Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Day After (A Post Conference Wrap Up)

I am not sure how to start this post. I thought about it while flying back and had some ideas. I should have written it then. Live and learn. 

So what do I write about? 

The conference? 

My experiences? 

What I've learned? 

The people? 

Geez, I could write about all of that for days.

Okay, lets give it a shot. No promises that this will not be a rambling mess since the jet lag has really hit me hard today. Note to myself: I need more than 3 hours sleep before I return home. I blame the kid in the room above mine for bouncing a damn ball. Hurray for hotel security. Hopefully they did not have to rough up him or her too bad. Maybe the ball went to the big dog park in the sky.

See, I told you that rambling was a possibility. Let me try to start this again.

Deep breath.


Now begin.

The day after returning home is filled with dirty laundry, puffy red eyes, a million thoughts, and a lifetime of new memories. The SCBWI LA Conference was my first national conference in over three years and my first one in LA. I've heard many stories about how great it was. Better than New York? C'mon, really? I don't think it is fair to compare them. I've love them both for different reasons. Some people think the weather is better for the LA shindig. Myself being a cold weather person, could argue for the cold streets of New York. I might be the only one arguing this point. I do live in Maine so what do you expect. The West coast was not as warm as I thought it would be. As a bonus, I did not return home with a sunburn. 

Why am I talking about the weather? 

See, ramblings.

Was this conference's experience something new and special? Yes, it was. I will not go into depth on the speakers and breakout sessions. I will give high praises to Dan Santat, Mem Fox, Molly Idle, and Kwame Alexander (that is how you give a speech!). Their workshops and keynotes were topnotch, well worth the trip alone. If you get a chance to see them or attend a workshop, please do so, You will not be disappointed. Just hearing Dan talk about his dedication to the art of creating books, Mem reading to everyone, Molly's poetic approach to visual character movement, Adam Rex moving from books to movies, and Kwame saying we all are going to experience great things, was enough to fill 100 notebooks. 

This conference was special for a different reason.

For the first time, I really got a feeling where I am in my children's book career. No longer new at this, maybe not a seasoned veteran, but major strides have been made in the three years. I have a book out that I wrote and illustrated which I am very proud of. No one would have guessed that three years ago. There are many who work so hard to do this and will never experience the feeling of their own book. Everyone should have that joy at least once. 

Now I am illustrating books for big publishers and earn a living from doing so. Again, I wish everyone who wants to do this could make a living doing so. Oh god, did this come across as bragging? I hope not. If so, I am sorry. 

While talking with Danielle, we discussed that I have more stories to tell and need to get them out. Hopefully on the printed page, with pictures  I would have never thought while attending my first conference that I would be writing as well as illustrating. It is a new territory for me to explore and learn. And so exciting! It is a new passion that holds hands with the illustration part of the process. That is what the conference can do. It can introduce you to new things and take you down paths that one has never explored or never thought of exploring. It is not about just being published, money, fame, etc., it is about finding another undiscovered voice. Your true voice, passion, and desires. The other things may come, but if not, and your are happy doing something you love, you already won. 

Making strides.

Reaching goals. 

Moving beyond boundaries.

Take in what you've learned, who you have talk to, listen to what is being said, mix it up in a beaker, and see what happens. Maybe when you attend your next conference, you can see the strides that were made.

I would like to end this post with some gushing about Danielle for a moment. It is really important to have people in your corner, helping you move along the path you desire. It is more of a like two like minded people with a common goal than a client/agent relationship. I was so excited to get to meet Danielle and the rest of Red Fox (hi Karen and Abi) in person. I cannot speak highly enough on how wonderful and welcoming they have been to me. You feel like you have known each other for a long time. Thank you for having me as part of the team.

The dryer just dinged, so it is time to fold some laundry while thinking of new story ideas.

*Please forgive any typos and grammatical errors. It is hard to type with puffy eyes.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


I just realized that it has been three months since my last post. Where did that time go? It seems like a few days ago we had over three feet of snow on the ground here in Maine. Now it is sunny and warm. The windows are open and a breeze comes drifting in, teasing me to go outside.

During this three month absence, a few things have happened. Danielle Smith (Red Fox Literary), my new agent, and I have been doing a focused mailing of a promo booklet that we put together. We have sent out around a 100 of them. Danielle is such a treat to work with and I look forward doing a ton of books with her. I am one lucky person.

