Category Archives: blog

It’s that PUMPKIN time of year!

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My friend Timothy Donoghue’s 2016 crop!

Pumpkin Magic! According to Tim Donoghue, there’s nothing magic about it! 

Tim loves Jack-o-Lanterns and has been growing pumpkins all his life. His tips for pumpkin growers: “One of the beauties of pumpkin planting is that it is almost COMPLETELY foolproof. Once in a while some seeds won’t sprout (which is why you put four to five seeds in a hole and then thin out to just one), but, otherwise, they like water, and if you are growing them for “show” you don’t have to worry about the taste (too much water makes them tasteless) and you can water them as much as you like.” Tim adds that they are completely invasive and will eventually take over your garden, if you aren’t careful, so it’s best to put them at the end of the garden and give them PLENTY of room to spread. “Pumpkins will grow up and over and under fences, which is wonderful, I think.”

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We think pumpkins are pretty wonderful no matter where they grow and whatever they look like!

Do you have an amazing pumpkin to share? Or a Jack-o-Lantern that deserves to be seen? Send us your photos and a short description via http://www.pumpkin-time.com/activities/submit/

Timothy Donoghue is an artist and performed in the West End and at the Royal National Theatre in London, and at the Trinity Repertory Theatre in Providence, RI, for many years. When not gardening or in his art studio, Tim is writing a middle-grade novel at home in the Alpes of Haute Provence in France. 

The Hickory Stick

Doug Cushman read from PUMPKIN TIME! and drew pumpkins — and Turkeys! — at the Hickory Stick bookstore in Connecticut. Next stop is Bank Street in New York City. Please check the events page for details!
doug draws turkey book store display cafe cushman2

 

Book tour!

Pumpkin Time! reading and craft activity at Green Bean Books in Portland, OR, with Erzsi IMG_4143 IMG_4140and the Hummingbird Nursery School

Harvest time!

On Sunday, I took a bike ride to see how the pumpkins were doing in the fields. Most were gone but some were still all-lined-up for harvesting. Further along my ride, I came upon the funny little lettuce “beenies” that keep the lettuce from changing color. And then, I rode up to the sun kings of Provence, the mighty sunflowers in their fading glory, standing sentry to the Harvest like alien beings…

Writing Process Blog Tour

Well, the baton has been passed to me for this Writing Process Blog Tour which, I just discovered, has been zipping through the internet for a while. Author Laura Ghel tagged me for this literary cyber-chain letter (but no Ponzi scheme or death threats involved if you DON’T send this out to your closest 157 friends…). I told Laura that writing about the creative process is impossible to explain but she admitted that she used to dissect rat brains and learned something from THAT. So a writer explaining his art is no different than looking at a dismembered rat brain (I’m assuming that’s what she meant….). My agent Erzsi Deak (http://henandink.com/), suggested me as well. She’s the author of a book I recently illustrated, Pumpkin Time! She posted her processes here on the Pumpkin Time web site and for this blog tour as well. I’ll be talking more about our book later.

So, with a big thanks to Laura and Erzsi, I’ll attempt to describe the indescribable.

Rat brains notwithstanding…..

How does my writing/illustrating process work?

I subscribe to the metaphor that if you dissect a frog to see what makes it tick, you wind up with a table filled with dead frogs. The creative process is impossible to describe. I’ve illustrated around 130 books, 30 or so I’ve written as well. Each book is a new experience, a fresh, blank slate. Which means, in theory, that I’ve 130 ways (so far) to approach a book. But there is one guiding rule I always follow: a picture book is a team effort, a true collaboration between the author and illustrator. It drives me nuts when I hear an author say, “MY illustrator …” as if they owned me and controlled the total creative process. By the same token, an illustrator has no right to force his/her style/vision on the author’s text. It’s an equal arrangement, 50-50, to make the whole book.

