Over the holiday break, my boys and I had a chance to do some rock climbing on a climbing wall. You pull on the harness. They clip you in. You choose “Easy,” “Medium,” or “Hard.” And off you go.
It sounds so simple, and really, the wall isn’t that high. But about halfway up, I caught a glimpse of the down. I had to refocus myself on simply finding the next handhold. Conquering my fears one step at a time.
Now, I knew he was safe. He was buckled in. The rope and mechanisms would catch him if he fell. I’d already done it myself, and I knew he could do it.
So I called to him, “Keep going! You’re almost there. You can do this!”
That is too hard for you.
You should stick to what you know.
But those are lies. If we refocus ourselves, take things one step at a time, and stop thinking about those fears, we can conquer them! Maybe not on our first try, but if we keep trying, it will happen.
Sometimes we need outside support, and that’s okay! That’s why you should surround yourself with people who build you up. People who believe in you. People who can see things from a different perspective. Find those people! Search them out, then hold them close. I know it’s made a huge difference in my life.
Conquering fears is hard. It can be scary. It can take time. LOTS of it! But I tell you what, that feeling you get when you finally make it is worth it.
You ARE good enough!
Nothing is too hard if you’re determined.
Learning new things is amazing!
What fears are you hoping to conquer?
We decorate a fake tree every year, and we collect ornaments everywhere we travel to remind us of all our adventures.I will be busy spending time with my family for the rest of December, so I won’t be posting here on my blog until January. My family celebrates Christmas, and here are some of our traditions:
I’d love it if you’d share about the holiday you celebrate, and any special traditions you have!
Many moons ago, I was at an auction to raise money for some youth camps. One of the offerings was an animated image done by Ira Baker (who happens to be THE GUY who works with Sandra Boynton on her very fabulous videos). Cool right??!
Well, at that time, I did not have a book out. I had a very recent book deal, but for middle grade. I didn’t see how I could use this offering, but my husband is a visionary. Without telling me, he bid on it and won.Ira and I chatted about ways I could use it, but I just didn’t have the right project, and he very kindly let me put it on hold. Fast forward five years (yes, FIVE), and I finally had the perfect images from HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS, my upcoming picture book.
He was brilliant!
I think I watched the clip he sent for a good half-hour on repeat. And guess what??! Not only will I be sharing that clip with you, today, but when I learned Ira also does book trailers for other authors, I convinced him to answer some questions about computer animation, book trailers, and more.
On to the interview! (Like usual, I’m the one in bold green type.)
How did you get started working with computer animation?
I enjoyed animation as a child but never thought it could actually be a career path for me. However, I was very into making videos which eventually led me to the BYU film department. While there, I tried to get exposure to all aspects of filmmaking, and even became proficient in 3D animation. I was struck by how I could tell a story all by myself, and that story would be a simpler and “purer” representation of my ideas than I could achieve in live action. After college I went on to have a career as a video editor, but it was my new ability to create imagery through animation that proved to be the most valued skill to my clients. After a few years, I realized that I was rushing through my edits just so I could get to “the fun stuff.” I wondered “why can’t I do the ‘fun stuff’ all the time?” So I made a few tweaks to my career path and became a full-time animator.
I love that you figured it out and made changes. So tell us more about the “fun stuff.” What is your favorite project that you’ve gotten to work on?
Sandra Boynton’s TYRANNOSAURUS FUNK – Sung by Samuel L. Jackson.
Okay, I may have watched this video two or twenty times. I love Tyrannosaurus Funk so much! Samuel L. Jackson is amazing. His voice!! And wow, Sandra Boynton is a brilliant writer. How cool is it that you’ve worked with Sandra Boynton on so many projects! How did you get that gig?
I worked for a time with a company in Provo called Kaleidoscope Pictures who handled the film production for Franklin Covey. Kaleidoscope wanted to use a song that Sandra had written to illustrate one of the Seven Principles. I was the only person on staff at the time that had any animation experience, so the whole production fell on my shoulders. For one whole gloriously creative month, I lived and breathed 2D animation and became forever enamored with it’s aesthetic and charm. When the animation was finished, we all held our breath and waited for Sandra’s approval. She loved it! After a few years she wanted to do some animated projects herself and she called me up. We’ve been working together ever since.
Talk about being in the right place at the right time. I think it’s so inspiring to see how giving something your best can lead to opportunities you never could have foreseen.
So I’d love to know more about the process of making a book trailer. When you work with an author to create a book trailer, how does the collaboration work? Does the author plan it, and then you carry it out? Do you help coordinate the content? Or something totally different? Tell us about it!
