Wednesday, June 30, 2021

New Work-in-Progress

 JANICE:  Now that my latest book project, Village Without Men, is in the hands of the publisher, I have begun a historical novel set in ancient Athens during the time of Pericles - the golden age. The working title is The Kiss. Such an ambitious project means research, research, and more research, which I find fascinating, especially visual research. The images I find give me the power to make images in my head, which turn into words on paper. Here we have a reconstruction of the Acropolis.

And one of the theater of Dionysus.

 Not only do I need settings, I need to know about daily life, how the people dressed, what they ate, what their houses were like, etc. The basic garment of both women and men was a chiton. After much searching I found this simple drawing of how a chiton works.

And I need images of the characters. Here is the main character, based on a historical person.

Maps and plans are helpful, such as this one of Athens Agora.

And this plan of a Greek house helps me write scenes of my characters at home.
So, whenever I can't write, it is because I can't visualize the scene, which means more research to get in touch with that moment in time and place. As David McCullough, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning biography of John Adams said, "I've been living in the 18th Century for seven years, and I'm not coming back." Well, I'm living in the 5th Century BC, but I will be back so I don't catch the plague that came to Athens in 430 BC.



Monday, November 23, 2020

Write Yourself into Existence

JANICE:   I wish those were my words but they belong to Dave Eggers. He also said, "You should write your story because you will someday die, and without your story on paper, most of it will be forgotten." Three times I have taken his advice - to save my legacy and write myself into existence. The first book is Becoming Alive, which takes me from birth to Tom, my true love.

I tell of my journey to become alive. I was not the smartest or prettiest girl around, but I yearned to do something extraordinary, which I later understood to mean finding where my life is. Fortunately my professor father read to me from an early age and exposed me to classical music. We had discussions about God and the universe, books and music. 



The second book is Honeymoon Hobos, which tells of the yearlong journey that Tom and I took after our marriage. We sold our possessions and set  out from Long Beach, California, on a sleek Japanese freighter bound for Yokohama. Our goal was to live inside other cultures, and that is exactly what we did. In Tokyo we lived in the homes of a Japanese war widow, then a Japanese architect, and in Kyoto a Zen Buddhist temple. It changed our lives forever.



Most recently I published a third memoir, Bringing Up Boys with Tom. When Tom asked me to marry him, I smiled and said, "Yes, if I don't have to cook or have children." I am still lukewarm about cooking but bringing up our boys was one of the greatest joys of my life. 

Tom and I created a home that sheltered daydreaming. There Tom taught Karl and Daniel to draw and make things with their hands. I opened up the world to them by reading books aloud and planning family trips. Together we strove to encourage creativity, an adventurous spirit, knowledge of our cultural heritage, and empathy for other cultures.


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Antonio and Liam

JANICE: When I received this photo of little Liam absorbed in Tom's and my picture book biography, I, Vivaldi, I was shocked. I never imagined that our book and Vivaldi's music would be loved by such a young child.

 Here his grandmother is reading it to him as they listen to a CD of "The Four Seasons." Every day he requests Vivaldi, both the book and the music. I love his intent expression and his little fingers sticking out from under the book. This child could grow up to be a musician, a composer, the president, or anything else he wants to be! So much depends on what he is exposed to.

His grandmother said, "Liam truly loves I, Vivaldi and learns something new every time he hears the wonderful story and explores the bountiful illustrations. Now when he wakes up, he asks his Mom to turn on Vivaldi so he can listen to the music while she reads. He is transformed!"

Below is one of those "bountiful illustrations" of Venice, Vivaldi's home town.

Fellow children's authors and illustrators, this is why we give our best to what we do. Yes, we can change the world, child by child.

Sunday, May 5, 2019


JANICE:  Among writers and artists, the acronym WIP stands for Work in Progress. I'm adding a new one, WIS, Work in Stall. I don't mean writer's block, which I don't believe in, and therefore do not suffer from. I mean a time when I say to myself, "I can't do this." Sometimes the problem is with plotting, the most difficult part of the process for me. Even though I never start writing without an outline, occasionally the cause and effect cycle breaks down in the middle of the story. Sometimes the problem is about writing a sequel as if there is no prequel!

My current WIP, Village Without Men, is for the moment a WIS with both problems. Notice I said "for the moment." Every successful writer knows you don't stop working just because you can't do this. No, you persist until you overcome. Until "I can't do this" becomes "Oh yes I can," with a rush of confidence.
Village Without Men is a sequel to my previously published Sophie's War, a Civil War story set in Comfort, Texas. Sophie is the daughter of German immigrants who settled in the Hill Country in the 1850s. Her father and many others in the area are Unionists in a state that has joined the Confederacy. Thus they are persecuted, men are hanged, cabins burned. But her father is especially endangered because he is the editorial cartoonist for a San Antonio newspaper and makes clear to all that he favors saving the Union. Sophie's goal and "war" is to convince her father to stop drawing anti Confederacy cartoons. To no avail.

Since a sequel must stand alone, I have to find a way to bring all that information forward without dumping it in the beginning. I have to sprinkle it throughout so as not to overwhelm the reader.

