Monday, December 24, 2012

Choose Your Own Adventure . . . Happy Birthday, Erik!

If you have arrived in the middle of the adventure, you may start at the beginning by going HERE (

Erik chooses the path that leads to Mystery Mountain:

Before they went more than two steps down the path to Mystery Mountain, Benton walked off the path into some lush, if rather wet, tall grass, and bent his head to crop some of the delicious greens. Erik promptly slid down Benton’s neck to land kersploosh in a puddle hidden by the heavy undergrowth. 

“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” Erik said.

Benton nickered an explanation, but his words seemed to go over Erik’s head, so he illustrated by flopping down on his side in the damp grass and rolling back and forth, his hooves flailing the air. When he stood up again, he gave a mighty shake, showering Erik with clear, cold water from the grass. Benton was much cleaner.

“Good idea, Benton!” Erik said, pulling some of the grass and wiping off the worst of the mud. “But this isn’t getting us any closer to finding my present. Even if we are more presentable. Get it? PRESENTable?” Benton just shook his mane.

Erik pulled himself up onto Benton’s back and nudged his sides. He had to nudge several times before Benton was willing to walk on into the dark as night forest that lay ahead of them.

The path narrowed. If Benton had been much larger, it would have been a tight fit between the trees. Could Lady Josie really have come this way on the black horse? “Look, Benton! There’s a hoofprint! We must be on the right path...”

Something swooped by them in the dank darkness. “That was just an owl. Right, Benton?” Erik said aloud. “Right?” Benton didn’t answer. He was too busy laying his ears back on his head at the creature that blocked the path in front of them.

“WHOA, Benton! What IS that?” It looked like a wolf, or an ogre, or something that neither of them really wanted to encounter close up.

Erik looked from side to side, hoping that the path might have a fork in it. Usually when you want a fork, you can’t find one (ever have to eat your dinner with a spoon?) but almost magically, there was a fork. The road kind, not the dinner kind. A sign pointed in two directions. Ahead of them, past the wolf-ogre, was Mystery Mountain. Off to the right was Otterley Creek. 

“Otters? Lady Josie likes otters. Do you suppose she went that way, Benton? Or did she try to get past the ogre?” Erik leaned forward to get his pony’s advice.

Benton neighed, but his answer was carried off by a strong wind that whirled past them. Erik would have to decide for himself.

To face the ogre, go HERE

To go to Otterley Creek, go HERE

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Winner is ....

And the winner of the beautiful NUTCRACKER illustrated by Maurice Sendak is Betty Person.

Ho! Ho! Ho!


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Maurice Sendak Nutcracker Giveaway

'Tis the season!

One of my daughters is a ballet dancer and she has danced in the Nutcracker since she was four-years-old. A couple of years ago, her dreams came true when she got to play the part of Clara. Such fun!

But a few months ago, I realized that since she'd always been in the Nutcracker, she'd never actually seen a live performance. I'm happy to say that this past weekend our schedules worked out (which is tricky during this busy month) and I was able to take my daughter to see an absolutely beautiful performance of the ballet in Jackson, Mississippi.

I'm officially in the Christmas spirit.

So ... you can imagine how excited I was to receive this beautiful book as a gift from Random House. And it is stunning.

How many of you knew that not only did Maurice Sendak illustrate E.T.A. Hoffmann's story upon which the Nutcracker Ballet is based, but that he designed the set and costumes for a performance by the Pacific Northwest Ballet? The performance is available as a movie, but I'm sad to report that it is only available as a VHS. Here's the trailer, though, which absolutely gives me CHILLS. I would love to see those backdrops, billboard sized. And those costumes!!!

In the NUTCRACKER book which was just rereleased by Random House, Maurice Sendak uses costume designs and backdrops that he created for the ballet as illustrations, and he painted additional pieces specific to E.T.A. Hoffman's story. The book itself is a piece of art, printed on beautiful paper. It is one of those books that the reader is meant to linger upon, savoring each detail and each piece of beauty that can be found on every page.

A perfect Christmas gift, yes? And I'd love to be able to give this copy away to a lucky reader, just enter the giveaway below. It closes on December 17th, so be sure to enter and spread the word!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And if you don't happen to be one of the lucky winners or have more than one person in your life who would love this masterpiece, click here to order. And support your indies!!!


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Middle School Beauty Review

Yes. You read the title of this post correctly. I'm going to write about the Beauty Review that is happening at our public school this weekend for Middle School girls. Just curious . . . do you think that there could be a worse age to put young girls through a contest where they are judged based on their appearance (and proficiency with the use of body glitter)?

