Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

So, no news yet on those proof copies of The Angel's Name, but I wanted to wish everyone a merry Christmas.  The picture above was actually taken at a Halloween party back in 2008, but I thought it'd be fun to post it anyway--it's not likely that I'll be able to talk my husband into putting on a Santa suit a second time, so I'd better make the most of the first time, right? Actually, we were just buddies back then, and my sister was the first choice for Santa but ended up going to a different party instead. Obviously I was Mrs. Claus. I've smudged out everyone else's faces because I haven't asked their permission to post their picture, though I suppose if I get permission later I can always repost. I'm rather proud of my costume organization that year--I happened to have bought a Santa suit on sale for five dollars after Christmas the year before, and when I needed a costume for a Halloween party I decided to make it the base for a whole group of costumes. I bought a can of white hairspray to turn myself into Mrs. Claus, and that was the most expensive thing I bought after the Santa suit (at about three dollars). The two elves on the right provided their own hats, but the two elves on the left are each wearing a cheap piece of felt rolled and glued into a cone with a tiny jingle bell stitched on top of it. Rudolph's nose is made of pipe cleaners, and so was the holly berries decoration in my hair. There was a matching holly berries thing on my apron (made out of an unused sheet), which unfortunately doesn't show in the picture. Rudolph's antlers were pipe cleaners with a pencil stuck in each one as a base and some jingle bells. The rest of it was just a matter of hunting through our closets for red and green clothes--I think my Mrs. Claus dress might have actually been meant for Minnie Mouse, but I got it at a second-hand store a long time before, so I can't be sure. Anyway, it's a fun memory, even though it isn't really a Christmas one.

And here are a couple of real Christmas memories, because I just couldn't end the post on Santa and Halloween. First, there's the time we were Mary and Joseph for a church program; this was actually the day before we were engaged (the baby is a doll).

And there's also the time that I was Joseph. The live Nativity was missing Joseph, so I volunteered, since I was already dressed up to be a shepherd and I was the only shepherd with a beard. I took this picture of myself by using the mirror in the church bathroom; I'm not that talented at self-photography otherwise.  I didn't make the beard, but I know that the people who did make it used cotton balls and coffee.... I just nabbed it from a swap table after someone else used it in a skit, then resurrected it several months later as part of this costume.  It also helped keep my face warm.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Angel's Name--Complete!

The Angel's Name is officially completed and I've purchased a "custom ISBN" ($10 and gets Elizabeth's Inventions listed as the publishing imprint instead of CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform) from CreateSpace and had the files approved for printing. I just ordered proof copies, but the estimated delivery date is unfortunately New Year's Eve. I must say that I had a bit more difficulty than I expected getting my files into a PDF that met CreateSpace's printing specifications, and that's what caused some of the delay. I used a template to format my pages, so the layout was never an issue, but I tried to save as PDF from Microsoft Word on a borrowed computer because my Word 2003 won't do it, and that was rather a disaster--I never did figure out how to do it without it trying to "compress" my images and making the file unfit for printing. I eventually solved the problem by downloading Open Office and using that to export as PDF, which was very easy and had the added benefit of making it possible to use my own computer.  Here's hoping the book looks as good in print as it does on my computer screen! And now I've got see if I can figure out how to format an ebook, which I hear is particularly difficult for picture books. Wish me luck!

Also, I would like to thank David, Cordelia, Rebekkah, Natalie, and Kelly for beta reading an electronic draft for me. It was very helpful to have a few pairs of extra eyes to look at it before I submitted the files.

Keep watching for news that The Angel's Name is officially available or has been successfully converted to a readable ebook format. It won't be long now!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Angel's Name--Front Cover

I'm still roughly on schedule and expect to finish this project in time for Christmas. Here's what I've got for the front cover at the moment--I may tweak it a bit later, but for now I'm going to begin work on the inside formatting. The text and illustrations for all but the very last page are pretty much finished now. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Angel's Name--First Page Excerpt


"Once upon a time there was a glass angel.  She sat on top of a Christmas tree for a few weeks every year, but the rest of the time she lived in a box.  She was not happy in the box.  It was dark, dusty, and sometimes hot, but the worst part was that she had no name.  A lot of other ornaments lived in the box, too.  The other ornaments had no names, either, but they didn’t care."   

