My 'other' blog--The Whatsits

Good morning!

There's new stuff happening over at my picture book critique group's blog, The Whatsits, including this most recent post from me, about why I love quiet picture books.

From The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

From The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

PiBoIdMo--oh yeah!

I rarely commit to public writing or drawing events, because I don't like to announce to the world that I am going to do something when I know very well that I probably won't. I feel the same way about book groups--I just am never sure I can truly commit to reading that book that we are all going to talk about next month. 

But, for some reason, this year I have decided to actually commit, yes, to this terrific picture book endeavor called PiBoIdMo. I, Jennifer K. Mann, will try my hardest to come up with THIRTY (maybe more) new picture book ideas before the end of November!

And I am off to a good start, because just by deciding to commit (personally and publicly) the ideas have been flowing in. I'm collecting the extras up front, because there will be more than a few days this month when I may be distracted with other responsibilities. 

Now, you should know, there is no one checking to see that my ideas are good ones--I guess I will need to be the judge of that. I sure am hoping that there is at least one great idea among the many I hope to come up with. And even if all I have is a ton of not-so good ideas, at least I will have tried. Right?

You can find lots of information about PiBoIdMoand, and inspiration from guest bloggers at Tara Lazar's blog, here. Tara has created an amazing, supportive and inspiring community of writers and illustrators all in pursuit of the elusive perfect picture book idea. You don't have to be published to jump in--you just have to want to jot down thirty ideas for possible picture books before the end of November. If I can do it, you can do it.

We Should Have Coffee!

I wish I could sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee with each one of you who pops in here now and then to see what I am up to. But that would be impractical, so instead I'll just catch you up right now with some of my current goings-on.

First, it is now public information that my picture book Two Speckled Eggs is a finalist in the Washington State Book Awards! Other finalists include my wonderful friends George Shannon, and Jennifer Longo. The thing is, there is no shortage of wonderful books being created in the State of Washington, so this feels like an amazing and exciting honor! You can read the list of finalists in every category here.

(Update! Update! Two Speckled Eggs won! Two Speckled Eggs was awarded the Washington State Book Award in the picture book category! You can read the press release here. I couldn't be more thrilled, and I am so grateful to the Washington State librarians and booksellers who read it and appreciated it, nominated it, and ultimately selected it. It just makes me want to work harder and create more worthy books. Thank you all!)

Not too long ago I turned in the final art for my next picture book to be published by Candlewick Press, due out in May of 2016. It's called Sam and Jump, and I am very excited about this book! I I can't wait to share some more of the art with you, but I'm not allowed to quite yet. I will tantalize you with the cover and one little morsel, however:

I'm currently working on illustrations for a picture book written by Allison McGhee, to be published by Boyd's Mill Press, titled Percy: Dog of Destiny. It features four high-action hounds and a sassy squirrel. I love dogs, and thankfully I have a couple of nutty ones myself to inspire me. You'll just have to wait a bit to see what's in the works for Percy and his pals. It's possible (but not definite, mind you) that someone in that story might look something like this:

Next weekend I will be a presenter at the SCBWI Inland Northwest Annual Conference. I think there might still be a spot or two remaining if you are interested in hearing me talk about how to analyze a picture book, or if you'd like to participate in a workshop on character design. Pressure's on though--I've heard they've had a record number of illustrators register for the conference this year. This is the first time I've presented at a conference, and I am pretty dang excited about it. I do really like talking to people about kids' books!

I've been noodling around with a stack of picture book ideas for my next project, and one of those ideas smacked me upside the head yesterday with a completely new twist that I actually think just might work, and that feels really exciting! (There is no feeling like it, as some of you may agree!) I pounded out the first draft yesterday afternoon, and then It disturbed my sleep--which is a very good sign. So hopefully more on that soon.

My picture book critique group, The Whatsits, is about to launch an exciting new blog! We are going to have a lot of fun catching you up and filling you in on all kinds of things relating to picture books. Keep your eyes peeled for the The Whatsits, which will be launching sometime next week.

