Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Power of Friendship

It wasn't all that long ago when I was in a jam...a real pickle if you know what I mean.

As most of my friends know, I was REALLY sick. I didn't know what to do. I had mounting bills and I couldn't work. With no medical insurance, there wasn't a doctor on the planet who would touch me. I fell between the cracks of society...not enough income to afford insurance, but I made $50 a month too much for government assistance. I was in what is considered the poverty bracket, but that didn't matter. I have no children, and I am not a minority, so I qualified for...

nothing, nada, ZIPPITY-DO-DA!!

I needed three thousand dollars worth of surgery immediately, and I simply had no way of getting it. Emergency rooms turned me away. Doctors refused to treat me, regardless of my constant pain. I beat myself up for having had the nerve to think that I could make a life for myself as a freelance illustrator. What was I thinking? I asked myself, Why couldn't I have been like everyone else on the planet and gotten a REAL job, with insurance benefits? Freelancing had never paid me a true living wage, and for all my hard work and dedication, I had come to this... the possibility of death at 52. I am not dramatizing the situation, it was indeed very dire.

Then along came a mysterious e-mail that changed everything. Okay, well it curbed my self-loathing and gave me the courage to believe that maybe, just maybe there was a chance for me yet. I received notification from my Paypal account, saying that I had received funds from an source unknown to me. Then another one came, and another. I began to cry.

In the days that followed, I received over half of the funds I needed and they kept coming. My friends and colleagues had done a miraculous thing...they were all banning together to save me. To say that it was an over-whelming feeling would be a lie. I don't think that words have been invented that could accurately explain what I felt as the money came pouring in.

I have never before and not since felt so loved. For me it was more than just money, it was a validation of my worth. Never before had I felt that I truly mattered to anyone in the world, except my husband. It changed my life and it changed me.

I don't know how I will ever thank my friends enough, but I am determined to try. I'm starting by becoming a better version of myself. I have lost thirty pounds and counting. I have been through three surgeries and a fourth is planned for September. I feel better than I have in twenty years and you can't put a price on that!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

My Next Big Thing: "When Mommy Got Cancer", a picture book illustrated by Lisa J. Michaels and written by Karen Garcia

If you are an SCBWI member, then you know my friend, Alison Davis Lyne

You may be thinking, I do?? 

If you've read your SCBWI Bulletin Magazine, then yes, you have undoubtedly run across her excellent and helpful column, "Art Tips". (You'll find it on page 12 in the current July/August issue.) 

A week ago, she tagged me for "My Next Big Thing", a global blog tour started in Australia, as a way to showcase authors and illustrators currently working on a picture book set for publication.

Below you will find the answers and images that I provided for the Q and A for this tour, which will be passed along to other talented folks on Friday, July 5th. 

I hope you will enjoy seeing my "work in progress", and I sincerely hope that you will follow the links I provide to view the other many talented artist on this tour as well. 

Big hugs and many heart-felt thanks to Alison for including me!

1. ) What is the working title of your next book?

When Mommy Got Cancer, Creating Joy Together”. It will be released in 2014.

2.) Where did the idea come from for the book? 

Even though I’m the illustrator (not the author), I can still answer this question. Karen knew she was dying of cancer and would not live to see her daughter grow up. In the time she had left (after her diagnosis), she decided to make her days as positive and happy as possible for her child. She wanted her to have wonderful memories that would sustain her throughout her life, and reminder her of the love they shared. 

This book is a loving tribute to Karen's daughter, with the hope that it will bring her peace, gentle reminders of their mutual admiration, acceptance of that which is out of our hands, and most of all, JOY! 

3.) Who is publishing your book? 

Unfortunately, Karen passed away before the book could be published, but the editor at Hibiscus Publishing had promised her that they would see it through. The knowledge that the process had begun gave Karen great comfort in her final days.  

4.) Who or what inspired you to write this book? Since the first question answered this question and I'm the illustrator, I'll answer as to how the illustrations developed. 

