one of the fish in the full spread art.
3-PENCILSfishvignette

After I nail down how I want the layout sketch to look, I add other details. The background and the turtle and the fish near him are some of the revisions I made in this stage.  There are others, too, small refinements and adjustments. I made sure to keep the area where the text and vignette fall clear. I finish all the pencil sketches and scan them in to send to the publisher for approval.
4-PENCILSStoryCircle20-21

After I get editorial comments, I make the changes requested and move on to the next step. Inking. I rescan the changed images. Then, I clean up the scans and enhance the contrast in Photoshop. Now they’re ready to be imported into Illustrator. I do my “inking” in Illustrator. This part of the process takes a lot of the pressure off of me from worrying about ruining the color part and having to start all over again from scratch. In the past, before all this wonderful technology, I used to use a light table to trace the line work onto sheets of watercolor paper, paint it and then ink the lines. So if the watercolor part didn’t work out as I’d like, I’d have to transfer all over again. It’s backbreaking, hand and mind-numbing work. I don’t miss it at all. My last step in this phase is to change the color of the inked lines to a pale shade of one of the main paint colors I have planned for my color palette. In this case it’s a dusty green-gray.
5-StoryCircle20-21
The color-adjusted inked line art gets printed onto watercolor paper. I stretch and tape the paper to flannel covered canvas boards and paint all the book images in an assembly line fashion. I’ve found this is the best way for me to keep character consistency throughout a book. It was especially important in this case as there were EIGHT repeating characters in the story. 7 students and their teacher.
6-PAINTINGglassboat-lores

These images are again scanned into the computer. I do some final color adjustments and minor retouching in Photoshop, make sure the color profile matches the information I have from the publisher and make low-resolution version of each image to send back to the publisher for approval.
With this book, there were some revisions to the final art once the story was fully translated. Some of my art had type in it and I got my tenses wrong on one of these. I also had to create some matching backgrounds for the end pages. All images are finalized, put in a folder, compressed and sent off to the publisher. Now I wait. And wait. And wait.
I finished the art for “The Story Circle” in mid-May 2015. I received my author copies in April 2016. Nearly a year of waiting!
7-FINALBookStoryCircle
The right-hand side of this image also graced the cover of the publishers Spring releases catalog and is reused on the back cover of the book.

Where to get the book:

You can get “The Story Circle” direct from the publisher, or through Amazon.

The Blog Tour Continues!

Here’s the schedule for the continuing adventures of Wendy and “The Story Circle,” and while you’re at it, visit Wendy’s site as well.

The full blog tour schedule.
The full blog tour schedule.

Mister Bug, the Musical

Here’s the demo track of Mister Bug recorded today with Andy Rapo. It’s a bit rough, but not bad considering how quickly we did it. Andy is a whiz in the home studio and has a pretty nice set up. That’s me singing and playing ukulele (in case you were wondering).

Mister Bug started out as a poem (trivia – my first rhyming poem) based on a comment from my three-and-half-foot muse about a bug he saw on the ceiling. After some great comments from my crit group, I expanded it to fit a picture book format. Then, last year I started thinking about song writing and this version kind of came together.

I still think it’s got pretty good picture book potential *cough* agents, editors *cough*

I “debuted” it in January at my first VCFA residency by coercing a room full of children’s writers to sing along on the chorus. It didn’t take a whole lot of arm-twisting, they’re a game bunch. Now this version is going out to a local songwriting contest, and I’m living the not-quite-a-Wiggle-dream.

I wonder if Laurie Berkner would like it?

41 Books for Tweens

Call them middle-grade, call them YA, call them a cab. These are the books I’ve read in the last year (or so) that I push on people whenever asked. And even when I’m not if I’m feeling gregarious and you look lost in the library or bookstore. Some you’ve heard of, some you haven’t. Take a look and maybe a buy a few for your kids. Or yourself.

I’m posting this with incomplete commentary on the books, but I’ll pop-in to add more. For realz. Maybe even add some celebrity-author photos.

