27 July 2017

Debbi Michiko Florence's JASMINE TOGUCHI

On Creating Jasmine Toguchi
by Debbi Michiko Florence

      My path to publication was a meandering and bumpy road and for a long while, I felt like I’d never get here. I went to college for a B.S. in zoology with a minor in English and then got my K-8 teaching credentials. I taught 5th grade in L.A. for a semester, and then became the Associate Curator of Education for the Detroit Zoo, a dream job. And yet, all along, I had a secret dream. I wanted to be a writer. It wasn’t until I left my job and moved to Mexico City with my new husband for his job that I seriously considered pursuing a writing career.
      In 2001, when I started writing for teens and kids with an eye toward publication, I dove into research with glee. I read books on craft and the publishing business. I became a member of SCBWI and attended conferences. I joined critique groups. And I wrote, revised, and submitted many novels.
I kept writing, revising, querying, and submitting. I received some encouraging rejections, but they were still rejections. After seven years of that, in 2008, my heart had had enough. I decided to quit. This was after I had two nonfiction children’s books published. I was proud of those books, but that wasn’t the dream. The dream has always been fiction for me. I decided it wasn’t going to happen and it was time to move on. My heart broke as I bawled in my living room. I put on a movie to distract myself and within the first ten minutes, I came up with a story idea. I ran upstairs to get a legal pad and handwrote several pages of a story. My will to quit writing lasted all of a few hours. I realized and accepted that I was never going to stop writing. It was as much a part of me as breathing.
In 2010, I came across a newspaper article about a Japanese American family that got together every New Year’s to make mochi (a Japanese rice treat) in the traditional way, by pounding steamed sweet rice into a sticky mass and then rolling them into balls. Traditionally, men pounded the rice with a big wooden hammer into a mortar, and women hand-rolled the mochi. I wondered what would happen if a little girl wanted to do the boy’s job and how that would affect a family that respected and valued tradition. From that idea, Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen was born. I wrote a draft, revised many times, and submitted. And it was rejected, though with a few positive and encouraging responses. I didn’t give up. I continued revising and submitting until finally, in the spring of 2015, Grace Kendall of FSG emailed me to say she wanted to acquire my chapter book manuscript! Not only that, but she asked if I’d be willing to write three more books for a series about Jasmine! Yes, yes, and yes!
I love working with Grace. She is an amazing editor and she really gets Jasmine, and she gets me. Around the same time, I signed with my dream agent, Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Add to that the perfect illustrator, Elizabet Vukovic. Serious bliss all around!
      On July 11, 2017, sixteen years after I stepped onto the path toward publication, I will have not one, but two books released in the Jasmine Toguchi chapter book series.
      I could not have made it here without the support of an entire community. My husband, Bob, has never once wavered in his belief in me. My daughter, Caitlin, watched me work hard and struggle for her entire childhood. Her joy when I told her about the sale equaled mine. My parents and my sister have always believed I could do this, even when I didn’t think it was possible. And this community of writers has kept me afloat all along. I hope you’ll indulge me since I don’t get an acknowledgements section in my books, as I single out a few key people who have made this journey a bit easier: Jo Knowles, Cindy Faughnan, Jennifer Groff, Cindy Lord, and Daphne Benedis-Grab have been with me for over a decade, reading and critiquing my manuscripts, and cheering me on. This is not a full list of the friends and writers who have kept me going all these years, but to list everyone would far exceed my word count. You know who you are (including Elizabeth) - thank you, each and every one of you!
      This has been a long, and sometimes difficult, journey, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m glad I stayed on this path.

25 July 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - Mud Pie!

     This piggie makes the absolute best mud pies of all! CLICK HERE for more patriotic-themed coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially...
my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET - winner of over a dozen literary awards, including Georgia Author of the Year. Click the cover to learn more!
     When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

24 July 2017

Francelia Butler Conference

Saturday was the annual Francelia Butler Conference - run completely by graduate students at Hollins University. No dementors allowed.
The Francelia Butler Conference (FBC for short) is a long-standing tradition and opportunity for students to present their academic papers, creative works-in-progress, and illustrative process. That part is new this year and a welcome addition to the art show.