Sometimes the author has very specific ideas, sometimes I’m given more free reign to tell the story as I see it. There’s no right way to do it as long as we’re both proud of the end result. The important thing is to keep the author constantly informed of my progress and showing him/her everything as it is finished.
Communication is so important! It makes all the difference. So how much new art do you have to create for a book trailer?
Usually the animation is based on the book illustrations, because that’s all that exists. I go through a lot of Photoshop work separating the characters from the background and then breaking the characters down into layers that can be individually moved. After that, I rig the characters so they can go through the full range of motions and/or expressions that each scene demands.
I usually approach each illustration as a frozen moment in time and ask myself “what events brought these characters to this exact moment in time?” and “what happens immediately after this moment?” Then I make the characters do what those answers suggest; always trying to infuse as much charm, personality and storytelling into the process. If the author and I disagree, I will make adjustments until the author is happy with the result.
So fascinating! As an author, I ask a lot of those same questions when writing. Story is so important. I love that it’s at the heart of a good book trailer.
What advice do you have for any future computer animators out there?
There are so many resources available now that I never had! You can take courses online and watch free tutorials on YouTube if the college route is not for you. The secret is to find a story to tell and then start making animation right away! Even if you don’t fully understand the software, you can learn quickly as you go if you are passionate about your ideas.
Where can authors contact you if they are interested in having you create a book trailer for them?
You can email me at email@example.com or follow me on instagram @iratheanimator.
Thank you so much for your time! Computer animation is such an interesting field, and I’ve really enjoyed learning more about what you do and especially how it connects to books and stories.
Hi all! I hope you had a lovely weekend and Thanksgiving. Today, I’m in the hot seat over at Melissa Roske’s blog as part of her Ask the Author series.
If you haven’t visited before, definitely check it out! She uses the Proust Questionnaire, and some of those questions are hard! It’s so fascinating to see how authors respond. And to try to figure out how YOU would respond.
In fact, if you want to come back and tell me how you would respond to any particular question, I would love that. Put yourself in the hot seat!
Have a lovely week, and be sure to come visit next Monday, December 9th. I’ll be interviewing Ira Baker, the computer animator who works with Sandra Boynton on her super fun videos. He also does book trailers. So excited to have him stop in!
(just a beautiful picture of the Tetons to send you on your way to making it a wonderful week)
Happy Thanksgiving to you all! The United States celebrates Thanksgiving on the 4th Thursday of the month (which means we’re never certain when it is without a calendar), which happens to fall on November 28th this year.
That said, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to consider all the things we are grateful for. Gratitude is something we don’t seem to have enough of in this world, so here are my top five things I’m grateful for:
1. My family.
(These people are my rock. They are there for me in all the best and worst and mediocre-est moments of my life. I would be lost without them).
2. A book coming out next year.
(I don’t take this for granted at all. Getting a book published is tough. No matter what road you take. And heck, even writing one is a BIG DEAL! So much gratitude that I’m in a position I can both write them, and have the opportunity to have one published.)
3. My faith in God, and my beliefs.
(I don’t talk about this much here on my blog, but my beliefs are my compass. They give me direction, and I’m who I am because of them.)
4. My friends
(IRL ones, writing ones, social media ones, ALL OF YOU! Wish I had a big picture with you all in it, but I don’t. Sorry if you aren’t shown, I still love you and am grateful for you!)
(Whoever invented them, THANK YOU!)
Happy Thanksgiving! And please tell me what you are grateful for! I’d love to hear. 🙂
License Plates! I can’t get enough of them. And I know I just yammered on about them a few weeks ago, but I’ve stumbled across two more personalized plates that are just BEGGING to be discussed. Villainous License Plates. (Dun, dun, DUNNN!)
I need to hear your thoughts, because stories are filling my head. What kind of people come up with these??! What kind of people want these to be their introduction to all the strangers they meet on the road? It’s a fascinating thought!
First up we have VILNMKR
In case you aren’t sure what that says, I read that as VILLAIN MAKER. Now, of course, I could be totally wrong. Maybe someone’s last name is Viln. BUT, I’m sticking to my story that it is VILLAIN MAKER.
So what do you think? Parents who worry they’ll mess their kids up? A writer who just loves writing villains? An illustrator who loves drawing villians? Or is it more diabolical than that? Maybe it’s an evil scientist with a plot to take over the world. Maybe this is really the Joker’s car!!! So many fun possibilities!
Next up goes perfectly with that first one: MMWHAHA
So awesome!! Maybe this is the second car of the person up above. Or maybe it belongs to someone who just likes to laugh evilly in the face of other’s struggles. In fact, they like it so much, they paid extra to be able to laugh at all the strangers they pass on the road.