Alan Silberberg
Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze

It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I think Milo is mine. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking. I also love the mix of comics and text that brilliantly controls the pacing and heightens the emotional impact. It’s a work of art.

Tom Angleberger
Origami Yoda
Darth Paper Strikes Back

These are the books I’m most likely to push on the frantic mom at the library begging her son to get off the computer and pick out a book. Works every time. And he told me he’s read my blog when I met him this summer. How cool is that?

Dan Santat
Sidekicks Graphic Novel

Super-heroic adventure with funny animals? Sign me up! I’m a Fantat (I’m going to make that catch on, I swear!) He also makes the best book trailers out there. Check this out:

Suzanne Collins
Gregor the Overlander

Confession time: I haven’t read this one, but it’s been highly recommended to me by people I trust. And the author wrote a little series called the Hunger Games you may have hear of, so she knows what she’s doing. Favorite Suzanne Collins Trivia: She wrote several episodes of Wow, Wow, Wubbzy.

Guys Read Anthologies, ed. by by Jon Scieszka
Guys Read: Thriller
Guys Read: Funny Business
Guys Write for Guys Read: Boys’ Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys

I grew up reading short stories in science-fiction anthologies. I love the short story approach they’re taking with this series. I’d kill (metaphorically) to be included in it someday.

Lisa Yee
Milicent Min Girl Genius
Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time
So Totally Emily Ebers
Warp Speed

Jonathan Auxier
Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

Brian Selznick
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Wonderstruck

Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich
Eighth-Grade Superzero

This book made me want to be a better person. Seriously. The main character works through a lot of teen issues and comes out a community leader. Funny, spiritual (yes, spiritual…) and written with a style that just flows into your brain. Love it. And I’m not just saying this because the author commented here either. Really.

Adam Rex
The True Meaning of Smekday
Fat Vampire

Mac Barnett
The Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity (Brixton Brothers series)
The Ghostwriter Secret (Brixton Brothers series)
It Happened on a Train (Brixton Brothers series)

Rita Williams-Garcia
One Crazy Summer

Matt Myklusch
The Accidental Hero (A Jack Blank Adventure)
The Secret War (A Jack Blank Adventure)

Jaqueline West
The Shadows: (The Book of Elsewhere; Volume 1)
Spellbound: (The Book of Elsewhere; Volume 2)

Clete Barrett Smith
Aliens on Vacation

Barry Deutsch
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

Carl Hiaasen
Hoot

Patrick Ness
The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking Book One)
The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking Book Two)
Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking Book Three)

Orson Scott Card
Ender’s Game

Lloyd Alexander
The Book of Three
The Black Cauldron
The Castle of Llyr
Taran Wanderer
The High King

Raina Telgemeir
Smile

Neil Gaiman
The Graveyard Book

Rebecca Stead
When You Reach Me

A Butterfly Flaps Its Wings & I Find a Book

It’s been a very busy week. I’m currently in the air, headed to the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop, I tried to cram the day job into a three day week, and I received my first tuition bill for the grad school adventure.

So, yeah, just a little crazy. That level of stress and distraction led me to forget my son’s lunchbox on the counter. And that threw off my carefully scheduled day because I had to get it to him before lunch or risk being a cautionary tale for forgetful dads everywhere. (He selfishly forced his son eat school snacks and water instead of going out of his way to bring the nutritious lunch his wife made. Shun him. Shun. Him.)

Since I had to be out of the house at lunch time anyway (I work from home), I decided to treat myself to a sandwich. It so happens that the sandwich shop is next door to a used bookstore. How could any bibliophile resist the siren call of aged parchment and dust mites? How?

I perused the shelves for craft books to support that grad school thing (no luck), and then took a turn through the kid’s section. That’s where I saw it, and a long overdue reunion happened, right there in the stacks behind self-help and adjacent to biography. Cue the chorus of angels.

