The above picture is a mulberry tree I drew for my cousin Sarah’s wedding invitations. The wedding itself was a wonderful, magical event — unlike any I had ever attended. All those who plan on inviting me a wedding in the future, please take careful notes:
– They fed us barbecue cooked over an old chuck wagon
– They filled the grounds with tiny fire pits and dusty wingback chairs
– The Ring-bearer came down on a zip-line, wearing a Jedi robe
Even better were the gifts for guests. Women were all given pashmina shawls to keep warm into the night. Men were each given a handmade tobacco pouch and new pipe. Being a master of the Pretentious Arts, I was asked to draw instructions on how to pack and light a pipe:
Congratulations, Sarah and Jake. You kids deserve every happiness.
A few months back, my editor and I were caught in a heated “discussion” regarding a certain passage of Peter Nimble.1 Essentially, she wanted me to remove a paragraph on the grounds that it slowed down the action. Understand that I am usually very eager to rip apart my own work in response to a note … but this particular passage was different.2 When I sat down to write a book, I essentially sat down to write this one passage — and now I was being told to cut it out entirely!
There were a LOT of phone calls, during which I would list countless reasons why these few sentences were necessary to the book. Every time she would say she understood my feelings, but that she couldn’t in good conscience agree. Finally, after what seemed like weeks of back-and-forth, I tried cutting it out — just to see how it read.
You know how this story goes: she was right, I was wrong, “kill your darlings,” blah, blah, blah.3
When I looked over the final proofs of that chapter a few weeks ago, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. My editor is a busy lady, and I’m sure it would have been much easier for her to just let me have my way. But she stuck to her guns, and the book is better for it.
Shortly after that issue was resolved, I sent over a picture as a sort of peace offering:
Way to be awesome, Editorus Rex.
- My editor has a pretty low online profile, so I’ll respect that by not publishing her name … of course if you reallywant to know who she is, it’s printed in back of Peter Nimble! ↩
- In fact, both my wife and agent have at times argued that I can be too eager in this regard. Perhaps that’s a subject for another day. ↩
- Author and blogger Wendy Palmer has a neat little series on writing rules that are often misapplied — including the infamous “Kill your darlings.” It’s worth reading, if for no other reason than to learn that Faulkner didn’t originate that phrase. ↩
For as long as I’ve known her, my wife has had a profound hatred of pigeons.1 She claims this has something to do with having grown up on a farm. However, I suspect her feelings are part of a larger cultural bias. While I don’t have anything against pigeons per se, I try to make a practice of taking Mary’s side whenever I can. It is for that reason that I turned a blind eye after a trip we took to New York last year. The trip was publishing related, and while I was talking with editors and such, Mary was free to wander the city. One afternoon, we met up and she was so excited to tell me what she had done at Central Park, something she had dreamed of doing for years: She kicked a pigeon.
You know how pigeons are always playing chicken (as it were) with pedestrians? Remaining in place until just the last second before flying away? This mocking behavior had led to something of an obsession in my wife — she had long grumbled that one day she’d show those pigeons who was boss. At last that day had come. She kept revisiting the scene that night, explaining how she snuck up on it, closed her eyes, and gave it a good wallop — “Pow! Right in the tail-feathers!”2 I even drew a picture of her triumph in my journal:
End of story. Or so I thought. During my recent illustration bonanza, however, I found myself free to listen to a lot of podcasts.3 Among those podcasts was the show Radiolab. For those that don’t know, Radiolab is a show that blends pop-sociology and science — if This American Life interviewed scientists and had sound effects, it would be this show. One of the episodes I listened to was called “Lost & Found“. It was all about navigation, and it featured a profile on carrier pigeons. Over the course of the show, I learned the following facts about these so-called “soccer-balls with wings” (another of Mary’s nicknames):
– Carrier pigeons are monogamous. In fact, if you make a carrier pigeon think his mate is being hit upon by a rival, he will fly home even faster.
– While many birds have a sort of internal compass, carrier pigeons have an internal GPS. This means you can knock one unconscious, ship it halfway around the world, and when it wakes up it will instantly know its coordinates.
– There was a carrier pigeon in WWII named “G.I. Joe” who single-wingedly saved an entire Italian village.
Pigeons, you have my heartfelt apologies.
