Reading me.

I don’t usually read my books for a long time after I write them. I’ll have some occasion to look back and read what I wrote and the experience will be quite odd. Sometimes it will seem familiar, and very much me. At other times, I’ll think, “Did I really say that?”, sometimes with pleasure, sometimes with dismay.

Often I am possessed by some other version of me when I write, a version that is a co-creation of the book itself, the inexorable march of ideas and words that surge forward as I write at length, ideas taking on their own voice, connections stopping out of the shadows. That’s one of the prime pleasure of writing, how the process takes over. When I wrote a novel a few years ago, I was constantly surprised at things the characters said, at the way bits of plot came full circle to tie up ends, at the life the story had quite beyond me. I sometimes think back on the characters, wondering how they are now, as if they lived on even though I stepped away from the keyboard.

I can have the same feelings when I draw. I begin with an impulse of what sort of drawing I want to make but invariably where I end up is pretty different. Making a drawing, like writing, is an exploration, an adventure. The destination is subject to change. My mission is to discover myself. And sometimes what I find may be pretty unfamiliar and surprising.

I write my books. But I read them too. And I hope I’ll always get lost in their pages, lost so I can find something surprising and new.

An interview I really liked

kymn%20working%20fileI did a long interview on the radio this morning with Paula Granquist on “ArtZany!: Radio for the Imagination” on KYMN Radio in Minnesota. We talked about A Kiss Before You Go but the conversation was far more wide ranging and covered many important creative concepts.   It’s about 45 minute long and you can hear it here. 

I was also on some other shows in the past couple of weeks including:

  • TURNING PAGES, KCBX Public Radio FM 90 San Luis Obispo, CA (March 11)
  • THE ROUNDTABLE on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio. Hear here. (March 12)
  • IT’S YOUR HEALTH RADIO, WUML, Boston Talks, Boston, MA (March 19)
  • MORNING EDITION, WOJB 88.9 FM, Hayward, WI (March 19)

An Illustrated Journey continues down the road.

While copies of A KIss Before You Go are being loaded into warehouses, work continues on my next book, An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration From the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators and Designers, the sequel to An Illustrated Life.

I just did the lettering for the cover (you’ll notice on Amazon that they uploaded the art for the cover before including my handlettering — that’ll be fixed soon) and the design for the interior continues. It’ll be a lavish book with work from forty of my favorite artists and will be out at the end of February, next year.

I’ll talk about it more in the months ahead but meanwhile you can see some of the art work from the book on my Pinterest page.

How to Be Evil.

I love to write; I have since I was wee. Every so often, an idea will just appear in my skull, asking to be born, to occupy some part of my mind for a while so it can curl up nice and toastily and slowly germinate into bookhood. It’s very pleasant and slightly itchy.

The first time I can remember it happening, I was eight and was visited by a pea-sized idea about a knight who traveled the countryside accompanied by a dachshund. I spend a fair amount of time filling a spiral bound book with that tale, each page taken up with a little text and a lot of drawings of the knight and the dog and some dragon or damsel or crumbling castle.

I loved making the book but I also loved having made it.

There was always something so appealing to me about the idea of having a shelf of books each with my name on their spines, books that were oh so familiar and yet complete and independent and living lives of their own. That book about Sir Roger Watford and Nicky the Long gave me just such a thrill for the first time.

Now I’m a grown up writer and I do have a shelf of books with my name tattooed on their vertebra. It’s as nice as I imagined it would be.

Anyway, a couple of summers ago, I was visited by an idea on Fifth Avenue, near Madison Square, and by the time I reached my house, I was excitedly unwrapping it. It was a novel, it seemed, a novel for young adolescents, and frankly nothing to do with anything I had ever published. At that point, neither the idea nor I cared much about the fact that it was a red-headed stepchild — we loved each other and hung out every morning for months. The story unfurled like a bolt of silk. I just had to provide two fingers to do the typing and chapter after chapter rolled onto my screen. It inspired drawings too, just like the ones that opened each chapter f my favorite boyhood books. Then Patti read it and Jack read it and we all thought it time well spent.

My (then-) agent loved the writing too. She just didn’t think anyone in their right mind would buy it.

First of all, she said, it is clearly not about drawing or creativity or any of the subjects I have built my so-called career upon. And secondly, it’s a children’s novel about evil — exaggerated, funny, hard to put down— but still evil.

I disagreed with my agent. The novel is not especially grisly or likely to inspire nightmares but it certainly is casual about things like murder for hire and con games and the best way to debone a corpse. I mean, it’s about evil. But in the nicest possible way.