Come to think of it, I found this car parked at my son’s school. Should I be worried? Maybe we have a stereotypical principal at his school living out the evil school principal trope. Or maybe he’s just living it vicariously through his car since he’s a very nice man. (So you have no need to worry, Mr. Principal! I do not suspect your secret identity as a villain AT ALL. Not even a little bit.)
Now I didn’t get to see either of these cars actually driving. They were both parked. So I don’t know if they drive appropriately for such license plates, but I sure hope I run into these cars again!
Now you tell me! What are the stories behind these license plates?
Happy Veteran’s Day!
I didn’t have the perfect picture to share, but I had this image from a year ago.
This was the Veteran’s Day run we participated in. I love the symbolism here of people running toward the finish. Of working hard, giving it their all, and then finishing together with people they may not personally know, but who are now considered friends and compatriots for having struggled together.
It could be easy to think of those others as competitors. To hate or dislike them. But if you have ever been to a community run like this one, it is never like that. People are so loving and welcoming and encouraging. Strangers stand along the course and cheer you on. Volunteers rush to get you water and refreshment when you finish. And then we all celebrate together for having achieved a PR (personal record). Or we commiserate together when it just wasn’t our day. It is a beautiful thing.
I feel like Veteran’s Day is a little like this. While I know many who have served in the military (Both my grandfathers fought in WWII. My father-in-law served in the Air Force for many years. I have cousins and friends who have served in the military in various capacities.), Veteran’s Day is a chance to celebrate everyone. People I don’t know. People who have given their all. People who will face struggles for a long time to come.
To everyone who is running in this race, I thank you! I encourage you! I commiserate and celebrate with you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It cannot be said enough.
Good morning! I’m so excited to have Lee Gjertsen Malone on my blog today.
Lee is the author of two super fun middle grade books, THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2016), and CAMP SHADY CROOK (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2019).
I was fortunate to get to know Lee back in 2015 through the debut group The Sweet Sixteens. Not only does she write middle grade novels, but she is a freelance journalist who has covered some fascinating topics. I’ve always been impressed with her strong sense of self as an author, and her encouragement to other authors to be an advocate for their own books.
Today, we’ll be talking about her latest book, CAMP SHADY CROOK. You can find my review of it HERE on Goodreads (but spoiler alert, I loved it!).
All right!! Let’s get this party started! (I’ll be in green bold)
It’s called Camp Shady Crook and it’s about two kids, Archie and Vivian, who both come to a very run down camp in Vermont with the same idea — of conning the other kids. They end up competing with each other for dominance but things spiral out of control and they have to figure out how to make them right again.
Such a fun concept! What inspired you to write Camp Shady Crook and your awesomely devious characters, Archie and Vivian?
I’ve always been intrigued by smart criminals like con artists — even though I’m an extremely law abiding person myself. But it’s fun to put yourself inside the head of someone doing bad things. Archie came to me first. The first chapter, which is written from his perspective, is almost exactly like very first pages I wrote to get them down, since I was supposed to working on something else at the time (isn’t that always the way.) But I had this image of this boy getting on a bus to camp pretending to be rich.
Vivian came later, in part because her motivations for the cons are murkier, tied up less with the need for money and more with her how her self-esteem took a hit at school thanks to a false friend.
But they both are having that unique summer camp experience where you get to be someone different than you are at home, which is what intrigued me the most about the setting. Where else, as a kid, do you get to try on new personalities for size? Especially if you live in the same town and go to the same school with the same people year after year.
Summer camp is SUCH a fun setting. I never got to experience this, but I love the idea of trying on a new personality. How about you? Did you ever attend a summer camp?
Well, I never attended a traditional summer camp. I actually went to nerd camp — a summer program on a college campus (in my case, Franklin and Marshall in Lancaster, Pa) where you could take college level courses. I went the summers I was 14, 15, and 16, and took Archaeology, Geology, and Psychology. Studied hard, made wonderful lifelong friends and got my first kiss. And I wouldn’t change a thing.
I wouldn’t have really liked the “cabin in the woods” kind of camp when I was a kid, though I remember being jealous when I was 10 or 11 about kids who got to go away for weeks. Not about the camp part as much as the idea of being away and on your own in a different place. I had major fantasies of skipping town. That’s why my favorite book was From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I literally had full daydreams of getting on the train to Manhattan and going to live in a museum, though I think I would have picked Natural History instead of the Met.
I loved that book, too! While I thought it would be way cool to live in a museum, I knew I didn’t have the guts to pull something like that off. And same with all the cons that Archie and Vivian pull off in Camp Shady Crook! They are so clever! How did you come up with them?