Hibiscus looked high, low, long and hard to find just the right illustrator. They considered hundreds of artists across the globe before narrowing it down to just a few. Then they sent out a "call for samples" to those they were considering. We were all given a few small excerpts from the manuscript, and allowed to pick two scenario's to sketch.  

In all honesty, I wasn't the one Hibiscus really wanted, but the universe, fate, divinity (or whatever you wish to call it), stepped in to favor me. The preferred artist wasn't available, (she had too many other projects, poor thing) so they sent my samples to Karen's mom for consideration. 

She wept when she saw them, as the resemblance to her daughter and grand-daughter was uncanny. When the editor informed her that I'd not been given any photos to work from, nor had I ever seen  any, she was convinced that I was meant to be the illustrator on this project. Too many of the little details I'd drawn were spot-on, just as they were in reality. Was it coincidence, or something more? 

5.) In what genre does your book fall? 

Karen often considered the many other people (with small children) who might be going through a similar experience.
She thought a gently narrated (in first-person) picture book might be just the ticket for parents who are attempting to explain the passing of a loved one and the feelings associated with terminal illness. This book falls within the category of Juvenile Fiction Picture Books.

6.) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Like everything and everyone else involved with this project, this question is sort of serendipitous in that I have thought about this many times prior to the question being asked. Without doubt, Andie McDowell would be perfect for Karen's part. She's the spitting image of her... and for our main character, Alicia Morton would be perfect, with her gentle, sweet nature and her impish, joyful smile! 

7.) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? 

Since I'm the illustrator I'll take that question by substituting it with; "How long did it take to produce the sketches and finalize the line art?" 

 My first meeting with the editor was on April 11th, 2013. We discussed how the project came about, the time-line, payment options, the proposed layout, and how I had been chosen to produce the illustrations. I was given until May 30th to complete the ready-for-color line art. Then life got in the way (as it always does) and the struggle to meet my deadline began! 

 Editor's have a job to do that does not include babysitting illustrators.  I learned long ago that they don't have time to worry or even think about how we go about our jobs...or the fact that we take on more than we can handle as a means of financial survival. Such was the case for me when this project began, but there was NO WAY that I was going to turn down a traditional publishing opportunity, and the chance to work with a professional editor! Everything else had to be put on a back burner, and I got to work on this project immediately. 

 Since then, I have been astounded by the differences between professionals and the self-publishing world. Although I love to help self-publishers achieve their dreams, it simply can't compare to the freedom found in a trusting, compassionate, creative editor. Finally, the dreams being achieved are my own! 

 8. ) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 

 "Personally, I'm not sure that it compares to anything already published. This is a subject that has been avoided by most publishers, because of it's delicate nature. Illness is something we all experience at some point in our lives, but as parents we attempt to shield our children from the harsh realities until they simply must be addressed. The author envisioned "When Mommy Got Cancer" as a tool to help parents approach this rapidly growing issue of death by cancer, and I believe she managed to do it with dignity, honesty, and love. In my humble opinion, we are past due for a book like this and it should be applauded. 

 9.) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

 Well, we'd have to ask the editor what she thinks on that one, but being a writer myself, I have an idea that it would go something like this; This picture book depicts a mother's struggle with terminal cancer and her determination to teach her child how to express all of the feelings and emotions that such an ordeal creates... at the same time, she explains that reaching for JOY is the answer, and through sharing it, we discover the key to true happiness and ever-lasting life. 


10.) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

Attention to detail is something I take pride in. Throughout the book, there are little things that catch your eye, like dancing butterflies flitting across the page, the caring and realistic expressions on the face of their pet feline, lovely background textures that add richness and color, etc. 

As an illustrator, I strive to give my child readers little details that will surprise them each time they revisit the page. 

With each project I take on, my goal is to use what I've learned from the last project, to be better than I've ever been!

Thank you for taking the time to read about and support me in my endeavors. I LOVE my blog readers, you guys ROCK!!!!

On July 5th, be sure to check out my talented and creative friends, on "The Next Big Thing" Blog Tour:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Newly Released!

My newest book has been released for purchase on Amazon, and I'm so excited! I worked really hard on it, giving it my best-ever effort and I think it paid off.

