Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kids Painting Workshops

I ended up doing four different painting workshops for kids grades 2nd-6th. From the comments I've received from parents, it sounds like the workshops were a success! I thought I'd pick a few from the three I haven't posted. The students had 2.5 hours to complete the task. We only used tempura paint on canvas paper.

The Second Workshop

Becca, 2nd Grade
Erin, 4th Grade
We used the sponge technique for the background. The color palette was yellow, blue, white, and brown for the background. I wanted it soft so that the silhouette of the branches and bird would stand out. The kids had to do two coats of the black paint. For the composition I asked that the branches cross each other.
What I learned: It is really hard for the kids to paint the branches, making them fat to thin. 
We blow dry the layers to speed up the process, but too much heat cracks the tempura.

The Third Workshop
Collin, 6th grade
Megan, 2nd grade
I decided for the third workshop to go with a holiday theme. We did a sponge painted background again with greens, browns and yellows for glowing lights. Then we used shapes, and talked about how to make them look more three dimensional by shading and highlighting it. After they painted their ornament objects then they used dot painting to create patterns.

What I learned: For the younger students, three ornaments they had to think about shading was a lot. For them, I should have had them focused on just one ornament.

The Fourth Workshop
Madison, 5th grade
This one was fun and I had different results. My morning class took at least two hours to finish. My afternoon class, which had a younger age average only took one hour. Sponge water background required that I explain you add small amounts of color to white to make light colors, not the other way around.
Zoe, 1st grade

I then gave templates of three fish and two lily pads. They played with their composition by moving the templates around the page. I explained that if the elements all lead the eye out of the painting, people will naturally not take the time to look at the detail inside the painting.

Rachel, 2nd grade

I showed the students several different artists interpretations of koi fish. They were given freedom of the fish coloring and patterns.

What I learned: Have a back up plan for those students that finish early. I did directive draw, free draw and paint, and finished with pictionary. I am always surprised by how different each child puts their personality into their work, no matter their age. I love that!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Does This Beginning Hook You?

YA Science Fiction: The Lion Within
First Page (219 words)

Insects scattered across the outside of the shower curtain. Renna ignored them, and focused on the warm bucket of water splashing over her head. After two years in Kenya, she had the timing down to the second. The shower would last three minutes. Shampoo. Soap. Rinse. Fast.

She grabbed her towel and tapped the curtain forcing the bugs to the air or ground. All but one departed, a bright purple beetle, the size of Renna’s pointer finger. She tried to flick the straggler off but it wouldn’t budge. Examining the bug would make her late, but she couldn’t help herself, she’d never seen one like it. The huge and creepiness factors made her move slowly, yet something about it drew her closer. She admired its paper thin, iridescent wings folded across its flat back. 

Like a praying mantis, the beetle tilted its head to look at her and then took flight, bouncing off Renna’s cheek. She shrieked, and fell backwards hitting her funny bone against the wooden divider that served as a wall. Pain ran up Renna’s arm, tingles shot down to her fingertips.
The lines between her brows deepened beyond her 16 years. She clenched her teeth. Grabbing her hairbrush, she threw it at the wall with a grunt. The crunch of the beetle’s shell made Renna flinch.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ouch Critiques Can Hurt!

Being critiqued is painful, and wonderful and painful. Jessica Silva took the time to critique the first 700 words of my novel. I've rewritten this part so many times I've lost count. Her advice is priceless, and did I mention painful? 

Every time I submit for critique I wait with baited breath to hear those words, "I LOVE IT! It's wonderful! I wouldn't change a thing!" Alas, I'm not there yet. It stings, but I'm an artist by trade and know that in order to improve I need to keep learning and working hard.

If you'd like to see my critique, visit Jessica's blog. She is a 23-year-old intern for the amazing agent Elana Roth at the Johnson Literary Agency and writer of YA. I highly recommend visiting her blog

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Time can be Frozen...

...It's the only way Santa can do the impossible. 

Several times this past week I've thought about freezing time, the moment my son cuddled with me and told me I was the best mom ever, and when my daughter's smile lit up the stage at her dance show last weekend. A photo is not enough to contain a whole memory. The smells, the sounds, the touch, those fade away as time rushes forward.

I've been worrying so much about getting everyone's gifts out on time, that I've not taken as much time to enjoy the holiday season. I get flashes, like seeing the decorations that add a certain glow around our homes, or receiving a friendly happy holidays from someone I don't know. But the worry 
quickly returns and I think about all that I have to accomplish in so little time.

Time will run out though, to get presents to arrive before Christmas, and then I've lost the reason to worry. I can focus on the twinkle light at the end of the tunnel, the smiles opening presents will bring. My kids remind me that there's magic all around us, and really in the end the greatest gift is spending time with them.