Well, believe or not, there’s actually a science to cons. Why they work, and what kind of people take the bait. And many cons — including some in the book — have been around for years. Archie’s whole persona is based on a con called “The Spanish Prisoner” (though most of us might think of it as “the Nigerian Prince” nowadays) and there’s another con in the book called “the Melon Drop.” For many of them I took the kinds of cons Archie would have read about in his research and put a kid spin on them. I’d like to think that anyone who actually knew anything about cons would recognize quite a few of the techniques Archie and Vivian use.
Fascinating! And so creative. So I’m imagining that you did a bit or research when writing this book. What is the most surprising thing you had to research?
I love research so I always do a ton — sometimes I have to make myself stop researching just so I get actual writing done!
Haha! I may know something about such delay tactics. 😬 But I digress. Do continue.
Researching cons was an obvious part of the book, but one perhaps surprising one was researching summer camp itself. As I mentioned, I never went to a traditional summer camp like Camp Shady Brook so I had to research almost everything, including how cabins are organized, what kinds of activities kids do, the stuff you would assume I knew already!
As for fun/weird research, a little joke in the book is that all the cabins are named after fish native to Vermont, where the camp is located. So I went hunting around in books and online for strangely named Vermont fish — Rainbow Smelt, Longnose Gar, Walleye. Even in copyedits the names still made me laugh.
I was dying at those cabin names! So funny!
Okay, I’m taking a little detour, and this is not about your book, but speaking of research . . . I’ve been following you on Facebook for a while now, and I’m always fascinated at the various articles you are working on for your day job as a journalist. (I seriously LOVE that you did one on the hiccups!) Given all that you’ve researched, what has been the most interesting subject you’ve written about?
This is a very difficult question because I’ve gotten to write about so many interesting things, including hiccups. But a recent interesting piece was on what happens when people get sick in space. This is not an idle question because astronauts are going into space for longer periods of time thanks to the International Space Station and society is always imagining we’ll be send civilians into space soon to colonize other planets. So what happens when someone gets the flu? Or has a heart attack? Do you pack an MRI machine for the mission to Mars? (Those things are heavy). In particular, your readers should know, always cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze in zero gravity because the particles will float around until they hit something. Hopefully a filter, but it could also be your buddy — or his lunch!
Wow. I’ve never thought about that! And I am maybe a bit grossed out at the idea of puking in space. I’m guessing that Astronauts need strong stomachs!
Finally, I love middle grade for so many reasons. I’d love to hear why you choose to write middle grade.
A lot of my favorite books, the ones I remember and have held dear since I was a kid, are middle grade books. But the reason why I personally write middle grade is actually very boring. I had been writing YA novels and was even agented and went on sub, but nothing sold. Then I wrote a book about a 15 year old boy and a literary agent who read it said “this should be a middle grade book, not YA.” Nine months of revisions later, and voila! I had a middle grade book. And I’ve just kept writing them because they’re so much fun.
It IS so much fun! And I am glad you came over to the middle grade side because your books are so good, and so different than a lot of what we see. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog, Lee!
And for the rest of you, you can find all the links for following Lee on social media below, as well as links for where you can get your own copy of CAMP SHADY CROOK!
Lee Gjertsen Malone is a Massachusetts transplant via Long Island, Brooklyn, and Ithaca, New York. As a journalist she’s written about everything from wedding planning to the banking crisis to how to build your own homemade camera satellite. Her interests include amateur cheese making, traveling, associating with animals, shushing people in movie theaters, kickboxing and blinking very rapidly for no reason. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband, daughter and a rotating cast of pets.
Reading books is so much a part of my life and my kids’ lives, I sometimes forget that not everyone feels the same way about books. And don’t worry, we can still be friends even if you don’t love books the way we do!
My oldest son has not always loved books. I read to him as a kid (like, A LOT), I had a home full of books, I modeled reading for fun (confession, maybe too much!), and HERE is proof positive I took him to the library even when it was tought! But still, my son didn’t care for them. In fact, he disliked books and reading so much that his second grade teacher reached out to inform me that he was so far behind on his reading levels, that if something didn’t change, and fast, he was not going to move up a grade with his peers.
I was horrified! There I was, a bona fide book lover, hoping to be an author someday, yet I couldn’t even get my own son to read.
I was lucky. I had resources. My mom was an elementary school principal at the time and had been a reading teacher before that. I asked for advice, and here is what she told me.
“First and most important, find a book that he wants to read. That is very important! It must be his choice.” . . . So turns out, this was harder than I expected. It took a lot of trips to the library. A lot of trial and error, because he didn’t know what interested him. All books were the same to him at that point, and in his mind ALL BOOKS were boring. I grabbed lots of different types of books and I started reading to him.
