Wednesday, January 28, 2015

BLOG TAG!

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I’VE BEEN TAGGED!

Ack! I’m It!

I’ve been tagged for this mini-interview by Rodolfo Montalvo.

I met Rodolfo for the first time at the SCBWI-LA Summer Conference a few years ago – I’d been hearing about this talented illustrator, and there was all this chatter . . . so I was curious – Who is this guy? He must be really full of himself. (Kidding) Soon after meeting him, we joined up in an illustrating critique group, so I got to know him pretty well over the weeks of Google Hangouts. Of course, he’s the most laidback guy you’ll ever meet. During our meetings, I got to see lots of his sketches and artwork for THE AMAZING WILMER DOOLEY (the sequel to THE CONTAGIOUS COLORS OF MUMPLY MIDDLE SCHOOL, which he also illustrated).

 
It’s fun seeing his career progress and cheering him along. It just keeps getting better and better! His first picture book, DEAR DRAGON, (written by Josh Funk), will be published Viking in 2016.

You can see his blog tag post here.

And now, to answer the questions.

Drum roll, please….

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What am I working on now?

I can’t go into too many specifics here, so I will merely allude to things. 

Today, I updated my online portfolio, if you want to know what I'm working on NOW now. ;)

I recently signed with my agent, Lara Perkins at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and have been hard at work preparing book dummies for submission to editors. It is a LONG process.

Besides things I can’t get too specific about (as I mentioned above), I have two new projects I’m developing, as well as two book dummies that need revisions. I’ve also got drafts of a YA and a MG novel that are burning holes in my hard drive.

Right now, the key is to focus on revising and making my work stronger, rather than getting lured away by “The Shiny New Idea.” One of the benefits of having an agent  that I didn’t anticipate is that she can help me figure out which projects to focus on and in which order. After all, there’s something to be said for following one’s muse, but it’s certainly nice to have an external guiding voice.


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I developed my current kidlit illustration style over the course of about 5 years, though it’s still a work in progress. ;)

I’d estimate that 90% of the physical labor is done using Photoshop. But that doesn’t mean anything is automated and easy to produce. Even though everything after the pencil sketch is done on the computer, I’m still hand drawing almost every line, and hand painting almost every splash of color. I use the computer because it gives me the ability to undo mistakes, and still capture that freedom of a quickly drawn line (even if it takes me 50 times to get the line to look just right).

All told, a full color double page spread takes me about 30 hours of solid work to complete.

Why do I write what I do?

For picture books, I write what makes me laugh, but always try to instill a little bit of myself or someone I know into the main character.

For stories for older children, I start to write about issues that troubled me at that age – they are the seed at the core of the story, and the story itself is very different from anything I have experienced. It’s a fun challenge to come up with a fresh story that can involve some of the somewhat pedestrian challenges I faced. After I start with that seed, I definitely adjust as needed to service the story, and occasionally, that seed is entirely cut out of the book. But by then, I’m invested in telling a good story, so I don’t mind at all. I need to start somewhere, and the best place to start for me is from my own experience.

I think as I gain more experience writing, I might be able to find a different starting-off point, but I want to be more confident that I can pull it off when I do.

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TAG, YOU’RE IT!

And with that, I will tag my good buddy, Ken Min.

 
I met Ken Min for the first time at an SCBWI-LA Summer Conference. He was wearing a fake plastic moustache strapped over his upper lip, and I was convinced he had had surgery or a cleft lip or something and that was his cool way of covering it up. Every time I saw him after that, I made sure to make moustache references. When his illustrations for HOT, HOT ROTI FOR DADA-JI won the Picture Book Honor Award for Literature from the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), I was down in Anaheim when he gave his acceptance speech and he played it totally cool as a cucumber. His style is so unique and different from my own. It’s fun to try and stretch my mind around his illustrating methodology.

