Wednesday, March 27, 2013


One of my classes at RISD was taught by Tom Sgouros. He was legally blind and when we had our crits he got an inch from each piece so that he could see it... or at least what he could potentially see. From some of his comments I wondered if he could see much at all. There was some art that he pointed to saying that he thought was great that I thought was horrible and other art that he didn't like at all that I thought was quite accomplished. When he brought us to his studio there was row after row of almost the same painting. A line for the horizon and colorful clouds floating above. He'd arrange the clouds differently... use more muted colors in some paintings and brighter colors in others, but essentially he was repeating himself. He called them "remembered landscapes.' His old work was very realistic--the art before he lost his eye sight. I really had no appreciation for him at all when I received my grade for the semester: It was a B. I didn't think I deserved a B and wondered if a man who couldn't see the artwork should be teaching (this was coming from the brain of a cocky college kid so please keep this in mind).

Anyhow, Tom has passed away recently and after watching the video below I realized something: His tale is the exact kind of thing that I'd make a picture book about. He had all the perseverance one could possibly muster. He never gave up and he made the most out of a bad situation. He kept painting despite the loss of his sight. One must deeply admire that.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


While I was working the other day I listened to part of an NPR interview with Malcolm Gladwell on Talent (the second time - couldn't listen all the way through again because of irritation). Esentially, what Gladwell believes to be true is that Talent boils down to the LOVE and desire to want to master the craft. He has formulated a "rule" so to speak. The 10,000 hour rule. He thinks that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master the craft. But more than this, he believes that it is the love of something--the desire to put in that amout of hours--is what makes the talent. Here is a quote:

"Talent is the desire to practice. Right? It is that you love something so much that you are willing to make an enormous sacrifice and an enormous commitment to that, whatever it is -- task, game, sport, what have you."

I am here to say that I think his theory is incorrect. This is why: I know quite a few artists who do not love what they do. I know a lot of people who WANT and DESIRE and would LOVE to be successful at something... say art but do not have that THING to take themselves to the next level. You can practice, practice, practice until you're blue in the face but if you're not born with talent then you won't get to the next level.

I'll give drawing as an example: I think anyone can learn how to draw... and I tell kids this all the time.  However, there are different levels people can get to. I think someone with very little talent will be able to draw various basic shapes, learn how to shade in the correct manor, but they probably won't get much farther than that. Someone with mediocre talent will get much farther, but they'll never get to the professional level. Someone with a lot of talent will get to the professional level, BUT only with a lot of practice. Without practice, they'll remain at the same level as the person with the mediocre talent. 

As far as Gladwell's theory that you must LOVE what you do. That's not correct. I think when you're born with a talent you feel a NEED to do it, not necessarily a LOVE of it.  Sometimes I think it's a burden. It can be stressful, it's not always fun, but it's always THERE. I heard an interview with Andre Agassi and he said he hated playing tennis. But he was great at it! Go ask Gladwell about that. And go ask Gladwell about all of the people who LOVE playing the guitar and play in bands and have put in 20,000 hours of practice but will never be great. Why not? Hmmm. Let's think about why. Genetics have a big part to play in this.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Persepolis, the graphic novel coming of age story that takes place in Iran, has made quite a stir in Chicago this month. It was announced on social media that it was to be pulled from Chicago's public school libraries and classrooms. Students at several schools staged protests.

It has been a few years since I've read both Persepolis and Persepolis 2 so I don't recall all of the details. I did pull them off the bookshelves moments ago and flip through every page to look at all of the panels. I wanted to better understand this quote: 

Chicago Public Schools teaching and learning chief Annette Gurley said, “We want to make sure that the message about inhumanity [is what] kids walk away with, not the images of someone with exposed body parts urinating on someone’s back or someone’s being tortured. We are not protesting the value of this book as a work of art. We just want to make sure that when we put this book into the hands of students, they have the background, the maturity to appreciate the book.”