Okay, maybe those toddler beauty pageants are worse. But still.

I haven't heard much about it from my oldest daughter who is in eighth grade and is a member of the club which is sponsoring the event--an academic club which requires a 94% grade average and service hours every semester (don't even get me started)--except that she is staying far away from anything having to do with it.

My seventh grade daughter is very different from her older sister, however. She is very girly--she loves ballet, flowers and pretty clothes. I was relieved that she never mentioned the pageant to me or asked to be a part of it. But earlier this week, she was in a bit of a mood, and I asked her what was going on. She said "nothing" but then later mentioned that she was "so sick of hearing about the stupid Beauty Review". I told her that I was proud of her for not signing up to be a part of it, that those were not our values, and we talked a little more about it.

Apparently, those middle school cafeteria conversations that used to be about soccer, school projects, and play rehearsals had shifted. Now everyone was discussing whom they thought would win (i.e. who was the prettiest girl in seventh grade), and the girls partaking in the pageant were dishing  nonstop about their dresses, shoes, makeup  . . . and what time to get to the hair salon for the perfect messy updo.

Before you ask, I've made my feelings known to the sponsors of the event, and I doubt (hope) that we will have a repeat next year. This year, though, it's a done deal. And I've been surprised by how many of my friends are letting their seventh grade daughters' participate. It's like it's become one of those "everybody's doing it" things, and it's really weighing on me. I honestly thought in 2012 smart women had progressed beyond this kind of stuff and we could stand in solidarity, but my friends have shrugged saying that it's all in fun, harmless, and something their daughters wanted to do.

So, you can imagine how happy I was to find this sheet of paper on my daughter's desk this morning.

I think we'll be okay in the Hardy house.

And . . . whoa!! I think I may have the seeds for a middle grade novel here. Hmmmm.


Stay tuned for a Christmas giveaway next week . . . .

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Favorite Things (with Apologies to Ina Garten)

I absolutely love Ina Garten's cookbooks . . . with one exception.

It has always bothered me how she feels it necessary to state in each and every recipe that you must use good olive oil or good quality strawberry preserves. I can almost hear her in a nasally, Hampton-y voice stressing those adjectives which serve as an admonishment to anyone who would dare to use, say . . . Kroger brand butter (not that I ever would--kidding, of course I do).

But recently, I was talking with an illustrator friend of mine about my favorite materials to use when painting, and I found my self pulling a full-on Ina Garten. It went something like this . . .

"You know, you always have to use the best quality gouache. Those cheap student brands just don't have the pigment density. And don't even get me started on synthetic brushes. I would die without my Winsor Newton sable paintbrushes."

Yeah. Snobby much?

Sorry, Ina. I get it now.

So here are a few of my favorite things to use when illustrating (feel free to use your best Hampton's accent went reading through my list):

Prismacolor Pencils--blend perfectly with an almost clay-like consistently and great colors.

My Winsor Newton sable brushes. These are the only two brushes that I ever use and they are perfection. Mwah!

Strathmore series illustration board. This is hands down the best, most durable, non-pilling illustration board around. Love it. Seriously. Nothing else will do, dahlings.

Winsor Newton and Holbein Gouache are my favorite brands. I use gouache a bit like watercolors, but I like the density and opaqueness of the pigments in gouache. The cheaper brands are crap. Take my word for it--I had to buy some locally when I was in a pinch.

The bottom line is this (and now you can read in a Southern accent): If you use cheap art materials or materials that you're not comfortable with, you will wind up fighting against them when trying to create. Don't make the creative process any harder on yourself than it has to be.

Go forth and paint! And be sure to use the good stuff . . .


Monday, October 1, 2012

Video Studio Tour

I've put up a video tour of my studio on the Southern Breeze Illustrators' Blog. Check it out here!

And . . . don't judge. I fully acknowledge my hoarding tendencies!


Friday, September 21, 2012

Happy Fall (almost!)

Hi all!

The last month has been a whirlwind of getting back into the groove of school--and the craziness of after-school schedules with three busy girls. Yes, I am fortunate to have a glorious block of time during the day while everyone is at school, but when 2:30 rolls around, it's all over--with girls doing quick changes into ballet tights and soccer cleats in the car, figuring out how to get three people to three different activities that all begin at 5:00, and dinner? Really?

But in the middle of all of this, I've had some moments of wonderful.

Exhibit A:

Peter Brown at Square Books, Jr.

How cool is this??? We're holding each others books!

If you've never met Peter Brown, get in your car and follow him like you are a groupie and he's the Grateful Dead. He's so charming, funny, and talented. Naturally, Creepy Carrots is a new favorite in the Hardy house.

