Monday, March 28, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Bob Shea

It's Bob Shea vs. Creative Spaces! (Bob Shea wins.) Bob Shea is the author and illustrator of the popular, very adorable, and much-lauded Dinosaur vs. Bedtime and its recent sequel Dinosaur vs. the PottyIn addition to the Dinosaur books, Bob Shea is the author and illustrator of New Socks; Oh, Daddy!; and Race You to Bed, as well as the author of Big Plans, illustrated by Lane Smith. He's also the author of one of the funniest website bios I've read in a while. (Check it out!)

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime was named one of Amazon's Top 10  Picture Books of 2008, one of Horn Book magazine's Best of 2008,
and received several starred reviews including one from
Publisher's Weekly who wrote,
"Shea (New Socks) makes a hilarious commentator as his hero, a small red dinosaur, elevates everyday encounters into a series of matches worthy of the WWF." If you know any Dinosaur fans, you can direct them to the new website launched by Disney featuring the dinosaur character.

To learn more about Bob Shea and his books, visit his website (and aforementioned bio) or his YouTube channel where you can view fun videos about his books like this one for New Socks:

My messy corner (not normally this messy!)

Describe your workspace.

For awhile I had a studio in my home. Then my son turned two and wanted to play with me all day. He was pretty cute, so I wanted to play with him too. It wasn’t working out.

I found a small space near my home. It is right downtown, so I can walk to the library and for coffee. It’s also close enough to bike to in the warm weather which is my favorite thing. 

The space itself is a large open space above a wool store. There is plenty of room for my desk, a large work table and my wife’s letterpress. 

It's really not usually this messy.

Oh, I built these awesome shelves. I’m apparently really crafty and smart. 

Awesome shelves I totally built.

I found them here.

The space is nice and quiet and I can sit and listen to NPR all day when I work.

Describe a typical workday.

Well, I TRY to get up at 5 a.m. and do some writing or sketching. The house is nice and quiet and there are few distractions. 

Where I work in the morning.

Around 7 a.m. I have coffee with my wife and help my son get ready for school. He’s on the bus at 8:30, so I head to the studio after that. Usually I am in by around 9-9:30 a.m.

I work a bit, procrastinate until I hate myself, then work some more. I switch it up from project to project or I get in a rut. I also move around a lot during the day. Sit in different spots, go for walks, that sort of thing. My brain is very stubborn. I have to keep tricking it into giving me anything at all. If I tell it to do something it will flat out refuse.

Oh, and I ichat with my pal Jared Chapman. He’s a fantastic illustrator and super funny.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

The space itself. I am so happy to have a dedicated space to work.

My lounge chair. I found it on ebay and I have written a lot of books sitting in it. Also, I take naps in it a lot. Right around 3 p.m. 

My excellent chair.

My binding machine. I make my own notebooks out of heavy chipboard and copier paper. I go through a ton of them. By making them myself I don’t go broke and I’m not afraid to burn through them.

Magnetic blackboard.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.


Note board.

What do you listen to while you work?

Mostly NPR. When it gets too depressing, I listen to KEXP from Seattle.

Oh, and lots of late 80’s dancehall reggae.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Coffee, water, and pretzels dipped in Nutella. I overdosed on those though. Now the smell makes me ill. I tough it out and eat through the pain.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Fear of poverty/failure.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

All ways. I use the aforementioned notebooks all the time. I sketch and write and figure out ideas. Then at the very end I’ll hit the computer. I’ve tried a couple chapter books and I went straight to computer, but I don’t enjoy it as much.

How do you develop your ideas? 

Goof around a lot. I also get a lot of inspiration from my son.

What media do you use and which is your favorite?

I use whatever. Lately it’s a lot of brush and ink scanned in to the computer and colored. I use illustrator and photoshop. I’m trying to do more hand stuff to loosen up.