I moved to Cape Cod at the beginning of third grade. The transition was rough, but not horrible. Nobody enjoys being the new kid, and I missed my old friends and my old school. But this new school had one incredibly cool thing my old school didn’t – hallways lined with books that anyone could borrow. A bonus library of sorts. Right there in the hall. I faked more than a few trips to the bathroom in pursuit of those stories. Even then I loved reading, seeking refuge and escape in stories of great adventures. And there was this one book…

Yes, there was this one book about a kid with a pet dolphin who lived with his scientist parents in an undersea lab. He spent his days swimming free in the warm Caribbean waters accompanied, and kept safe, by his dolphin buddy. A fierce, intelligent pet without peer. As I write this, I realize the pet dolphin may have been a big part of why I escaped into this particular story. My pet, a dog named Max, didn’t adjust well to our move. He unlearned his house training and got mean (he bit me twice). No longer boy’s best friend, Max was shipped off to the local animal shelter, leaving me just a little bit more alone.

Now here’s the thing. I’ve remembered everything about that book for decades, except, of course, the title and the author. But I recognized the cover when I saw it, and may have let out a little, audible gasp. I reached for it, feeling transported to a hallway in a small school a couple of decades in the past. Seeing in my mind’s eye, the hands of a lonely boy reaching with me. My past, my present, interwoven in a momentary fold of time.

Have you ever experienced that feeling? Long form déjà vu. A glitch in the matrix. A sense memory freed from the subconscious. The lingering, feathery touch of the eternal now. One with the universe.

Books can do that.

Secret Under the Sea, by Gordon R. Dickson.
Reunited at last!

The book? It’s not a classic. You’ve probably never heard of it, although it spawned two sequels (thank you, Internet). It’s a simple “sci-fi boys adventure” book in a style popular at the time of its writing. But the author! The author is a notable science fiction writer, who’s novels and collections of short stories I devoured throughout middle school and into college. That was the greatest surprise to me. This formative book, authorship long forgot, was penned by someone that was at one time a favorite. Were my tastes formed by this book, or already in place at the age of seven?

The book is Secret under the Sea by Gordon R. Dickson. Never heard of it, right?

But maybe you’ve heard of Mr. Dickson. He authored a pair of notable series, The Childe Cycle, and Dragon Knight.

In a mad-dash of a week, a moment of serendipity brought me great joy, reconnecting me with a favorite of childhood. A missing piece of my personal literary history revealed brought clarity to a host of reading choices made since.

All because I forgot my son’s lunchbox. A butterfly flaps its wings.

Sometimes it’s the little things.

Patience is a Four Letter Word

PiBoIdMo is chugging along and I am loving it. It’s very cool to see so many people engaged in the act of creating picture books. It wasn’t that long ago that I was convinced I only had one or two story ideas in me. Certainly not enough to consider actually jumping into the kidlit world.  And because I thought I had so few, I would hold them close, sheltering them from the world. And other writers. And definitely from editors.

Joining writer challenges like PiBoIdMo, and working intently on my own the other eleven months of the year, has shown me that the ideas will come. Heck, not only that they’ll come, but that I can hardly stop them. Ideas are everywhere, in fact, once you develop the habit it’s kind of hard not to notice them. Yet another reason to always carry a notepad to capture those idea in the wild. Bring them home and worry about taming the wee beasties later.

So, yes, it’s awesome that we’re cranking out ideas, but here’s the thing. Not every idea needs to be submitted. Some of our ideas, while fun at the time, just might not be good enough to see print. I’m not just deflating your balloon; mine’s losing pressure too. Let’s take a shot at re-inflating them a bit.

One of the more exciting sessions I went to at LASCBWI 11 was a panel by Jon Sciezka and Stephen Malk. They covered a lot of ground while talking about a career plan, but the real takeaway was the point that I echoed above. Not everything needs to be submitted. Say it with me, it’ll take the sting off.

Not. Everything. Needs. To. Be. Submitted.

Band-aid off? Ready to go? Great. If the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (emeritus) doesn’t submit every one of his ideas, maybe we should pay attention to that thought.