Tag, you’re it, Ken!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

BEAVERS - Stickers on LINE

It had been quite a few months after my HOOT stickers went live that my next round of stickers finally got approved this November. You can see them for sale here: https://store.line.me/stickershop/product/1039467/en

But unlike last time, this time around I didn't delusionally track the stats. After all, as of the last time I checked, there were over 25,000 SEPARATE entries into the Creators' Stickers category. Unless I could manage to be featured, it was certain obscurity for the Beavs...which again leads me to the comparison to self-publishing a book. Even if you've got a quality product, how are people going to find you if you're one unit of an anonymous horde?

And again, all the self-promotion I could possibly muster at this point in my career probably wouldn't do a thing, as it doesn't seem that LINE is being adopted in the US like it is everywhere else in the world, and my reach is primarily in the US. How to extend my reach? I don't know. But in the meantime, I can't get most of my friends to even open the LINE app anymore because it sends push notifications so frequently. Maybe users elsewhere are more tolerant of them or even excited to read about the constantly updated features, but not them.

Anyway, for what it's worth, as shown back in June, here's the product of a month of my life:

https://store.line.me/stickershop/product/1039467/en

Maybe I sound a little bitter. I shouldn't be. It wasn't a waste of time. I made sure it wouldn't be, by rationalizing the work in two ways before endeavoring on it. After all, it was through this process that I managed to create the dummy that landed me my literary agent! So what if I'm not making boffo bucks in Japan? That has never been my life's mission. So I am officially shrugging off any negativity about it! *SHRUG*

Onward!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

#Inktober 2014

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           Last year, I missed the opportunity to participate in #Inktober, so I created my own month of drawing: Drawing a Day December (#DrADaDec). And I made a lot of drawings that I’m proud of. But I’d never challenged myself by restricting my art to one medium. Inktober’s got it in its name: you’ve got to use ink. I certainly didn’t feel confident without an eraser or Control-Z, so I thought this would be a good way to force myself to nail it on the first try. And this year, I managed to remember to start drawing on October 1st:



#Inktober Day 1: this porcupine hobo is ready to ride the rails!

            This character was so well-liked that after a few days I returned to him, and before I knew it, started telling a story about him, one installment per day. These story installments aren’t compiled into one tidy document anywhere else, so I supposed this is the place to make it so.


            Now again, because there was no eraser, and I didn’t crumple up any drawings and start on a new one for the day, there are a number of flubs and technical mistakes in there. Also, I didn’t plot the story ahead of time, I made it up as I went along. And with all those excuses (heh), here is the rest of The Saga of Porcupine Hobo:


#inktober day 5: hobo porcupine enjoys a feast!


#inktober day 6: Porcupine Hobo stows away.



#Inktober Day 7: Porcupine Hobo meets Bun-Bun the Tramp.


#Inktober day 8: our stowaways are discovered.


#Inktober Day 9: After the Bull throws them out, 
and they plunge down, down, down into the river, 
Porcupine Hobo's and Bun-Bun the Tramp's lives flash before their eyes...


#inktober day 10: FLASHBACK! Part 1 of Bun-Bun the Tramp's Origin Story:
  As Bun-Bun's life flashes before his eyes, he recalls his humble beginnings as a pumpkin farmer.


#Inktober Day 11: Flashback Part 2 of Bun-Bun the Tramp's Origin Story
Tail between his legs, Bun-Bun had to admit defeat against The Great Dustbowl. 
He was not a dust bunny, after all.



 #Inktober Day 12: Flashback Part 3 of Bun-Bun the Tramp's Origin Story
Bun-Bun abandons his dust plot and sets off into the unknown to seek his fortune.



 #Inktober Day 13: Flashback Part 4 of Bun-Bun the Tramp's Origin Story:
 Bun-Bun meets Cubby the Drifter, a roller skating bear who escaped the circus. 
Cubby teaches Bun-Bun everything he knows about Hobo Living, 
then gives Bun-Bun his hat, and goes to retire in a cave. 
Bun-Bun The Tramp is born.



 #Inktober Day 14: Bun-Bun the Tramp and Porcupine Hobo 
fish themselves out of the river and find themselves on a small island. 
As they while away the hours and recover 
from their rude awakening, they exchange life stories.