And there you have the opening of my Christmas picture book. There are still three or four illustrations to finish and a little tweaking to the end of the text needed, plus formatting and cover design, but it's coming along quite nicely.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Picture Book Experiment Post 10--Weather

It actually took me about five very short trips outside to photograph Neon and Jewel in one pose on Friday. Obviously, we finally have snow. And my gloves were making it impossible to create the tiny snowman, so I had to take them off. That made my hands too cold to stay out long, but I eventually got this scene by popping in and out (that tree is very close to my front door). This probably isn't the exact view I'll use in the finished story, and in any case I'll have to do a bit of photo editing, but it'll give you the general idea. I'm switching up the scene settings a bit by taking advantage of the weather changes! Then again, both Neon and Jewel look a bit ridiculous dressed like that in the snow, don't they?

The other project that I mentioned in the last post is going along fine, except that the tablet that I was using for the first step in the illustrations is having battery problems now. Thankfully, I've got that step mostly finished by now, though it's going to be difficult to finish the small amount I have left to do. I've got maybe half the illustrations for that finished and am still working on rewriting the ending. Expect more news on that soon and probably an example illustration, but my internet is out at home and I've got to blog from somewhere else at the moment.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

November and Then Christmas

Well, I've certainly been off the radar for a bit, haven't I?  But I've completed another successful National Novel Writing Month (go to if you aren't familiar with NaNoWriMo) and am ready to go back to picture book land. It being the Christmas season, however, I'm taking a bit of a break from the photography and am experimenting with what I tend to think of as digital finger painting. That pretty much means using an app on a tablet computer with a touchscreen to "paint" elements for a picture, then Photoshopping those elements together.  The picture above is a bit of an example. I just threw together a few graphics without bothering to resize anything, but I actually kind of like the result; it's bright and quirky, and what better way to describe any of my projects than bright and quirky? If this experiment turns out well, I might actually have a proof copy ready before Christmas, since I already have the text of a children's Christmas story that's been waiting at least three years to have something done with it. I still need to paint and trim a few more elements before I start on the actual finished illustrations, but it's going very quickly at the moment. Expect a few more posts on this project before I go back to doing much with the pipe cleaners, though I am still working on that project also, slowly but surely.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My First Book Signing

This Sunday's launch party for the community novel was my first book signing! This picture shows me and my mom sitting next to each other and signing books.  We were at one end of a really long table--the book had twenty-two authors, and nineteen of us showed up.  They just passed stacks of books down the table and had us all sign them, including at least one copy for each of us, of course.  I soon realized that my name was far too long to let me keep up with everyone's writing speed!  There's only so much I can do about that, though.

Physical copies of SpeakEasy can be purchased on Amazon here or (for as long as they last) at the Booktique in the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.  The text is available for free electronically, though.  The official library web site still has all the chapters linked to here, and the whole book is also available on Smashwords here.  Everyone involved seems to agree that the novel came together pretty nicely this year, so I'd recommend grabbing a copy from Smashwords and checking it out! It's fun to see how people write when they only have one chapter to make their mark on the story (the author changes show, and that's part of the fun).  And it was fun for me to see a couple of old NaNoWriMo writing buddies, too (shoutout to A.M. Coffee, who is probably reading this!), so I'm glad I made the road trip to be at the book launch.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Picture Book Experiment Post 9--Props