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging and why?
Drawing the pictures. Have you tried? It’s hard! Plus everyone else is so good. It’s hard to keep pressing forward.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I do share my space. My wife is a graphic designer and she recently moved in with me.

Other than that, I dunno, a caveman maybe? It would be cool to meet a caveman. He could teach me survival skills and I could show him celebrity gossip sites.


What is the best piece of writing and/or illustrating advice you’ve heard or received?
The Stephen King book On Writing. It’s fantastic.

In a nutshell: Read a lot. Write a lot. I’ll add, draw a lot.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Crystal Allen

Joining us this week for Creative Spaces is author Crystal Allen. Crystal Allen's debut middle grade novel, How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy, was published in February 2011 with Balzer & Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins. From the publisher:

"Thirteen-year-old Lamar Washington is the maddest, baddest most spectacular bowler ever at Striker's Bowling Paradise. But when it comes to girls, he doesn't have game—not like his older brother Xavier the Basketball Savior. And certainly not like his best friend "Spanish fly guy" Sergio. So Lamar vows to spend the summer changing his image from dud to stud by finding a way to make money and snag a super fine Honey! When a crafty teenage thug invites Lamar to use his bowling skills to hustle, he seizes the opportunity. As his judgment blurs, Lamar makes an irreversible error, damaging every relationship in his life. Now, he must figure out how to mend those broken ties, no matter what it will cost him."

How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy has been receiving a lot of good buzz, including a starred review from Publisher's Weekly  who said,
"Cocky, sharp-tongued, and a known prankster, 13-year-old Lamar Washington is a protagonist readers won't soon forget . . . . Under all the braggadocio is a boy with a big heart, and from the first sentence Lamar will have readers hooked."
To learn more about Crystal Allen, visit her website.

Describe your workspace.

My workspace is upstairs in a room designated as my office. It's bright with lots of sunshine beaming through the window. Also, if I lift the window, I can hear the fountain spraying water in the lake. It's the only sound I can tolerate while I write, but it's very soothing and calming.

Describe a typical workday.

I do my best to squeeze in several hours of writing per day, hopefully between four and six. Those hours may be spread throughout the day, depending on the other things I need to do.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

I love my desk because my husband had it made for me. I also love the window that gives me a beautiful view every day. I also love my futon because some days I just want to sit on the couch and read, but other days, after writing, I need a nap!

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

I don't.

What do you listen to while you work?

I like it quiet when I write. (Except for that awesome fountain in the lake that I can hear outside of my window!)

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I love to eat salty things when I write. And I love cold water. Many times I'll buy mixed raw vegetables with the little container of ranch dressing and I'll chew on those while I think about a scene.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

My character in the particular scene I'm working on actually keeps me focused. I want to make sure I'm getting it right, so I really try to zone in on what they would say, do, or feel.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

Computer all the way. I love the backspace button too much! But, I do have a purse full of those hotel tablets and pens they leave on the desks in hotel rooms, just in case I'm somewhere and can't use my computer. And for those of you wondering, yes, I take the lotion and the shower caps from the room, too.

How do you develop your ideas?

I'm a very character-driven writer. So, once I'm familiar with my main character, I let him/her do most of the development.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Tyler Perry.

What is the best piece of writing and/or illustrating advice you’ve heard or received?

Write what you know.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Cheryl Klein

Photo credit: Calvin Werry
I've routinely featured authors and illustrators for Creative Spaces, but today I thought it would be fun to shake things up a bit. Please join me in welcoming children's book editor Cheryl Klein!

Cheryl Klein is Senior Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic) and has recently self-published a collection of her talks and essays titled Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults. (Click that link to learn more about the book and how to order a copy for yourself.)

In her editorial career, Cheryl has worked on a range of titles and with a variety of authors and illustrators including Katherine Paterson, Lisa Yee, Dan Santat, Kate Constable, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Mary Newell DePalma, and Senator Ted Kennedy. She served as the continuity editor for the American edition of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (You can hear an interesting NPR interview where she discusses this work here.)