Monday, November 28, 2011

NYC Energy

Doesn't this look like an old photo?
NOT, I just took it last week.
View from our hotel
After returning from my first trip to the big apple, NYC, I realize why creative people want to live there, it's the energy of the place. I was lucky enough to see the city the right way: a Broadway musical, the Rockettes, Time Square, the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center, need I say more?
We were within 500 feet of Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift, not that we saw either of them, but cool to think we were that close to icons.

On our last night there we saw the Spiderman musical on Broadway, where Taylor Swift was in the audience by the way, and couldn't close my mouth through the whole thing it was that amazing. We returned to our hotel after the performance and I just couldn't sleep, so I sat up and worked on the latest chapter of my YA novel. Ideas flowed in abundance.

Spiderman on Broadway
It really is inspiring to be near so much creativity and talent. 

Like magic fairy dust, inspiration sprinkles all over your head and opens your mind.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Quote From Lexi

I dreamed about goats. 
They needed money.

Author - Lexi Jane, my two year old niece. This is the first thing she said to me after getting up from a nap. She is very much worthy of being quoted!

Monday, November 14, 2011

ARTitude Kids Workshop

I ran my first ARTitude Kids workshop this past weekend. Seven kids ranging from the ages of seven to ten came to my house to complete one painting. With that age gap I was concerned I'd created a piece too difficult to mimic.

My goal was to have the kids think about texture, color transition, moving the eye through a composition, and layering colors.
Leah - 5th Grader

Half way through the project, as I was walking around to help my students I thought, crap, this project was too hard. The kids weren't getting it. I had them squinting to see  if there were enough dark colors and contrasting light colors, many of them couldn't see that there weren't. Some of them wanted to stop at that point, and it was my job to show them there is more to a painting than the top layer.

I began to grab the kids brushes and show them how and where to add the color. I wanted the kids to create something their parents would be psyched about hanging in their house. I know, unnecessary pressure to place on the kids. 

With thirty minutes left of the class, I breathed a sigh of relief, the kids were layering their colors. Their paintings were their interpretations of my example, and they were all unique and beautiful.
Nicholas - 3rd Grader

It was a reminder of what I go through as an artist every time I do a painting. Half-way through my paintings I hate what I'm working on. I think I suck. I wonder if the painting should be thrown away and I should start over. I keep going, because I can't stand walking away from an unfinished piece. The areas I can improve and expand upon begin to stick out. I keep going and before I know it, I fall in love with my painting, glad I stuck with it.

It is that extra push that turns an average piece of art into something really wonderful, in my opinion. It's like baking, if it is under-cooked it's messy, if it's over-cooked it's ruined.

Anyway, I am very proud of my students. They didn't give up, and wow did they come up with some incredible pieces.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Incorporating a Place you Love in your Novel

I love Wisconsin. I know it's because I grew up there and now that I live in California I miss Wisconsin even more. 

I spent my first 24 years in Madison, a good size city in the south eastern part of the state. We were surrounded by lakes, green, snow, ice, and lots of layers of clothing during the grey season (which was around six months.) I celebrated many days with minor frostbite on my toes, and huddled in the basement hoping the thunderstorms wouldn't become tornadoes.

When I talk to friends that have never been to Wisconsin, they often pictures farms, cows, and overalls. Quite understandable, it is after all the dairy state. But Madison doesn't fit that description. It is the capital of the state, with a Washington D.C. capital replica in the center of the city. It also has an enormous university (go Badgers!) If you grow up on the West side of Madison, it was a no-no to go to the East side of Madison, and visa-versa. Can you hear the West Side Story music in your head?

So, why do I sit here and reminisce? Because I miss it. But also because I've incorporated Madison into my novel. Three-quarters of my entire book is set there. I get to dive into my memories and explore a place that shaped who I am today. It brings my childhood to the surface which helps me remember what it feels like to be a teenager in love, in pain, lost, and angry.

The masters say to write what you know, including setting. The more I tap into where I'm from, the stronger my characters become, and their setting becomes a character in of itself.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fostering Children’s Love of Art & Animals

I have yet to meet a first grader that doesn't love animals and art. I've worked with a lot of students to come to this conclusion. This past year has taught me how important creative expression is to our youth, and how creative time is dwindling for them. So many elementary schools in the U.S. don’t have art rooms, let alone art teachers. Some teachers are able to incorporate art into their curriculum, but it sounds like it’s getting harder and harder to do that, and adhere to strict state-wide standardized tests. 

