Thursday, November 13, 2014

Inktober and Other Bits of News



It looks like time has gotten away from me again. My poor blog has sat idle for a few months as I work on various projects and ignored it. Ia m hoping at the first of the year to get back to a regular monthly post. Weekly is just too ambitious for me.

During the past few months, I nabbed a chapter book series from Penguin Random House. The talented Erin Soderberg wrote the series. I must keep it under wraps on what the series is about for a bit longer. Hopefully I can share some artwork before the holidays kick in. I am working with Ginny Chu who is an absolute delight. We are in the final art phase for book one.

While this is on my drawing table, I am in the middle of the next Freddy the Frogcaster book. This is book three in the series. Freddy encounters a hurricane but is weather senses are on full alert as averts a crisis. This book will be out in the spring, just in time for the hurricane season.


Merry Moosey Christmas (Islandport Press), written by Lynn Plourde and illustrated by me is now out. The book is about Rudolph needing a vacation so asks Mossey to take the lead for the big night only to have it go awry.  Lynn and I are starting our holiday tour for the book. We had a launch at my local library which was packed and a hoot to do. Lynn is so talented and ton of fun! Check the tour schedule for venues that may be in your area. I will share the process for next month's post, I promise.

If this was not enough, I participated in the Inktober Challenge. Jake Parker puts out the challenge every October for artist to do a piece in pen & ink. We share the images on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, etc. It is so much fun and challenging to come up with something new everyday. I took the weekends off to recharge. 

That is a quick update here in the merry land of Otis. Winter is coming to Maine and I am looking forward to it. We could have our second snowfall tomorrow. YEEEE-HAAAAA! Until next month, I leave with this"

"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things." ~ Ray Bradbury

Monday, August 25, 2014

Shout It Out Loud!

© Russ Cox 2014

My book is done. Well, at least my part. The last illustration was sent for Faraway Friends (Sky Pony April 2015). There are mixed emotions. Part of me is glad that it is out the door, like it has gone off to college, ready to begins a new journey. But another piece of me has the empty nest syndrome. I miss it. The studio is now quiet. Now what? What will I do with the spare time? I wonder how it is doing. Should I call? No, it needs its space. It is time for the publisher to finish nurturing it. Allowing the book to grow up and be ready to face the world.

Four years. It has taken four years to get to this point. It is hard to believe that this all started with a doodle and nudge from a friend. Thanks Debbie Ohi. Several wonderful critique partners (Laura, Sharon, Katia, and Teri) helped me form the shell of the story. My agent, Jodell Sadler, helped with the interior and flow. She also found a home for it. My critique group, The New England Critique Group Without A Name, offered wonderful feedback, advice, and insight to the artwork. There are my three muses, Lynn, Nate, and Alissa, would believed in the idea from the beginning and are my biggest cheerleaders and critics. And of course family and friends who helped with their support along the way.

The next few months will be spent on a new story book series. The first one is all dummied up and being submitted while the second and third story ideas are in the writing stages. I will miss Sheldon, Rubin, Jet, and Nova while they are away, growing up, and getting ready to graduate. We will have a reunion in the spring with school and library visits, book signings, and whatever else the publisher has in store for the 5 of us.

I am looking forward to that reunion in April.


I want to give a SHOUT OUT to friends who have books coming out or recently released. These books were written and illustrated by the person listed. I highly recommend that you add them to your bookshelf or gift list. Also support your local book store and purchase these books from them.




Louise Loves Art (HarpersCollins) by Kelly Light, release date September 9, 2014




Little Elliot, Big City (Henry Holt) by Mike Curato, release date August 26, 2014




Even Monsters (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) by A.J. Smith, released April 1, 2014




Bats In The Band (HMH Books for Young Readers) by Brian Lies, released August 5, 2014




Colors Versus Shapes (HarpersCollins) by Mike Boldt, release date August 26, 2014



A Cape (Self Published) by Marty Kelley, release date September 2015

 Always Twins (Holiday House) by Teri Weidner, release date Spring of 2015
(All images used by permission)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Blog Tour: Writing Process

The talented Gaia Cornwall invited me to partake in the Writing Process Blog Tour. Before I begin my ramble, lets learn a bit about Gaia.