We didn’t finish many of the books we started, but I didn’t give up. After a lot of searching, we landed on the first book in a brand new series: MAZE OF BONES by Rick Riordan.
“Second,” my mom told me, “once you have a book he loves, read it together. You read it out loud, but follow along with your finger and have him follow along as well.” We read the whole book that way, and moved on to book 2. I was still the one reading, but his attitude was changing. He was more excited about reading time. We kept at it through book 2 and moved on to book 3. That was when everything changed.
My son got tired of waiting for me. He was anxious to know what would happen. And he began sneaking the book and reading it on his own. Slowly, slowly, slowly. And sometimes he would ask for help. But that book forever changed his reading life, and I will always be grateful for both my mom’s advice, and for The 39 Clues series that kept books coming out in such rapid succession.
From there he moved on to comics. He particularly loved the Star Wars comics. And I was so grateful to see him reading! To see him excited to read.
His reading interests grew, and he began to read Rick Riordan’s other books. That led him to read everything he could find about mythology. That led him to studying ancient cultures. That led him to start learning Hebrew and Greek on his own. That led him to study Inca and Mayan cultures. The kid loves to learn!
Those early books that some people would call junk books and a waste of time saved my son’s reading career (and yes, helped him pass the second grade). Those comics gave him confidence. Led him to understand the possibilities that can come with reading.
Please. Get kids excited about reading. Let them read books for the joy of it. Books that speak to their heart. And please, to all you graphic novel creators: KEEP THOSE BOOKS COMING!
What book first made you excited to read?
One of the most important parts of writing is reading. Read as many books as you can in the genre you want to write in. So as you can imagine, I have read a lot of picture books lately. I love a good picture book review, and I love hearing about good books from others. So I’m going to share some of my favorites. I’ll focus on picture book reviews, but since I love middle grade books, I’ll probably throw in a few of those too.
I’ll be posting my reviews on Goodreads where I review other books in addition to the ones I blog about. Feel free to follow me on Goodreads if you like. Please note that I’ll only review books I love on my blog, so if it’s here, I give it five stars (Goodreads’ system).
First up is RAILWAY JACK written by KT Johnston, and illustrated by César Samaniego.
I’m going to confess that while I do love a good non-fiction picture book, my heart is with fiction. Given that, I might have been a little hesitant to pick this up. But boy am I ever glad that I gave this one a chance!
What an amazing story! This book is about an amazing duo: Jim Wide, and his service baboon, Jack. Jim had lost both of his legs in a rail accident and struggled to do his job at the railway until he found Jack. I was fascinated by Jim’s foresight to recognize the potential of what Jack could do to help him. I was amazed by all the skills that Jack was able to learn, and it gave me a greater appreciation for baboons and service animals in general.
The author did an impressive amount of research on the topic. I especially appreciated the photos at the end of the book. I’d never heard of a baboon being used as a service animal, and I found the author’s note about the history of service animals to be interesting and very informative. I have no doubt the discussion questions at the end will lead to great discussions that fascinate kids.
My favorite part was when the heads of the railway came down on Jim for allowing a baboon to do the work of a human. I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I won’t tell you what happens, but when you read it, you will know why this is my favorite. (I know, I’m totally the worst! But read it! You won’t be disappointed.)
I can’t end without mentioning the art. The illustrator did a beautiful job on the pictures. They really brought the story to life. I loved the style, and felt it was a great fit for the story. And after seeing the old photographs at the end, I enjoyed looking back through the pictures to note the great attention to detail that Mr. Samaniego paid to his work.
This is a wonderful story that I highly recommend!
Note: I received an e-ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
KT Johnston found history a boring subject in school—but now it’s the passion of her writing.
She earned a degree in biology and conducted wildlife behavior studies before switching to a corporate career. After raising two children and several litter sof curly-coated retrievers, KT began writing, spotlighting special animals who had affected the lives of everyday people. She and her husband live in Minneapolis, where the four-legged members of her family have always been special. KT hopes to inspire others to be curious about our world as well, one true story at a time.
César Samaniego was born in Barcelona, Spain, in 1975. He grew up with an artist father, smelling his father’s oils, reading his comic books, and trying to pain over his father’s illustrations! He attended Llotja Arts and Crafts School and graduated with honors in 2010. Since then he has published many books and provided art for apps, textbooks, and animations. César lives in Canet de Mar, a small coastal town near Barcelona, with his wife, daughter, five cats, and a crazy dog.
You can find more of his amazing art here.