 #Inktober Day 15: FLASHBACK! Part 1 of Porcupine Hobo's Origin Story:
Porcupine Hobo recounts his not-so-humble beginnings 
 in a 5th Avenue estate, silver spoon firmly lodged in mouth...


#Inktober Day 16: Flashback Part 2 of Porcupine Hobo's Origin Story: 
The prodigal son departs for his Ivy League studies...or so his parents think.




 #Inktober Day 17: Flashback part 3 of Porcupine Hobo's Origin Story:
 Porcupine DID fritter away a certain stretch of his stint in academia 
grooving in one long dance party. But it was not to last.


#Inktober Day 18: Flashback pt 4 of Porcupine Hobo's Origin Story:
After one particularly rough night, our hero awoke to find a hollowness in his heart. 
He knew nothing. He was a shell of a porcupine. 
Something had to change.




 #inktober day 19: Flashback Part 5 of Porcupine Hobo's Origin Story:
If the porcupine was going to REALLY learn about the world, 
he was going to have to take matters into his own paws. That very afternoon,
he walked through the wrought iron gates of his school, never to look back. 
Porcupine Hobo was born.


#Inktober Day 20: While Porcupine Hobo recounts his origins, 
Bun-Bun the Tramp uses his Advanced Hobo-ing skills 
to build the duo a shelter and start a fire while they await rescue. 
They while away the time, hollow-bellied but warm.




 #Inktober day 21: Porcupine Hobo wanted to make the swim 
across the river, or at least try to build a raft, but Bun-Bun the Tramp 
refused to leave, and Porcupine Hobo couldn't abandon him now. 
He had never been so cold and wet, and dark was fast approaching.


#Inktober Day 22: the rain had cleared, 
and a strange glow was coming from behind their shelter. 
They ran out and saw a shadowy form waving at them from a boat. 
"Our rescue has arrived!" Shouted Bun-Bun the Tramp, and he began hopping 
up and down, gesturing frantically for the boat to come near. 
Porcupine Hobo began calling too, 
though he had no idea about the identity of the shadow.




 #Inktober Day 23: As the shadowy figure on the boat drew closer, 
Bun-Bun the Tramp exclaimed, "Ha! I knew it! 
It's Cubby the Drifter come to save us!" 
He explained to Porcupine Hobo that Cubby was that rollerskating bear 
who was his Hobo-ing Mentor. Cubby called out, "Ahoy, hoy! Saw my old tophat
 stuck amongst the reeds upriver a bit, and knew you couldn't be far. Climb aboard!" 
And so they did.


#Inktober Day 24: After paddling down the river aways, 
the animals steered the boat into the reeds, 
following Cubby the Drifter's instructions. 
"Where are we going?" Porcupine Hobo inquired. 
Cubby had a mysterious smile in his face. 
"Just trust me," he said. 
Bun-Bun the Tramp nodded in assurance, 
so Porcupine Hobo tried not to worry.


#Inktober Day 25: Cubby The Drifter leads Bun-Bun The Tramp 
and Porcupine Hobo off the boat and onto a tree-lined path. 
"Follow me close. It's awfully dark out here..." Cubby called.


#Inktober Day 26: As they approached a bend in the forest path, 
Cubby the Drifter gestured them on. 
When Bun-Bun the Tramp turned the corner, 
he let out a whoop and ran towards...whatever it was. 
Porcupine Hobo cautiously poked his head around a tree. 
He couldn't believe his eyes.


#Inktober Day 27: colored lights twinkled, the smell of stews wafted in the air. 
 Porcupine Hobo fairly floated down the small hill and under the banner of "Hobo Haven."


#Inktober Day 29: they were welcomed with open arms to Hobo Haven. 
Porcupine Hobo looked around in wonder. 
Here were Gypsy Mice cooking up beans, there, a fox with a harmonica, 
and down the path, a whole cluster of happy hoboes, 
dancing 'round the fire, singing "Big Rock Candy Mountain."


#Inktober Day 30: And they lived happily ever after...until...




 #Inktober Day 31: Hobo Haven was great and all, 
but Porcupine Hobo still hadn't seen the world, 
and Bun-Bun the Tramp missed his pumpkin farm. 
They bid farewell to Cubby the Drifter
 and the rest of the hobo community 
and set off via handcar on their next adventure. 