Gaia Cornwall is an illustrator, surface designer, portrait artist, and picture book writer living in Providence, RI. She spends her days working from home, as her husband codes furiously in the next room, their rescue husky sleeps the day away, and their two feline supervisors keep them in line.

Gaia is an active member of SCBWI (recent faculty at the NESCBWI Conference), and currently is working on a picture book proposal that she wrote and illustrated, with several more on the way. She does design work and loves working with small, creative businesses.

And now about my writing process or as I like to call it, "stumbling about until something works":

1. What am I working on?
I am in the final illustration stages of my first book that I wrote and illustrated called Faraway Friends (Sky Pony 2015). The basic idea of the book is about a boy's friendship lost and found, usually right under his nose, after going on a space adventure while looking for the lost friend.


I have also just finished up a dummy called The Not-So-Real Adventures of Maximus Walker which is being pitched as a series by my agent Jodell Sadler (Sadler Children's Literary). Hopefully there will be more to report on that book at some point soon.

2. How does my work differ from others of this genre?

Being a child who moved from place-to-place due to my parents jobs, I was often left wondering how it felt to be on the other side of loosing a friend, especially from a little boy's point of view. Boys are often thought about as not having a deep sense of hurt when a friend moves away or any other sudden changes in their life. We often compensate that hurt by masking it with playing or making up some adventure where we find the answers that we are looking for whether they are true or not.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Our son was not a reader and it was a real struggle to get him to pick up a book. His mom and I thought that there was a lack of boy specific books in the market besides comic books. Comic books by the way, are what finally piqued his interest in reading and were a godsend in him turning that corner. So I am focusing on the boy's point of view of the world but also trying to pull in the girl readers as well. It is a delicate dance to do without really alienating either. If we can get boys reading more at an early age, or just to pick up a book instead of video games, it is a win-win  for the parents and society.

4. How does my writing process work?

There is a Moleskine notebook that I keep with me at all times, except for the shower, that I use for story notes. From there, I actually start by sketching out a storyboard. This allows me to see the story unfold and the pacing right off the bat. I tend to get hung up on the wording so working this way tends to eliminate that snag and also allows me to use the words to fill in the gaps. Dan Yaccarino spoke of doing this method during a NESCBWI workshop a few years ago so I thought I would give it a try. I am trying to write a chapter book without visuals during breaks just to do a different method. My typing skills are limited so I am putting pen to paper for this one.

Once I get the storyboard and wording flowing, I share it with my critique group and a few close friends for feedback. This step is crucial as it gives me a fresh set of eyes to find holes and flaws in the story. Also to make notes on grammar and typos that I may have missed. I do another round or two of revisions before sending it to my agent for her input. We do  many rounds together before she feels it is ready for submission.

Having a critique group and trusted friends to look over the story is, I think, the most important step in the process. I think I owe everyone of them a beer for their help.

Have you had enough of ramblings? Okay, I am done. Thanks Gaia for asking me to join in the fun.

Here are the next lot of close buddies (and fellow artist rep'd by Jodell Sadler) who are lined up to tap dance, sing, make balloon animals, and chat about their writing process. 
Shawn Teeney (lounge singer and alligator wrestler), Greg Matusic (G Mat is his rap and street cred name), and THE Kevin Barry (award winner and yodeling machine).

Shawna Teeney graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Illustration from Brigham Young University and started illustrating as a freelance illustrator a year later. Since then, she has created artwork for 18 books along with children's magazines, charities, educational materials, religious materials and theater playbills. Her primary medium of choice now is digital. ​Lately her focus has been writing and illustrating her own stories.

Besides the process of making art, She enjoys being involved in the art community and has been running a monthly local illustration critique group. She is a volunteer at SCBWI and also enjoys teaching kids art and visiting children at local schools to talk about being an illustrator.

Shawna lives in Utah with her two very artistic little girls and a very sweet and supportive graphic designer husband
shawnajctenney.com


Greg Matusic is an Upstate New York based illustrator/author whose work is influenced by his super groovy wife and their amazingly talented son. After toiling in relative obscurity at the corporate and low-end freelance level, Greg recently focused his attention on the children's book market and has been extremely busy crafting enjoyable illustrations that support his equally enjoyable stories.