- Actually, there is one pigeon that Mary approves of. It is her yellow Flying Pigeon Bicycle, imported from China. It is magnificent … and it weighs 500 lbs. ↩
- After reading this post, Mary has asked me to clarify that she “barely grazed” the bird, and that the creature sustained no injuries. Having been kicked by Mary before, I sincerely doubt it. ↩
- This was also my chance to work through many episodes of Katie Davis’ publishing podcast Brain Burps About Books … truly wonderful stuff. ↩
After spending waaaaay too many hours with ink-stained fingers, I recently decided to drag myself into the digital world. This included buying and learning Adobe Photoshop — a double-challenge as I am both stingy and lazy. I asked Mary what I should draw to practice, and she suggested The Library of the Future.
“The what,” you say?
A few weeks ago, Brooklyn librarian Rita Meade participated in a city-wide competition in which kids wrote essays describing “The Library of the Future.” She recently posted some of her favorite responses on her excellent blog, Screwy Decimal.1 I’ll reprint them here (her responses are in parentheses):
1) “The future library will be located in a spaceship. The spaceship will have blue tables and purple chairs. The walls of the future library will be green and magenta. Also, the future library will have many skylights.”
2) “Libraries will have flying desks and iPads for each person.” (Is this in the budget?)
3) “The future library will be open twenty four hours.” (I’m not sure, but I THINK this goes against union bylaws.)
4) “The library will have ninety thousand computers. The library will also have a café.”
7) “As much as I love the library, I’m 100% sure future libraries would be even more awesome. Just think how amazing the library will be in the future, with robots and electronics.”
8) “I also believe that there will be robot librarians. But then again a lot of people know that someday robots will take over the world. Also people think that there will be a war of good robots vs bad robots but here is the good part about all this is that the good robots will be teamed up with all of humanity. But earth is a very strong place and can fight with or without human help.” (This kid’s going to be a sci-fi writer, you wait and see.)
9) “[Robot librarians] will be very cost effective because we will not have to pay them.” (Thanks, kid!)
So, I sat down and tried my best to draw a picture of the wonders described by our young prophets. To see all the details, click through the image:
Awesome, right? I fit in pretty much everything but the iPads, which I sincerely doubt will be around in the future (unlike evil robots, which are fact).
Mary and I are orphans here in Los Angeles. For the last few years, we’ve taken shelter each Easter with some kindhearted relatives. These relatives are big fans of games and such, and so last year, they initiated a holiday tradition of doing dollar-store crafts. We began with paint-by-numbers. As some of you may recall, I have a low tolerance for toys that require patience or instruction-reading.1 So in order to keep myself interested in such projects, I have to add a few personal touches. Here’s what I came up with last year. It’s a landscape entitled Dragon and Valley, a Study:
The more observant among you will notice that the above painting has a frame around it. That’s because it is Art, ladies and gentlemen. Art that currently hangs on the wall of my office. And, as of yesterday afternoon, it will be kept company by another addition to the oeuvre.
This year, I decided to tackle the art of engraving (on holographic foil, no less!).2 The task took many hours, and when the flimsy metal “scraper thingy” became worn down to a nub, I turned to a 120v Dremel electric engraver to finish the job.3 While traces of my earlier style are still present, I think you’ll agree that my technique has grown to accommodate my conceptual ambitions.
Without further ado, I present HoloShark with Easter Bunny:
You’re welcome, Art World. See you next year.
- Mary and I are very different in this regard. While she could do puzzles all day long, I can only sit down at a puzzle long enough to … hey look, cartoons!” ↩
- The holographic foil is why the image looks funny (like any good artist, I blame all flaws on the materials). ↩
- This is true — my uncle has the best tool shed ever. ↩
Abrams had previously requested that I not publish too much information on my book just yet, but after their own creative director released this info on his blog, the gig was up. Below is a first peek at Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes:
This is a marketing sheet that was handed out at ALA Midwinter. The figure in the top left was scanned from one of my old sketchbooks. The silhouette and background were drawn by the brilliant Gilbert Ford, who created the book cover.1 For those who can’t be bothered to click through the image, I’ll reprint the text here:
“Now for those of you who know anything about blind children, you are aware that they make the very best thieves. As you can well imagine, blind children have incredible senses of smell, and they can tell what lies behind a locked door—be it fine cloth, gold, or peanut brittle—at fifty paces. Moreover, their fingers are small enough to slip right through keyholes, and their ears keen enough to detect the faintest clicks and clacks of every moving part inside even the most complicated lock. Of course, the age of great thievery has long since passed; today there are few child-thieves left, blind or otherwise. At one time, however, the world was simply thick with them. This is the story of the greatest thief who ever lived. His name, as you’ve probably guessed, is Peter Nimble.”