The End...ish.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

To Facebook Fan Page Or Not To Facebook Fan Page?

Back in August, I posted on my Facebook Fan Page that I was considering shuttering it:



 See that big blue "Boost Post" button? That's why. I don't have anything new to add to the chorus of voices decrying this "feature," but I did experiment with Boosting a Post, and $20 and 5,000 reaches later, I had no new likes on the page, and not a single one of the people reached actually clicked the link. Thanks, but no thanks.

The only reason the above screenshotted post had reached 83 people is simply because it's been the most recent post on that page for so long.

Yet, I hesitate to flip the kill switch on the page. After all, when I get to a place in my career where I would actually need a fan page (I'm presumptuous, heh heh), it will be awfully convenient not to have to start from zero likes all over again. For now though, the Fan Page is a cobwebby, ineffective time suck, and I find using my personal page to share my art is much more gratifying.

Speaking of time suck...

...you know this is coming...

...as much as I appreciate the three loyal followers of my blog (I really do!), are writing the updates that are probably kinda boring to anyone who is not invested in my career development really the best use of my time? I felt that the blog was an important thing to have online for potential agents to read so that they could see I wasn't crazy, but now I have an agent. (yay!) I'm not sure how far an editor is going to feel compelled to dig now that I have someone on the inside to vouch for me.

I've considered, now that the landing page of my website doesn't connect to blogspot at all anymore, completely removing the blog, and just letting my art and my submissions speak for themselves.

It's a conundrum!

But again, I hesitate to do anything permanent. Does this mean I'm a webpage hoarder? Are they going to have to call up that reality show Hoarders and clean out my web browser with a shovel? What if I want this blog up at some point, no matter how embarrassing the years-old entries are to me now? It shows my trajectory, my improvement, my dedication to the craft. 

It's not like I would delete it forever, it just would no longer be available for public consumption.

At some point, if I'm lucky, that blog page on my new website will be used for announcing book launches, signings, and tour dates, and there won't be room for all of this personal angst anymore.

Until I get to that point, though, I guess I'll keep updating the blog.

But forget that Facebook Page, haha! ;)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

I GOT AN AGENT!

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“The definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

I don't know who said it, but that quote was circling around and around in my head these last few months as I once again wound myself up to take on a new picture book project and see it through to the querying phase.

While I was busy bellyaching about the querying process over the years, quite a number of my peers have noted that they finally got signed just when they were ready to give up and quit trying. But I couldn’t even think about giving up…I had no answers as to what I would do if I did quit – making books and art is all I want to do! But, being the practical semi-New Ager that I am, I figured intentions were important: so I began fibbing to the universe, threatening to give up and move to a commune. I even made a Pinterest board called “Life on the Commune.” I was hoping that my research into better living with mason jars was enough to sway the cosmos in my favor, because I didn’t really picture myself becoming one with the goats.


And maybe this intention intervention worked, because, after what felt like quite a number of eons, I finally submitted to the right place at the right time. It was quite serendipitous. Because who knows why it happened now after five years of being skunked? (But really, we all know it had to have been thanks to that Pinterest board…right?)

Imaginary magical Pinterest board juju or not, the facts are: I got my agent’s interest when she was forwarded the dummy I had just begun querying to agents. Just begun, as in that very week. I definitely believe my “cutthroat” (see previous blogpost) strategy of networking really made the difference there.

Before the (at the time potential) agent and I spoke on the phone, I emailed her the two other picture book dummies that I had completed in the last year. Since agents can either sign you on a project-by-project basis or on your potential career as a whole, I figured showing her that I wasn’t a one-book wonder could lead to an offer of career representation – which is what I wanted. I was seeding the clouds.

And BOOM.

The agent and I clicked on the phone, and it was a whirlwind from there. I let all the other agents I was out with know I had an offer, and gave them a short window of opportunity to respond, but really, I already knew. Two days later, I accepted her offer of representation.