Greg is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). He also enjoys decaf coffee, The Clash and the game of baseball. Visit Greg online at matusic.com.

  
Kevin Barry is a writer, illustrator, and educator. He is grateful that the world of children's literature has afforded him the chance to wear all three hats at the same time, though his head is often very hot. When he is not feeding the hungry minds of 3rd graders, Kevin can be found sketching at the library, haunting the shelves of local bookstores, or binge watching television with his wife and cat. Kevin was the recipient of the 2014 R. Michelson Gallery Emerging Artist award and is honored (terrified) to have his work hanging in the same gallery as Dr. Seuss.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Comfortable In One's Own Skin

"The moment will arrive when you are comfortable with who you are, and what you are– bald or old or fat or poor, successful or struggling- when you don't feel the need to apologize for anything or to deny anything. To be comfortable in your own skin is the beginning of strength.” Charles B. Handy

Instead of a NESCBWI conference wrap up, I would like to chat about something else. The conference was a big part of it.

I have never been comfortable in my own skin. During my childhood, I was never all that good at sports although I tried. Books smarts, meh, I did okay. I was the quiet kid in the back of the room with a pencil scribbling onto paper. Drawing my favorite characters from Famous Film Monsters magazine, comic books, movies, and cartoons. Not one of the popular kids which was fine with me. Just give me something to draw and I was happy. But I never felt like everyone else or that comfortable being the "art kid". I felt like an outsider because there were not that many "art kids" and if there were more than one, we were friends. Don't get me wrong, I had other friends but they never understood the love to draw or how I was searching for my "skin".

It seems I've spent half a century searching for my place in this world. Like a stray dog with a case of the mange, often chasing my own tail. Going round and round and round until I fall over dizzy, exhausted, and frustrated. Chasing this dream and then that dream but never finding my true passion. Everything changed this past weekend.

It took presenting a workshop on sketchbooks with my talented, hard working, and incredibly brilliant copresenter, Renee Kurilla Zulawnik, for me to realize that I have finally found the home for me. I want to be a part of the book world until I can no longer hold a pencil or until my tired old bones decide to move on to another adventure.

What was about this weekend that did this? The people. It was that simple. It is the people that I've known for a while and the new folks that I met. They support you as you struggle to be seen and/or heard, cheer for your success, hurt with you from disappointment, and rally you when you are down. We cheered as one for Kevin Barry, Marlo Garnsworthy, and Renee when they won their well deserved awards for their artwork and portfolios. We felt for those who struggling to get noticed or are too shy. We welcome you. Write and/or draw, you are one of the "art kids"

I questioned myself for about two weeks before our workshop. Did I have anything really to offer? Will I let Renee down? Would I look like a fool? Well, maybe I did but in a very fun, costume wearing way. But something happened during the presentation, I felt at home. It was okay. I am okay. Our fiends where there for support and to listen. The feedback after our workshop was phenomenal. Renee and I were thrilled, elated, and numb. I think we were a tad shocked too. We did it! As the above quote says "... the beginning of strength." A couple of "art kids" were approved by a room full of "art kids".

The book world is a family and the conferences are a homecoming. I am so lucky to be part of it. It took 4 plus years of going to conferences, listening, learning, shaking off some shyness and not standing in the back of the room, trying to hide. I know, it is hard for someone 6'5" to hide but I did try. Yes, this is the world I want to live in. To be with the other kids who never had a real place in the world. To be welcomed, loved, and made to feel at home. Comfortable of being who we are. Liking this skin that covers our pain, happiness, struggles, and creativity but no longer hides it.

This "art kid" has become comfortable in his skin.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Dreams Do Come True-A Journey

Dreams do come true. How do I know? Well, let me tell you. After working on a picture book idea for  two and a half years, countless revisions, rewrites, sketches, character studies, etc. my little story is going to be published. Faraway Friends, published by Sky Pony Press, will hit the book shelves in April of 2015! It all seems so surreal. 