Giving kids a place where there isn’t a right or wrong answer, or good or bad solution, is healthy and necessary. How else will people be able to think-outside-the-box? So instead of complaining, I decided to start an after school art program at my children’s elementary school. And all I can say is that children around me are starving for art.
It takes a few classes before my students get excited by the words “free draw,” which I start most of my classes with to get their creative brains working. At first, many look at me for answers, they beg me to tell them what to draw, like they’re afraid to try and fail. But, once they get into the groove, there’s no stopping them. They can’t wait for free draw. I hear muffled giggles. I see big grins.

My favorite drawing exercise is one that was inspired years ago by an illustrator being interviewed on National Public Radio. I place long pieces of drawing paper on four tables. Each paper is given a title across the top: “Fish on Parade,” “Insects Everywhere,” “Reptiles Wearing Hats,” and so on. I break the kids into four groups and give them three to five minutes at each paper. They are supposed to draw whatever the title inspires.  Often it takes two rounds for the kids to get ideas. I usually add a little something on each paper to help get the wheels turning.
I’ve started to expand my art program to weekend workshops, and summer camp. I only take seven students at a time and invite kids from 6-13 years of age. Being a wildlife artist, I incorporate animals in many of the projects I do with my students.
I figure with a little effort we can inspire a child that loves art and animals, to continue to love art and animals. Earth knows we need environmentally passionate kids now more than ever.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I Hooked a Teen!

I can't believe it. I hooked a teen! Thank you Brenda Drake for the contest opportunity.

I'm so excited. To have a seasoned, well-read, well-written teen enjoy my first 250 words is so cool. Of course my writing partner had to let me know, since I was.....painting! Yes, I got my butt in gear and painted today. 

Okay, so those of you who weren't at this contest and are writers, check out this resource, Teen Eyes Editorial Services. Smart young women!

I'll update and let you all know how my critique goes from Kate. I have to decide whether to have her critique my query + ten pages, or 20,000 words. Decisions, decisions. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Can you Hook a Teen - Blogfest Contest

First 250 Words
Title: The Lion Within
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
By: Rachel A. Dillon

Insects were scattered across the outside of the shower curtain. Renna ignored them, and focused on the inconsistent stream of water splashing her head. The shower would only last a few minutes, and her lengthy mane of hair took most of the water to clean. She had her mother’s thick locks, and despite the inconvenience, she wouldn’t dream of cutting it short. Every time she brushed it she reminded herself, like a mantra, she wasn’t her mother. Only five more showers in Kenya, she thought, and then she, and her dad, would return to California to start her junior year in high school.

The last soap suds rinsed away just before the water ran out. After two years in Africa, Renna had the timing down to the second. She grabbed her towel and tapped the curtain. Bugs took to the air or fell to the ground. All but one departed, an insect the size of Renna’s pointer finger. She tried to flick the straggler off multiple times but it wouldn’t budge. With her usual curiosity she moved to the other side of the curtain to take a closer look. The beetle was bright purple with long antennae. She’d never seen one like it. She leaned in to admire its textures. Paper thin, iridescent wings were folded across its flat back.

It tilted its head to look at her and then took flight, bouncing off her cheek.

Startled, Renna shrieked, and fell backwards hitting her funny bone against the wooden divider 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Couple of Writing Contests

Here are a couple of writing contests I'm putting on my calendar:) Great motivators and since I can't keep anything straight on my calendar, this blog is a reminder place for me.

Operation Awesome Mystery Agent- September 15 - usually a one sentence pitch, but I've only entered a couple of times. I'm sure some of my fellow writer friends know more about this.

Brenda Drake's - Can you Hook a Teen? Blogfest Contest - First 250 words of your YA or MG, Sept. 21-23

Friday, September 2, 2011

Holy Resource Batman!

I follow a lot of blogs, not daily, but often enough to realize when one of my favorites hasn't updated in three weeks. I'm talking about the old blog for the Guide to Literary Agents. So, I went-a-searchin'. The URL indeed had changed and when I linked to the new one, HOLY RESOURCE BATMAN!

I came across a great article about 6 Keys to Revising Your Fiction, by Kristina McBride. What is also cool is along the right hand side of this blog is a blog roll that lists oodles of Agent blog sites. 

And now that I'm getting into Twitter (yes, a little late in the game,) I'm going to see how many agents tweet and try to follow those too. I've been told by several other writers that I need to know twitter, sigh, so I signed up this week.

Friday, August 26, 2011

This Week's Quotes - by: My Kids

We are back to school, and with it comes moments of joy, angst, humor, tantrums, frustration, and excitement. I spend a lot of time helping my kids with their homework, or at least checking it. There is a lot of sentence-writing with their assignments. I have to start keeping track of some of these nuggets, because they crack me up.