I wrote it after spending a number of years living with a child who seemed quite interested in evil things, in bad guys, monsters, killers, etc. And I, as a former child, remember being equally intrigued by sick and disturbing things. In fact, both Jack and I found that most children’s literature was just too moralizing and coddling about such matters, while there seemed to be no end to mayhem in the adult world that was easy for a child of any age to slip under the velvet rope and wade their way into — so what harm could there be in one more slab of unrepentant horrorshow that at least like, totally, used tween vocabulary?

Despite my defense of the book, my agent has the Rolodex and wouldn’t show it to any publishers. Nope, no way.

So the book went into a virtual drawer on my laptop until last year when I decided I really wanted to see that book’s spine on my shelf, by hook or crook. So, poor judgment notwithstanding, I had it printed and bound up and got the first glossy paperbacks into my collection at last. It looks awesome and is hi-larious and I just didn’t care what the stupid ladies in the publishing world said. It’s evil, it’s twisted, and it’s mine. Mwaaaahhhhhaha.

Which brings me to to today.

In 2012, I have become more and more devoted to my Kindle, packing huge stacks of books into its tiny frame and devouring them wherever I go.  I love paper and ink and the feel of a real book in my hands but let’s be real — ebooks are clealry the way things are going. I know many of you may not yet have converted and that assumption has been holding me back a bit, frankly. I have so many little book ideas in my head that I’d love to write and illustrate and share with you right from my website, books that interest me and probably you, but don’t fit into the big publishing machine’s view of marketing. Unless we agree to go virtual, they will just remain ideas.

So I have decided, as a sort of initial salvo, to turn School for Evil into an ebook (e for evil) version on Amazon. And here’s the amazing bit: While my paperback is lovely and pocket-sized and as cheap as I can make it (I make, literally, one penny in profit — I think I have earned that), you will still have to spend a couple of bucks having it shipped.
But the ebook version is as dirt cheap as I could make it. Just 99 paltry cents. That’s £0.75. A measly €0.86. What a steal! 

If you would like to see what all the fuss isn’t about, you can buy yourself (and any children you don’t care about) a few copies of “School for Evil” for an unlimited time only in either form. Both are ludicrously priced for an illustrated masterpiece and all proceeds will go to supporting my special brand of evil. Check it out and, please, read it with at least one light on.

Buy “School for Evil” in paperback here. Criminally affordable. Do it now!

Or buy it the ebook version for your Kindle. Equally evil, less attractive on the bookshelf. So cheap it’s just wrong.

Oh, and if you buy it and love it and want to help propel it to to the top of the Amazon charts (even though it’s not erotica or written by a drug-addled radio host or a pregnant celebrity who lost huge amounts of weight overnight while being attacked by zombies), tell your friends (particularly those in publishing)  and me how much you loved it.

—- But, wait, there’s more:  Now my memoir of becoming a dad is also an ebook on Amazon for the same dangerously low price. Put “Peanut” on your kindle right now.

I’m in a new book: The Pulse of Mixed Media

Some three years ago, I taught the one and only class of my career, a 12 week program at the Open Center. I learned a lot and met a number of interesting artists over the weeks. Seth Apter was in my class and I began to visit his sumptuous website, The Altered Page , and to talk with him about drawing and art and the creative process. He interviewed me for his blog and again, the conversation broke new ground for me/
Last year, Seth began work on a book, The Pulse of Mixed Media: Secrets and Passions of 100 Artists Revealed, and invited me to participate.
Now, I have been a part of a number of books that collected the work of many artists, and generally it’s a simple and painless affair. In fact, while putting together An Illustrated Life and its upcoming sequel, An Illustrated Journey, I found myself in the reverse position of having to badger other artists to join up and then send me pages from their journals and answer my questions. It’s a fair amount of work but one learns so much by shepherding this sort of book.
Anyway, being a part of Seth’s book was more than I initially thought when I signed up. That’s because Seth really demanded that I think a lot about myself and my process in answering his questions, think in ways I’d not been asked to do before, not even by myself. He’s a psychologist and he challenged me to really explain the many things I take for granted in my work, the media I use and the ways I use them, what defines my work and what does not, He asked me questions like “What three words do not describe your artistic style?” and “If you could sell one piece of art to anyone in the world, whom would you want to buy it and why?”
Seth asked these sorts of questions of me and many, many other artists. From what I’ve seen of it, the resulting book is a rich and beautiful tapestry that explores the deepest aspects of the creative process, and provokes and inspires over and again.
The Pulse of Mixed Media will be officially published at the end of this month but apparently it’s in some stores already. You can also get it direct from the publisher.  Meanwhile, Seth is doing all sorts of things on his site to dimensionalize the content, with samples and peeks inside. Seth has promised me that the actual book will be in my hands any day now but my trips to the mailbox have been for naught so far. I hope to share a deeper dive between its covers in the near future.
Meanwhile, if you get a copy, do let me know what you think.