You see, at the end of PiBoIdMo you’re going to have a big pile of ideas to weed through. Some are going to sparkle like diamonds. Some are going to stink on ice. A handful will be worth a first draft, revision and development into well-honed manuscripts. You will (rightfully) feel awesome that you stuck with it, found the gems and pursued your craft, turning that brain-burp into a full blown story. This is what we do. We write, we revise. And then, if we’re truly brave, intelligent hardy souls, we think about submitting. And sometimes that answer’s going to be “no.”

Chin up, kid, the process has been worth the effort.

Why wouldn’t you submit your manuscript? I mean, you’ve just worked your proverbial butt off, you’ve got stamps, a well-worn copy of Writer’s Market
chock full of post-it notes and box of envelopes. Let’s go!

Hold on, little chum, let’s look at why we shouldn’t submit. This might hurt a bit, but that’s how we grow. Remember, chin up!

  1. There are too many books like yours out there in the marketplace.
  2. Your idea is preachy. We all want kids to benefit from our books, but being ham-fisted just isn’t the way to go. Take this tip from Seinfeld, “no hugging, no learning.” It worked for them, it’ll work for you. One of the top books of 2011 features a bear that eats the antagonist. Talk about no hugging, no learning!
  3. Your rhyming stinks. This is a tough one to swallow. Editors say they don’t want rhyming books, but we still see a ton of them published every year. And kids love them. “Let me rhyme”, you cry to the heavens! Well, unless you’re rhyming is flawless, unforced and serves the story, step away from the couplets, Joel.
  4. Your writing just isn’t there. Yet. This is probably the hardest one to deal with, and the most difficult to recognize. We have to be brutally honest with ourselves about our brilliant words. Are they really as good as the best picture books you’ve seen? Don’t give yourself an out by citing the books you don’t like that get published (because there are some bad ones out there). Aim high, find the writers that you like best and try to kick their butts. In a friendly, non-competitive way that involves a personal challenge of writing quality and not actual fisticuffs.
  5. If you’re submitting an idea you came up with this month you haven’t worked on it long enough. Write it up, tinker and revise. Then let it sit for a week or two. Even better, bring it to your critique group and let them have at it. Then revise again. Whittle that word count, polish those plot points, and let your manuscript mature like a fine wine.

I know the itch to send it out. I know what it’s like to bask in the glow of accomplishment from hitting “send.” But I also trust that taking a breather between the time you type the final period and the moment you get that teeny-tiny paper cut on your tongue from licking the envelope can mean the difference between “no response means no” and escaping the slush pile.

To paraphrase the immortal words of Johnny Cochran, “If it didn’t sit, you must not submit.”

UPDATE  – If you’re just starting out you might want to read this old post of mine (the same one I linked to in the comments, but I wanted to get it in the post too).

 

Prepping for #LA11SCBWI

Since the Reluctant Dragon wound down I’ve been busy prepping for my first national SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. Mostly that’s meant working on manuscripts, trying to lose weight (fail), shopping for presentable grown man fashions and readying a new self-promotional business card. Oh, there was a bit of homework for the Monday Writer Intensives with Bonnie Bader and Lisa Yee too.

Here’s a quick peek at the card design. (I’ll update this post tomorrow when FedEx hands them over). FedEx came through like a champ – check’em out.

I chose to make a fold over business card with contact info and “flavor” on the outside with a complete illustration on the inside. I worked up a version of one of my characters, Roz Wellington; Girl Believer. This version is actually a little older and farther along in her saga which is why she’s joined by a pirate space-monkey and Robot Number 5 (ah, backstory…. maybe someday this whole thing see the light of day).

Here’s the process between pencils and beginning painting.

process from pencils to painting
process from pencils to painting, but not finished...

 

Here’s the finished piece.

Roz Wellington & Co.
Roz Wellington & Co.

 

And here’s the outside, front and back, of the card. I have a history of loving monkeys and a home-made catchphrase, “Put the monkey on it!”, so I couldn’t resist putting the monkey on the front right next to my name.

New promo card.
Put the monkey on it!