Exhibit B:

SCBWI Illustrator's Day in Decatur, Georgia.

A group of us who were in a mentorship program with Michael Allen Austin displaying our finished assignments.

This was my first time to attend an SCBWI Conference that was geared solely towards illustrators, and let me just say that this will NOT be my last. I learned so much from the amazing lineup of speakers which included: Kelly Barrales-Saylor, R. Gregory Christie, Michael Allen Austin and Peter Brown (YES!! Peter Brown, twice in one month). The speakers talked about everything from creating your artistic style to finding the best place to have promotional materials printed.

Exhibit C:

Annette Simon, at Square Books Jr.

Annette wrote and illustrated a clever book about robots who transform themselves into different characters and creations using geometric shapes, and (brilliant) she handed out little packets with cut out foam stickers so that kids could create their own robots. Here is the one made by my daughter Julia.

Annette is also charming and lovely, and I loved getting to talk candidly with her "debut author/illustrator to debut author/illustrator".

Holding up our books!!!

So what have I been doing in the middle of all of this fabulousness?

I'm revising my middle grade novel.

This is my screen porch, and we've been blessed with fall-like weather for the last few weeks. My agent is very editorial (which I love), and on her latest read of my novel, she noticed something. The timeline just didn't work. I needed to compress it down from ten months to four-ish.

And yes. My heart kind of stopped when she said that to me. She was absolutely right, of course. But how in the heck could I figure out how to make it work?

My friend Katie Anderson (whose debut YA Kiss and Makeup will be released October 2nd!) showed me the edits that she received after she sold her book. Her editor downloaded and printed a school year calendar, and she plotted Katie's book onto the calendar.

Inspired by this method, I bought a pack of notecards, a giant wall calendar, pencils, and tons of erasers. I put every scene in my book onto cards and then I placed each scene on the calendar, compressing and rearranging as needed. I then re-outlined the book with the new timeline and have sent it to my agent to see if it works. I'm sure I'll have more tweaking to do . . . possibly a lot more, but once we get the new bones down, I'm looking forward to fleshing the story out once again.

Is all of this incredibly hard? Well . . . yes. But as my friend Neil White told me, "Of course it's hard. If it was easy, everyone would have a book published."


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Interview with Ellen Ruffin

Hi all! Several of us Southern Breezers are interviewing speakers who will be presenting at our upcoming WIK Conference in Birmingham in October. I'm thrilled to be the lucky duck who gets to interview the always charming Ellen Ruffin.

Ellen is the curator of the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi where the papers and original artwork of H.A. and Margaret Rey, Ezra Jack Keats, Kate Greenway, and many, many other children's writers and illustrators are archived. For more information about the collection click here.

And to find out the story of how such an incredible collection ended up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, click here (scroll down to page 4) and here for a story of how Dr. Lena De Grummond contacted the Reys.

Suffice it to say, that we Southern Breezers are within hours (some of us minutes) of one of the most incredible children's literature archives in the world, and I'd like to personally recommend that each and every one of you attends the Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival which takes place every year in the spring. You will hear presentations given by world class children's writers and illustrators--and you can tour the de Grummond Collection. So watch for registration for the spring of 2013 festival.

But back to WIK and my guest today . . .

Hi Ellen! Why don't you tell me what you're planning to talk about at the Southern Breeze conference in Birmingham . . .

I'm going to talk about two things. First, I'm going to discuss the many awards that are available for works of children's literature. Everyone has heard of the Newbery, the Caldecott and the Printz, but there are so many awards out there that offer different types of recognition for different types of books. And that is so exciting! For example, there is an award called the Phoenix Award and it's given to a book that's at least ten years old, but for whatever reason, this book is having a resurgence in popularity and appeal. Additionally, the Ezra Jack Keats Award which is given to a new author and a new illustrator is now awarded at the Children's Book Festival here in Hattiesburg.

Next, I'm going to talk about our children's literature archive and it's significance, especially for scholars  who are interested in examining the process of children's authors and illustrators. We have an enormous historical collection of very early fairy tales as well as archives from more recent authors and illustrators. We also have a book collection of over 155,000 books which compliments our archived collection which represents over 1300 authors and illustrators.

How has the way that you archive things changed with the digital age?

With the digital age, so many authors and artists don't have physical papers that they can hand me--sometimes we're given representations of early drafts and illustrations on a jump drive--but we archive everything. These records are kept safe and secure. We actually print everything out as well as keeping digital files. Since technology is constantly changing, we feel like that's the safest way to keep things--don't we all remember floppy discs and  the Wordstar word processing program?

