07 Jan

Keep keepin’ at it, folks

You know how I mentioned the other day that it had been eight years since I started working on my John Roy Lynch book? By the publication date, it will be more like eight years and three months, which tops the eight years it took from my first efforts on The Day-Glo Brothers until the publication date. During school visits, it blows kids’ minds when I tell them that — especially, I suspect, the minds of those eight and younger.

But wait. Yesterday, while admiring Cathy Gendron’s gorgeous new cover art for my next book, ‘The Nutcracker’ Comes to America, I looked up the date when I began working on that one. At first, I’d thought it was 2006 — but then I saw other documents in my files from early 2003. My Nutcracker book comes out this September, so with a twelve-year, seven-month gestation, it will easily become the new champ (and allow me to blow the minds of kids as old as seventh grade).

For now. Because just yesterday, I sent my agent a new revision of a picture book I began writing on October 7, 2002. I think this latest version is pretty good, and if it sells, the publication date would likely be somewhere around fifteen years after inception.

Fifteen years. (High school sophomores, I’m looking at you.)

Keep keepin’ at it, folks. Just make sure you’re enjoying yourself along the way.

11 May

Two lessons in keeping an eye on your files

In my school visits, I often shock audiences by revealing that it took THREE AND A HALF YEARS from the day I got the idea for Shark Vs. Train until the official publication date. And then I tell them that The Day-Glo Brothers took EIGHT years, and they all lose their minds — especially those who haven’t yet hit the eight-year mark themselves.

But some upcoming books of mine — and projects that might become books — will end up having gestation periods that make The Day-Glo Brothers look positively possumlike.

The two picture books I’ve got on tap for 2015, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch and Pioneers & Pirouettes: The Story of the First American Nutcracker, made their first appearances in my computer files in 2006 and 2003, respectively. And the picture book manuscript I’m working on revising this week dates back to October 7, 2002, but it has a way of getting new life breathed into it periodically. Maybe this latest version is the one that will take, but even if it’s not, there’s something immensely satisfying in having an editor point out potential in it that I’d never noticed before in all these years.

The thing is, such projects continue having potential for me only when I continue paying attention to them, or at least when I routinely check in on my files to see if anything about them grabs me anew. There’s a project I had pursued — a biography of trombonist Melba Liston — that I took my eye off of for too long, and I learned this week that someone else has beaten me to it. My consolation is that this summer I get to read Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, the version of Liston’s story that Katheryn Russell-Brown and Frank Morrison have created for Lee & Low, and that’s something for me and you both to look forward to.

In the meantime…

27 Mar

What am I waiting for (3/07)?

News from editors on Pasta, James, Smith and P.O.

Submission (or revision) news on J.R. and Arbor.

Word on whether, where and when I’ll be traveling to do some on-site research for one project or another.

The Cybils post-mortem. Get your comments in now.

The receipt through Interlibrary Loan of an obscure figure’s autobiography — a book that might well be a crushing bore but might also inspire yet another research project. The two are not mutually exclusive, you know.

Official confirmation on a couple of fun pieces of news that I can share with you all.

The arrival of my very first issue of Horn Book, which I ordered over the weekend. It seems like it wasn’t very long ago, when I was first getting started in this business, that subscribing to Horn Book seemed like a total cart-before-the-horse extravagance.

21 Feb

What am I waiting for? (2/07)

News from editors on S.V.T., Pasta, James and Smith.

P.O.’s return to circulation.

The right time to travel a few hundred miles east for some on-site research for J.R.

Anything that may develop from an animation studio’s recent out-of-the-blue inquiry about one of my projects.


06 Nov

What am I waiting for? (11/06)

Half a year since I last posted about this, I’m still waiting for more things than I’m working on. Including:

My first glimpse of the art for The Day-Glo Brothers.

News from editors about several manuscripts:

  • My biographies of James (picture book) and Smith (middle grade), which are both with the same editor. This editor gets them, I think, but there’s a big difference between “gets” and “buys.”
  • My middle grade novel, Arbor.
  • My proposal and sample chapters for Pasta.
  • My picture book/graphic novel series P.O.

Copies of the books nominated for the Nonfiction Picture Book category of the Cybils.

The next big industry/literary event I plan to attend: the Texas Library Association annual conference in San Antonio in April.

Next summer, when — a year before The Day-Glo Brothers‘ publication date — I’ll get cracking on a full-fledged web site, curriculum guides, and whatnot.

27 Oct

Well, here’s something I’d hoped wouldn’t happen

Yesterday morning, an acquaintance told me about a concept for a picture book that sounded so perfect, it’s amazing that someone else hasn’t already thought of it.

Funny I should think that when I did.

This sort of implausibly unclaimed idea comes along from time to time, and one of them came to me a few years ago. When I thought up the title and concept for P.O., (a.k.a. “the bomb,” for you longtime Bartographiles), I immediately checked into whether they’d already been done. Astonishingly, they hadn’t, so I started writing and ended up with three complete picture book manuscripts and partial takes on two more stories, all involving the same characters.

Then came yesterday afternoon’s news from my agent. She’d submitted P.O. to an editor at a major house, and something about the title rang a bell with this editor. Could that be because another editor at the same house had recently been showing around an illustrator’s project with the same title and concept?

