Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dog-Days of Winter

Beach Lane Book logo and sign
created by the author/illustrator Marla Frazee
When the cool days of autumn turn into the cold days of winter, I welcome the coziness of being inside my home and studio. The double layers of storm windows are a quiet relief from the lawn mowers of summer and the constant noise of planes overhead and freeways nearby. But by the end of February, the air inside begins to feel stale and the constant rattling and throbbing of radiators wakes me too often in the middle of the night. I want to throw open the windows and let the fresh air in, but the thermometer is still reading only 21 degrees. So these are the dog-days of winter for me, when I begin to sing this song in my studio and dream of traveling to a warmer climate. I am in the midst of a deadline for a book, so there are no getaways allowed, but I can dream, can't I?

I have just finished a book with my publisher, Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. The book is called, Tell Me About Your Day Today and it is written by Mem Fox. I will write more about this book in future posts, closer to when it comes out next September, but right now all I want to share is my love for Beach Lane Books, a studio where two California editors work. It is a magical place where pictures and words come together to become gorgeous picture books and sometimes adventurous chapter books. I visited there last January and this is what I saw:
A pail and shovel on the steps to the studio.
A cozy entryway with an excellent message
for everyone in the publishing biz.
A table for work with colored chairs that seem to say:
"Sit here!" "No, here, sit here!"
and a window to see the sea from.
Shells on the windowsill.
A bike and books, lots of books!
More books and a bulletin board just waiting...
for the perfect pictures, quotes, and postcards!
Flowers, hummingbirds, and yellow finches!
Yep! When Minnesota's spring is still at least two months away, this is where I wish I were right now.

Where do you wish you could be right now?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Post 2012

Since this is a day of "love" I want to share two things I love: heart-shaped rocks and small books. Whenever I walk at the edge of a lake on a shore covered with stones, it is not the horizon that holds my attention, but the shapes of stones beneath my feet. I cannot help myself. It is something I learned from my mother at a young age. Looking for the perfect shell on the beach or the perfect rock by the lake. My mother loved driftwood the most. And actually I love perfectly round stones the most, which are very rare, but because today is Valentine's, I am featuring some of my favorite heart-shaped rocks...

Beautifully designed small Bloomsbury Classics 
And small books. I love books that fit in the palm of my hand or easily in the pocket of my coat. It is like slipping a bit of magic in your pocket-- a story to carry with you everywhere you go. It will be there when you need it. Maybe waiting in line at the grocery store or waiting for the bus. Small books are precious and somehow make me feel like a child again, even though they might not be a children's book. My dad had a small collection of small books. He loved history, so he carried little volumes of history in his coat pocket. And one of my favorite artists, David Hockney, illustrated a tiny volume of Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm with original etchings that measured only 4 1/2" tall by 3" wide. You can see it here. When I look at this tiny book it makes me want to draw tiny drawings with a very fine pen. And that is another thing I love. I love to draw with a fine-tipped pen.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Let the "Showdown" Begin!

Just three weeks after the final performance of GRIMM, I began to write the script for the next summer's show with Betty Butler and Rhiannon Fisk, the artistic director and assistant artistic director, in that order, of Circus Juventas. We knew the theme: The Wild, Wild West!, so that is where we began...

There are over 900 students at Circus Juventas, the largest circus school for youth in this country. And of those 900 students, there are over 50 performers at the advanced level for whom we write the script. First to be decided are the acts in the show, which this coming year will include: wall tramp, wheel of steel, high wire, teeterboard, straps, chair stacking, and flying trapeze, just to name a few! The story grows and develops around the act order, as well as the music researched and collected by Betty. Indeed, the music! The summer shows have fantastic recorded music as well as live music provided by the remarkable Peter Ostroushko and his band. As soon as Betty compiles some of the music, I begin listening to it as I write-- We both find it helps us picture the scenes and the emotions and actions that need to be conveyed.

Since this is my fifth year of script-writing for Circus Juventas, I have become familiar with what these young performers are capable of. And because they are such extraordinary performers, it is like painting on a canvas with the best quality materials. Knowing ahead of time who will be the main characters and knowing their past performances, allows the scenes to easily come to life.  After many meetings and tons of research that included several trips to my local library for books on outlaws, gold mining, and the history of the Wild West, then watching lots of Westerns, our story was born: SHOWDOWN! It begins with the discovery of gold. And gold as we all know can change people for good and bad, which makes for great characters and plot right away. Outlaws, including Billy the Kid, prospectors, cowboys, dance hall girls, and a steely-eyed sheriff named Wyatt Earp will all have their lives twisted, contorted, somersaulted, lassoed, balanced, and spun in circles by gold. I can hardly wait to see it come to life. It is most definitely going to be "an action packed, rip-snortin', gold-strikin', hoedown dancin', cowboy lassoin', card gamblin', barroom brawlin', sharp-shootin', Dance Hall swingin', wildest show in the West!"

Model for Showdown by Susan Furr
Model of jail and Sheriff's office by Susan Furr
The character descriptions were handed out to the students and the script was read aloud at the beginning of January. Lassoing workshops have ropes spinning all over the Circus Juventas Big Top. The set design and building have begun, with painting and prop building soon to follow. August is not seeming so far away with the gray winter days of Minnesota growing longer. 

Okay, forget I just wrote that last sentence. It is only February. There is plenty of time! I have a picture book to finish illustrating after all. In the mean time, listen to this to get you in the Western mood.