Friday, October 14, 2011

Texas Book Festival

I was lucky enough to be invited to Austin as one of the festival's featured authors this year. It is held in downtown Austin on October 22-23. Stop by and see my presentation on Saturday or Sunday. The schedule is online at this site. Texas Book Festival. Lots of fun and intelligent talk as long as you stay away from the Texas senators and congressmen. I will be presenting The Green Mother Goose with my co-author, Jan Peck, and signing my other books including Fandango Stew and The Twelve Days of Christmas-In Texas That Is. A good time will be had by all!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Tricks, Tactics, and Techniques from Published Authors: Thoughts on Traditional vs. E-book Publishing

 (Jan Peck and I spent lots of time putting this little book together after we had so many requests for it. It is based on a talk we gave at an SCBWI meeting in Arlington, Texas.)

Book details:
Secrets to getting published and surviving the trials and tribulations of the writing life from authors with 50 years of experience between them. They've published art and writing with: About You! Books, Back Porch magazine, Boys' Life Magazine, Celebration, Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul, Christianity Today, Comic Buyers Guide, Dallas Morning News, Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin/Putnam), Highlights for Children, Humpty Dumpty magazine, Madison County Journal, Pelican Publishing Company, Simon & Schuster BFYR, Sojourners Magazine, Sterling Publishing Company, Turtle Magazine, The Winnsboro News, e-books, and many other assorted publications. Real answers to your real questions about the realities of the publishing world! How we were broke, broke-in, how we stayed with it through struggles, got published--and you can too!

Ms. Lightfoot has written a book that rivals "The Elements of Style" in its simplicity, clarity and helpful information. There's no literary double talk here. Just page after page of editing insight. The tips on how to use your computer to best editing advantage are especially welcome.  Every writer should have this book in their creative quiver.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Tales They Told Me by Jim Lewis

I was looking for my Chicago Manual of Style this morning (I probably should look for it more often) and came across my copy of The Tales They Told Me: Short Stories About Mississippi, by Jim Lewis. I met Mr. Lewis one day not too long after this book came out. I was in a Mississippi Credit Union trying to figure out how to get a loan for a vehicle as I recall. He was standing by the door working as a guard. Mr. Lewis was a powerful looking older man, and his gun belt, uniform and stetson made him look even more so. Somehow he knew I was a writer, and we struck up a conversation. It surprised me when he told me he'd written a book. He looked more like a cattle drive trail boss than a writer. We shot the breeze a few minutes and parted friends.

The next time I was in the place he pulled me aside. "I want to give you one of my books," he said. We went to the trunk of his vehicle and he handed me a paperback. It was short. Only about a hundred pages. I thanked him and drove home, occasionally glancing at the cover and not expecting much. That evening I picked the book up, grabbed a glass of iced tea, and settled down on the back patio next to my springer spaniel. I put on my specs and began to read.

I was mesmerized from the first paragraph.

The Tales They Told Me is one of the best books I've ever read--and I mean including ALL the books I have ever read. These short stories grab you by the lapels just like any writing by Faulkner, Willie Morris, Eudora Welty, and John Steinbeck. Some are funny. Some rip your heart out like "Ray Myer's Story." I'm not ashamed to say I cried a tear or two reading that one. If that had been the only tale in the book, it would have been worth the read, but all of the tales are great.Some of the stories would make a fine movie in the vein of "To Kill a Mockingbid," or "My Dog Skip."

People make fun of Mississippi. I lived there for nearly ten years, and there is a lot to make fun of. But I'll tell you one thing. There are more fine writers per square foot than anywhere else in the country. Look 'em up. Jim Lewis was one of them. I think Jim has passed on by now. I looked on line for him and his book and just saw a few used copies for sale. Take my advice. Get one before they are gone. I bought several for friends and each one treasures their copy. If you don't purchase one, you will miss a real treat. Rest in Peace, Jim, and thanks for the stories. I hope someone will have the wisdom to get this book back in print. It would make a fine ebook, come to think of it. I plan on reading it again tonight.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Laundromat Lizard

The Mount McKinley of laundry I struggled with intensely today.
First, let me say that I HATE doing the laundry. Not because I mind loading the machine, but because I have an undying aversion to visiting the Laundromat. It seems that I always time it just right to get there when the little kids laundry basket races are happening while indifferent parents look on. While they push each other around the place there is a half-hearted, "stop that" as they make the 30th lap around the place. Then the parent snaps his/her fingers and go's back to texting on a cell phone. The kids never even take notice. I'm not mad at the kids. It's just that I need one of the baskets to load my wash. And of course I don't want them to get hurt. There is a huge sign at the place I go that tells parents not to allow kids to race around in the baskets. Nobody pays attention. I've seen a couple of kids get hurt, and of course the parents threaten to sue as they are loading the kids into their vehicles for a trip to get stitches.