"I wonder if my crayons have feelings." (Luke, 7)

"Don't worry about the dragons, they will eat you." (Hayden, 9)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Novel No-No's for First Timers (a.k.a. ME)

After the multiple conference, workshops and writing books I've had a lot of a-ha moments! There is so much more great information about writing out there, but I thought for my own sake I'd start compiling them on my blog so I can refer back to them.

Number 1 - Avoid flashbacks and too much back-story in your first chapter. This statement was confirmed by Abigail Samoun from Red Fox Literary Agency, during my critique at the latest writers workshop I attended. I also read it in "Hooked," by Les Edgerton, and "Blockbuster Plots," by Martha Alderson.

Number 2 - The Crisis vs. Climax - Yup, there is a big difference. According to Martha Alderson's book, "Blockbuster Plots," the crisis occurs a little more then half-way through the book. It is dramatic place in the plot, a possible epiphany for the MC to see themselves clearly. "It is the dark night of the soul," says Alderson. The Climax is the highest point in book where the MC shows the reader they have truly changed and who they really are inside.

Number 3 - Minimize the Passive Voice - Avoid sentences using some of these key words: is, was, will be, is being, going to be. 'Were' is active, while 'was being' is passive. I really liked how one person put it though in a person on a forum named tedster gave his advice.
passive: "The beanstalk was climbed by Jack." 
ACTIVE: "Jack climbed the beanstalk."

It's best to minimize passive sentences, but still use them intentionally in order to soften the voice and vary the pacing. In the hands of a good writer, the occasional passive sentence can be powerful, colorful and effective. But the term "passive sentence" is not about the difference between hard hitting and washed out. It's about grammar.  

Number 4 - Story Worthy vs. Surface Problem - Understanding the difference between story worthy problem and surface problem in your novel has stumped me this past month. Les Edgerton, author of "Hooked," spends a lot of time in his book helping writers work through this. The surface problem is the active surface problem your MC needs to solve. The story worthy problem is the underlying emotional issue your MC is struggling with, it is slowly revealed through the plot. Both the main surface problem and the story worthy problem are solved in the last scene of the book. They are connected, but different.

Number 5 - Scene vs. Summary - This point was best described by Martha Alderson in "Blockbuster Plots." Scenes are moment by moment action. They are important plot points that require to be right there with the characters. The summary is narrative of events that don't need extra explanation. It can be really tiring for a reader to constantly be in scenes, they need summary breathers.

Number 6 - It's All About the Tension - The king of teaching tension is Donald Maass, author of "Writing the Breakout Novel." YA novels must be written in a way that makes the reader want to turn the page. Our youth have so many distractions around them that if you don't have tension in your story, and a MC that a teen can relate to and care about, then they won't spend their time reading the book. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Art Camp Slow Down

I've just conducted my first children's art camp. It was a wonderful experience. I've not been able to write or sleep much or paint or hmmm or anything else. I'll do it again next year, after all we need creativity in life--now more than ever!

I have two great blog posts almost finished. School starts next week, so some of my time will free up to begin and finish all of those things I've had on my to-do-list all summer long.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

First 200 Words for GUTGAA Blog-Fest

"The Lion Within"
YA Science Fiction

First 200 Words submitted for review based on Deana Barnhart's awesome Blog-Fest!

Bugs peered at Renna through the shower curtain as if waiting for something to happen. Renna ignored them. She wouldn’t miss the uninvited guests when she and her dad returned to California in three weeks.

The heat of the Kenyan sun warmed a bucket of water. It streamed over her head through a spout. The shower would only last a few minutes, and her long mane of hair took the most water to clean.

A monkey screeched nearby. Renna counted to five. Like clockwork, a series of “shut up,” was shouted throughout the village. The monkey kept right on screeching, tossing in a few hoots and chortles. Now that she knew she’d miss, especially when sitting at a desk listening to high school teacher’s drone on and on about nothing interesting.

The water ran out right after the last soap suds were rinsed from her hair. After two years in Africa, she had the timing down to the second. She grabbed her towel and proceeded to tap the shower curtain to remove her admirers. All but one, an insect the size of her pointer finger, left without hesitation. Renna tried to flick it off multiple times but it wouldn’t budge. 

Writing is Like Losing Your Keys

When I lose my keys there is little else I can think about. I search everywhere. I look under things where dust bunnies have created dust bunny babies. I open up cupboards knowing I'd never put my keys there, but check just in case. I ask everyone in my family if they've seen my keys.

