Friday, April 27, 2012

Illustrator's Contest: Sketch the Story!

Welcome to my very first contest! As a budding author/illustrator, I am always fascinated by the creative process that turns a manuscript into a picture book. For my "Like You" series (still in-progress), I created these logos and then assigned each character a title in the series:

Smart Girl, Rich Girl, Little Girl, Best Friend, Fit Girl

Rich Boy, Smart Boy, Little Boy, Best Friend, Fit Boy

I followed that up with some character development, wrote the manuscripts, and let the pictures tell the stories. These books are more educational and instructional, so a lot of my visual translations are quite literal. Other stories that I have written/am working on lean toward more imaginative and creative interpretations. While I am having some fun with this, I thought that I would give my fellow illustrators an opportunity to share their talent and possibly showcase their work.

The contest rules are simple. In your head, answer the following questions:

1) Who is this little girl?

2) Where is she running to or who is she running from? What is the story here?

Then, on paper or your computer or your iPad, create your own rendition of this character in an action scene that answers these questions. Feel free to change the facial expression, dress colors, jewelry, shoes, and hair accessories. You may add hats and props, background scenery, and other characters, if you like.

Email your submission as a jpeg file with a 3-line blurb summarizing your creation. Also include a short bio, link to your portfolio, and a head shot. If you are on Facebook, send me a  friend request, so that I can tag you on your entry photo. All entries will be posted on my Facebook page. Voting will begin on Monday, May 7th and end on Friday, May 11, 2012. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Prizes: The three entries with the highest numbers of votes ("Likes") will be featured on my blog and Facebook page.

First Place: Full 10-question artist interview, 7-illustration portfolio, bio, contact information including links your to social media sites.

Runner-Up: Abbreviated 7-question artist interview, 5-illustration portfolio, contact information including links your to social media sites.

Honorable Mention: Abbreviated 5-question artist interview, 3-illustration portfolio, contact information including links your to social media sites.

I am looking for imaginative and whimsical artwork. Have fun with this challenge! Feel free to pose questions in the comments below.

Keep your pen to the paper! Remember, inspiration is everywhere...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Lois Lowry

1) Tell us a bit about yourself and where you live and work.

I have two homes, one n Massachusetts and one in Maine, where I spend summers. In both places I have a room where I work. I think its important for a writer to have a private and individual space.

2) At what point did you know that writing was what you were meant to do?

I knew form the time I was eight or nine that I wanted to be a writer.

3) Describe your body of work. Do you gravitate toward specific genres in your writing?

I have written 40 books for young people and they have varied in genre from fantasy to humor to realism to historical. I like doing different kind of things.

4) My daughter is a huge fan of your Anastasia Krupnik series and the Sam Krupnik series. Who or what inspired you to write it?

I had four children and I have four grandchildren as well. So I have had plenty of kids to observe and to know. But in addition to that I think Anastasia and Sam also reflect my own young self and my little brother.

5) Please share your most recent projects.

I have just completed a novel called SON, which is #4 following THE GIVER, turning the trilogy into a quartet. SON will be published in the fall of 2012.

6) As an established and successful author, do you promote your work differently now than you did in your earlier days? What methods have worked best for you?

I don't think much about promotion. I have had the same publisher for thirty five years and they take care of promotion. I'm happy to make public appearances and to do signings, but it is the publisher who sets those things up.

7) Who are your favorite authors? What is on your reading list right now?

I like Ian MacEwan and I am also a fan of many of the Scandinavian mystery writers, Jo Nesbo for one. I have just finished reading (and liking) a book called THE SNOW CHILD.

8) Should books ever be censored? Why or why not? Please weigh-in on this ongoing debate.

No. Freedom of speech (and of writing) is one of the basic freedoms of our country and our constitution. Censorship has always been part of totalitarian regimes, It is to be feared.

9) When you are not writing, how do you spend your time?

I read, go to movies, travel, spend time with grandchildren.

10) What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?

They should spend less time talking about writing and more time sitting alone in a room and doing it.

Author Bio

Born in Honolulu, writer Lois Lowry spent her early childhood in Pennsylvania, teenage years in Tokyo and New York, and was educated at Brown University and the University of Southern Maine. Mother of four and grandmother of four, she now divides her time between Cambridge, Massachusetts and an 18th century farm in Maine. She has received the National Jewish Book Award, the Boston Globe Horn Book Award, the Mark Twain Award, two Newbery Medals, the Golden Kite Award, and the Margaret Edwards Award, given by the American Library Association for Lifetime Achievement. She has twice been the United States nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Medal.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Derrick Barnes

1) Tell us a bit about yourself and where you live and work.

I am a 1) husband, 2) father, 3) and a pretty decent children's book author. I work and live smack dead in the middle of the country in Kansas City, MO. I have a BA in Marketing from the greatest historically Black college/university in the country; Jackson State University. I became the first Black man, in the history of Hallmark Cards, in 1999, to be hired as a copywriter. I have currently 8 published children's literature titles in print.