At present it is I who feels overwhelmed but not defeated! Please be patient while I figure out where to sprinkle information and how to gradually escalate cause and effect  to the climax. It's not easy but it helps enormously to have a critique group with the likes of Cynthia Levinson and Shelley Jackson. And it's incredibly satisfying when done.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Rebirth of Young Wolf

JANICE: Yes, Tom's and my Young Wolf trilogy is soon to be born again. Originally published by Random House in their Step Into Reading series, the books will be republished by Eakin Press on August 1, 2018. Tom would be so happy. We both loved Young Wolf like a son.

When we wrote and illustrated the first one, A Mare for Young Wolf, we had no idea it would be a trilogy. Later it grew into a quadrilogy, and finally a pentalogy, thanks to Eakin Press. That's what happens when you fall in love with your characters, both humans and horses.

Here's something about all five Young Wolf books. They stand alone but are best read in this order:

Young Wolf chooses a mare, Red Wind, for his first horse. He thinks she is the smartest, most beautiful horse in his father's herd. But the village bully, Little Big Mouth, makes fun of him, because Comanches believed mares were for women and children - not for warriors.

More than anything Young Wolf wants to be a man. He thinks killing his first buffalo is the way. He begs his father to let him go on the buffalo hunt, but as they start out, Young Wolf grows fearful and wonders why he begged to come.

 One night a wild stallion steals Red Wind away. Young Wolf is determined to get her back even though his father says no man can take a mare from a stallion. Young Wolf sets out to find her and finds more than he is looking for!

Now for the fourth and fifth books, published earlier by Eakin Press:

Young Wolf wants to win the horse race at the tribal fair. So does Little Big Mouth. And that is how the trouble starts. Can Young Wolf's colt, Snow Wind, run as fast as his father, the legendary wild white stallion? Young Wolf thinks so. But Little Big Mouth knows a secret about Snow Wind that could keep him from winning the race. Neither boy can imagine what he will win and lose.
And finally Comanche Song, a story for older readers:

In 1840 Tsena (Wolf), son of a Comanche chief, goes with his father and other chiefs to a peace council with the Texans in San Antonio. The council turns violent, casting Tsena briefly into white man's world, but ultimately on a warpath of revenge that leads across Texas to the Great Water.

This  historical novel tells the story of the Council House Massacre and the Battle of Plum Creek from a Comanche point of view for the first time.
These five books are Tom's and my effort to give readers a look inside another culture with empathy so that we can have peace on earth.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Connections Books Make, II

JANICE:  Researching, writing, and illustrating books make connections with people who would never connect otherwise. Our first picture book, Victoria House, is the story of a once elegant Victorian farmhouse that is eventually deserted and falls into disrepair. The cover shows her in the old days when she was lived in and loved.

The story idea came from the classic picture book, The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. In this story a house is gradually surrounded by a city and finally moved back out to the country. As an architect and urban planner, Tom was always interested in revitalizing the central city, including our own Austin. And so we decided to reverse the idea of moving out to the country or suburbs.

Instead we moved Victoria into the "urbs" in the middle of the night.

While researching how a house is moved, we met Big Earl and his family who were house movers. We watched them take apart and move a house, the lower floor and upper floor each on a separate truck. When our book was published, they all came to our book signing at Toad Hall.

Now here she is,  moved, reconstructed,  and lived in and loved once more.

As a model for Victoria we chose a house in Navasota, Texas, that we happened to see on a trip to Huntsville. We stopped and knocked on the door. The house was being used for a writers retreat, so we were welcomed to look around and take photographs. A year or so later the house was bought by a Houston family, almost like the family in Victoria House. When they learned about the book, Tom and I were invited to visit, and we became good friends. Not only that, they hired Tom to do some remodeling of our model, a connection we never dreamed of.

Here Tom and I are standing in the gazebo.

 Finally, one day we were driving through an inner city neighborhood in Austin and saw an old house that had just been planted in a vacant lot. Of course, we stopped and talked with the owner and gave him a copy of Victoria House. 
He smiled. "I've already read your book. It's what made me decide to move this house."
Oh, the power of books!

Victoria House is now out of print but we are hoping to bring it back in a new edition.

For more book connections see our blog for May 2010.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Girl Power

JANICE:  Girl power is nothing new. Way back in 1703 Antonio Vivaldi was teaching girls in a Venetian orphanage to play every musical instrument, including the bassoon. The girls' orchestra became famous all over Europe. You can read about Vivaldi and these girls who were ahead of their time in this book.

Since they were orphans, many of the girls had no last names, so they were given the name of the instrument each one played, such as Catarina of the Viola or Bettina of the Bassoon. Here they are.

Tom's illustrations are true to Venice. We made several research trips and stayed in a palazzo in the square where Antonio grew up. Tom took photos, sketched, and did some plein air painting.
Kirkus Reviews said: "Giving even Canaletto a run for his money, the illustrator sets expressive, natural-looking figures against golden-toned backdrops of 17th-century Venice's rich interiors, splendid vistas, opulent churches and serene canals . . . (A) fetching introduction to one of the great masters of the Baroque era."

By the time we finished this book I had fallen in love with Vivaldi and these orphan girls, so I wrote another book about one of them, Anna Maria.

Her father made a violin for her before he died. When she plays it, she hears his voice. At the orphanage she quickly becomes Vivaldi's favorite student, making Paolina, one of the other girls, jealous. One night she steals Anna Maria's violin and throws it into a canal. Can Anna Maria ever get it back? Read this book and find out.