And then there is the relief when I find them. The satisfaction that I' haven't lost my mind. Usually they are in a strange but logical place. I tell myself, never again. I'll put my keys exactly in the same place so this won't happen again. Ha...three days later. "Has anyone seen my keys?"

This is how I feel about my novel. I think about constantly. I have that feeling in my gut that I have to find the best way to tell my story. I read. I write. I talk. I research. And then repeat the cycle over and over again. It's hard to let go of the story until it's complete, until my characters have told their story the best they can. I'm still searching for my keys, and look forward to finding them soon.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Gearin' Up to Get an Agent - Week Three

I'm continuing to participate in Deana Barnhart's blog-o-rama. This week were asking others in to fest to help us with our queries. I feel nervous about posting mine online, like a fellow blogger Robin Weeks. So, I'm going to borrow her paranoia helper idea and apply it to mine. I have removed the query, just so that it isn't out there. 

Everyone was so helpful! Thank you so much!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Rocky Tale of Dio Franklin

This month I’m participating in Deana Barnhart’s “Gearin’ Up to Get an Agent” Blogfest (to learn more visit This week’s assignment is to continue a story chain that started at 5am today and will continue until 8am tomorrow! Below you’ll find the link to the writer that posted before me, my continuation, then the writer that continued what I wrote. It is cool to see what each talented writer brings to the story! The full collaboration will be posted tomorrow at Deana's site, linked above.
Chain link before my entry:

My assignment: Take the previous post and continue building tension toward the crisis.Your words are: type, blood, jacked up

Dio wondered if the blue ghost was influencing her emotions. Sad thoughts filled her head about death, sickness, and starving animals.

Roddern spoke to the ghost, that floated between the two of them. Dio couldn't understand a word Roddern was saying.

"What language are you speaking?" she said, interrupting him. 

The ghost turned to her, looking more like a vision of her father now rather than an indistinguishable blue figure.

Dio took a step back. "What type of trickery is this?"

"This isn't a trick. Your parents are here, Dio. Your father's ghost can only speak the language of the dead, which I'm fluent in. Your mother sent him here to make sure you were safe."

"You're fluent in dead?" She asked, looking at Roddern like he was jacked up on something.

"It's in my blood," Roddern said.

Dio didn't know how to respond. Her world was turning stranger and stranger. The floating spectacle that looked every bit like her father gave her a sad smile. Her heart softened and she took a deep breath. "Can you ask him why my mother didn't come too?"

"I already know the answer," Roddern said.

He came closer to Dio and looked at his feet before meeting her  gaze. "You're mother couldn't come...because she is trapped."

Continued at:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Your Protagonist's Bumper Sticker

I was reading some great quotes in a magazine that got me to thinking about bumper stickers. I thought it would be fun to write a bumper sticker that my protagonist, Renna, would put on her car. The cool part of this exercise for me was coming up with something Renna could relate to and laugh at. So here is her bumper sticker:

I try to control my temper,
but stupid people get in my way.

Now, the boy that Renna is starting to crush on is still a bit of a mystery to her. She hasn't realized that his bumper sticker would read:

Honk if you love Sarah Palin!

For the environmentalist that Renna is, you can imagine what she'll do about that relationship when she finds out. Or will she become so in love, that she'll overlook his faults? Oh to be a teenager again.

Friday, July 8, 2011

An Hour Well Spent

While "Sponge Bob," and "Phineus & Ferb" echoed in the background, I jumped around reading writing questions for the Blog-O-Rama going on Deana Barnhart's site. There were a lot of great questions, and there are a ton of great aspiring writers out there. I really enjoyed the comments and input.

My writing time is very fragmented.
I am working on the illustrations for my next picture book, which are wonderfully challenging and very intimidating. I am also more then half-way through my novel revision which I'm sending to an agent based on their full MS request. 

I keep focused on the multiple projects by doing things like, organizing my novel's plot on sticky notes. This method was inspired by Martha Alderson, author of "Blockbuster Plots." Martha was a speaker at a conference I attended in San Rafael, CA last summer. 

I also included in my picture an ad I pulled from a magazine. I've had to change my protag's eye color recently. Another character in another book that has similar abilities as my protag has the same strange eye color (e
ven though I came up with the eye color without knowing the other existed. I swear.) Ugh.  Frustrating! It goes to show that there really are few original ideas in the world. The fun part is taking ideas and putting them together in a unique way. Right?

As far as my illustrations, if there is a blank canvas sitting at my easel that motivates me. I do to-scale sketches first, before I transfer them to canvas and paint. I have to paint my backgrounds first and then I can focus on the main subject-the animal. Of course, all of my animals are done in dots.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Blog-O-Rama Writing Question

Would you continue writing your work-in-progress if someone with a crystal ball said that it would never be published?

