Tuesday, May 31, 2011


A small selection of recent reference photos, taken in service of illustrations I'm working on for my next middle grade novel, COLD CEREAL.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I don't expect it's a common misconception, but someone on Twitter recently asked me why, in my recent post, I was telling others not to write kid's books. I wasn't doing any such thing, but to be clear: if you want to write kid's books, write kids books. If you're thinking you might try it only because you assume they're easy to write and easy to publish...don't.

That's all.

Monday, May 16, 2011

For My Birthday, Please Get My Dad Out of Jail.

As has been noted 115 times already on facebook, it is my birthday. In lieu of flowers, you might consider helping my dad make bail.

He's going to be locked up by the Muscular Dystrophy Association for a Muscular Dystrophy crime he didn't Muscular Dystrophy commit. There was a ridiculous show trial that lasted twenty-one hours, and Jerry Lewis stayed awake for the whole thing, and...anyway, I try not to ask for money very often, but if you have even a few bucks lying around we'd appreciate it.

Thank you. Here's the donation link.

Friday, May 13, 2011

There Are Pigeons Nesting in My Pigeon Spikes.

I feel obliged to tell you that I don't like pigeon spikes. I don't like the way they make every ledge and sign look like some Lilliputian Thunderdome.

And I actually like pigeons. Longtime readers of my blog will remember how delighted I was to discover that first nest of them on my porch. I even asked you to name the babies.

But nest after nest of chicks convinced me that this was not some rare and fragile miracle. This was not Pale Male nesting on Fifth Avenue. My porch was more like an especially unsanitary inner city maternity ward.

Unsanitary because I've learned, and I don't think there's a delicate way to phrase this, that pigeons produce an astonishing amount of waste. They'd turned the columns flanking my house into two abstract expressionist monoliths, like exactly the sort of crapcentric art installations that make Republicans want to defund the NEA.

So, pigeon spikes. And now pigeons nesting in what was apparently not the appropriate amount of pigeon spikes. Those chicks above were fledged a couple weeks ago, so I went up the ladder to install stronger defenses. But they'd already rebuilt the nest. And the mother in it would not leave. I didn't take this with any kind of zoom. I was this close.

Eventually I was too close, and the pigeon lunged at the brush I'd brought to clear away the twigs and droppings. So for a moment I could see that she'd been hiding two new and dandelion-yellow chicks.

So, back down the ladder. I'll try again in a few weeks.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Accidentally Joined Twitter


An Open Letter to Everyone Who Thinks it Must be Easy, Writing Kid's Books

You should totally write one. Maybe the fact that it seems so easy is your brain's way of telling you that you'd be good at it. I really couldn't say if you'd be any good at it or not so soon after meeting you, and telling you what I do, and listening to you disparage my life's work and all.

Then again, if you notice you're often saying "I could do that" when confronted with all kinds of things that are easy to do but difficult to do well (non-representational art, haiku...kid's books), then it might be time to put up and get your hands dirty. Yes, anyone can smear paint around, anyone can count syllables, anyone can write a very short story about bears learning to share or whatever.

You may even think, having crafted a bear story with a beginning, middle, and end, that it's fit for publication. Maybe you'll ask me who to talk to about that. I could give you the names of a number of editors, each of whom literally rejects thousands of stories per year. Because she doesn't think they're good enough. Or she doesn't think they're sellable. Or she doesn't think they have anything going for them besides a beginning, middle, and an end.

I wonder if you like the NPR comedy news quiz show Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. I usually catch at least a little of it each week, but I missed the episode a couple Saturdays ago when children's book agent Brenda Bowen got to be one of the call-in contestants. Here's a link to the transcript if you're interested–it's what got me thinking about all this.

Anyway, one of the panelists kicked things off by essentially mentioning that she suspects it would be easy, writing kid's books; and Paula Poundstone, whom I must say I like, nevertheless trotted out a variation on an old chestnut that I assume every kid's book writer has heard at least as often as I have. It always goes something like this: these books are a snap to write, which I will now exemplify by mentioning a board book I saw once that contained only pictures of shapes or farm animals or the alphabet. Because surely the fairest way to evaluate any vocation is by its most rudimentary example. SpaghettiOs. An elementary school dance recital. US Weekly.

Or maybe it's a question of length? Certainly I've heard that often enough–"It's only thirty pages and there's, like, ten words on each page. How hard can it be?"
It's a high school composition approach to writing–if a 500-word essay is hard, then a 1,000-word essay is harder. A novel must be harder to write than a short story. A really long novel must be harder to write than a novel.

May I suggest you try something?–write a brand new, memorable quote. Something we'll still be repeating a hundred years from now, like people are always doing with Twain. It should be easy, shouldn't it? It only needs to be, like, ten words.
Or is it hard to think of something worth saying? And hard to think of the perfect way to say it because, with so few words, each one has to really count? My stars but that's interesting.

And then you have the audacity to say I'm "lucky" to be doing what I do.

No, you're right about that, actually.

On deck for tomorrow: another post about how hard it is to be me. Maybe something about the headaches of having a beautiful, intelligent wife.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mick Again

But painted a bit this time. Yeah, I know–it's unsettling. Stupid uncanny valley.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


New character model for my next novel. For my next three novels, come to think of it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tucson Art Show at Lulubell

Lulubell Toy Bodega here in Tucson has a new art show opening this Saturday called "Creature Feature," so I've contributed a couple paintings–one was a Magic: the Gathering card, the other (below) a book cover for an M:tG tie-in anthology.

I'll be there at Lulubell (on Toole and 7th Ave.) from 6-9 this Saturday for the opening. So will a lot of other artists. Come say hi, maybe.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It Continued to Happen on a Train

Yesterday I shared some of the sketches and steps–the station-stops, if you will–needed to arrive at Successful Book Cover Terminal. Previously I mentioned that we'd gotten to a pretty good place with the sketches, but certain people were uncomfortable with A) showing a knife on the cover and B) showing a boy in a towel on the cover.

So the knife became a lead pipe (which, if also rejected, would have been replaced with a candlestick or some business), and then I made the towel a robe:

Which everyone liked, but now they were disturbed by the placement of Steve's hand.

There, now. We have arrived at Successful Book Cover Terminal. All passengers must exit.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It Happened on a Train

I don't make a habit of illustrating books I haven't read. But it's happened a few times, typically in cases where the cover was needed before the book itself was actually written. The forthcoming Brixton Brothers #3: It Happened on a Train was such a book. Mac Barnett was getting a late start writing it–he had the mystery mapped out but not a lot in the way of action set-pieces, so he and I talked on the phone about what could conceivably go on the cover.

Of course there had to be a foot chase on top of the moving train at some point. But this alone wouldn't convey the slightly off-center atmosphere that all the BB books have, and which I like the covers to reflect. I asked Mac if it would be possible for main character Steve Brixton to be wearing a bath towel. If memory serves, I was sort of kidding.

"Actually," said Mac, "I think I could make that work."

I think you should read the book, so I'm only going to say that it makes perfect sense in context. But the above cover sketch isn't very good. I struggled early on with how to show both the train and the action in an engaging way. I could pull back and show more of the train, but then the action would suffer for lack of tension. I could close in on the action, but then everyone might look like they're fighting atop a Tuff Shed.

Ooh, better. But at this point Mac let me know that there could only be just the one masked goon.

And that he needed to be left-handed.

And this image-flopping killed two birds, actually, since the train needed to be shown traveling south down the California coast. So now everything was perfect, except that the publisher decided that they couldn't show a knife on the cover, and also that Steve in a bath towel was stirring up some...confusing feelings.

TOMORROW: The finished cover.