The other BIG THING is that my book Faraway Friends (Sky Pony Press) has been launched into to the universe. This is my first book that I wrote and illustrated. So now I have the title of "author" added to my name. This is a bit surreal.

"I did not earn this title." I tell myself every day.

"One book does make an author." Is another one that crosses my mind. It is like one nail does not make a house.

"Is the book good enough for me to earn the right to use 'author'." I dunno.

"Am I sham?" Probably.

I reached out to a well-known author and asked her for an opinion. Her response was eye opening but warm. I was told to "Embrace it. Grow into the title. We are giving names at birth that become part of us, I should feel the same way with 'author'."

This made me smile. I am learning to feel comfortable with "author/illustrator" being attached to my name.

Now I am writing more, learning the craft, experimenting with words like I would with a paint and brush. Embracing the new title.

It is still a bit surreal.

"When you're writing a book, with people in it as opposed to animals, it is no good having people who are ordinary, because they are not going to interest your readers at all. Every writer in the world has to use the characters that have something interesting about them, and this is even more true in children's books." ~ Roald Dahl

"I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done." ~ Steven Wright

Monday, February 9, 2015

Starting Off On The Right Foot

2015 has started off with a bang. Two weeks ago, I signed with Danielle Smith at Red Fox Literary. I am still buzzing with excitement and full of energy from this news. Am I dreaming? No one better pinch me!

After the opening "Hi Russ", I knew she was the person I wanted to help guide my career into the direction I envision it. Sometimes you just know. Danielle and I connected right away. She got me, and I, her. Her warmth, humor, and knowledge was everything, and then some, that I heard about her. 

Where do I sign?

We chatted for an hour before she asked me if I wanted to be part of her team. I told her since she was at the top of my list, I would need about a half of second to decide. 


"Great! Welcome to Red Fox Literary."

Sound the trumpets! Happy dance time!

We have hit the ground revising my latest picture book dummy. Plus she had me send her some of my story ideas to sort through. 34. Yep, I sent her 34 story ideas. It was the War and Peace of a story list. I kept typing and typing until I was tired. I went back and counted. 34. Not all of them are zingers (thanks Primus) but I figured I would see which ideas, if any, she liked. After review, we have selected a few to get rolling which include some picture books, a chapter book, and a graphic novel. My evenings are going to be filled with "story time" for quite a while. I am looking forward to working with Danielle on these ideas and seeing if any of them land a home. This is going to be a fun journey, and one I hope lasts for many years.

I am very lucky and grateful.

I need to thank a few folks for helping me get to this next phase. They were very important in getting my work in front of Danielle and the folks at Red Fox. Thank you Jennifer Bower, Julie Falatko, and Marty Kelley for being such wonderful friends and making the introductions. I cannot express how touched I am by your support and words of encouragement, but more importantly, for being such great friends.

And now, it is "story time". I am still smiling.

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." ~ Walt Disney

Monday, January 12, 2015

Today ...

It is a bright shiny new year. Full of hope and future happiness, yet unblemished or worn to a nub. Many people have resolutions that they try to follow while others set goals. I am one of those goal oriented folks. I have the usual "write two new picture books plus a chapter book", "work more traditionally", "start developing a school visit song and dance", blah-blah-blah, just like many others in my field. I will not bore you with a long list of those goals but instead I want to talk about "today". I very rarely dwell on the past but do try to learn from it while focusing on the future. So I tend to forget about the now and today. So I will make a list of for today.

Today ...

... I will hum a tune.

... I will take a long shower and get dressed in real clothes. (Freelancers rarely shower or put on clean clothes every day. Pajamas, sweats, or even a robe are our clothes of choice.)

... I will cheer with the excitement when hearing great things that is happening to those that I know, want to know, or just think they are great, inspiring people.

... I will write something no matter what it is, good or bad.

... I will turn off the electronic world and pick up my banjo.

... I will open my sketchbook with pencil/pen in hand and let the lines explore the page.

... I will stay positive.

... I will appreciate the people in my life.

... I will smile, laugh, and be silly.

... I will stop what I am doing to look out the window for a few minutes.

... I will accept a compliment without shame.

... I will fight any self-deprecating thoughts.

... I will spend some time just for me.

... I will be not afraid of failure.

... I will love my family even more than I did yesterday.

And finally,

... I will be happy.

Today is the greatest
Day I've ever known
Can't live for tomorrow
Tomorrow's much too long
~Smashing Pumpkins

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