I was asked if I would continue to write my books just for the pleasure of writing, or whether I would give up on my stories if they never got published. 

I don't like leaving something unfinished. So, I do think I would have to  finish my story, and try to get it published. If I wasn't successful, I would try again, but with another story.

Each story I write my craft improves, so that motivates me. But, I think timing and luck are definitely a part of success, and those things are out of my hands.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hook the One Sentence Pitch

I entered the one sentence pitch contest on Operation Awesome today. I made it in by the seat of my pants being entrance number 50 of 50 allowed. 

Alas, I was running out of time and didn't read this great article about one sentence pitches, we'll see if the luck of the Irish is on my side, or the save the best for last theory? My favorite part of the article is two pitches written for "Wizard of Oz," you have to check out the second one, it's hilarious.

In the New York Times book review inserts over the past few weekends there have been some fabulous one sentence pitches for several YA book releases. I must have read them a dozen times, repeatedly in awe at how much is captured about the book in so few words. I'm not quite at that level of clarity, but practice makes perfect. Here was the pitch I submitted, just in case I need to refer back to this at some point.

Renna Healy wasn't born part-lion, she became one by accident at the age of sixteen, forcing her to find a way to control her inner-beast before she kills someone.

It's a bit choppy, but I feel like I'm getting closer:)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Contests and Writing Advice

One wonderful thing about having savvy writer friends is they pass along wonderful contest information. I post this information here in my blog for two reasons: one, because this is how I keep track of some of the contests I enter; two, because I think it is so wonderful that sites offer opportunities for writers to improve their craft so I want to link to them. Yes, I did just use the word wonderful three times in one paragraph, oh wait, four.

Contest One - a cool book launch idea! I want to do this kind of thing when I launch my next book.

Deborah Halverson, has been an editor with Harcourt Children's Books for over a decade and is  an award winning YA author. In any case, her new book Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies is having a Virtual Book Launch which starts 6/29.

     From June 29-July 5, will feature daily “free first chapter
     critique” giveaways, free downloads, excerpts from the book, and profiles of
     the 13 amazing authors, editors, and agents who so generously contributed
     sidebars to the book. As a grand finale, The Editor is giving away a full
     manuscript edit on the final day of the launch. 

 So, for any of you who might be interested in winning one of the daily "free first chapter critiques" or a full manuscript edit on July 5, just go to the link above.For the first day of the launch she includes a download of her book's "cheat sheet." I got more advice on the second day too!

Contest Two - mystery agent one line pitch at Operation Awesome on July 1.
The agent is interested in YA and MG: southern gothic, historical fiction, magical realism, science fiction, supernatural/ paranormal, ghost stories, humor, fantasy,thriller/ suspense,  edgy YA, friendship MG

Monday, June 13, 2011

Interview on Angelic Muse

One of my critique partners, Angelica Jackson has taken on this blogger world and run with it. In one year, she has gained 77 followers. I think that is so awesome, I'm totally excited I have 15 followers, or was it 14?. She was kind enough to interview me on her blog, where I'm also offering my book as a giveaway.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Embarrass Your Protagonist

I don't like watching shows where embarrassing things happen to characters. I get uncomfortable. I realized, when I was looking over the last few chapters in my young adult novel, that I avoid embarrassing my protagonist. Through this realization, I know exactly what I must do to my character-- embarrass the crap out of her.

I've had embarrassing moments in my life that I've never forgotten. Some I did to myself, other instances it was the people I was connected to doing the embarrassing things. No one likes to appear stupid, and most people avoid it at all cost. Therefore it is only fair to make my character squirm a bit so she learns it's human to make mistakes.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Read then Write, Look then Paint

This past week I've discovered something about myself-- I don't like details. I want to get to the good stuff. When I paint I don't care about the leaves, I just want to paint the animal standing on the leaves. In writing, I don't care about how the character brushes their teeth, I just want them to have white, shining, perfect teeth.

I can use the excuse that it's the fast food pace I've grown up with, but I miss important things because of this mentality. So, like any other in the self-help generation, without much training in anything, I've figured out how to enjoy digging for details.

Was that a cliff-hanger last sentence? I consider myself a slow learner with a lot experience with epiphanies, that wouldn't be epiphanies if I'd learned the first time around. So, what I'm writing here might very well be a 'duh,' to some people.

In writing, I've been reading some great writers. I actually start off writing my novel and when I feel strained or like I'm rushing my character to the good part, I stop. I pick up a good writer's book, this time it was "A Hat Full of Sky," by Terry Prachett, and read for an hour. I get lost in the author's ability to take a mundane detail and make me care about it. He is a brilliant writer. Refreshed and inspired, then I return to my own writing.