I have quite a history with laundry. I'm old enough to remember seeing laundry boiled in pots over a fire in deep East Texas at my Grandpaw's farm. Also, I remember both my Grandmothers washing things in a dishpan with P&G soap. (I got washed with it a time or two myself.) The clothes were  then hung on the lines behind the house with the old wooden clothespins--the kind without the wire springs. And no clothes ever smelled fresher than the ones dried in the sun.

The first washing machine I remember was a small table model that mom used when we lived in an apartment on South Presa in San Antonio. It wasn't much bigger than I big bean pot and looked sort of like a pressure cooker. (You youngsters look that up.) She plugged it into the socket on the overhead light bulb. Later when we lived on Commercial off Military Drive, down from an early ice house called the "Ize Box," (That was the way it was spelled and like its descendents, its big selling item was beer.Thirsty Kelly workers and airmen stopped in every evening for brew.) Mom had an old wringer washer in a wash house in the back yard. The clothes agitated in the tub and then you fed them through the wringer. I feared the thing, because Mom told me about all the folks who had lost arms, hands, and fingers by getting them caught in the electric wringers.
My college dorm was the scene of petty laundry larceny. Some guys found out that you could cut dime shaped pieces of plastic from deodorant can lids (Right Guard was the favorite.) and they would work as good as real dimes. (This was a tip passed on from the seniors to the incoming freshmen.) Guys used to go up and down the hall begging the lids you had 'cause they wanted to wash clothes. There used to get togethers where they cut out a big supply of the fake dimes. I was in the laundry room one day and the guy came to empty the change box. Suddenly I heard a stream of profanity. He emptied the box on the table and t
There were about eight dimes and forty plastic plugs.
In California I witnessed an interesting scene in a small neighborhood laundromat in Sacramento. I was washing my clothes and a hitch-hiking couple walked in. They emptied their packs of the few clothes they had. They threw them into the washer, and then proceeded to strip down to just their jean cut-offs. The girl calmly peeled off her top and put it in too. While the clothes washed and dried we carried on a friendly conversation while the well endowed girl jiggled. Then they put their shirts on, packed the rest of their clothes into their duffel, and hooked 'em. The wild and wooly sixties were something.

So, I spent the afternoon destroying the mound of dirty clothes. They are now neatly put away. It wasn't a complete loss. I got a blog post out of it. It may be of questionable value, but it is one. And I won't have to go back for a long time. I have plenty of T-shirts and I must have fifty pairs of underwear briefs. That way I can minimize my laundromat travail. I kid you not.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Early Freelance Stress" or "How I Rolled the Dice to Change My Life"

Drawing I did many years ago as I worried about money, family, and vocation.

I was 38. I had a wonderful wife. I had two little children that I loved dearly. I had a good job working at a bank as the computer operator. I had a house that was paid for. I lived in a little town where everyone claimed to be a Christian, and where the big event was the high school football game every autumn Friday night. I had a Norman Rockwell life straight out of the Saturday Evening Post--and I was miserable.

My understanding wife and I talked it over, and instead of me freaking out, I decided to roll the dice. She said, “You know, if you don’t try to sell your writing and drawing, you will always wonder if you could have done it.”

If I had been better informed, or not quite so desperate, I probably never would have attempted what I did. I quit my job at the bank. No more ties and kissing up to the rich, but no more steady check. I started an eleven year struggle that finally channeled me into writing picture books.

Someone once said, “It’s easier to turn a moving ship.” Well, my life didn’t become easy, but eventually I did turn to what I needed to do. I started out trying to sell my pen and ink drawings. This in an East Texas town of 14,000. I bought a 35mm camera. (This was in the days before computers, cell phones etc.) I took pictures of old home places and drew them in pen and ink for $35.00 a pop. I picked up my kids in an old 66 Ford pickup that I bought for a little of nothing. My kids were embarrassed to be seen in it. It loved gas stations. When I stepped on the accelerator, it sounded like I was flushing the toilet.