But we are losing some of the footprints of the entire process--especially with illustrators who work digitally--because often they hit the delete button to erase older sketches or earlier drafts. That's another reason why an archive like ours is so important. You can go through our papers and go on a journey through the artistic process, and with rise of the digital age, this ability could be lost without a historical archive like the one we have here at Southern.

And then, Ellen and I talked for another hour about our favorite children's books! She's a treasure in the world of children's literature, and I can't wait to hear her presentation in Birmingham. Counting down the days . . .

See you there,

Meet more of the wik12 faculty by following their blog tour!

Aug. 15                Sharon Pegram at Writers and Wannabes
Aug. 16                Sarah Campbell at Alison Hertz’s blog, On My Mind
Aug. 17                F.T. Bradley at Laura Golden’s blog
Aug. 20               Chuck Galey at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog
Aug. 21                Jo Kittinger at Bonnie Herold’s blog, Tenacious Teller of Tales
Aug. 22               Irene Latham at Robyn Hood Black’s blog, Read, Write, Howl
Aug. 23               Vicky Alvear Shecter at S.R. Johannes’ blog
Aug. 24               Doraine Bennett at Cathy Hall’s blog
Aug. 27               Virginia Butler at Bonnie Herold’s blog, Tenacious Teller of Tales
Aug. 28               Jodi Wheeler-Toppen at Diane Sherrouse’s blog, The Reading Road
Aug. 29               Ellen Ruffin at Sarah Frances Hardy’s blog, Picture This
Aug. 30               Donna Jo Napoli at Writers and Wannabes

Monday, August 27, 2012

Illustrator Studio Tours

Hi all! It's now fall (or at least school has started) and I'm back in the studio, hard at work . . . and back to a more regular blogging schedule.

First up, for the voyeurs (or just curious folks!) check out a new feature we're starting on the Southern Breeze Illustrators' Corner blog. We're doing virtual studio tours of our illustrators' workspaces. First up, we have Elizabeth Dulemba's super-organized studio. Check it out here.

Next, as a buildup to the upcoming WIK SCBWI Conference on October 19-20 in Birmingham, several members are hosting interviews of many of our presenters on their own blogs. Here's a schedule of what's happened so far and what's coming up:

Aug. 15                Sharon Pegram at Writers and Wannabes
Aug. 16                Sarah Campbell at Alison Hertz’s blog, On My Mind
Aug. 17                F.T. Bradley at Laura Golden’s blog
Aug. 20               Chuck Galey at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog
Aug. 21                Jo Kittinger at Bonnie Herold’s blog, Tenacious Teller of Tales
Aug. 22               Irene Latham at Robyn Hood Black’s blog, Read, Write, Howl
Aug. 23               Vicky Alvear Shecter at S.R. Johannes’ blog
Aug. 24               Doraine Bennett at Cathy Hall’s blog
Aug. 27               Virginia Butler at Bonnie Herold’s blog, Tenacious Teller of Tales
Aug. 28               Jodi Wheeler-Toppen at Diane Sherrouse’s blog, The Reading Road
Aug. 29               Ellen Ruffin at Sarah Frances Hardy’s blog, Picture This
Aug. 30               Donna Jo Napoli at Writers and Wannabes

As you can see, I'm interviewing the fabulous Ellen Ruffin on my blog this week, so check back in on Wednesday.

Lastly, since I haven't posted sketchbook Friday in . . . well, forever. Here's a sketch of my daughter Sallie that we used on her luau birthday party invitations.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Better Critique Story

After posting about the nightmare impromptu critique of my first attempt at writing and illustrating picture books (you can read it here), I thought I'd share another critique story ... one that was more positive.

A few years ago, I attended my first national SCBWI conference in L.A. If you are interested in writing or illustrating for children, I cannot stress enough that it would be well worth it to save your pennies and go to a national conference. They are incredible, and for me, life changing.

Anyway, I'd signed up to have my manuscript critiqued. It was the story that eventually became Puzzled by Pink, but in the beginning stages of the book, the story was only about this little girl:

Her name was Zelda (she's now called Izzy). She was a Wednesday Addams kind of girl who loved all things creepy and goth, and she lived with her grandmother. The whole story centered around this creepy tea party that she was creating for her best friend (who turned out to be invisible).

For my critique, I landed the writing teacher Anastasia Suen. She's brilliant, teaches creative writing, and has written about a bazillion children's books as well as a book on writing for children called Picture Writing.