2) How did you become an author? What do you want your legacy to be?

While working at Hallmark, in 2002, I landed a literary agent by the name of Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary Agency; there was an illustrator at Hallmark who was represented by Regina. He gave me her information, I sent her a collection of short stories I was working on at the time, and we agreed on a contract some weeks afterwards. Maybe a month or two after that she landed my first two books deals with an African American imprint created by Scholastic (Just For You). Stop, Drop, and Chill and the Low Down Bad Day Blues were released in the spring of 2004.

I take my responsibility as an artist extremely serious. I want my body of work to exist long after I'm gone as a catalog of children's literature that inspired children of all races, nationalities, and walks of life.

3) Describe your body of work. Do you gravitate toward specific genres in your writing?

Before I began a new project, I always scour the landscape and take note of the characters, voices, and stories that are not being represented or told. I always try to create beautiful, realistic, perfectly flawed characters of color. I write for all age ranges but seem to gravitate more towards middle school readers more often.

4) My daughter is a huge fan of your Ruby and the Booker Boys series.  (She has me reading them now!) Who or what inspired these stories? How does your latest release, We Could Be Brothers, compare to the Ruby series and other books that you have written?

Bless you and your amazingly brilliant daughter. She has great literary taste. The series was initially named The Booker Boys. It starred the three Booker boys, narrated by Tyner Booker and they grew up in a single parent household. After shopping it to numerous publishing houses and being turned down, I put the series to the side for a couple of years. Even after adding a dad and a precocious little sister named Ruby, we still couldn't get it sold. My wife suggested that I pull the series back out, but this time make the little sister the main character. I did. and the rest is history. After rewriting the manuscripts and offering it to Scholastic, we ending up signing a four book deal with them.

We Could Be Brothers was my first hardcover release and my first attempt at middle grade literature. WCBB is essentially a three day conversation between two African-American boys ages, 12 and 13, that come from two different socioeconomic backgrounds and family structures.One comes from a single parent household, and has a ton of responsibility . The other comes form an upper middle class family, and his father is a daily, active, positive influence on his life. After having a conversation with my eldest son about how most of his friends don't live with both of their parents, more specifically without their fathers, I became very interested in how those daily conversations are conducted. How does having a dad and not having one dictate those conversations, how they see each other, and the world around them. The title came from a conversation the two main characters had about the dreaded "N" word. Pacino Clapton asks Robeson Battlefield, "If I can't call you my #igga, then what will I call you when I see you in the hallway?" Robeson responds, "Brother. We Could Be Brothers."

5) What kinds of challenges (if any) in the publishing industry do you face as a person of color writing about people of color?

There are a multitude of things that frustrate me from different entities in this industry. But I guess if you polled most authors, their complaints and beefs would be about the same: not enough support from the publisher, not enough support from particular media outlets, not enough retail/trade support from a particular demographic. But the truth is, as in any other industry, no one knows your audience better than you do. You have to go after the readers. Its really not the publisher's, or radio and television personality's job, per se, to push your books. It's all up to you. I try not to complain, just keep writing, keep working hard and reaching out to as many people as possible. I'm an eternal optimist. I wake up every morning and believe something good is going to happen. Every single day. That's God.

6) How do you promote your work? What methods have worked best for you?

Max out Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. Reach out to blogs and websites that are frequented by my target audiences. I pinpoint school districts, randomly, and email a form email I created, aimed at reading teachers, and media specialists/librarians, and principals.

7) Who are your favorite authors? What is on your reading list right now?

Langston Hughes is huge. Walter Dean Myers is the truth. R. L. Stine. Malcolm Gladwell. Toni Morrison. And surprisingly, Chuck Palahniuk. I read a ton of autobiographical books. Checking out Amiri Baraka now.

8) Please tell us about your blog, “My Four Sons”, on How does your family inspire you?

My wife and sons are everything to me. They inspire every single action that I take. They motivate me to be a better father and husband. I want them to look up to me, to be proud of me. I feel so blessed to have been chosen to be a part of the lives of these five amazing human beings.

MyBrownBaby gave me an opportunity to write about the day in/day out adventures of being the dad of the Mighty-Mighty-Mighty-MIGHTY Barnes brothers. They are so different and provide me with a multitude of challenges; having to approach these cats from different angles as it relates to education, discipline, motivation, conversation---it's a true blessing. I love it!

9) When you are not writing, how do you spend your time?

Most of my time is centered around my four sons and their activities and academics. When I'm not with the fellas, I'm with my queen, or working out at the gym. When I can squeeze in the time, I read. I'm also a huge jazz and classic hip-hop music fan.

10) What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?

