This week I finished the last of the illustrations for Sophie Quire -- 45 drawings in all! Here are a few of my favorites; light spoilers ahead  ...

The Bookmender of Bustleburgh

3 - Bookmender of B copy

Deeds of Derring-Don't 2 - Derring Dont copyThe Book of Who5 - Book of Who copyThe Mandrake11 - Mandrake copyTrapped in the Menagerie22 - Trapped in the M copy Into the Hinterlands26 - Into Hinterlands copyThe Lighthouse at the End of the World31 - Lighthouse copyEverything But the Kitchen Sink42 - Kitchen Sink copy

Pictures of Penny

As many of you know, a few months back, my wife and I brought home our very first human baby.  In advance of the birth, I had made a point of leaving Mary cute little sketches of what our baby might look like -- most all of which she deemed "terrifying."  I thought I'd share them with readers ...





And now, here's the real deal!  This is Penelope Fern Auxier.  Not quite as many fangs as I'd imagined ...


Darth Vader Takes a Break ...

No fancy post today because I'm visiting schools in anticipation of a signing event at Mrs. Nelson's Bookstore in LaVerne TONIGHT at 5:00pm!!!! Come check it out. If you can't make that, I'm having my first LA signing tomorrow at Chevalier's in Hollywood from 1-3pm -- please, oh please come!

In the meantime, I thought I'd post a picture I drew a while back.  I was showing my younger cousins Jude and Asher (5 and 7, respectively) how the drawing tablet on my computer worked.  I asked the oldest one what I should draw.  He said, "Darth Vader!"  I asked the younger one where Darth Vader should be.  He said, "In the bathroom!"  And there you have it ...

I'll admit, not my finest work!

Irony vs. Sarcasm

What's the difference between irony and sarcasm? Most thesauri list them as synonyms, but anyone who's been on the receiving end of either type of humor can tell you the difference at once: ironic statements make you laugh, and sarcastic statements make you cry. 

Many a protective parent has assured his or her teased child that sarcasm is the lowest form of humor.  And the word sarcasm literally translates to mean "to tear the flesh."  But what exactly is it it about a sarcastic statement that makes it a low form of humor?  And what makes it "tear the flesh?"  I've been mulling over this question for a while now, and I think I've landed on an answer:

Sarcasm happens when the observed irony does not extend to the speaker.

That is to say that an ironic person includes himself among the mocked, whereas a sarcastic person stands outside the situation in judgement.  See how it might play out in the below scene involving a bunch of nerds camping outside of a movie theater:

In this instance, the guy making fun of the people is including himself in the joke -- after all, he's in the line, too!  But consider what happens when the speaker is not in line with the others:

Sarcasm is the one kind of joke that can be made by someone who does not actually find something funny -- it is humor for the humorless.  In life, I have a problem with sarcasm because I don't believe that any person has the right to laugh at others unless he can first laugh at himself.

And what about sarcasm in storytelling?

To be clear, I'm all for sarcastic characters (I enjoy Holden Caulfield as much as the next guy!).  But sarcastic authors are a different thing altogether.  Sarcastic authors attempt to point out absurdities in the world, but they try to do it from a safe distance -- never letting themselves become a part of the joke.  The only way to do this is by creating straw men for the express purpose of knocking them down. Ironically(!),  this ends up undercutting the author's initial goal, because now instead of critiquing the world, he is critiquing some flimsy characters who bear little resemblance to the world. 

The end result is a thing neither funny nor true.

A Body of Work ...

Here's another thing that makes Mary awesome: she lets me draw tattoos on her!  Pretty much every night while she's reading in bed, I pull out a pen and give her a sweet tat on her arm, shoulder, or foot.[1. I have tried, more than once, to tattoo her face, but for some reason, she refuses.]  I work with a variety of themes in my art -- most of them are slightly more violent re-imaginings of Lisa Frank pictures.[2. To see more of my Fine Art, I direct readers to check out "Easter Bunny vs. Holo-Shark" and "Editorus Rex"] Take this most recent example, which I have titled "Zebra with Machine Gun":

Please note how the Artist has chosen to make the bullets from the machine gun go all the way around the arm and then explode in back of the Zebra's head! Genius!  Now if only she'd let me frame the original...[3. Roald Dahl actually wrote a terrifying, brilliant short story entitled "Skin" in which an old man has a tattoo on his back done by a famous artist. The story does not end well for the old man.]

Drawing in Church ...

The above picture is one I drew in church last week.  My whole life, I've drawn in church.  My father was a pastor when I was growing up, and my mum understood that drawing can help right-brained people concentrate.[1. My mum never wore the "pastor's wife" hat too comfortably. More than once she was confronted by ladies in the congregation for wearing too much black.]  And so every Sunday, when my father started his sermon, she would pull a box of art supplies from her purse so the two of us could draw.

Drawing can have a powerful meditative effect.  My mother's work -- which she affectionately refers to as her "knittings" -- elevates this idea to a new level.  Each painting represents hundreds of hours of meticulous, repetitive mark-making to build textures.  All of these large-scale paintings began as tiny "knittings" worked out in small notebooks, sometimes in church.