She looked at my manuscript and we talked through it. She suggested that it could be a cumulative story like The Napping House or Chicka Chicka Boom Boom where everything builds up and then falls apart. "You could have Zelda gather up everything for this party and then it could all come crashing down or something," she said. Then she looked from the manuscript to the sketch of my main character, leaned forward, and said, "But you really don't have a conflict here. It's just not interesting enough ... I like your main character, though ... Tell me, what's the worst thing that could happen to this little girl?"

I sat up and immediately responded, "Something PINK!"

Her eyes lit up. "That's it," she said. "There's your story. Let's talk it through ..."

And we did.

It still took many, many revisions to get my book in the kind of shape that it needed to be, and I still had some learning to do about illustrating a children's book. But that critique? It set me on FIRE!!!


P.S. I'm traveling this weekend, and I'd love to see some of you if I'm hitting your town!

Friday afternoon at 3:30: Black Forest Books and Toys in Charlotte, North Carolina
Saturday afternoon at 1:00: Fox Tales in Woodstock, Georgia
Sunday afternoon at 2:00: City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, North Carolina
Monday morning at 10:30: Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville, North Carolina

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sketchbook Friday--Camp Pix

Hi all!

My older two girls are at camp, leaving me with just one little girl. We've been having a great time bike riding, swimming, and hanging out at the pet store (staring at the lizards mostly). While I've been camp director here, my older girls have been hiking throughout the North Carolina mountains--where the Hunger Games movie was filmed.

I usually draw my letters to them, so today I'm posting the ones I put in the mail this morning.

I think in the next ones I need to arm each of them with a bow and arrow . . . in case Cato shows up!

Stay tuned next week for a kindler, gentler critique story.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012


About eight years ago, I "came out" ...  as an aspiring children's book author/illustrator.

I publicly declared to my friends and family that this thing that I'd been doing on the sly for years, was my biggest dream. And I vowed to them and to myself that I would see one of my books on bookstore shelves ... or die trying. I declared that I'd be sitting in my wooden rocker at the Peaceful Gardens Rest Home still sending out queries if that's what it took.

At that point in my life, I started writing with a sense of purpose and a feeling of accountability. I actually forced myself to finish stories (I had a bad habit of beginning to write children's books and then moving on to the next thing when it got too hard). I painted scenes from these stories.

When I felt like I had a fabulous story and a full-blown painted book dummy (a mistake to finish it to that degree, I now know ... sketches are better to send out!), I started to show my work to people. I showed my book to my family, and they loved it (of course). I showed my book to some friends, and they all loved it, too.

Then I got bolder. I had a friend with a PhD in children's lit. I took her to dinner and showed her my book ... and she loved it! I showed it to bookseller friends, and what do you know? They loved it too!!

Enter Sheldon Fogelman ...

Sheldon Fogelman was Maurice Sendak's agent and attorney. He's kind of a big deal in the world of children's books, to put it mildly. And since Maurice Sendak's death, this encounter has been on my mind:

I was helping with our annual Conference for the Book here in Oxford, and Richard Peck was our featured children's author. Sheldon Fogelman is his agent and came along with him for his visit.

I was standing in our wonderful indie children's bookstore, and the then manager of the store opened her desk drawer and pulled out my book dummy (I had left one up at the store with her because, well, you never know, right?). "I'm going to show this to Sheldon," she whispered. I nodded and followed behind her as she pitched my manuscript and handed it to him. He flipped through it quickly and then a little more slowly.

And then he looked up at me with a look that I can only describe as "bless your heart". You know the one--the closed mouth smile and head shaking back and forth. My pounding heart lodged somewhere in my throat as I tried to keep my hands from shaking. I reached toward my manuscript. I wanted to snatch it away from him and then run like a maniac from the store.

But before I could grab it, he started talking.

"This is terrible," he said.

The room started closing in around me.

"I mean, what IS this? It's rhyming, first of all. How are you going to have that translated into other languages. And this art? It's too fine art and painterly. Kids don't want to look at this--they can't tell what's going on ... and why are some of the paintings in black and white and then they're in color? Are you just trying to PROVE to people that you can paint in black and white."

"Well," I choked out. "The story is about this little curmudgeon who refuses to see all the colors in the world around him. But gradually he begins to see. That's kind of the point of the story."

"And, my GOD! There's not even a child in the story."

(Can I just say that all of these words are being said in a thick New York accent with lots of exasperated sighs and grunts--he's clearly offended all around, as if it's insulting to him to have to be looking at this piece of drivel.)

"I mean, this is just AWFUL."

"Um, okay. Thank you so much for looking at it. I really appreciate it ..." I stammered along, still reaching for my book and trying to get it back from him as he continued to flip through it and loudly sigh. Finally, I just grabbed it and got out of there.

