Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thanks to you and to Secondary Characters

Thanks to all who stopped by and left a comment on my interview with Hazel Mitchell. We do have a winner! This give-away was so much fun that I plan to do another soon. (More about that in future posts.)

I’ve been staring out the window, watching the snow fall, and searching for some nugget to share with you today. Finally I decided I’d just refer everyone to Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s insightful post, “The Major Role of Secondary Characters.”

Lynda’s debut novel, One for the Murphys, will be out from Penguin this May. I can’t wait to read it and meet Toni.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hazel Mitchell Interview and Contest

I'd like to welcome Hazel Mitchell to my blog today.

To celebrate her visit, I'll be holding a book-give-away. Just comment on this post to have a chance at winning a copy of Hidden New Jersey.

Drawing and horses were Hazel Mitchell’s great escapes growing up in Yorkshire, UK. She attended art college, but left to run away to sea. She says the Royal Navy taught her to be a graphic designer. Now she lives in Maine doing her dream job—writing and illustrating children’s books.

She wrote and illustrated the e-book, ‘The Ugly Duckling’, winner of Classic Tale. Her latest illustration projects include a four book chapter book series ‘All Star Cheerleaders’ by Anastasia Suen and ‘How to Talk to an Autistic Kid’ by Daniel Stefanski, which is a ‘Books for a Better Life’ Finalist 2012. She’s here today to talk about her latest release, ‘Hidden New Jersey’ by Linda Barth, and published by Charlesbridge imprint Mackinac Island Press.

Welcome to my blog, Hazel!

Thanks, glad to be here!

1. Folks always love to hear about all that led to a contract and that exciting phone call or email. Could you tell us a little about how you were chosen to be the illustrator for Hidden New Jersey? – Sure. Yes, this one was quite exciting, because it came from all places, Facebook. The developer for the book saw some of the work I had posted on my fan page and thought I would be a perfect fit for the book. So she sent me an email and we went from there.This is the third book in the series, Michigan and Ohio have already been published.

2. Your characters are so expressive. Could you tell us a bit about the technique and materials you used for your illustrations? Working on this book was like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Each page is different, dealing with a specific area of the state, (although there are some themes that run through the illustrations … children canoeing and the little bumblebee who is the ‘mascot’ of the book – as well as the hidden objects throughout). My first task was to read through the research for each page, find out about them and sketch out a design for each page incorporating all the different facts. The rough sketches went for approval and then I worked up a final drawing about 150% larger than the final page. I scanned each drawing at high resolution and then used photoshop to add the final colouring. I also had to decide which objects would be hidden on each page and where I would hide them.

3. Did you do a lot of research and field trips to the places mentioned in the book? Do you have any interesting stories to tell us about that? All my research was done online, unfortunately. I live in Maine and the book was completed in about 4 months so there wasn’t a lot of time for field trips. Luckily my husband is from New Jersey so he was able to help me a lot! I really enjoyed finding out more about the state … it is so much more diverse and historic than I imagined. Linda Barth, the author, lives in Somerville New Jersey, and is an historian, so her fabulous research really helped me.

4. Which of the illustrations was the most challenging and why? I think one of the most challenging illustrations was ‘The Gateway’ that looks at the proximity of New York City and involved bridges, the Statue of Liberty, the Colgate Clock, a horse, the skyline, ferries. There was a lot of detail to incorporate and I wanted to make the design quite dramatic.

5. Did illustrating this book open any new avenues for you? This was my first real non-fiction book and I really enjoyed doing it, so I hope I will do more. Who knows, I might even get to do another state!

6. Do you have any new projects in the works? I will be working on the final book in the first series of ‘All Star Cheerleaders’, a four book series by Anastasia Suen, published by Kane Miller. I am also working on writing and illustrating my own picture books so hope that in the near future one of those will be in a bookstore near you!

To find out more about Hazel Mitchell and her books, and to see a trailer of Hidden New Jersey, visit her website at

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book Give-Away and Golden Scissor Award

In what state can you eat salt-water taffy on the boardwalk, hike the Kittatinny Mountains, ride the tallest and fastest roller coaster on earth, and catch the calf-roping at the Cowtown Rodeo? New Jersey of course!

Find out more about the state’s hidden treasures in Hidden New Jersey. To earn a chance to win a copy of the book, just stop by my interview with illustrator Hazel Mitchell next Thursday, February 23, and leave a comment.

Announcing the Golden Scissor Award
Do agonize over cutting a single word of your precious manuscript? The Golden Scissor is for you. Award it to yourself when you gamely hold your breath and clip away, leaving masses of excess verbiage in heaps on your virtual office floor.

I’ve decided I deserved the Golden Scissor this week as I attacked an old nonfiction manuscript, hacking away at the dross to reveal the story within. I had been captivated by the subject’s tale of exploration and adventure, but my sails lost wind as my manuscript became submerged in details.

Back then, I felt I had to report on every aspect of the explorer’s three year journey. With experience, I’ve learned how to moor in the exciting moments and sail swiftly past the rest. Halfway through my edit, I’ve trimmed over 20 pages from my manuscript.

How can I bear to do this? I keep a copy of my old version of the manuscript, so nothing’s entirely lost. I can retrieve pages and paragraphs if I need them. But as the essence my story is revealed under my careful cutting, I realize I don’t need them. My manuscript is much better without them.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Out of the Writer's Cave

I’ve emerged from my writer hibernation, blinking a bit in strong light of day. My series is complete, and I’m eager to return to other projects that have been put on hold.

I have some wonderful guests scheduled on my blog in the months ahead. Illustrator, Hazel Mitchell, will be stopping by February 23rd to discuss her just-released Hidden New Jersey (Charlesbridge). In honor of her visit, I’ll be holding my first-ever contest, giving away a copy of her book. The winner will be chosen at random from one of the commenters on Hazel Mitchell’s post. You can view a trailer of Mitchell’s book at her website at

Right now, I’m preparing for the New England SCBWI Nonfiction Academy, held as part of the region’s annual conference this spring, April 20-22 in Springfield, MA. I’ve been checking out recently released nonfiction titles that have garnered some acclaim.

Last night I read two books where the illustrations beautifully supported the text, making these books to experience, not just read. The first was Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen. Sidman’s poems evoke the mystery of the creatures of the night while Allen’s hand-colored prints are luminous, glowing in the darkness.

The second was Can We Save the Tiger? written by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Vicky White. Jenkins makes a powerful case for working to save the creatures that share our planet. And White’s creatures loom out at you with a few strokes of her pencil. These books exemplify the best in picture book nonfiction.