Here's a selection of props for this project.  All of these things either have been used as props, will be used as props, or might be used as props. Every prop is either something I made or some natural item I found. The rocks and the piece of driftwood were picked up on the beach when we went to visit my husband's family, and they have definitely made it into the pictures (in multiple functions). The pot holder is intended for a scene that is probably going to take quite a while to set up at the rate I'm going....  The other thing is supposed to be a swing, made out of twine and pipe cleaners.  It looks a little strange when it's not attached to anything, doesn't it? Hopefully it will look better in the photos so I won't have to remake it.  That's supposed to be for the next scene I photograph, but I need to finish the other swing first.  The baby tried to help me with the first one, so it took quite a bit longer than you'd think it would to make such a simple item! 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Picture Book Experiment Post 8--Setbacks

Well, I've had a few setbacks to the project lately.  Not only am I having trouble coming up with props, I actually lost Neon and Jewel for a couple of days.  I finally found them squashed under the seat of the couch. Pipe cleaners are pretty easy to squish back into shape, though, so no worries on that account.  The props are starting to come along, too, but I'm having to make a few things I didn't originally intend. And I've found a couple more potential photo-taking spots (I was being held up for lack of a swing and a place to hang it, actually), so I'll be back at the photographing a.s.a.p.  Baby's been pretty distracting lately--he said "Mommy" last night, which was a bit shocking, since he's still about a week away from six months. It'll be a while before that's a habit, I'm sure, but it's still exciting to hear it once. He's also climbing everything he can get hold of.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Picture Book Experiment Post 7--Progress Report

There isn't a picture for today's post, just a quick progress report before I get back to working on the text of the picture book.  I've got a rough draft of the layout put together in an MS Word template with a good idea of what the pictures will show, though I don't like a couple of them and want to replace them.  Anyway, I know what the general shape of the plot is and some of the pictures are finished, but the text is mostly still in my head at this point. Several of the pictures need to be edited, and a couple of them have not been taken yet because I'm still hunting for the right props (I should probably write a post about props, but I think I'll wait until I've found the ones I'm looking for so I can show a picture of them).  So, there's still a lot of work to be done, but I have a plan and am working on it. Keep an eye out for further news!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Picture Book Experiment Post 6--Neon the Baby Toy

All right, I admit that I was a bit strapped for something to blog about this weekend--so I went through the pictures on my cell phone and pulled out a few of Neon being played with by the baby. These were taken the day after I made her, while we were on vacation. The baby was somewhere around three and a half months old....  It's really funny how much he likes her (I think it's the bright colors).  Anyway, whenever he sees Neon he tries really hard to get hold of her, but he's usually not too interested in Jewel (not as bright).  These photos prove that the pipe cleaner mermaid was originally intended to be a toy--the picture book idea came a little later, once I'd also made the fairy and was amused by the contrast between the two.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Picture Book Experiment Post 5--Water and Photo Retakes

I did say that I was adding water to some of these pictures, didn't I?  Anyway, here's an example of a picture I had to retake.  The first one looked fine until I actually added the water, at which point I discovered that there was no good place to put the waterline.  There was also an annoying leaf right under the mermaid's hand that I couldn't believe I hadn't noticed earlier. So, I retook it a few inches away with a tree root to serve as the boundary between land and water. It looks a bit bleak without the grass, though....  At the moment I'm wondering if I should retake the retake. 

Adding the water is a fairly straightforward process, though it can get a little fiddly if there are a lot of places where there's something sticking out of it. Some sort of layer-capable photo editing software is essential. I'm using Photoshop 7, which is pretty obsolete but is the best I've got. Did I mention that I have no budget for this project? There's something to be said for old tools that you know how to use, though. And the result is never going to look strictly realistic anyway, not with the people made out of pipe cleaners, so I'm not too focused on using all the fancy buttons in the graphics program.  Photoshop 7 is probably capable of more realism than I'm asking it for at the moment.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Topeka's Community Novel Project

Well, there's no picture for this post, but here's a link:

The Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library's web site just posted the last chapter of this year's community novel!  I don't live in Topeka, but I did help my mom as her coauthor on Chapter 14--I happened to be visiting her the week it was her turn to write, and her previous coauthor (my grandma) was in a different state. It sounded fun, so I jumped at the chance to participate.