I've been especially challenged to include details in my paintings . I've been working on a New Mexico Ridgenose Rattlesnake painting for my next book, and the composition requires a point of view from ground level, close up. This means my foreground, made up of leaves, needs to have a lot of detail. The two animals, the snake and a mouse (his prey,) are the main elements I paint using my dot style. Dot painting is my favorite part, so I rush through the background to get to that part.

Needless to say, I've had a hard time on the leaves. I keep adding more and more because layering them distracts the eyes, so having less detail is not as noticeable. I know leaves are beautiful and have unique, amazing patterns but I can't stand taking the time to add them. I've stopped many times on this painting and referred to my own backyard and other artist's works for inspiration.My husband told me a couple of days ago to just move on "the leaves are fine," but they weren't to me, they felt wrong. Finally, today, after probably 10 hours over five days, I feel I've reached an almost happy place and plan on moving to the dots -- whew.

It's the details that make the writing and painting that much greater. In the end, it's worth all the struggle and stretch outside my comfort zone, if something beautiful is created.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Can't find that adjective?

I find myself using the same adjectives over and over again, despite the thesaurus. I stumbled upon a site (I enjoy stumbling online) while I was doing some research on lists of adjectives. The one I liked best has the adjectives listed and categorized -- I LOVE LISTS. goes beyond just lists of adjectives, there are several types of word lists. Most of my writer friends have been writing a long time. I feel like I'm a rookie among them. I have never been able to memorize things like adverbs, nouns, pronouns, unless I'm doing Mad Libs. This site is great in the simplicity of explanations and how things are organized. Great resource!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Middle Grade vs. Young Adult Novels

Yesterday was my glorious critique group day. I look forward to this meeting every two weeks. Maybe it's because of what I learn from them, but mostly it's how good it feels to be around people so passionate about the same things.

We had a discussion on what genre our current WIP should be under--middle grade or young adult. We tossed around the notion that the protagonists age could determine the audience, but pointed out several books where that didn't work. We thought about word choice and dialogue, and that seemed to vary significantly between the two types.

The area we all agreed upon is the degree of complexity of content between MG and YA. What the protagonist is going through and how they grow throughout the book, will often determine the ages of the largest target audience. I know I don't want my MG reader to be absorbed in a book involving sex, adult language and violence. There will be plenty of years to read, witness and understand the realities of our imperfect world. If I can help her maintain her innocence for a wee bit longer, I'll do it!

I came across this article on the Guide to Literary Agents blog and thought it was a great resource for this continuing discussion. "Five Articles on the Differences Between Middle Grade and Young Adults."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

My Article Dot Painting with Kids on the Artists for Conservation Blog

I'm a bit late in promoting this article I submitted for the Artists for Conservation blog, but hey, better late than never. I've been a member of this organization for two years. Some of my most inspiring fellow animal artists belong to the group. I am so proud to be included on an artist list that has names such as Robert Bateman, Guy Coleleach, and John Banovich. I hope you check out my article.

Monday, April 18, 2011

YouTube Showed me How to Paint Clouds

Clouds in my "Great Indian Bustard" painting
Landscape painting scares me, mostly because I don't know how to do it. 

In my next picture book, "Through Desert Eyes," I am really pushing myself outside my artistic comfort zone. I'm not going to ignore the place these magnificent animals live in, which means I must embrace painting landscapes...ugh.

So, today I went on YouTube and started off with how to paint clouds. I just spent the past two hours painting the storm clouds in the piece above, and I actually like it.

I'll be spending some more time on the details of the clouds and rain, but I'm pretty happy with what I've got. My parents spent all that money to send me to college, where I majored in art and graphic design, and I'm learning technique through YouTube! Ha!

Tomorrow, I'll be going back to YouTube to learn to paint the rest of the landscape.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Earth Day Coming Up

I visited a first grade classroom last week to celebrate Earth Day -- it's coming up on April 22nd. I read my book and then created the handout you see in the photo for the kids to paint in dots.

If you would like to download this outline, to dot paint I've uploaded it on my Web site. I've got several other handouts there as well.

I will have to think of something special to do with my own kids on that day to celebrate the importance of respecting the Earth. I'll blog about that when I figure it out;)

Happy Day to You!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Exciting Convention in Seattle

There are a lot of very lucky students out there that have wonderful art teachers. I've had the pleasure of meeting so many of those teachers these past couple of days.