People around town thought I was crazy. I had given up one of the best jobs in the place to sit at home drawing all day while my wife worked at nursing. I was the town’s amiable ne’er do well. I had people actually knock on my door and tell me I was nuts. I had men crowing and saying that “I wish I had a wife that would work while I sat at home.” An old lady came by and told me that I was going to fail. I didn’t even know who she was. She lived somewhere up the street.

I fought depression. (See Prozac.) I went to counselors. One told me, “You are an artist. If you don’t create, you will do damage to your psyche.” I also did all kinds of jobs to earn exta money in the early years. One thing I did was to make plantation shutters. Another thing I did for a while was to work in a milk plant. But whatever I did, my eye was on creativity. I like a Bob Dylan quote: “I didn’t know where it was that I belonged, but I knew it wasn’t there.” (Watch No Direction Home.)

I’ve got to be honest. My depression and lack of steady income put severe stress on my long suffering and more conventional wife. She wanted to climb the corporate ladder, and I wanted nothing more than to get away from that scene. I had trouble at corporate parties. I found it hard to be nice to people I didn’t like. One time at a Christmas party, a doctor was introduced to me and the first thing he said to me was “I just invested 50 thousand dollars in the stock market.”

Unable to maintain, I said, “So what? Why are you telling me?”

Eventually I got a job doing political cartoons for a small paper. My daughter bugged me until I wrote a satire called Redneck Night Before Christmas. Pelican publishing saw it in a magazine and made it part of their Night Before Christmas series. It sold well, and the rest is history so they say. I’ve written 14 books, but at great cost.
These days I live alone in a modest apartment and draw and write. I live close to the vest. As a midlist writer, you have to be frugal. I love doing school visits. The kids keep me young, and my greatest pleasure is writing for them. I’ve looked back over my life, and you know what? I’d do it all again. Let me repeat that. I’d do it all again. As Will Eisner once wrote me, “We are doing what we do regardless”

Well said, Will. I draw and write whether I’m paid or not. I guess we’re going to be what we’re going to be. The journey IS the destination. So what do you do with good old boys like me?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

My Fountain Pen O.C.D.

I confess. I have fountain pen O.C.D. I’ve always loved drawing and I’ve loved drawing with a pen best of all. When I was a kid, I picked up some very old dip pens from somewhere—I don’t remember where. Perhaps they were from an elderly relative. I got a bottle of Skrip black ink and went to town drawing on any paper surface I could find.

The last day of school at Highland Hills Elementary was always one of my favorite days. I liked the idea of summer vacation, but more than that, I liked all the paper, pencils, and pens I’d collect. Some kids just threw their paper away along with their writing implements. I got as much of it as I could. Every pencil that hit the floor or ground was a mark for me. I filled shoe boxes with them. I was always looking for a good soft number two pencil—and I collected any pens I could. I especially liked old fashioned fountain pens or cartridge pens. A bottle of ink only cost twenty cents in those days. I even used cartridge pens for dip pens if I had nothing else to draw comics. My addiction to comic art continued through Roger's Junior School, Highlands High School, and beyond. Now, I'm and old fart, and I STILL love comic art.

The ink I loved best for writing was Sheaffer's Skrip Peacock Blue. (This link is your chance to buy one of the old bottles if I don't get it first.) They don’t make it anymore, but I’m sure somebody could make a fortune if they figured out the formula and put it out again. I see people searching for it all over the internet. I have not seen a replacement for its rich color yet—but I keep looking.

I used to draw my political cartoons with a dip pen or a Winsor\Newton Series 7, number 2 brush. (I still have about a hundred different nibs of all kinds, assorted pen stocks, and some Winsor\Newton brushes. I thought they were expensive then, but they REALLY cost a fortune now.) I loved using the old fashioned pens and brushes to draw, but I lettered with a Waterman pen. When I bought my first one, it was quite a stretch. I had two little children, and shekels were hard to come by. I tried Rapidograph pens, but nothing worked for me like that Waterman.

I have Corel Draw etc. and do some digital work, but lately I’ve returned to the old fashioned pen and ink work to relax. Maybe I’m just an old guy, but something human is missing for me in digital creation. I still work in that medium, but nothing soothes me like putting ink on paper with brush, or dip pen. I still have my Waterman plus a couple of new Noodler Pens that I’m experimenting with. Finally, I’m trying Noodler’s Turquoise Ink to see if it can approach Skrip Peacock Blue. I may be disappointed—but hope springs eternal.

I’ve even begun to write a few letters again. The old way. Fountain pen and paper. Peace.