And all of the sudden, a whole chunk of my daily routine – researching agents in order to personalize my query letters – was no longer relevant. It was a very strange feeling, and a good one. The absence of an onerous duty. I could finally focus on my art, and not scrounging around trying to get someone to pay attention to me, looking for connections that weren’t there, etc.


Plucked from obscurity, that’s how it feels.

While I am VERY aware that even with an agent, there’s no guarantee that I’ll be published, I am SURE that, just by having a reputable agent, I am a trillion times closer to being published. It’s like I finally got to the top of the first, very tall mountain, and while there are a whole bunch of mountains in the range, at least I’m up there and working my way across the Pacific Crest Trail or whatever, and not back at sea level just dreaming about hiking.


Wow. Talk about an overextended metaphor.

Long story short, I am now represented by Lara Perkins, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. 


I have finally arrived to a place where I can finally arrive. ;)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The SCBWI-LA Summer Conference –OR-- Swallowing My Pride

 
This was my fifth year at the conference, and I’ll admit, I was getting frustrated at the lack of forward momentum. While I wanted to get the most out of the opportunity, I decided ahead of time to prioritize giving myself enough time to rest and spend time with my friends. Otherwise, I’d once again be so exhausted by the end of the weekend that I’d need to be a hermit for the next few weeks just to recover. Not overextending myself meant choosing fewer opportunities to make contact with agents and editors, so the onus was to work them more effectively. Which meant…networking. Schmoozing. Which always has felt gross to me. It’s not like I did something amoral – it’s just business! – but I always felt weird developing and using connections. Maybe it was a byproduct of growing up in LA, amongst a hive of insincere people namedropping and using others as stepping stones.

It was time to reek of desperation. It was time to swallow what remained of my pride in one big gulp.

While I had joked on Twitter about printing my dummy on toilet paper and handing it under a bathroom stall to an editor, I didn’t go that far. But I did take a risk. I got cheeky. When I saw that I had my manuscript consultation with Steven Malk, (thank you, SCBWI angels!) I took a deep breath and jumped…

It all felt slightly inappropriate on my part, or at least presumptuous, but getting paired up with Steven Malk was kind of like getting an interview with admissions at an Ivy League School, and I couldn’t squander it by being chicken. Soooo…instead of just going over the manuscript I submitted, I got out all my dummies and my portfolio, and I had him look at everything during those 20 minutes. Check and check. All was proceeding smoothly. I had one last step…I asked him which agent(s) he thought would be a good fit for me.

To me, this felt really scary and forward. But I had taken my very first children’s book class six long years ago, and for the past five, worked on my craft full-time, so I was absolutely not a dilettante. Everyone around me was scratching their heads over why I didn’t have an agent yet. I knew – KNEW – that all it took was one yes, and all those years of contorting myself into a box that people could understand would be over. And I knew Steven Malk’s opinion carried a lot of weight with agents and editors. He is known for spotting value in work that is different, and using his name would get people’s attention. If he understood me, others would make an effort to understand.

And, yes, I knew if all went well, the best realistic outcome would have been the ability to use the kind of gross, self-aggrandizing name-dropping stuff that I usually hate:

“Steven Malk said you’d be a good fit for me.”

Maybe you’re thinking, What’s the big deal about that?

I don’t have an answer. It just feels gross to me. It feels like not getting chosen by virtue of my artistic merit, but through campaigning for myself. But was that a bad thing? Was I just making things harder for myself by resisting it? After all, I would be stating a fact. It’s not like he was saying it because he owed me something. It wasn’t a lie. After all, I had paid my dues! I AM a good artist! If this could get me in front of the right eyeballs, I had to do what was best for my career.

So I had to do it. And with that decided, the rest would all depend on my delivery of that heaven-sent sentence, “Steven Malk said…”

If it worked, the hell of querying would be over. I didn’t have much to lose besides my pride at this point. So, that was it. I risked sounding like a total jackass and jumped off a cliff . . .

. . . and . . .

. . . luckily, I didn’t meet a bloody end smashed on some rocks at the bottom of said cliff.

What does that mean?

. . . Next time on the blog: I GOT AN AGENT(!)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

HOOTS! are LIVE!