 

 

#NaPiBoWriWee After Party

Just like last year, #NaPiBoWriWee had a “blink and you will miss it vibe”. The daily writing task coupled with Twitter conversations and Paula Yoo’s excellent blog posts made this week blow by. And I don’t want it to end. Do you?

You see, I have these six (yes, six, I fell one short this year) rough drafts that need sharpening. Just like yours (although you have seven, right?). Care to join me in a #NaPiBoWriWee online after party crit group?

I’m looking for a handful of other writers to step up and join me for some crit work. Please comment below if you’re interested and we can begin to get it all sorted out.

I had a interesting run of stories. I usually write very boy-centric stuff, but this year they were all over the place. A fable, daredevil squirrels, rhyme, and one I would characterize as a “gramma story”. That is, gramma’s would it buy for their grandkids. I wonder if you can tell from the working titles:

  1. The Big, Big, Super-Sized, Extra-Large Sweater
  2. Milo McChew & The Donut for Two
  3. Chickadee, Chicka-doo
  4. Squirrels Are Made from Danger
  5. Roz Wellington, Girl Believer
  6. The Glasshopper

Roz Wellington is my favorite. She started as a character sketch a couple of years ago, but I never wrote about her until this week. I like her and her story. She’s got spunk. Don’t you want to meet her? (Wait, am I coming across as too needy? I should totally be cooler about this. I’m just not that cool).

As always, huge thanks to Paula Yoo for making this happen. It’s a real treat to be part of this little picture book community. I’ve made great writer friends and find daily inspiration from many of you (but not all of you – really, you have to step up your game. I kid.) I can’t wait to meet some of you in person in Fitchburg next week or L.A. this summer.

Even if you don’t join my #NaPiBoWriWee After Party.

Poem in Your Pocket Day

Groo-some

by Jim Hill

Of all the noises I can make
the one that always takes the cake,
surprises some, and spooks a few,
is the mating call of the Groo.

Now don’t look shocked it’s not obscene,
The Groo is chaste and most serene.
When he finds he’s in the mood
He strikes a pose and cops a ‘tude.

The music starts, a string quartet,
don’t blush now, they’re almost set.
He clears his throat and with a start
lets loose a ripping, roaring fart.

The Query Contest Continues…

The query contest at Adventure’s in Children’s Publishing is still going on. They’re an amazing crew for taking on the challenge of a contest over several weeks with fifty writers. Hats off to some serious left brain organizational skills!

This week they’re looking at our log lines, the one sentence description of your book. It’s a tough thing to do, but it makes you really focus on the most essential elements of your protagonist and the plot. Here’s mine with a link to their site, in case you want to comment there (of course, you’re welcome to comment here too).

The clock is ticking on sixth-grader Marshall who must face the bully, survive gym and outwit his evil sister to get to his favorite class with his skin, his pride and his clarinet intact.

I’ve already had some great comments from Nikki Katz (the mentor for my cohorts in this contest), Slushpile Slut, and Jess but as real glutton for attention I want more.

Adventures in Children’s Pubishing Query Contest

Last week I entered a fun contest over at the Adventure’s in Children’s Publishing blog. They drafted an agent and a handful of writers to review fifty queries, help polish them up, and then take the query down to a log line. Here are the details:

Our new contest/workshop started on Thursday 8/19. We accepted the first 50 short synopsis (pitch) entries up to 175-words. Starting 8/26, those entries will be open for critiques from our panel of fantastic mentoring authors and you, our generous visitors. We hope you will participate. Next stop after that? On 9/2, we’ll get the loglines from our contestants, critique those for two weeks, then the writers will put everything they’ve learned together into a query letter. The query letter competition will be judged by Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown.

It’s a great contest idea and has a lot people involved giving good critiques of the queries. Here’s mine in case you want to comment.

Last week, as part of the Cape Cod Writers Conference, I had the chance to read from that story, The Case Against My Sister: Sixth Grade, and was blown away by the positive comments. People seem to love the voice, relate to the hero and worship the villain. I smell a sequel.

I’ll keep you posted as this contest continues.