And, yes. I ran home and cried. I licked my wounds for days. I went through the stages of grief (yes, including anger, denial), ending up with hope. Yes. Hope.

After a few weeks of processing what he'd said and really thinking through it. I realized something.

He was absolutely right.

This book would never, ever be published. And who was I kidding--this was Maurice Sendak's agent and he took the time to look at my manuscript. I should be grateful.

And now I am.

I learned many, many things from this encounter--things besides the fact that my manuscript was horrible:

1. I realized that I still had a lot to learn about children's books, and with a little nudge from my friend Katie Anderson (whose YA book Kiss and Makeup will be released by Amazon Publishing in October), I joined SCBWI and started going to conferences.

2. It is best to listen to advice from people who are currently IN THE BUSINESS (agents, editors, other published writers). Also, you need to get advice from people who aren't friends or family. I actually picked a pretty good group to look at my manuscript, but I needed to expand my circle a bit more.

3. Be nice when critiquing other people's work. Mr. Fogelman could have been a little more sensitive and saved me some anguish. There actually were some good things about the book that I showed him--things I was able to extrapolate and use later--but he didn't mention any of those things, and to be fair, he might not have seen anything good about my book at all.

Besides, I don't think it's his style to be and hand-holding, butter-you-up kind of guy--and really, once you've reached his level, you've earned the right to be as blunt as you want to be. It wasn't personal, and again, his remarks were dead-on.

But I like to start every manuscript critique with something positive to say. What can I say? I'm a Southern girl!

4.  Most importantly, it set me up for years of rejection letters and critique groups. Nothing I went through later was quite as humbling as this face-to-face encounter with one of the moguls of children's literature. Nothing. And Mr. Fogelman taught me an invaluable lesson in taking criticism and developing thick skin. But mostly, he taught me that when I felt beaten down and hopeless, I had the ability to pick myself up and put myself right back out there.

And it was because of that ability to keep trying new things and to keep sending books out no matter what the response, that I've finally reached my dream of having that book on the shelves.


And, I do want to reiterate that this post isn't meant to be a slam of Sheldon Fogelman. The man's a genius (I mean, he discovered Mo Willems as well!), and I truly am grateful to him.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Booking it!

Hi all! Sorry for my absence, but lately I've been on the road visiting many fabulous indies for Puzzled by Pink events.
My three girls with me for my hometown launch at Square Books, Jr. here in Oxford.
Aren't they great in their black and pink??!!

Let me just say that independent bookstores are fabulous.

A huge thanks to the lovely people at Square Books Junior, Reed's Gumtree Bookstore, Turn Row Books, Yellow Bike Books, Turning Pages Bookstore, and Lemuria Bookstore. ALL of these fabulous independent bookstores are in Mississippi, and I know our state gets bad press (and some of it is deserved) ... but we've got it in spades with our bookstores. Plus, where there are bookstores, there are readers.

I'm venturing out to Alabama and Georgia this weekend to visit The Little Professor Bookstore in Homewood (outside of Birmingham) and Avid Bookstore in Athens. Such fun!

In the meantime, I've discovered a couple of things for all of these long car trips:

1. The New Yorker Fiction Podcasts: These are free on iTunes, and a writer who has been published in the New Yorker chooses any short story (not one of their own) from the New Yorker archives and reads it. Then the author and the fiction editor of the magazine discuss the short story. These podcasts are from 20 to 45 minutes long, and they are fantastic.

2.  The Truth: These are mini audio movies. They remind me of the radio shows of old--when people acted out plays on the air with sound effects, voices, and great "what if" story lines. These are all pretty short 10 to 20 minutes, and they are so much fun.

Hope you all have a great week!


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Blog interviews and a giveaway!

Hi all!!! I'm in recovery mode from this crazy fun week and tackling my mail pile and laundry mountain. Stay tuned for launch party pix . . . but in the meantime run over to Lisa and Laura's blog for an interview with me AND my two favorite picture book characters Izzy and Rose.

Then check out my interview with the fabulous Cynthia Leitech Smith at Cynsations and leave a comment to be entered in a signed book giveaway.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Today's the Day!

Today my book Puzzled by Pink hits the shelves of bookstores, although I actually had my first official signing yesterday at the Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

What an amazing feeling!

Check out interview and giveaway today on Tara Lazar's blog.

You can also sign up for a giveaway on Goodreads. Scroll down and enter to the right!

Thanks y'all!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Launch Week!!!

Yikes! My book is going out into the big world on Thursday, and I'm so excited I can't sleep.

Our fabulous independent bookstore Square Books Jr. put up these window displays last week. Check it out!! A pink window for Rose and a spooky, dark one for Izzy. Genius!!!