The first domestic book she acquired and edited entirely on her own was A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, which went on to win the ALA’s inaugural William C. Morris Award for YA Debut Novel. This historical fantasy, inspired by "Rumplestiltskin", tells the story of Charlotte Miller who inherits her family's woolen mill and the curse that comes with it.

Another of Cheryl's titles is Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, which made quite a splash when it was published. It received five starred reviews and was a popular pick (and subsequent upset) to win the Printz that season. Readers fell in love with Marcelo, who has an Asperger's-like syndrome, as he is forced to spend his summer working at his father's law firm rather than at the familiar and comfortable stables caring for Halflinger ponies. In stepping out of his comfort zone he discovers first love, moral dilemmas, and a legal drama.

One of the most recent titles that Cheryl has worked on is steadily gaining praise and positive buzz. Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy was published in January of this year and has been profiled in USA Today and L.A. Times, among other places. Trent Reedy served a year in Afghanistan which is where he met Zulaikha, the young girl who inspired the story that became Words in the Dust. Kirkus Reviews wrote, “An inside look at an ordinary Afghanistan family trying to survive in extraordinary times, it is both heart-wrenching and timely.” (Trent recently shared a great essay on writing this first book on Emu's Debuts.)

In addition to Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, Cheryl Klein also shares advice, behind-the-publication stories, editorly contemplations, and more on both her website and blog. Definitely worth checking out if you are a writer of any genre.

And now let's take a peek at Cheryl's creative space. . .

Describe your workspace.

I do all my creative work at home, nearly always on the couches in either the bedroom or the living room. In the summer, I prefer the bedroom, as I can open up the three big windows and let light and the breeze in; in winter, I prefer the living room, as those three big bedroom windows let cold air in as well! (I live in an apartment in a prewar brownstone without central heating or air-conditioning, so temperature regulation is very important.)

Describe a typical workday.

Since I have a pretty time-consuming day job, my personal writing tends to be done early in the morning, late at night, or on the weekends. Thus there's not really a typical workday -- it's just whenever I snatch time away from my work deadlines.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

I love our living-room couch. My boyfriend saw it on the street here in Brooklyn a couple years ago, about 8 p.m. on a Sunday night, and he called me to come inspect it. I walked up to the corner where it had been left, fell instantly in love with all its paisley goodness, and then, in order to stake our claim to it, sat on it. I stayed there for about an hour waiting for my boyfriend to come back, then another half-hour while we tried in vain to find a van or moving company that could help us take it the ten blocks to our apartment. Finally we saw a moving truck stop at a nearby intersection, and I just ran up and knocked on the window and asked the guy if he was available. The driver was a kind older gentleman from Long Island who had just moved his son into an apartment in Brooklyn, and he not only helped us get the couch home, the only payment he took was directions to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway! We had the couch professionally cleaned, and it's so long and comfortable and shabby-charming, it's by far the most-used piece of furniture in our apartment. (There's another short tribute to it in Second Sight.)

After that, my favorite workspace items include a mug that says "Caution: Blonde Thinking," and, in the winter, a gigantic plaid wool shawl that my grandfather brought home from Scotland -- perfect for letting only my head and hands peek outside.

What do you listen to while you work?

Because I'm a pretty aural writer and editor, I require as much silence as I can get. Even wordless music distracts me, and music with words -- impossible!

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

In the summer, sparkling water; in the winter, endless cups of tea with milk (especially Twinings Lady Grey and decaf Constant Comment).

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

When I'm writing or revising something I'm really interested in, focus is pretty natural (once I get started! And making myself get started can be a bear). If I feel myself being tempted by the Internet, I turn on Mac Freedom.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

I freewrite longhand, write drafts on a computer, print those out to reread and edit on paper, then revise on the computer again.