This journey started with a simple sketch. This one in fact. It was a quick doodle I did out of the blue.  No real rhyme nor reason, just pencil to paper. Debbie Ohi saw the sketch and said I needed to write a story for it. Me? Write a story? You must be kidding. I cannot write a complete sentence much less a story. A few more folks started saying the same thing,"Write the damn story!" One even threatened to write it if I did not. "Okay! Okay! Okay! I will give it a shot." So I sat down one evening and started writing. No sense of direction or structure. After a few hours, I had something down on paper. I read it to my wife. She basically said that it wasn't very good. Hmmm, I guess I better get a clue on the basics of writing a story. 

After chatting with many people who are real writers, Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books came up many times. So I bought a copy. 

And begin to read it.

Study it.

Learn it.

Get it.

I saw my errors. And there were MANY!

With new paper in hand, I rewrote the story and shelved it for a few days. 

Read it aloud.

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Shelved it again for a few weeks.

Read it again.

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Now it was ready for fresh eyes. I asked some writing friends and a few illustrators to critique the story. They were a tremendous help. Their fresh eyes saw fresh mistakes. Another round of edits.

This lump of clay was starting to take shape.

I was ready for the dummy phase.

Sketch. Erase. Sketch. Erase. Curse. Rip up. Fresh paper. Curse again.

Rinse. Repeat.

I looked up from my drawing table a few months later and had a dummy. It was then that I went back to the words and saw more flaws and mistakes. 

Read it aloud. Read it to my wife.

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Shelved it again for a few weeks.

A-ha! Epiphany!

What I learned at this point was that my method to doing my own stories was to work out the visuals first and the let the words flow, pulling it all together. You can teach an old dog a new trick.

What happened next was the extra-locomotive in the train. Pushing, gaining steam in this little engine that could. I landed an agent.

Jodell Sadler was a godsend. She worked with me on the wording and flow of the dummy. We did several variations of the story and layout.

Again, time to:

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Sketch. Erase. Sketch. Erase. 

Rinse. Repeat.

Faraway Friends was shown to our newly formed critique group. Lots of good feedback and comments. I then knew the dummy were ready.

The dummy was sent out into the world with no training wheels. It wobbled here and there with some rejections, but then it gathered its balance. Picking up speed. One publisher was interested. And then another called.  

What?!?

This is crazy!

©2014 Russ Cox

A contract was sent. It was from Sky Pony Press. Julie Matysik, the editor, wanted it on their list for 2015. 

Signed.

Sealed.

Now it is time to deliver.

It is easy to toss in the towel and give up. It is part of human nature. But sometimes you must have faith in what you are doing, you don't stop believing (cue Journey now).

The journey is not over (every pun intended). It really has just begun (do not cue The Carpenters). The past two and a half years were the qualifying races before the main event. Now it is a race to the finish. September will be here in a heartbeat.

The silly doodle that leapt onto the paper one evening will now be printed, bound, and hopefully read to a child. Dreams do come true.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2014 -The Year For Family

"The love of family and the admiration of friends is much more important than wealth and privilege." ~ Charles Kuralt
After getting through the holidays and a busy start to 2014, it dawned on me that I have not posted an update on my blog in three months. The last post was about our trip to Italy. Since then, a lot has happened professionally and in my personal life. I thought about writing about those events but it is a new year so time start fresh. As I started writing for this post, I had to rush to Tennessee last week for my uncle's funeral. His death has made me realize what is the most important thing in life, family. The few days that I was there, we laughed, hugged, told stories, remembered, visited, and let bygones be bygones. It has been ages since we were all together. I missed my other two uncle's funerals, my wife told me I needed to get down there this time and it would be good for me to be around everyone. "You need good dose of Tennessee!" is what she said. Since moving to Maine, or Southern Canada as some family members refer to Maine, it has been harder for my wife and I to get back to our childhood homes to visit. As we get older, the importance of family reunions, visits, and special events such as weddings and graduations is magnified. We need to enjoy each others company and discard any past drama or spats. None of us will know when the phone will ring with not-so-happy news. Or when we will be subject of such news. I will miss my Uncle Eddie. He was a good person with a kind heart and would do anything for you without asking for anything in return. His last good deed was to bring us all together to celebrate his life and our family.

I tried keeping this blog for more of my professional news and events with a sprinkle of personal stuff. For 2014 and beyond, I want add more personal events and general thoughts. Some will have photos while others will be just words or musings. Thanks for following the past few years and I hope you stick around a bit longer.

Russ

 
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