Then lets see... My picture book I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson's Blackboard has garnered some very nice praise, plus mentions on kidlit podcasts and back-to-school round-ups and the like. 

It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, a very sweet review from the Boston Globe, and the Wall Street Journal, a featured moment on John Schumaker's Watch Connect Read aka Mr Schu Reads, and a loving shout-out from Carter Higgins on Matthew Winner's terrific podcast, Lets Get Busy, and was part of an Amazon Editor's Picks for Back to School books. All of these, among other really nice mentions and reviews.

This book means a lot to me, as you've heard me say before, so it makes me feel great that it means something to lots of other people too.

That's a lot of news! It's been a fun and busy summer, and the fall is off to a really great start! I hope that's true for you too. 

A Character Design Workshop for kids

So, today I taught a really fun workshop to a bunch of really creative kids at the Bainbridge Island branch of the Kitsap Regional Library. It was a full house, with twelve bums in chairs doing the hard work of CHARACTER DESIGN!

I brought a stack of favorite books with wonderfully designed characters.

I loaded up a couple of tables with a lot of collage materials and markers and glue and scissors and hole punchers and string and stuff.

I talked for a minute or two about character design (clothes, hair, eyes, accessories, setting, backstory, size, shape, species, etc etc).

I asked them to think of themselves as characters--human, animal, whatever they thought was right. What could they express about themselves with a drawing or a collage or both?

I taught them how to use tracing paper to make patterns for cutting out collage materials to give their characters (or their settings) some, well, character! 

And then I let the kids get making.

And make they did.

Their infectious creativity inspired me.

And two hours was not nearly enough for all the fun we had.

Just how long does it take to make a picture book?

People sometimes want to know: Just how long does it take to make a picture book?


And the answer, of course, is “it depends.”

How long it will take to create and publish a picture book depends, of course, on what you consider the start and the finish. If you start with that moment when you first had a little flash of recognition that you might have an idea that could be a picture book, and end with the day you see your idea as a glorious hard-cover, full-color picture book in your neighborhood bookstore—that might take as long as ten years. It did for me. It might take longer!

If you are both the author and the illustrator, it also depends on all of this: how long it takes to go from idea to story; how many times you are willing to write the same idea in different ways; how many times you are willing to share it with your critique group, at conferences, with teachers, with wise people, with your family, with friends, with publishing professionals; how many bad sketches you are willing to make; how many dummies you put together; how courageous you are; who you know; how the economy is doing; how patient you are; if you have an agent; how hard you work; how willing you are to scrap it all and start over; how many unpredictable bombs life throws your way; how determined you are to have your idea published!

Then, if after all of that, you are lucky enough to get your foot in the door, and actually sell your idea to a publisher, it depends on who your editor is, who your art director is, how long it takes to get the story details right, how long it takes to create the art, how long it takes to fix the art, how long it takes to get the cover right. And then it takes at least another year, because your book has to be proofed, and approved, transmitted overseas to be printed, and then it has to make its slow, leisurely way back to your favorite bookstore on the slow boat from China—literally.

Is it worth it? Totally. Take it from me, it's worth every short minute.

This particular book is really my first born, the one I learned on, even though it is the second to be published. It’s been a long journey to this day. Thanks go out to a million people who had anything to do with this book being published. But the following people played a direct role in making my dream come true, whether they know it or not: Patti Lee Gauch, SCBWI Western Washington, Margaret Nevinski, Dawn Simon, SCBWI Don Freeman Committee, Michael Stearns, Elizabeth Parisi, SCBWI International, Grace Maccarone, Holly McGhee, Elena Giaovinazzo, Kate Fletcher, Heather McGee, Kevan Attebury, Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Wendy Wahman, Ben Clanton, and my patient and supportive family. 

Today is the release day for I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson's Blackboard. It takes a village, a team, a family, and a lot of good friends to make a picture book! Thank you all so much!