In Pumpkin Time, Erzsi’s text is sparse, almost ethereal. It suggests what’s happening in the spread. I needed to read between what she wrote and what she really meant. Evy, the little gardener, lives in a dreamscape, where pigs and rabbits play badminton, cows and chickens crush grapes and donkeys fly through the air in boats. Her own reality (and ours) is her garden and what she dreams it will be (as shown by the cloud shapes in the first spreads). My job as illustrator was to keep Evy’s reality (and the reader’s) intact while showing the madness of the surrounding activity…but keeping it all “real.” Each scene needed to be crazier and crazier with Evy completely oblivious to what was going on. Kids can handle that, going from the real to the unreal, from truth to fantasy. It’s an easy journey that most adults have forgotten. That was my interpretation of Erzsi’s intention as the book sped to the final climax of the feast.

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The rest of my job was simply the “grunt” work of laying out the sketches, designing the characters, making the dummy (it’s always black and white ink, rarely in color), collecting detailed reference on the plants, tools, animal anatomy and costumes (and designing fashionable gardening boots, of course). But always with the purpose of bringing out the text’s underlining message while adding my own zaniness to the mix. In a sense I completed what the text began to say. Then, I traced off my sketches onto watercolor paper, resized some of the characters, mixed my ink to redraw my illustration before I paint, and then I…. Oh dear, I think I see a table filled with dead frogs…

Why do I write/draw what I do?

I wrote and illustrated my first book when I was 8 years old and I haven’t stopped yet. I’m a storyteller, pure and simple. I have to write or draw. Drawing and writing is the same thing to me. I write in pictures and draw with words. Like Egyptian glyphs there’s no separation between the two activities. When I die and stand up in front of Saint Peter (assuming I go in that direction) and he asks me what I did in my life that was worthwhile and contributed to humankind, I’ll just respond, “I drew pictures and made up stories.”

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Maurice Sendak once said, “You cannot write for children. You can only write books that are of interest to them. ” If I have one advantage over many of the writers in my field, it’s that I haven’t forgotten what it was like be a child. So I write what interests me, the me when I was young. Even with the advances in technology, climate changes, faltering social structures, media bombardment and the everyday tomfoolery of our 21st century world, kids haven’t changed all that much. They’re still curious and willing to explore the world. They laugh, love, hate, eat, pee, cry, run away and fight, as they always have. These universal truths haven’t changed through the centuries so I try to tap into them as I’m writing. I remember the anger I felt when I wasn’t picked for the baseball team and it happens with kids today, just the same. So why do I write what I do? To show kids that I was there once, just like them.

And it’s going to be okay.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Pumpkin Time is not really a garden book. It doesn’t lay out instructions for planning a vegetable patch or how to feed and water your plants, though it does show a number of jobs involved in maintaining a garden. Rather, it’s a celebration of the seasons and, on one level, shows the reader that there is some stability in an ever-changing world. Kids need some structure in their young lives, a rock-steady regimen that’s familiar. They want something they can count on as this crazy, incomprehensible life swirls all about them. A garden is stable, earth solid, with predicable events throughout the year. Evy’s garden is her center, her grounding to the Earth, the taproot to who she is. She shows that with a little determination, focus and getting her hands dirty, she’ll gather a generous harvest to share with her friends in spite of the goofiness whirling around her.

That’s where the turkey comes in. He’s Evy’s alter ego. They wear the same gardening boots, which connect reality and the dream world. He reacts, in a sense for Evy, to what’s going on. I drew his expressions to convey surprise, joy or confusion. My illustrations create that connection between the dream world and the solid earth of the garden. And they do it with a little wink to the reader, saying, “We’re going to have some fun here.” Pumpkin Time illustrates the joy in the cycle of seasons and the reassurance of Mother Nature in a bewildering, and at times zany, world. That and the fact that cows look really good in fancy hats.

What am I working on?

Sorry, but you’ll get no answer here. I’m superstitious about droning on about what I’m doing now. I always have 4 or 5 things in process in various stages of completion. It could be only character sketches (many of my own books begin with a character drawing in a sketch book), rough outlines, complete dummies, full-blown illustrations highlighting a new style or approach to painting, text with chapters or even a line of dialogue or just a book title. To relax, I drag my easel and watercolors and plop myself down in front of a Parisian bridge, mausoleum or chateau and paint. And of course there are the myriad piles of sketchbooks that clutter my studio. I always return to those to pick up new ideas, looking at them with a fresh eye. With time, ideas can age and mellow like wine, to become richer and more complex…or turn into vinegar. It’s all grist for the mill.