Our chapter is far enough into the story that it probably wouldn't make sense to read it by itself, but the rest of the novel is also fun.  My best personal contribution is probably Tyler's hat....

It's been tough getting any time to work on anything this week; the baby's been particular fussy. As my grandpa always says, "We're off like a herd of turtles!" But everyone knows that the turtle always wins.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Picture Book Experiment Post 4--Photo Editing: Backgrounds

Here's an example of what I mean by editing backgrounds.... That isn't all that I've done to this particular shot, but it's a good topic to focus on for the moment. Neon and Jewel are fantasy characters, and it looks a bit odd to see them just hanging out in a hedge in front of a normal building. Here's the original, unedited version of this picture:

See what I mean?  Even my particularly potent "suspension of disbelief" won't let me pretend this is a natural habitat for a mermaid and a fairy.  (Well, a more domestic sort of fairy, maybe, but I'm aiming for something a bit wilder than that.)  I don't want thoughts of "What building is that?" to intrude on my story-telling. And that means that I need to edit it out and replace it with something more natural. (I also need to blend the two photos together as well as I can, which I admit still needs work in this particular instance.) The photo I used for this picture's background was pulled from have essentially no budget for this project, so it's great to have free stock photos, and there are some nice ones in that collection.  I'll probably try a few more different backgrounds before I settle on one for this picture, but the example will give you the general idea.  I'm still looking for something more... woodsy.

Edit:  Here we go, it's woodsy now.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Picture Book Experiment Post 3--Impossible Friends Working Title

I've got a working title now, and at least a draft of a front cover--I would appreciate any feedback on either.  Would you pick this up and look at it if you saw it in a store?  It's going to be available online, but of course it should be as close as I can get it to the quality of a book in a store.  I'm still working hard on the pictures and starting on the text--it's the reverse of what I would have expected, but it seems to be working for me to illustrate first and write afterward. Obviously I started with an idea of what the story was about, but the details are coming into focus as I take the characters out into the world and photograph them.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Picture Book Experiment Post 2--Taking Photos

I went out to get a few more photos of Neon and Jewel today--this is the first time I was actually caught in the act, by a neighbor walking her dog. She said they were cute and chatted for a couple of minutes before the dog pulled her away. I must admit that I felt slightly awkward as a grown woman walking around outside and photographing what is pretty much a couple of dolls, but hey, at least I do have an explanation for it (I have been known to do stuff like that without an explanation, not too many years ago). I'm having a bit of trouble getting the photos I want when the lighting is just right--taking photos requires having my husband home to watch the baby, since I'm not quite talented or experienced enough to hold a camera steady with a squirming baby in the other arm. (And that leaves out the need for both hands to pose the characters in the first place.) That means that several of the photos from today were unfortunately retakes of pictures that I'd already examined on the computer and decided didn't quite work. This particular photo is one that is kind of cute but I'm fairly sure I won't use in the book.  Neon and Jewel do other things besides sitting around in hedges, I promise, and eventually I'll post something to prove it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Picture Book Experiment Post 1--Meet Jewel and Neon

I am planning to create a picture book. By "create" I mean that I am going to write, illustrate,  design, format, and publish it myself.  I'm not going to get into a treatise on the relative merits of self-publishing, but that method does seem to fit this particular project--it's a rather experimental sort of picture book. Anyway, this blog seems like the perfect place to document the process, so I'll finally have a good reason to provide at least semi-regular updates. For the first post on the subject, I would like to present (drumroll, please--oh, wait, I posted the picture above the text, didn't I?) Jewel the fairy and Neon the mermaid, the main characters in my picture book-in-progress. They are made out of pipe cleaners. I know that's a rather unorthodox art style to use for illustrations, but, hey, it's what I'm good at and I have an idea. They're also pose-able, which streamlines the process quite a bit. It does, however, require a certain amount of photo-manipulation any time I need to portray the mermaid as actually in the water.  Fair trade, if you ask me. Stay tuned for updates on Jewel and Neon, self-publishing, and adventures in Microsoft Word.