Saturday, July 19, 2014

Blog Tour!

Earlier in the summer, I was invited by friend and award-winning children's book writer Jackie Briggs Martin to be part of the My Writing Process Blog Tour. An image of a jolly double-decker bus crowded with all my favorite bloggers- writers and writer/illustrators all- came to mind. Blogs are great vehicles in which inspirations and observations travel widely. No passports needed, carry on only a creative mind, focus time and a love of writing and children's books.

You can find Jackie's blog and her post on the blog tour at:

Here are my replies to the tour's four questions:

What am I working on?

A couple commercial illustration jobs are juggling for time on my board right now, along with the sketch stages of a current picture book project for Minnesota Historical Press. Writing is confined at the moment to blogging and my long-hand (private) journal. I have a file full of stories in progress though and try to fledge at least one manuscript and book proposal of my own every few months.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m in the non-fiction camp, and I strive to write in an approachable, friendly style, factual but not didactic. I’m not sure how my voice differs from others. I hope I write like the writers I love to read.

Why do I write what I do?

It’s a mystery for us all, isn’t it? One of my favorite playwright and screenwrights, Horton Foote (Trip to Bountiful, To Kill a Mockingbird, Tender Mercies) said something like you don’t choose the material you write about; it chooses you. I think I write best not about what I know in my head but what I know in my heart.  

How does your writing process work?

My brain has been described as a junk drawer, with many ideas haphazardly rolling around inside. One day, I’ll open the drawer and something will pop to the surface that interests me. It is usually one sentence or one image that I happen upon organically that evolves into a story. For instance, my first narrative, creative non-fiction picture book, My Wilderness (Sasquatch; Spring 2015), started with a child’s remark I overheard at an art exhibit. One moment, I had no story; the next I did. After that initial spark, I flesh things out with research and a lot of BIC- butt in chair- keyboard time. I write and edit a manuscript in its entirety before I sketch or do story boards. I like my illustrations to sit in “the green room” (what actors and entertainers call the waiting room before an actual performance begins) until the words are completely ready for them. It’s a joy to get to mesh pictures and words together. And hope what my heart has to say in words and pictures is what kids would like to read about, too.

Next stops on the tour? I've tagged two friends in the field to hop on the tour. Both are illustrators primarily but phenomenal writers as well.  They each write lively, smart blogs. Julia Kelly and Jennifer Black Reinhardt will add their colorful commentary in the next few weeks.

Thanks Jackie, Jennifer and Julia!

Jennifer Black Reinhardt is a nationally known award-winning illustrator whose artwork has been published on numerous calendars, books, greeting cards, even needlepoint kits and collector plates! She lives in Iowa with her handsome husband, two teenagery teenagers, and a big white poodle.  Her blog can be found at

Either in words or fabric and thread, Julia Kelly illustrates the mountains, canyons, deserts and people of the Four Corners Region where she lives with her husband, daughters and too many dogs. Her blog can be found at

This is from M. Sasek's classic This is London. Sasek is one of my favorite author/illustrators. Maybe someone on that bus is a writer who just came up with a great idea for a picture book! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rowing away

Making progress through the waters of a busy summer. Saying farewell to my Alaska book with one last illustration. I've put away the research boxes, stowed the original art, filed the sketches, etc. It's a bit like letting go of a child as they begin their lives, independent of your control (although a hell of a lot easier on your blood pressure!)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

For Cindy

I think of you tonight,
as the fireflies light the way on the gentle July breeze,
guiding you safely home.

Cindy Heims

Monday, June 30, 2014

Shades of Alaska

Savoring some quiet studio time today, in between thunderstorms. Here's a composite of Alaska wilderness colors to share. Milky fjord turquoise, cliff side grays, fir greens, pebble blues, and a pop of wildflower.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Travel in the Lands of the Midnight Sun

Two opportunities for travel this month have had me in places that both share endless summer day-light hours. Suns that never set, light that never darkens, it's been new way of looking at the world this season.

The first week of June, I visited Alaska (Anchorage and around Seward and the Kenai Fjords). And recently I returned from Sweden (Goteborg and Stockholm). Both trips were full of inspiration and welcomed respits from a busy 2014 in the studio. But time away from the board does limit an artist's out-put. I now feel the overwhelming, near-physical urge to express the images conjured in my head from rubbing against other cultures and historys. I'm looking forward to the rest of the summer and fall, staying put in the studio, gelling new ideas along with other ongoing projects.

Monday, May 19, 2014

On Top of Mt. Picture Book

I'm in the last stages of sending in final art for "My Wilderness". It was a long ascent. I was overly optimistic about my arrival. But the climb was steep to begin with, I knew this! Now I'm enjoying the view. A few more pre-production steps to take, and I'll be finished.

As anyone experiences, the descent of a big project can be tricky, too. With no new work, one can feel lost in the crevasses. With too much work waiting, one can still feel oxygen-deprived. The key may be to have a little of both. I need to feel lost for awhile but I also look forward to the next project in the wings. Always the fine balance on the mountain.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

CHILDREN's BOOK WEEK...Something Old....

I'll share today about one of my favorite books from childhood, "Island of the Blue Dolphins", by Scott O'Dell. I know it was THE first young adult novel I ever read. I still remember sliding it off the shelf in my elementary school library, from the "Big Kids" chapter book section. It's an odd detail to recount, on selecting a book, all these years later. Perhaps that's a nod to the important place literature holds in my history, that looking for a book has always been as enjoyable as actually reading one.  

I  re-read "Island of the Blue Dolphins" a couple summers ago for the first time in 30-odd years.  The story line is constructed so animatedly, simply a soliloquy of its virtually soul character, Karana. The story, set on an island off late-19th century California, speaks of interior strengths we all possess but few called to use. Karana could do anything. She is a Katniss of her time. It read as fresh as it must have done the year it won the Newberry in 1961. I urge you to read it, even if only to compare YA novels of today.

I love this cover art by Evaline Ness, from the version I first checked out (I own this one, thanks to Alibris).  I see a gestural strength in Karana's portrait, her resigned but content expression, the graphic punctuation of the round abalone hair clasps against her jet black hair. "Island of the Blue Dolphins" has been re-issued many times since, but I think this classic cover is the best.  

Last August, on our way to Bend in central Oregon, my family and I stopped and picnicked in a beautiful state park at the foothills of Mt. Hood. The trees were already changing from the towering, dense, Douglas fir to the angular, airy, arid-loving pines close to the lakeside where we ate. Lucy, our then 14-year old daughter, poked around the water's edge. Later she showed me a selfie taken of her shadow, an image of wild, wind-whipped hair and sand and shell. I immediately thought of teenage Karana. She could have taken this selfie, too. Two girls, on the edge of adulthood, very separate eras and circumstances, but the same raw material. Literature reveals itself in our lives in many unexpected and wonderful ways. 

Something old...