Tomorrow, I'm heading down to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to the Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival. It's a fabulous annual conference geared toward children's librarians. I can't think of a better place to be on the day my book is released. I'll be speaking during a breakout session on Wednesday.

After the Hattiesburg Conference, I'll head back up to Oxford for a launch party at Square Books on Saturday at 10:00. Whew and WOW!!!!


Friday, March 30, 2012

Sketchbook Friday

You may (or may not) know that I'm working on an illustrated middle grade novel about a twelve-year-old girl and her art teacher. In one of the scenes, my main character sees some crazy-cool shoes on TV, and here's what she draws in her sketchbook.

Can I just say how much fun I'm having with this book? I'm actually becoming my main character, kicking around with my sketchbook and drawing not only the things she would draw but I'm also trying to capture her style (and show it progressing throughout the book).

Happy weekend!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sketchbook Friday-big and in color!!

Hi all!!

I'm spending a couple of days enjoying the Oxford Conference for the Book (I presented yesterday morning!), but I finished up my life-sized wooden Izzy and Rose cutouts.


And here they are with some very good friends.

Happy weekend!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Endangered Species

This morning, I heard a great panel discussion given by a group of independent booksellers from around Mississippi. I am fortunate to live in a state full of great independent bookstores, and I for one would like to see it stay that way.

While much of the discussion predictably focused on the evils of Amazon, I was most interested in hearing the booksellers' ideas of how to evolve their stores so that they can remain viable in a digital world in a country that is still in a recession. 

Many of the booksellers mentioned that they have expanded their children's sections (yay!), and John Evans from Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi, said that he was focusing on community outreach--he  reaches out to schools, book clubs, and other groups, instead of waiting for those groups to come to him. He also said that social media has been a great way to reach his customers. The Lemuria blog has a huge following and is one of the best ones out there.

Richard Howorth at Square Books here in Oxford said that his bookstore offers a vital connection between authors and readers--something personal that you can't replicate online, and he also stressed that publishers rely on physical bookstores and the physical activity around them to create a market for their books. Author events and bookstore sponsored book clubs are some of the many ways his store fosters these connections.

All of the booksellers talked about tailoring their bookstores to fit the specific needs of their communities, and this is one of my favorite things about indies--each bookstore has its own unique flavor that reflects the culture around it. In a way, going into a great independent bookstore is like walking through a beautifully curated art collection.  

This is something that can't be replicated by Amazon or any other big box store. And I'm obviously not the only person who feels this way. Richard mentioned that over the past couple of years, the number of new indies opening is on the rise. 

Good news indeed!


Friday, March 16, 2012


Well, I've been lounging around on the beach all week and totally forgot that it was FRIDAY!! Whoops!

Sketchbook Friday will resume next week with a regular post earlier in the week.

And just in case you've been living under a rock or something, look at my girl Katie Anderson!!! Read about her amazing book deal with all kinds of other media and product tie-ins HERE.

Happy spring, y'all!

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Different Kind of Sketchbook Friday!

Good morning all!

This week, I've been doing sketches on a larger scale . . . a kid-sized scale.

I'm making big, wooden cut-outs of Izzy and Rose to take along with me on book signings--thanks to some great help from my hubby and his friend who has mad sawing skills (he even cut around the part in the girls' hair!).  

I'm hoping lots of little people will want to have their pictures made with their favorite character. I'll post the finished product when it stops raining and I can get back outside!

Happy weekend (and happy spring break for some of us--like ME!!)!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Favorite Read Alouds

Hi all!

In case you missed it, the wonderful Jules featured me on Seven Impossible Things yesterday. I'm so honored!!

And speaking of being honored . . . the fabulous folks at Lafayette Lower Elementary invited me to read to their students as part of Dr. Seuss week last Tuesday. Since my book isn't out yet, I wasn't allowed to read it, but I talked about it a little and showed some illustrations. We had a bit of technical difficulty which was kinda terrifying in front of 300+ little people, but everyone rolled with it and it turned out just fine. Good practice for future school visits where I've heard it's best to go in assuming that nothing technical will actually work.

But the best part of the visit was that I got to read two of my very favorite read-alouds:


I mean, one of the characters is named Reginald Von Hoobie Doobie, and that name ALWAYS gets a laugh (especially if you can say it in a menacing-sounding voice). Plus, the story is just so darn great.


I'm always amazed that people haven't heard this story. You can find it in the same book as the THE SNEETCHES, and it's been one of my favorites since I was little. It's delightfully creepy and contains one of the best lines from children's literature ever written:

I said and said and said those words
I said them but I lied them

Chilling, yes?