How do you develop your ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I'll generally know enough of what I want to talk about to generate a bunch of thoughts on the subject -- which I do in freewriting -- but those thoughts won't coalesce into a real speech until I find the metaphor or narrative or big idea that will structure the talk. It's sometimes been a quote, sometimes a comparison, sometimes a frame story from my own life as a reader, sometimes just a plain list. (And sometimes, when I'm lucky, that metaphor/narrative/big idea comes first, and then the smaller ideas generate themselves.) Once I have a lot of material, I'll often outline the key points to get an overview of it all, then rearrange and cut and add and revise until all the elements of the metaphor/narrative/big idea flow naturally from one to another, each one getting their due. Then I pray for some last idea to provide the perfect ending (or, failing that, I use an ending I've written before); create an introduction that previews the whole rest of the speech, so listeners know where I'm going and feel comfortable even when I digress; and revise the whole thing one last time. 

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

My boyfriend is a freelance video editor, and his editing desk is just behind the living-room couch, so we often find ourselves working in the same space. Our working styles are very compatible -- long periods of absorption followed by short bursts of energy where we need to talk to someone else -- so it generally goes great. And he's used to wearing headphones, so he isn't bothered by my need for silence. 

If you could offer writers one piece of advice, what would that be?

There is no one magic bullet for writing success -- not even my book! :-) If I can sound pretentious for a moment:  In one of my favorite poems, T. S. Eliot defines our human work in the world as "prayer, observance, discipline, thought, and action," and I think all those skills are really necessary for a writer:  being present, observing the world and other people in order to describe them better in fiction, butt-in-chair time, honest assessment of your work and its aims (and assessing others' work in your reading; reading thoughtfully and responsively is a great skill for improving your writing), and finally the action of writing and revising and trying always to make your work better, to tell the story more truly. The more you can improve each of those skills, the more full and satisfying your work will become.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

World Read Aloud Day

My niece Kayla reading aloud to Tico the cat. Tico looks like he may have heard this story a few times before.

LitWorld is a nonprofit organization that works to promote global literacy through advocacy, access, and education. Their founder, Pam Allyn, talks about the impressive work they are doing in this article in the Huffington Post. Today is the second annual World Read Aloud Day, the aim of which is to bring greater awareness and support to the global literacy movement. To find out more about LitWorld and the different ways people are celebrating World Read Aloud Day visit their website.

When I think about it, my life has been filled with memories of being read aloud to or reading aloud to others. Reading aloud with my parents, brother, other family members, pets, friends both imaginary and real, teachers, classmates, librarians, children I babysat, campers, students, friend's children, and my most favorite read aloud crowd of the present day: my niece and nephew.

Aren't they the cutest? This was several years ago. Lifelong book lovers, these two.

I also have memories of being read aloud to over the phone by the weekly Dial-A-Story program at my library. I had the number memorized and would dial it on our rotary phone, sit on the scratchy shag carpet in our den, and listen to the pre-recorded story of the week.

Here are a few of my favorite read aloud selections:

My childhood favorite, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd. My mom tells me I wanted this read to me pretty much every night.

Another great read aloud is The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood. It's a clever, interactive story between the reader and the mouse. It's long been one of my favorite picks to read to little ones.

And, of course, Shel Silverstein poems are always fun to read aloud. Did you know you can have Shel Silverstein himself read aloud to you? (I was surprised at the spooky way some of these were recited, like "Bear in There". I always read that with a sillier tone. That's another fun thing about reading aloud--hearing the different ways people interpret a story.)

Here's a poem from A Light in the Attic that makes me giggle. Read aloud with me now:


Rockabye baby, in the treetop.
Don't you know a treetop
Is no safe place to rock?
And who put you up there, 
And your cradle too?
Baby, I think someone down here's 
Got it in for you.

What are some of your favorites to read aloud to others or to have read to you?