Continue to develop your voice and writing style. Read as many authors with styles that you admire and that are similar to your own. Don't be in such a rush to get published. Landing an agent and a deal with a big publishing house may not be the route for you. Self publishing and pinpointing your own audience may be more fruitful for your project. Develop a business side; marketer, advertiser, promoter, budget analyst.

Contact the Author


Facebook links:


My Four Sons:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Guest Blogging, Good News, Derrick Barnes, and Lois Lowry

Guest Blogging

For the month of April, I have been participating in Robert Lee Brewer's "April Platform Challenge" posted on his blog My Name Is Not Bob. Sunday's challenge (Day 22) was to pitch a guest blog post to another author. Robert provides some fantastic blogs for writers to consider that should also become part of every writer's resource library. I am making my pitch to a few of these blogs, but I would like to invite you to become a guest blogger on mine. Find the details HERE.

Even though there is only a week left in the challenge, there is still time to complete many of these tasks. Today's assignment is to participate in a Twitter chat tonight. It starts at 8pm Eastern time, but if you can't make it, just use the hash tag #MNINB to follow the stream.

Good News!

Last week, I interviewed a very talented artist named Tamara Ramsay about her Kyooms project. Kyooms is a collection of positive artwork and postcards for children. Tamara used Kickstarter in an effort to finance her project. As of Monday, April 23rd, she reached her goal! Thanks to everyone who shared her post, left a comment, or made a donation. Congratulations, Tamara!

Derrick Barnes

On Wednesday, The Writer's Block will feature YA author of the Ruby and the Booker Boys series (one of my daughter's favorites~who also happens to think that this interview is quite a coup!) Derrick Barnes. He will talk about the importance of family, his road to publication, and his latest release, We Could Be Brothers. Be sure to tune in tomorrow!

Lois Lowry

On Thursday, The Writer's Block will be chatting with author Lois Lowry author of The Anastasia Series (again, one of Halima's favorites), The Gooney Bird Books, and her latest novel, SON. She is very accomplished as a writer and offers this advice to new authors: "They should spend less time talking about writing and more time sitting alone in a room and doing it." Gotta' love that. Tune in Thursday for more!

In case you missed it!

Here is yesterday's blog post, "3 Lessons from A Young Author".

Keep your pen to the paper! Remember, inspiration is everywhere...

Monday, April 23, 2012

3 Lessons from A Young Author

I am a firm believer that big readers make great writers. The sooner that children get started on both of these disciplines, the better. As a new mom, I would read to my daughter, Halima, every chance I got. When she was three, we made our first trip to the library and now it is one of our favorite hangouts. I have watched her morph into a reading machine--she reads everything that interests her. As a result, her writing has become more layered and her use of vocabulary in her storytelling has matured quickly. She is finding her voice. I detect subtle and not-so-subtle influences from her favorite YA authors (Meg Cabot, Derrick Barnes, Lois Lowry, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Benton, Jeff Kinney, Francesco Sedita, and Rachel Renee Russell) in her work. Halima also draws inspiration from family, friends, and life experience to create memorable characters.

For the last two years, my (now) 12 year-old  has successfully completed the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. Otherwise known as "30 days of literary abandon", writers from all walks of life turn off their internal editors and commit to penning a novel during the month of November. For those of you who are not aware of NaNoWriMo, they offer both an adult challenge and a Young Writer's Program which is open to everyone. Young writers set their own minimum word count and then calculate the average number of words that must be written everyday to stay on track. Halima did a general outline for her book, but just let the story develop as her imagination ran wild. (So far, I have managed to write a couple of "interesting" short stories, but my NaNoWriMo claim to fame thus far has been editing Halima's upcoming release, The Adventures of Riley.) Being her teacher and her mom, the thing that impressed me the most about Halima has been her commitment and determination to finish the challenge. She wrote almost everyday in November. When "it just wasn't flowing", my budding author would take a break from her writing to re-group. Often after a day or two, she would jump right back in making up for lost time.

As we finalize Riley, we are also looking forward to completing a picture book collaboration. Halima has entered a few writing contests this school year and scribbles in her journal "just for fun". I am taking some cues from Halima in my approach to writing. Maybe you will, too?

 Lesson #1: Read. Read what you like. Read a lot of it. Read for education, vocation, and pure enjoyment. Whatever, the reason, read. It will make you a better writer. 

Lesson #2: Write. Write down your thoughts. Write when you are inspired. Write when you must. Write when you don't have to. Find a reason to keep your pen to the paper. Keep a journal, start a blog, or even write articles, short stories, or poems. Write for work or academic purposes. Turn off your internal editor and let the words flow. Just keep writing. The more you write, the better you will get.

Lesson #3: Be Doggedly Determined. Make a commitment to finish what you start. Set goals. Meet your own deadlines. Allow yourself time and space to re-group when your muse doesn't show up, or life shows up in its place. If you believe in a project, see it through to the end --no matter what.

Keep your pen to the paper! Remember, inspiration is everywhere...