Hope y'all have a great week. Down here in Mississippi, we're counting down the days until spring break!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sketchbook Friday!

Here's today's sketch . . .

I'm just having such a good time revisiting the stars of my upcoming release.

Happy Dr. Seuss Day, y'all!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sketchbook Friday!!

Well, I'm in a bit of a mood today . . . a really good one. I'm heading to SCBWI Springmingle in Atlanta, and I've just realized that it's been over a year since I've been to a writing conference. I need my fix!

Happy weekend y'all!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Happy (late) Fat Tuesday

Well, I'm emerging from the cloud of the dreaded stomach bug, so I'm late with this post, but I just had to show you these fabulous Mardi Gras masks that I made with my beloved art teacher Jacki Kellum many, many moons ago. Seriously, I was, like, thirteen.

I'm proud to say that they are holding up beautifully except for a few floating feathers and less-than-sparkly rhinestones. I hope you all had a wonderful celebration last night (and aren't paying too dearly for it this morning!).

Sarah Frances

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sketchbook Friday Fail!

Hi all!

I didn't get my Sketchbook Friday post up today because I'm here:

At the Hampton Inn in Clinton, Mississippi, while my daughter rehearses for the Mississippi Girls Choir. I've got a blissfully long block of time to work on things (mostly PR for Puzzled by Pink but also a bit of revising on another project). 

Ignore the In Style magazine underneath the lap desk. I'm not sure how that got there . . .


Monday, February 13, 2012

So does this make me a hoarder?

Recently my daughter said, "Hey mom . . . what's the deal with all the glass jars?"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well, you kinda have jars everywhere."
"But I use them for painting. I put water in them to clean out my brushes and stuff like that," I said.
"Uh, mom. You have ONE jar that you keep on your desk and you wash it out and reuse it."
"Okay, I know. But everything is going to plastic--I mean peanut butter and mayonnaise and baby food jars? All plastic. One day they're going to quit making glass jars altogether and then where will we be? Besides, you can't recycle jars anywhere around here and I hate throwing them away." As I said this, I actually felt myself becoming panicky about the prospect of a world without glass jars.

Then my daughter gave me that look (the one that says "whatever . . . but I think you're a nutcase")  and she walked away.

But I started thinking. Was my obsession with jars becoming pathological? Was I going to be the next intervention featured on the show Hoarders?

I've always liked to think of my decorating style as "trying to look like the Anthropologie store" with a healthy mix of coolness and clutter.

This is the Anthropologie Store (not my house--sigh).

 However, I do have a really hard time throwing anything away, so I started looking around my house for stashes of jars.

My utility room--not so bad, right?

A cabinet in my studio.

Medicine cabinet (yikes--I actually put this up a few months ago so that I would have a place to put jars).

So, now it's getting scary. This is a piece of furniture that is out on my screen porch.

Hmmm. I'm realizing that it just might be time to stop saving jars. I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that there are other stashes that I haven't even shown you (eek). So starting today, the next jar of pickles or salsa that we finish, is going in the trash can.

Unless I can find someone else who needs some glass jars. Any takers??


Friday, February 10, 2012

Sketchbook Friday!

This morning, I'm returning to my favorite fictional siblings--Izzy and Rose--who are the stars of my upcoming picture book release PUZZLED BY PINK (Viking Children's Books). You can pretty much figure out their personalities from this sketch!

Happy weekend, y'all!

Monday, February 6, 2012


 The lovely Carol A. Bender (aka children's author extraordinaire) was kind enough to bestow this award upon me:

The word Liebster is German, in English it means beloveddeardearest, or love. Awww, to be loved and appreciated, isn't that what we all want? 

Today I am a winner. Carol loved my blog and passed the award to me. 

The Liebster Award is given to lovable blogs with less than 200 followers to recognize worthiness and drive more readers to them.... and hopefully generate higher Follower numbers. I am thankful for all the followers I have and for future followers as well.

As a recipient I am supposed to list 5 tidbits about myself that others may not know:

1.  I saw Elvis in concert when I was in first grade (the real Elvis)
2.  On a good day, I can do a killer handstand.
3.  I graduated from high school with Kathryn Stockett and Tate Taylor (The Help).
4.  I freaked out last month and dyed my hair red. I'm waiting for it to fade away . . .
5.  I absolutely adore the super-supportive children's lit community.

Okay, so now, I'm supposed to tag 5 other blogs as award recipients. I've found all of these through the 12 x 12 in '12 Challenge. Go and pay everyone a visit and be sure to follow their blogs!

Happy Monday!