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Elisa Kleven

***Updated with new photos, May 9, 2011!***

It's my pleasure to welcome author and illustrator Elisa Kleven to Creative Spaces today. She is the illustrator and/or author of numerous picture books including The Paper Princess; A Carousel Tale; Sun Bread; Welcome Home, Mouse; The Lion and the Little Red Bird; The Apple Doll; The Weaver (written by Thacher Hurd); and The City by the Bay (written by Tricia Brown). Her books have been named ALA Notable Books, School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year, and Junior Library Guild Selections.

Elisa Kleven spoke at one of the first children's writing conferences I attended (a decade-ish ago at Book Passage, if I'm remembering correctly). I watched her presentation and remember thinking if I was an aspiring illustrator I would want to mimic her style: colorful, whimsical, mixed media with elements of collage. For me, looking at her art is like stepping into a daydream.

To learn more about Elisa Kleven and her books visit her website. (Where you can also find information on inviting Ms. Kleven for a school visit or information about purchasing her original art and prints.)

Describe your workspace.

I work in a studio in my back yard.  The space used to be a garage (for a small car!).  It has a skylight and three windows.

My freshly painted studio and dog, Bella.

Blooming wisteria.
The view from my studio door.

Describe a typical work day.

First I drink some very strong coffee, feed my dogs and cats, read the paper, and make my teenage son breakfast.  Then I usually deal with  my email and correspond with publishers, requests for  school visits, people interested in buying art work  and such for about forty five minutes. That task finished, I take my dogs for a good long walk, and at about ten I sit down to work in my studio for about three hours. I take a lunch break, then work for another chunk of time, then walk and play with the very high energy dog again, feed and pet my cats, make dinner, and enjoy my son's and husband's company (and my daughter's, if she's home. She is a sophomore at  Berkeley but she visits fairly often.)

In the evenings I like to work on stories, draw, read, and watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and the occasional nature show on public TV.  I'm a sucker for nature shows, though I hate it when they show animals being torn apart by predators.

A freshly painted, less cluttered interior view.  I'm sure that it will get cluttered up soon enough...but for now it's relatively clean! Ahhh. . . breathing room!

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

1. I keep baskets of intricately decorated eggs around.  I have created Ukranian-style batiked eggs, as well as handpainted and drawn eggs, since I was about ten. They are a link to my childhood, and are pretty as well.

Here are some of the eggs that "keep me company" while I work.
A detail shot. (You can see more of Elisa's craftwork at her website too!)

2.  I like to have some of the kind and beautifully decorated letters I've received from children and their parents close by, as well. These encourage me when I'm feeling daunted! 

3.  Photos of my beloved family, friends, and animals also shine down on me while I work. 

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

Not really.  Work is a ritual in itself I suppose.

What do you listen to while you work?
Classical music, oldies (especially Springsteen, Dylan and Motown)--whatever makes me happy or moves me.  I hardly ever listen to country music, though, and I've never developed an appreciation for opera.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

When I'm really into my work my appetite goes away. 

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

The momentum of my work itself and my own joy in my projects--and deadlines! 

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way? 

I write my stories in teeny handwriting on the blank backs of used  paper, and when I have something resembling a coherent first draft I write it out on the computer.

How do you develop your ideas?

Wispy little images and phrases just start clumping together into snowball-like formations.  Sometimes the whole idea melts overnight, so I abandon it. But if it's still there when I come back, I try to build upon it. Once I have a solid story I start making sketches to go with it. Occasionally, though, the visual image comes first.

What media do you use and which is your favorite?

I like ink, watercolor, colored pencil, and collage materials.  I never do my art on the computer, though it might be interesting to learn how to.

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging and why?

Making a dummy book is very hard.  I'm taking pencil and paper and trying to create a new world, filled with consistent settings and characters.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Anne Frank.  I'd love to have her back in the world, and I wish I could give her a safe, quiet, comfortable place to work.

What is the best piece of writing and/or illustrating advice you’ve heard or received?

"You must love your work more than you like being loved."  I think George Ella Lyon said that, or something like that.