May’s post already talked about the product, but: The HOOTS! have gone live! 

 
Quick recap: Around the end of March, my friend from business school contacted me about creating a series of “stickers” for the online messaging app, LINE. As he explained to me, LINE is a powerful communication tool which works like What’s App meets Facebook Messaging meets Skype. The app was hugely popular globally, with almost 500 million users.

And I’d never heard of it.

See, most of those half a billion users are in Asia. Great! I thought – I’m huge in Asia, according to my website’s Google stats. (P.S. That’s a joke. I’m also due to inherit the estate of a Nigerian prince, right?)

Anyway, the folks at LINE were opening up the market for freelance illustrators to augment the shop’s selections. It’s an interesting pricing model: premium prices for “namebrand” stickers (trademarked), a second tier for those offered by LINE, and then discounted pricing for the audience-created product. It reminds me of self-publishing, too, as very quickly it becomes clear that you need a platform to really move any of your product before it gets buried by the competition.

So at the end of the second day the stickers were available, after my partner and I informed the social media world of our appearance on the scene, my HOOTS! sticker set was rated #23 most popular out of almost 5,000 (at the time) audience created sticker sets. I had convinced my closest friends to download the LINE app so I could at least send the stickers to them, and they, of course, nice as they are, bought the set themselves (it was only 99 cents!) But that only accounted for 8 or so sales! Number 23?!?

 I thought I was an international sensation.

But after my meteoric rise to the Top 25, I plummeted hard, disappearing into obscurity within a week. Moral of the story? I guess when you’re no longer on the “new” page, you fade into the masses. And though I’d spent a month working on the things, I definitely wasn’t going to get a good return on my investment.

The good news is, this was like a beta run of what would happen if I self-published a book. I’d get a bunch of my friends to buy it, and it would artificially inflate the rankings enough to show up on stranger’s radars, they’d buy it, and then it would fade away as soon as the rankings slipped. I've always asserted that self-publishing isn't the route for me, and this experiment confirmed that.

But then again...

I only pimped it out that very first day, and haven’t mentioned it since. I feel like it would be annoying if I did, since no one I know had even heard of the app before I started talking about it, (Ah, the hipster life, amirite?), so I’d have to convince them to download the app first. And I don’t want to become a shill for an app that’s not mine! I gave my one pitch, and I feel like that should be it.

Now, if it were something like What’s App, I’m sure I would pimp it a whole lot more, since people in my extended social circle already use it. But still, people besides me would have to start talking it up, no matter was “it” is, in order for there to be sustained sales. There would have to be something new to say about it to merit blasting to my entire network again.

It’s not like I could post reviews or do a blog tour to sell my stickers on an app, so maybe the experiences are not as similar as I originally thought. And maybe I would have a better result with something I self-published. Maybe. But what it does boil down to is visibility. It seems obvious, but this was a good reminder. I need eyeballs to see my product if I want those eyeballs’ wallets to open. :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

BeaverMAYnia

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Since a month of toil is never enough, after a month of working on the owl LINE Stamps, (now called Stickers, for the US Market, I suppose), I then started messing around with finding a new character, and deciding on a beaver.


He was so cute, I decided, “Hey, why don’t I draw 40 of him, and use 'doing an in-depth character study' as an excuse and come up with a picture book about it?” You know I can rarely do things for less than two rationalized “reasons.”

 
Drawing 40 beavers was fun! Even though it took me forever. (I was going through a lot of personal drama with multiple pet death and stuff, so it took me longer than it should have). Then it took me a month to color them. But don’t get me wrong – in the meantime, I was writing and revising a beaver-based picture book. It evolved from something really quite terrible to something that got the high praise that it “makes sense and could work.” High praise, indeed! Well, that was the second draft. The first draft was a nightmare of Julia psychoses. (I told you, I was going through personal drama).  Anyway, a few drafts later, I was ready to thumbnail the story (okay, I lie, I thumbnailed from the first draft on – it helps!), and then sketch out a first draft of the dummy. Gotta have a dummy for the big SCBWI conference in August!