The conference has become the official venue to announce the winner of the Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children's Literature. This year's winner was Adam Rex for School's First Day of School, which I featured HERE.
We got to catch up later at the banquet and after parties, although I don't have photos of those!
     The students really go all out for the conference. They make awesome decorations.

And inspired treats.
All semester we contribute books and hand-made items to the auction that helps fund the conference every year. Here's student Shawn Walton showing this year's offerings.
Some of the items are quite impressive, like a signed print by David Wiesner, and an original painting by Brian Lies! Here is Co-Director of the program Ruth Sanderson, with students Marilyn Mallue and Lucy Rowe. The students have a competition for the t-shirt designs.
And this year, there was a sketch-off. Ashley and I participated. The theme was "the Cheshire Cat tap dancing." I couldn't figure out why everybody was laughing until they called time. Ashley and I had drawn the exact same thing, and apparently in almost perfect syncronicity - the smile and shoes and nothing else. Because, y'know, it was the Cheshire Cat.
I love the conference. Each year I enjoy the talks, while drawing personalized notes for students and all the folks I'm so grateful to have in my life here at Hollins. Good job guys - it was another awesome conference!

Ethan and Vita Murrow - THE WHALE presentation

Ethan and Vita Murrow visited for two days at Hollins University to celebrate the opening of their very first show of original graphite drawings from THE WHALE at The Eleanor D. Wilson Museum. It was wonderful to hear about the path of these fine artists and the process behind the making of the book. Vita's background is in film, Ethan's in fine art. Their skills have come together in dramatic representations Ethan portrays in graphite - life size!
Or with sharpie pen - larger than life size!
They shared how they developed the story behind THE WHALE.
They hired actors to pose.
Ethan uses woodless graphite pencils from Koh-i-noor in soft leads from 6 to 9B on 100 lbs. Lenox paper. He says it lays flat after being rolled and holds up well to the pencil. I was fascinated by the marks he made.
You can get an idea of the size of the original drawings from the book next to the original drawing.
They created their compositions much like I do - pulling the elements together in Phosothop.
Then taking that to pencil.
The results are stunning.

Seeing the originals was a serious treat.

What an honor to host the Murrows here at Hollins!

23 July 2017

PODCAST: Jane Yolen Interview

PODCAST: Jane Yolen was recently interviewed on All The Wonders about her book On Duck Pond illustrated by Bob Marstall. It's a lovely listen - click the image.

20 July 2017

Vita and Ethan Murrow's THE WHALE

We're thrilled to have Vita and Ethan Murrow visiting Hollins University for the opening of their show at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum featuring works from their new picture book, The Whale (Candlewick Press, 2016). To celebrate, they are here to talk about their process. Welcome Vita and Ethan!

e: What was your creative process on The Whale, can you walk us through it?
Vita and Ethan:
We approach each of our projects like a movie. We collaborate on a manuscript with our editor, then we sketch out a story board.
The story was an evolution of one we’d told in the past, about a whale hoax, that we thought could be improved upon and adapted.
      Once the pacing and plot are approved, we cast actors and try out the story as a performance. We stage our photo shoots with props, specific lighting cues and costumes. We really look to our actors to help get the story right and bring it to life.
With the photos as our guide we build composite images around them using photo shop, to fill in background information and take risks with perspective. We review the narrative and always have edits. In The Whale we made some large changes like moving the story from airplanes to boats. Then we produce a "pick up shoot" a chance to rephotograph the story with the necessary edits and revisions.
      Then we refine our compositions in photoshop and ready the images to be projected on the wall. The drawing process involves projecting the images in order to map them out with graphite sticks. Then a couple of weeks per drawing to render out all the details, improvisations and changes. the drawings are them photographed and it is these digital images that make up the illustrations in the book.
e: Is the entire book in graphite? What form of graphite (pencils?) do you use and how big do you work?
Vita and Ethan:
Yes the entire collection of drawings are rendered with hundreds of graphite sticks of different weights. Lots of kneadable and electric erasers are utilized as well.