I'm having a wonderful time in Seattle. It has been such a treat meeting my publisher and marketing director from Finney Co. Imagine working on a project so important in your life, with people you have never met face to face, and then getting to spend hours with them. It has inspired me to work harder and finish my illustrations so we can get the next book out for children, parents and teachers. I've been touched by the positive feedback my book has received and know I'm on the right track.

I am also going to start learning more about artist-in-residents programs and find a way to apply to elementary schools to be included in a rotation. There was a man in one of the sessions that shared how he travels to schools to collaborate with teachers on art projects. How cool would that be?

Perhaps there is still hope that I won't have to return to an office in the near future:) I can find a way to make a living that will allow me to continue sharing my passion for art and animals with children. At the moment, I'm going to enjoy all of these opportunities and the thrill of meeting so many amazing people.

Preparing to Speak

It was so funny, I was chatting with someone about my upcoming presentation at the National Art Educators Convention, and she said "you must be terrified to talk in front of all those people." I simply laughed and told her that I absolutely LOVE speaking in front of people.

I've had my fair share of embarrassing moments being up in front of people, yet I've always been compelled to go back to the "stage." In middle school I sang solos, and one performance I was clearly not as good as the other soloists so I stomped off the stage in a huff. Needless to say, I don't stomp off stages anymore and did have the chance to sing again in front of an audience in college.

As long as I know what I'm talking about when I'm speaking, I'm okay.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Travel, Contest, Articles, oh my!

I have no idea who this girl is,
but gosh can I relate to her.
Stepping forward, backward and off the road. Roads and how we take them are such great metaphors.

The Gotham Writing Contest announced the top six out of 20 winners today. I wasn't one of them, but I feel like being in the top 2% really told me something and I've put a lot of work into my next book. It was the kick-start I needed to embrace pausing my progression on one novel to work on another.

I have traveled to two schools this week to read and promote my "Through Endangered Eyes" book. A third grader (who I met last year at the school doing a reading) came up to me today after my reading and told me that I inspired her to experiment with acrylic paint and she loves it. I think it's those kinds of moments that make it all worth while.

I also had and opportunity to visit my nephew's school Rancho Rosal school in Camarillo,California and had a wonderful assembly. If you would like to read more on the event, click here (the photographer that covered it took some amazing shots.)

I am working on my next  painting for the desert book. The desert pupfish is taking on a unique set of colors:) I'm really excited to update the site next week with a possible finished image!

The last bit of news is in regard to an article I wrote about my technique for Wildscape Magazine a conservation wildlife art magazine in England. It is due out in Europe in a couple of weeks. I'm really looking forward to seeing the issue when it is released.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cheetah Book Illustration & Contest Semi-Finalist

I have two blogs. Each with their own direction, and each indicative of the motivating facets of my life. My art blog has had only a few entries, while my writing blog is consistently 3-4 times per month. 

I've often thought about doing just one that combines all of my work, painting, writing and little thoughts every now and then. And then I think, does anyone really want to see my my children's art plans? And then I remind myself that the blog is really to organize me.

So, I have just decided to combine them and keep up with one. There, I've made a decision while literally biting my lip - ouch.

To start off - I thought I'd post the first painting for my "Through Desert Eyes" book. I won't post all of the illustrations, since of course when it comes out in 2012(?) you'll want to buy it to see them all and read the poems. 

The Cheetah (8"x16") Acrylic Paint
I love big cats, and I love to paint big cats. It was a great way to get me excited about these illustrations. I really feel like my technique is blossoming. All this teaching art to kids and practicing has really paid off. I was nervous that the small cheetah wouldn't work, since my dots are so small on it, but I'm really pleased with the results.

I left space for the text in the upper left hand corner. Building a painting with exact dimensions of the page spreads is new to me. I got custom-made canvas that would be the size of my finished book spread and take into consideration the gutters and bleeds. I really wanted the text to sit on my canvas, to enhance the relationship of the words to the illustration.

On another happy note - I am a semi-finalist for the YA Discovery Novel contest, hosted by Gotham Writer's Workshops, Inc. Out of about 1,000 entries my first 250 words of my YA novel "Only on Mondays," made the top 20.

I'm really excited about this book. I love the story and my characters. I have gone back and forth between my two YA novels, but "Only on Mondays," is my top priority. 

Here is my pitch: 
Chloe, a fourteen year old witch, finds a spell that can bring her mom back from the dead. With her power limited to Mondays, she has only eight days to do the spell and needs to convince four other witches to help her. Chloe's long-time enemy is one of the witches that can help, but the girl refuses. As time starts to run out for Chloe, a tragedy forces the girls together. Can they work together to save a life and will that person be Chloe's mother?