So what am I working on now?

Tombstones, flamingos and onion soup.

Let me introduce you to the next authors I’ve “tagged” to carry the torch for this Writing Process Blog Tour.

First is Dian Curtis Regan. We’ve published two books together, Monster Baby for Clarion and The Snow Blew Inn for Holiday House. Filled with lots of humor and just plain ol’ good writing, Dian has published board books, picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, and anthology stories.

She is a former “Member of the Year” of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the namesake of the “Dian Curtis Regan Library” in Venezuela.

Dian was born and raised in Colorado Springs. After graduating from the University of Colorado in Boulder, she taught school in Denver until deciding to “take one year off to write.”  Way more than a year has passed and she is still writing full time.

Her books have won many honors, including Best Books for Young Adults, Children’s Choice Awards, Junior Library Guild selections, Los Angeles Times Recommended books, New York Public Library’s list of 100 best titles for young readers.

Dian has lived in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Venezuela.  Presently, she lives in Colorado.

Dian has lived in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Venezuela.  Presently, she lives in Colorado.

Learn more about my good buddy at: http://www.diancurtisregan.com/home.html

The second author I’ve tagged is Sandra Guy. Born in Hong Kong, she lived there until going to read English at Bristol University. After graduation she worked in advertising, theatre and with young homeless people before fulfilling a childhood fantasy of moving to Paris to write.

Sandra has written articles, poetry, stories, short films and the odd monologue for contemporary artists. Her special interest is teen fiction. Her writing has appeared in books and magazines in the UK, France and the United States. A prize winning poet, she was a recipient of the Patricia Paignton Scholarship Award for Poetry (in Paris) and the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award.

Sandra has lived in Hong Kong, London, Paris and Rome but currently resides in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) where she writes and practices Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Learn more about Sandra at www.sandraguy.com

Our first review!

This from The School Library Journal:

Pumpkin Time!

Erzsi Deàk, illus. by Doug Cushman. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $14.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4022-9526-3

In author/agent Deàk’s kooky harvest-themed story, an overalls-clad girl named Evy doesn’t have her head in the clouds, but rather in the soil. Cushman (Pigmares) shows Evy planting seeds, dressing a scarecrow, and harvesting vegetables while rambunctious farm animals frolic throughout the year: “The day the sheep picnicked on the neighbor’s lawn… Evy didn’t see a thing. (What was Evy doing?)” Not donkeys sailing through the sky nor Halloween festivities can distract Evy from her work: “When ghosts and goblins danced door-to-door all night long” (the ensemble includes a sheep dressed as a vampire, a pig in a mummy costume, and a horse witch), Evy is carrying the harvested vegetables indoors. Hard work and commitment pay off for the avid gardener, and readers should appreciate seeing her finally enjoy the fruits of her labor—in the form of pumpkin pie—with the animals. Ages 4–8. Agent: Erzsi Deàk, Hen&ink. (July)

Cooking Up A Story Storm — c’est mon tour de blog – my writing process blog tour

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I am happy to be participating in the My Writing Process Blog Tour, which has been touring the world for many months across genres, and if we are lucky, universes. Kind of like the Starship Enterprise, now that I think about it. Or a big, fat juicy chain letter with a little more raison d’être. Picture book author and illustrator Wendy Wahman has passed the baton to me and luckily,writer, app builder and general creative force Sarah Towle, reminded me last night on my way to hear LOS CALCHAKIS perform the MISA CRIOLLA (pretty wonderful). Wendy is a treasure trove of animal fun as well as graphic appeal. Check-out her books below!