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Vita and Ethan:
For us the magic of an image is how it transports the viewer/reader. We are drawn to strong and encompassing perspectives such as sweeping landscapes, aerials, or tense close ups.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of The Whale?
Vita and Ethan:
Each project we take on is so unique and is usually a combination of whim and impulse, paired with cajoling and support from our collaborators. Such was the case with The Whale. Our friend and Editor Rachel Williams really pushed us and drew us into the project. Her confidence in us and our trust in her really made The Whale possible. It is in every sense a story of friendship, trust and collaboration.

e: What was your path to publication?
Vita and Ethan:
Relationships! We really see our work as relational. Not just between the two of us, but with our larger network of peers and colleagues. It was this network that offered us conversations, forums, meeting points and events that exposed us to opportunities and people in publishing that we trusted and were eager to explore.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
Vita and Ethan:
Being a team. We relish in the ensemble part of our work. As a duo and with the photographers, actors and publishers with which we work. The combination of people is enriching, challenging and we love sharing the fun and excitement with others. But all that collaborating is also our biggest challenge. From logistics, to time zones, personalities, and perspectives. And between the two of us, being sure we are both growing as artists and that we find potential and evolution in each project and role we take on.

e: Is there something in particular about The Whale you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
Vita and Ethan:
We tried to hide a sweet parallel story in there about the generations that came before. And we also strove to weave the thread that some things, are just for kids.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project (or have you already done it!)?
Vita and Ethan:
Our forthcoming projects include another wordless picture book, followed by a more mature graphic novel adventure. Our dream is to see our work turned into film. We are always kicking around non narrative ideas, like collections and of course more adult oriented content too...

e: Good luck with all, we can't wait to see them!

Show and Tell at Hollins with Elise Schweitzer

Elise Schweitzer is one of the primary art instructors at Hollins University, working towards tenure. As such, she's been working on a research show - a series of images themed around the equestrian program at the uni. We've been peeking at her works from a distance for a few years now. Wednesday, she treated us to a private showing and talk about her method. WOW.
First we just looked and absorbed. Then she shared the research she did to understand horses and the idiosyncrasies of hunt seat and equitation.
She mostly works from life, working with models and becoming a common presence in the barns. She even keeps a saddle in her studio for reference.Her talk on examining the differences in Degas' horses and Rubens' was fascinating - thins to rounds, energy to calm. These are Elise's charcoal studies.

She shared the frustrations of creating pastels - how hard they are to keep and frame. I wish they weren't so tricky, because this was gorgeous.
And then she walked us through her oil process. It began with handmade frames, linen canvas and rabbit skin glue.
She works with a glass palette, placing primaries in the corners, secondary colors between them and so on. She works with brushes and palette knives and various solvents/varnishes.Finally, she talked us through the challenges of creating her amazing oils.There were the pieces from last year that are just breathtaking.

It was fascinating to hear the similarities in considerations with her methods and our illustrator methods - and the differences. Movement was a big consideration - left to right and back, forward to back, as in inside the painting, up and down. Mixing up visual intention. How she layers the viscosity of paint to make it most flexible for humidity and aging was fascinating and something we rarely deal with when our work's final goal is to be in print. Similarly, though, she is fascinated by shapes - both positive and negative. Really look at them.

As I'm sure you are, we were in awe. Elise's work is so incredibly beautiful. To stand in the middle of so much of it was a true meditation in calm, peaceful appreciation. What a treat indeed. See more of Elise's work on her website here.


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