Yes, indeed.

It makes me a little queasy to think about, so I’m not going to think about it. It’s just that simple.

Not thinking about it.

Still not thinking about it.

24 Jul

A little writing, and a lot of writers

First thing yesterday morning, I reworked P.O. as a script rather than as a picture book manuscript, at the request of the friend of mine who is taking a crack at illustrating it as a graphic novel. (Meanwhile, this weekend I’ve been reading Understanding Comics, so I may well come up with some other ideas for the scriptification.)

After that, 2-year-old F accompanied me on my writerly rounds around Austin. First, we went to see Dianna Aston‘s nifty reading, which was combined with a spirited performance by Sara Hickman. By the time our chair was no longer in the shade, it was time for us to head off to Barnes & Noble for the monthly meeting of the Austin SCBWI, where Liz Garton Scanlon filled in a very curious crowd on the finer points of school visits.

As F was pre-nap and very vocal, I lurked a considerable distance away from the meeting. After F nodded off, I hobnobbed a bit with Liz, Jo Whittemore, Mark Mitchell, Jerry Wermund, and incoming regional advisor Tim Crow.

While waiting for that big toddler head to flop over so I could join the meeting, I laid eyes on the greatest book title ever. Man, I hope someone plans to adapt this one as a children’s book. Paging Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart

30 Jun

This, that, these and those

The details are out regarding my next highly anticipated (by me) public appearance. Here in Austin on Friday, August 4, I’ll join Nathan Jensen, Janice and Tom Shefelman, and recent compadres Anne Bustard and Mark Mitchell on a children’s literature panel at the conference of the Texas Christian Schools Association.

At the same conference, another local author, Lindsey Lane, will be celebrated for Snuggle Mountain, the honor book for the 2006 Children’s Gallery Award.

In other developments, I’ve put the (possibly) finishing touches on Arbor, a middle-grade novel that I first “finished” in 2003. At my agent’s suggestion, I took another pass at it this spring and made some further tweaks this past week. I had forgotten how much I enjoy that story — I’ve got some really high hopes for it.

When I last wrote about Toast, I was still trying to catch VR for an interview. Well, we spoke two Fridays ago and had a great, warm conversation. My CB and VR interviews have made the story much richer than it was before. I’m now trying to get a new draft finished by Wednesday, in time for Don to read it at our next critique meeting. After that, I’ll have about a day and a half to make further changes in time for my agent’s monthly manuscript-reading week.

Meanwhile, there’s been some progress on the submissions front. Smith, James and Pioneers all went out to an editor this week. I’ve been told not to expect a reply right away, which was not the case when another manuscript — P.O., perhaps a picture book, potentially a graphic novel — went out this Tuesday. It came back the same day. But those were six suspenseful hours, let me tell you.

I’m taking a long weekend, so have a great, safe July 4th (and 1st, 2nd and 3rd), everybody.

14 May

What am I waiting for?

I’m waiting to hear from Charlesbridge about how the illustrations for The Day-Glo Brothers are progressing.

I’m waiting to hear from various editors who have manuscripts for a middle-grade biography, a picture book biography, and a picture book series (or perhaps graphic novel), plus a proposal for another picture book biography.

I’m waiting to hear from my agent about the two new picture book manuscripts I just sent her.

I’m waiting to hear from one friend who is voluntarily doing some sketches for that perhaps-graphic-novel.

I’m waiting to hear from another friend who is also having a look at one of those new picture book manuscripts, though I really shouldn’t, since I told her it was purely for her reading pleasure, and I meant it.

I’m waiting to see whether seven-year-old S will discover Kid Blink Beats the World and A Full Hand, the final arrivals (as of yesterday) for this month’s history reading.

I’m waiting to receive some catalogs and nonfiction review copies that a couple of publishers said a few weeks back that they’d send.

I’m waiting to find out more about the panel I’ll be on during next month’s conference.

I’m waiting to figure out what I’m going to submit to my critique “group” for next Saturday.

I’m waiting to resume work on my marketing database for Day-Glo until I’m a little closer to my spring 2008 publication date.

13 Mar

Details are sketchy

While I still don’t know who’s going to illustrate The Day-Glo Brothers, I’m excited to say that one of my unsold fiction manuscripts may be getting partially illustrated soon.

And by “partially,” I mean with a single page. An illustrator of my acquaintance (how’s that for vague?) has gone beyond the definition of generosity by offering to create a page showing editors how my manuscript might work as a graphic novel.

Yes, this is exactly what writers new to the field of children’s books are told not to do — we’re supposed to let the editor and art director pass the completed manuscript along to the illustrator after our contract is signed. But if the illustrator and I both know the rule we’re breaking and are comfortable doing so, why not?

My manuscript — goofy humor — has a couple of main characters that I’ve known for years but have never visualized in great detail, so I can’t wait to see my illustrator friend’s sketches so I can find out what these guys look like. And I’ve never written for a graphic novel, so I’m also eager to play around with my text to make it fit that format.

In the meantime, she’s given me homework. Looks good to me. I’m just going to pretend I don’t have a half-dozen other books demanding my attention…