Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Quiet, Still Words on a Page

JANICE:  When I read a book, I want quiet, still words on a page that stir something in my brain, not on my screen. I want quiet, still illustrations that I can study and hear myself think. What does this mean? That I want e-books and apps to disappear? Not at all. I just don't want real books to disappear. To each his own.
Here is a favorite page from our book, A Mare for Young Wolf.

Look carefully at the illustration. The sun is rising from behind the hills. It is Spring, and Young Wolf sits in a field of bluebonnets. He is alert as he looks at the mare, Red Wind. Something is passing between them. None of the other horses are paying him any mind, only Red Wind.
Now read the words. Red Wind speaks to Young Wolf. What do you think "Nnnnn-hhhhh" means? Make the sound out loud.
"Her spirit entered his heart." What does that mean to you? Listen to yourself think.
If you want to read the whole book, go to the library and look for this cover:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Write Yourself into Existence

JANICE:  On September 18 Tom and I celebrated our anniversary and launched Honeymoon Hobos at Book People. It was a heartwarming success.
Since the book is a travel memoir, I talked about the importance of telling your story. For those of you who missed the launch, here is what I said:
Raise your hand if you have ever thought about writing a memoir. (Quite a few hands went up.) Have you put words on paper? (Some hands stayed up.) If not, I encourage you to do so. You are never too young or old to write your memoir. Writing teacher William Zinsser suggests writing one little memory a day. At the end of a year you have a lot of pieces of your life to put together. Look for a theme, something you can hang your memories on.

Dave Eggers, whose first book was a memoir and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, encourages everyone to tell their story. His ancestor, who the family calls Great-Grandaddy Hawkins, led a caravan of covered wagons from the plains to California and wrote about his journey. He had 300 copies printed and bound into a real book. And because he did, his descendants know more about him than just a name and dates. They know his thoughts and feelings. He wrote - himself - into - existence. I love that phrase, but I didn't make it up. Dave Eggers passed it on to me and I pass it on to you. Write yourself into existence. My daddy, Gilbert Jordan, wrote himself into existence in a book titled Yesterday in the Texas Hill Country. It did not win the Pulitzer Prize but is still in print.

I have written many characters into existence and wanted to do the same for Tom and me. Fortunately the letters and articles we wrote while traveling were saved which helped me get in touch with the moment. Tom did all the illustrations at the time. Some were done for publication in the Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo's major newspaper, some were done for the Texas Architect and later published in the AIA Journal. But all were done to draw our experiences into existence.
Breakfast in Chotokuin Temple, Kyoto

Wading Across a River in Cambodia

TOM:  One incentive for doing these drawings was that the editor of the Asahi Shimbun offered $20 for each article Janice wrote and $5 more if I illustrated it.
JANICE:  Some incentive!
TOM:  But that paid for a whole month's rent.
JANICE:  Yes. Tom also painted during our travels. Here is one called "Jaipur." To see others go to to his website: shefelmanpaintings.com

As for the title, we were dubbed honeymoon hobos by a reporter friend at the Asahi Shimbun, a young man named Dub Swim from Oklahoma, who wrote for the English edition of the newspaper. Little did we imagine then that he had give us the title of a book.
I'd like to read the brief preface to you. But first, please notice the silver stamp on the case - the letters T and J entwined.
(Here I asked Tom if he wanted to sit down while I read.)
TOM: (spontaneously) No, I want to stay entwined. (This remark brought the house down.)
JANICE (after the reading):  Now close your eyes if you like, and let's imagine that we have boarded the Tsuneshima Maru, the anchor has been hoisted, and we are headed out to sea for a 3 1/2 minute sound voyage across the Pacific. (We played "Music from the Age of Discovery," track 18, which combines an instrumental version of the Italian song, "I Have Seen the World Map," with the sound of waves and the booming and creaking of a ship.)
And here we are in Japan!
Even though we sold many books there are some left at Book People, Austin, even a few signed copies. They are also available through our website: shefelmanbooks.com

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Our First Book for Grownups

JANICE:  Tom and I are launching our travel memoir this month. Here is a little something about it:
Honeymoon Hobos: A Journey Around a World that Once Was
Yearning to see the world, Tom and I sold our possessions, got married, and set out on a journey we could not afford but had to take. In October of 1954 we boarded a Japanese freighter out of Long Beach, bound for Yokohama, planning to take a year to circle the globe. Our meagre baggage included Tom's sketching and painting supplies and books for the voyage. Our goal was to live inside other cultures.

The world was a different place in 1954. Except for an emergency, the only way to keep in touch with family and friends was by writing letters which could take a week or more for delivery. Those letters and articles written for newspapers and magazines were saved which helped me get in touch with the moment. Tom did all the illustrations at the time. Here he is sketching the Meows of northern Thailand. They did not want their picture taken with a camera, but were fascinated by Tom's drawings of them — so fascinated that I managed to snap one photo.

And here is one of his sketches.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Don't Let Yourself Get Bored

JANICE:  When I visit schools, I tell students that there are too many exciting things to do and see in this world to ever get bored. And they are not on a screen, except for e-books. Try some of them:
Watch the sun set and make a painting. Here is one that Tom made of a sunset in the Puget Sound for our picture book-in-progress, Whale Ferry Tale.

Learn to play a musical instrument like young Antonio in our picture book biography, I, Vivaldi.

Talk to horses like Young Wolf in this illustration from A Mare for Young Wolf.

Read a book like Son of Spirit Horse, the story of two boys who both want to win the horse race at the tribal fair. Neither Young Wolf, on the left, nor Little Big Mouth, on the right, can imagine what he will win and lose. Can you?