I had to flip through the book many times to find the tiny illustration of the man urinating on the prisoner's back. I would hope that students would have the maturity to handle the particular scene, especially in light of what has been shown in the news since the Iraq war and the graphic images that have gone along with it. I mostly recall Persepolis being of an innocent girl who was forced to see things beyond her years. Persepolis 2 gets more edgy, when Marjane runs away to find herself. 

Annette Gurley said, “That book will not be back in place as required reading for grades 7-10 until the support is put in place. We want to put the support in place so that the content of this book can be accessed. I don’t think that happens by putting a book on a list and letting people discover it. There needs to be preparation for that."

I wonder what that preparation will be? And when will the students be deemed ready? Books in the Chicago system cannot be pulled from library shelves without undergoing a formal process. All sorts of chaos has thus ensued. 

Friday, March 15, 2013


I've been reading Wonder: a story of a boy who was born with a facial deformity. What I didn't know was how the author got the idea for the book. So I find this interview fascinating! I hope you do too.

Friday, March 8, 2013


Right now I'm in transition mode. My editor left the company and now I have a new editor. Thus far she hasn't gone for any of my story ideas. This is the hard part of being an author. I'm very used to rejection at this point but it can be frustrating when I've come up with a lot of ideas and the editor doesn't like them or doesn't think they'll sell and so on. This is doubly hard for a nonfiction author because I can't invent new stories: I have to FIND them. And they have to be the RIGHT stories.

Here's what I need for a nonfiction story to work:

1) Enough material for me to wade through. For example, as neat as I think it is that someone invented (insert invention) knowing this isn't enough. I need a lot of backstory on this person. I need a few bumpy spots leading up to the big event to build the story arch. And since this is for kids I need a happy ending!

This is a tall order.

2) I also need this story to appeal to KIDS. You really need to dive into the mind of a kid and remember what interests them.

3) I'm attracted to stories where the main character shows perseverance, overcomes a struggle, and so on. As kids notice, a lot of my stories are about an "underdog." It's very important that I love the subject I'm writing about. Even though the editor needs to love the subject and the publishing staff, etc., etc, I'm the one who has to spend an infinite amount of time on this. I have to live and breathe this story for a long period of time so if my heart's not in it then I shouldn't peruse the project!

People may wonder if at the beginning stages I'm thinking about the art but I'm really not. I'm trained as an illustrator. An illustrator's job is to find solutions for problems--sometimes very difficult problems. So the first thing I worry about is the text. I'm not thinking about what kind of art the subject will make for a book. That will come later.

The message here is that it never gets easier... the game just changes. I'm very thankful that I have publishers who want to work with me. But that doesn't make things less frustrating!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


I've had a lot to say... I just haven't been saying it! Shame on me! I promise to do better.

So yesterday a big-time (or semi- big-time) adult author came into the kids' dept. at the bookstore to sign copies of his book that he wrote for kids. I was working at the information desk at the time. He had with him his entourage of publishing folks. He whipped out his sharpie and started immediately signing (NO eye contact directed at me or any other bookseller). He signed like a madman, as if an axe murderer were going to chop him to bits if he didn't finish signing the stack of books within a 4 min. period. The publishing ladies did not make eye contact either. No one introduced themselves. I honestly found the whole display to be tasteless and wished nothing more than to trip the semi-famous author down a flight of stairs.

One of the publishing ladies held up one of his crapily (I don't know how to spell that because it's not a real word) signed books and said, "Oh, I SWEAR I bought this at another store yesterday!" As if she couldn't have bought one of the hundred he was now signing... um... And all I thought to myself was that there was no way we were going to sign all of the copies that the publisher INSISTED we order because kids don't know who this author is and certainly dodn't care about his badly done signature!

So then Mr. Big-Shot with the expensive scarf begins talking about how he was in Italy and how they rolled out the red carpet for him and held some parade in his honor or some such (I was trying extremely hard not to listen and to read a PW article instead). Ugh! Then I wanted to trip him some more.

Okay, so the thing is this: if you want a bookseller to help you sell your books 1) smile at them 2) introduce yourself while signing and 3) don't act like an *ss