So begins PETER NIMBLE & HIS FANTASTIC EYES, the first novel from 29-year-old Jonathan Auxier. Overflowing with wit and invention, PETER NIMBLE is the utterly beguiling tale of a ten-year-old blind orphan who has been schooled in a life of thievery by his brutal master, Mr. Seamus. One fateful afternoon, as he’s picking the pockets of townspeople enraptured by a traveling haberdasher, he “discovers” (steals) a box of magical eyes. When he tried on the first pair, he is instantly transported to an island at the top of the world, where he meets the maker of the eyes, Professor Cake. The professor gives Peter a choice: travel to the mysterious Vanished Kingdom and try to rescue a people in need … or return back to his master and a life of crime. Peter chooses wisely, and together with Sir Tode, a knight errant who has been turned into a rather unfortunate combination of human, horse, and cat by a grumpy witch, he embarks on an unforgettable adventure in a book destined to become a classic.
At ALA, I noticed a typo in the first paragraph2 and declared that whichever librarian spotted it first would win a hand-drawn portrait. For about ten minutes there was much yelling and scrutinizing-of-text, until librarian and poet Nina Lindsay spotted the error. Here she is:
Earlier today the children’s book world was squirming in unison from a tweet sent by Jennifer Laughran. It was a link to a Wikipedia article about something called a “rat king.” Rat kings are clusters of rats whose tails have become intertwined — either with blood, excrement, dirt, or plain-old tangling. Apparently they continue to live in these large co-joined packs for quite some time.
The Wikipedia article features a photo of a mummified rat king which is pretty disgusting. I warned Mary not to click on the link, but she could not resist. She saw the page for all of half-a-second before screaming and almost dropping her computer. When she looked up again, I was already hunched over my journal, drawing away:
About a week ago, I got an email from my publisher requesting an author headshot. As you might imagine, I immediately began to freak out. I have been dreading the author photo for months now. First off, I’m not even sure whether I approve of the concept. As a reader, I sort of hate knowing the face behind the story. Secondly, cameras and I don’t really get along. The hilariously-deadpan photo from my “About Me” section? That was me trying to look approachable. And now I had to take a photo that would live on the back of Peter Nimble forever! In desperation, I reached to friends via Twitter and Facebook asking for tips and advice. Here’s what I got:
A) “Laura F.” suggested I put my hand under my chin so people know I have a heavy brain.
B) When I asked my agent what to do, he mentioned how much he loved J.R.R. Tolkein’s author photo and wondered whether I could do something like that.
C) “Go Sleeveless!” was the advice from my friend Kyle
D) Matt B. suggested I try and mix in a little Oscar Wilde.
E) John E. recommended I show off some of my other skills by flashing a yo-yo1
F) Several friends warned me against holding any books, so I decided to use them to prop up my elbow in the hopes it might further underline the heaviness of my brain (see “A”)
G) Knowing my love for Shel Silverstein, “Rob O.” wondered whether I should grow a beard like my icon.
H) My wife, not wanting to waste her weekend, recommended I hire Olan Mills to take the photo.
Put them all together and here’s the result:
It might be hard to see behind the glasses, but I also threw in a little “blue steel” to win over moms and lady-librarians. Overall, I’d say it looks pretty damn good … glad to know my friends are looking out for me.2
Scanned from my Fall 2000 journal …
Credit goes to my old friend Rob for this one: What do you get when you cross “The Simpsons” with Continental Philosophy?
I’d watch it.
Scanned from my Winter 2011 journal …
The other day Mary and I were having a conversation with a friend about the Socratic method. Our friend was remarking on how difficult it was to get his undergraduate students talking. This was particularly puzzling to him because the group of students in question were a pretty smart bunch. I observed that part of his problem may be in the fact that a good discussion requires people who are willing to state the obvious — and who wants to do that? This is what followed:
What’s the moral of the story? Apparently, I’m no Socrates.