Come up with your own ideas and post them here.
Just remember that bored is a five letter word! Don't make it part of your vocabulary.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

An Illustration from Rough Sketch to Final Painting

TOM:  Our picture book, A Peddler's Dream, is the story of Solomon Joseph Azar who comes to Texas from Lebanon in the early 1900s to seek his fortune. He starts out as a peddler, traveling the country roads with items that farm families need, such as calico, ribbon, thread, lace, suspenders, and spices. But Solomon's dream is to have a store of his own in Austin.

In order to draw I need visual references like these two, one of Congress Avenue in 1910, the other of a farm wagon out of a 1908 Sears Roebuck catalog.

Before beginning a full size sketch, I make a storyboard of thumbnail sketches of every scene in the book. This helps me see how illustrations flow from page to page.

Below is my first full size sketch of Solomon riding into Austin with a farmer who has befriended him.
The next step is to tape this sketch to the glass top of my light table and lay another sheet of paper over it. Then I can make changes in the lines I can see through the paper, like this one.
Here you can see that I changed the perspective angle and brought the farm wagon more into the picture.
Now a third drawing.
I have added more detail in this one. Since I like it, I go over the lines in ink. Then I lay a sheet of watercolor paper over this drawing. Even though it is thick the ink lines show through. I trace those lines in pencil, get out my watercolors and paint.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why I Write for Children

JANICE:  Ever since I took a course in children's literature at Southern Methodist University, I have been in love with children's books. As a teacher my favorite part of the day was reading aloud to my fourth graders. Later, as a mother, I took joy in introducing our sons to all the best books. And finally I decided to try writing one myself, which became A Paradise Called Texas, a Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee

I write for children because their minds are open, willing to embrace new ideas. Thus a children's author bears the huge responsibility to be true to life experiences of love and loss, joy and sorrow, the past and present, and the cultures of the world. I love the challenge to get it right for young readers. They deserve our best which requires thorough research and careful rewriting. Here I am reading one of the best to my sons Karl and Daniel. Because of this book, D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, they grew up loving Greek myths and still do. So do I.

My latest novel, Ariadne's Choice, is based on the myth of the minotaur. While it is being considered at several publishing houses, Tom painted this proposed wraparound cover. May it be an editor's choice too!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Write What You DON'T Know . . .


JANICE: The oldest advice for writers is to write what you know. Don't let yourself be limited by this advice. You can learn what you don't know. You can live other lives in other places in other times. How? By doing research, by reading about another time, another place, by visiting the place, by becoming another person. But you must be passionate.

My work-in-progress, Ariadne's Choice, is mythical fiction set in Knossos three thousand years ago when King Minos, Queen Pasiphae, and Princess Ariadne lived in this palace. I have always written about the past, striving to make it come alive for young readers. But never have I tried to go this far back in time. The only way to connect to Knossos and the ancient Minoans is to go to Crete. And so Tom and I flew to Athens and took the night ferry to Heraklion, the major port and only a few miles from Knossos. Tom took this photograph of the north gate to the palace, and later made a watercolor painting he calls "Knossos Vision."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Viva Picture Book Biographies!

JANICE:  The March/April issue of Horn Book, "Fact, Fiction, and In Between," grabbed my attention and did not let go until I read it through. The combination of fact and fiction is my beloved territory for both reading and writing.

The article, "What Makes a Good Picture Book Biography?" by Viki Ash and Thom Barthelmess was of  special interest to me. Admittedly I am disappointed that our picture book, I, Vivaldi, was not one of the examples. However, I am consoled by the fact that 12,500 children chose it as a 2008 International Reading Association Children's Choices book. Like Margarita Engle in Summer Birds, I told the story in first person which enabled me to express my passion for the music Vivaldi wrote.
Meanwhile Tom studied Canaletto's paintings among others in his research. Thus, when a Kirkus reviewer said, "Giving 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," Tom was wowed.

** Basilica San Marco, Venice, by Tom Shefelman — From I, Vivaldi **

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Home and Work Are Here

JANICE:  We live in a playful tree house designed by my architect, Tom. It is made of cedar and glass and perches on the edge of a bluff overlooking Shoal Creek greenbelt, thus the name Shoal Creek Studios. Even though our house is in central Austin, it feels like we are in the country. Here is the garden gate entrance, and I am welcoming you to come in.

We walk down a brick path to Tom's studio. Our house is in two parts, the Little House and the Big House. Tom's studio is in the Little House. Here he is inviting us inside.

Then we watch him working at his light table. He makes a first rough sketch of an illustration, lays another sheet of paper over it and makes a more detailed drawing over the lines he can see through the paper.

Our cat Sally used to watch him and sometimes sat on his illustrations!

Now let's walk across the bridge to the Big House where we live and I have my studio.

We go through the blue door into the living room. There are many windows, especially in this two-story space. When the moon is full, we can watch it rise from the horizon to the top of the night sky. The walls are covered with paintings by family members, Tom, our sons Karl and Daniel, and Tom's mother Madolene. I am the only one who paints with words.

I love my studio. It is sunny and spacious and holds three desks plus a couch. The walls are lined with bookshelves except for one that is covered with images I gather during research. These help me visualize as I write.

We have always worked together and find it stimulating and occasionally maddening! We bounce ideas back and forth and come up with concepts that neither would have thought of by ourselves. I have mental images of scenes and often make stick figure drawings that Tom turns into something alive. And sometimes I change my words to reflect his illustration because he has a better idea. We wouldn't have it any other way.