I recently discovered another artist who draws in church.  Abrams illustrator John Hendrix has an entire section of his website devoted to drawings he's done while sitting through sermons.  I'll let him explain:

"Drawing in my sketchbook is the very best part of my work. I love it because it is linear improvisation. Much like jazz, it is unpredictable, exciting and unfiltered. Often with very good and very bad results. I attend church every Sunday, and I draw during the sermon. All of these pages were done in a pew (though I don't bring my watercolors with me- that waits till I get home). Simultaneous drawing and listening transforms familiar language into something new- a feedback loop of symbols, theology and wonder."

John's work puts me to shame.  Behold:


I think this sort of meditative drawing extends beyond the pews.[2. Just to be clear, the sermon I heard this week had nothing to do with baseball or monsters ... though part of me wishes it had.]  When I got to college, I started drawing in journals while I listened to lectures.  A lot of the pictures were mnemonic devices related to the lecture, others were the germs of what would later become stories.   (I still remember the afternoon in graduate school when I found myself sketching a certain blind thief!) 

College also happens to be when I started to become a better student -- my grades went up, and I started to take a more active role in what I was learning.  I don't think that's a coincidence.  I can't help but wonder whether there are kids out there struggling with school who might be helped by being given a box of art supplies?

Lewis Carroll and Portmanteaus ...

I recently stumbled across commenter Lisa's new word blog This Wretched Hive.[1. The title of Lisa's blog makes me think all blogs should be named after things Obi Wan said.]   Lisa writes smart, succinct posts about words old and new.  One of my favorite pieces discusses portmanteaus.  Portmanteaus are words that combine two different words to make something new:  televangelist, spork, interrobang, etc.

I love portmanteaus because when done well, they brush up against word play.  In fact, without that element, portmanteaus pretty much fail.  Consider the example Lisa discovered in her grocery store:

"Portmanteau" is actually a French word for an upright trunk that has dresser-like compartments in one half and a hanging closet in the other.[2. I find a beautiful irony in the fact that the word portmanteau is a portmanteau -- being a combination of "porter" (to carry) and "manteau" (cloak).]  I first discovered the word as a child when I read Lewis Carroll's introduction to "The Hunting of the Snark."  He observes:

Humpty Dumpty's theory, of two meanings packed into one word like a portmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all.  For instance, take the two words "fuming" and "furious".  Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first ... if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say "frumious".

Carroll is referring to something Humpty Dumpty says in Alice in Wonderland[3. "You see it's like a portmanteau -- there are two meanings packed up into one word."] in order to explain how a reader might be able to decode the made-up words in his famous nonsense poem, "The Jabberwocky."

A few years later, while scouring footnotes in Martin Gardner's Annotated Alice (which I read nightly for over a decade), I discovered that Alice in Wonderland was actually the first time portmanteau was used in this linguistic sense.  Way to be awesome, Lewis Carroll!



Pashminas and Pipes ...

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.

My Editor can Beat up Your Editor ...

A few months back, my editor and I were caught in a heated "discussion" regarding a certain passage of Peter Nimble.[1. 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!]  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. 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.]  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. 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.]

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.

I'm Sorry, Pigeons ...

For as long as I've known her, my wife has had a profound hatred of pigeons.[1. 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.]  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. 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.] 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. This was also my chance to work through many episodes of Katie Davis' publishing podcast Brain Burps About Books ... truly wonderful stuff.]  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.

Behold the Library of the Future!

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. Screwey Decimal is sort of a repository for all the adorable things kids say to her at work.  For a less adorable blog about things overhead at work, I direct you all to Our Valued Customers, where Mr. Tim does a daily comic strip documenting something he overheard at his local comic shop.]  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."

5) "If you have a book that is out of date, it will warp back to the library. It also allows you to warp to other libraries."
6) "Libraries will be floating in the sky. People will have their own planes to get there."

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!)

10) "The librarians are so friendly, even the shyest person in the world won't be shy anymore." (Awww.)

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).

Easter Traditions ...

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. 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!"]  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 holographic foil is why the image looks funny (like any good artist, I blame all flaws on the materials).]  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. This is true -- my uncle has the best tool shed ever.]   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.

Introducting ... PETER NIMBLE!

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. Just to be clear, this is not the cover of the book. The real cover is amazing and I can't wait to show it to you! In the meantime, here's a sneak preview!]  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 paragraph[2. To be fair to my copy editor, it was less a typo than an ambiguous pronoun.] 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:

Nice work, Nina!

All Hail the Rat King ...

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:

Don't be surprised if one of these things ends up in a book of mine one day.  You have been warned.

"The Camel" or "How My Friends Tried To Ruin My Writing Career"

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-yo[1. Fact: I used to be a professional yo-yo demonstrator]

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. The title of this post comes from the old maxim that a camel is "a horse designed by committee"]

What My Wife Thinks of Socrates ...

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.