Don't Lick the Dog Wahman

“Don’t Lick the Dog”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exoQtUxpHR8
“A Cat Like That”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80WcGcwpvaI
“Snowboy 1,2,3”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dli9KQEkohg

BEWARE, MADAM LA GUILLATINE  With Time Traveler Tours & Tales, Sarah has managed to build a castle out of air, whimsy and history and make it sturdy and watch it thrive! And she’s written a gorgeous middle-grade novel (the one she’d love Wendy to illustrate) that we look forward to finding a home for SOON! So with the baton up in the air, here are my answers to the tour’s four key questions and tags (watch out for that baton!) to authors Laura Gehl and J.M. Lee for July 28th below.

What am I working on? As a writer, I’m always working though it may look like I’m doing anything but that, since staring at the passing clouds or pondering a dream in deep sleep does not writerly look). Currently, I’m working on a sequel to my book, PUMPKIN TIME! (illustrated by Doug Cushman and hot-off-the-Sourcebooks-press) and figuring out a harvest-and-gardening boot tour across the US with not-to-miss fantabulous points of interest (Turkey would be proud!).

How does my work differ from others of its genre? PUMPKIN TIME is a fabulist picture book with reality at its heart (ie, gardening, the harvest – and pie!). What makes Evy and Turkey’s picture book story stand out from other gardening books is just that, the fantastic stuff happening around them and Evy’s incredible focus. It’s really a story about process and getting out there every day: hoeing, planting, weeding, watering and finally, baking. Upon rereading, I see that the story could very easily apply to what we writers and illustrators do everyday – hoeing, planting, weeding, water and finally, baking. Lucky for Evy, Turkey is there. We all need a pal in matching gardening boots to make the process seem painless (emphasis on seem!). Thanks to illustrator Doug Cushman for making the back 40 doable!

Why do I write what I do? Does one really have a choice? The muse. The writing malady. The love of the way words interplay amongst themselves and in picture books the interaction between text and images. In longer work, whether an article for a journal, a short story, or a novel, I write what I do because it’s what wants to be written when I agree to write it!

“In the writing process, the more the story cooks, the better. The brain works for you even when you are at rest. I find dreams particularly useful…. You can only learn to be a better writer by actually writing. “ 

— Doris Lessing

How does my writing process work?

As I also am an agent and an editor, my writing as a writer has shifted. These days the process remains the same in that I’m always thinking about Story and jotting notes on bits of paper, napkins and errant notebooks and even more often, on my phone, but the actual act of pen-to-paper, butt-in-writing-chair, etc., that happens when I make a date and set aside time specifically for a project; then I work a lot of nights and weekends to make the writing “magic” happen. We all know there is no mystery to creating anything: One just has to do it one word at a time, one seed at a time, one inkblot at a time. I’m not one to procrastinate, so juggling my different hats, I departmentalize and determine when is the writing moment and start chipping away at Story and word and world building. Oh, and those characters. Gotta build characters I want to hang out with, that’s for sure.

TAG, YOU’RE IT (on July 28th!)

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I’m thrilled to be able to tag Laura Gehl, whose picture book ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR (Beach Lane) is receiving terrific reviews across the board and whose first two books in the PEEP AND EGG series are due out from FSG in 2016.  Laura writes a monthly column, “Ask Dr. Cyborg,” for Odyssey, a children’s science magazine, and writes about scientific and medical topics for a variety of other child and adult publications.  Her first three picture books will debut over the next year: ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR in September 2014, followed by AND THEN ANOTHER SHEEP TURNED UP and HARE AND TORTOISE RACE ACROSS ISRAEL (both from Kar-Ben/Lerner) in February 2015.  Laura’s best ideas come from her four young children. She is a prolific writer, as well as a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Hen&ink Coop! She’s blogging at henandinkblots this month.  You can also check out Laura’s new website: www.lauragehl.com

And then there’s Mr. Lee, winner of Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal Author Quest with his book, THE RING OF DREAMS, now titled SHADOWS OF THE DARK CRYSTAL.

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http://www.darkcrystal.com/authorquest.php

J.M. (Joseph) Lee is an author, illustrator, and writing mentor with a background in linguistics and film. He writes cross-genre action adventure and draws faces with really dramatic eyebrows. On the side, he enjoys dabbling in experimental short fiction and drinking a lot of coffee. http://action-danger-intrigue.tumblr.com/ and http://www.joeyverse.com