The book printed beautifully, with bright, colorful pages throughout.

In addition, the author's manuscript sends a very positive, yet subtle message of hope to young readers who may have lost a grandparent or loved one.

I can honestly say that I am proud to be associated with this work.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dear Self-Publishing Author

For over a decade now, I've sat on both sides of the fence. I'm both an author and an illustrator. It's been extremely uncomfortable!

As a paid critiquing author, I'm constantly asked for advice on how to find and deal with elusive illustrators.

As a professional illustrator, I'm asked for advice on how to deal with new and often demanding, self-publishing authors.

Today, a new author I'd recently critiqued, sweetly and naively asked; 

"Since you are an illustrator, I'd like to know if you'd be willing to make specific illustration suggestions for each page?" 

In all fairness to her, I must tell you that she offered to pay for this service, but the illustrator side of me couldn't even imagine it. The hair stood up on the back of my neck, as I thought...

"Oh no! Another newbie who want's to micro manage her illustrator!"

Now, you may be wondering why she isn't asking ME to illustrate her book. For about a nano-second, I wondered that too. Then I realized it was simple, I'm so good, she assumes she can't afford me. Yes, that was my ego talking. It's called a 'defense mechanism' people! So shoot me!

The truth is, I don't know why, but I suppose my illustration style isn't what she's looking for.

After swallowing my pride, I thought about her question again. I thought it would be good to post my answer for all self-publishing authors who are thinking about taking up art directing.

Dear Self-Publishing Author,
You never want to insult a professional illustrator, by telling him/her WHAT or HOW to draw on each page. Each of us has our own different style, creative process, imagination, art education and talent. 

You may be saying, "That's all well and good, but I want to have some control over what I'll be PAYING for!" Believe me, there isn't a comment you could make that I haven't heard before, from other, well-meaning authors. So, here's what I'm going to suggest you do. 

First, decide exactly how much your budget can handle. Illustrations are (even for BIG publishers) where the bulk of your money goes. Remember, your illustrations will determine your final sales. If they are mediocre, most likely, your sales will be too. It's just that simple. You get what you pay for. 

Expect to pay no less than $75 each for simple, cartoon-like illustrations. If an illustrator offers them for less, it's unlikely that he/she is a professional. Illustrators who undervalue their own work have very little self-worth, and are not confident in what they have to offer you. 

Make sure you find out how much help they can give you throughout production, and that they have dealt with printing companies for previous picture book projects. Not all printers are the same, and your illustrator must be able to create the type of digital image files that can be processed by your printer of choice. 

The only OTHER way to get an illustrator for less, is to use an illustrator co-op - where illustrations will be assigned to several different illustrators, who work on the various stages of production. The result is usually very generic, comic book-style illustrations.

Second, peruse the internet. Go to and look under "illustrator portfolio's". The SCBWI hosts only professional and semi-pro, working illustrators. Google the words "Children's Book Illustrators" and search through sites, looking for the style that you would prefer for your book. When you find it, contact the illustrator personally and tell them that you are self-publishing a 24 page picture book. Let them know that you like their style (the one you've already seen), and ask for a quote. Don't insult them by asking for a free sample! Successful, working illustrator's don't have time or the need to work for free. They post samples on their websites and blogs for you to look at, and decide if their style is what you want. 

When you have checked with several illustrators and found a quote you can live with, ask and expect them to send you a legally binding contract. If they don't have one, RUN! Contracts are for your protection as well as the illustrators. You don't want to be half way through a project, and have your illustrator bolt. 

Third. Once you have found the perfect illustrator, respect their talent and vision. I have never (not even once!) had an author tell me that their own vision was greater than the illustrations I produced for them. We illustrators have wonderful imaginations! Most often, we envision much more for your book than you ever dreamed possible. If you like an illustrators style well enough to hire them, be prepared to turn them loose, and let them be their creative best. 

Be advised: professional illustrators will submit each sketch to you along the way, ask for your approval, and give you the opportunity to request minor changes before the illustration is completed. This is repeated for each illustration, until the book is done. 

Like most under-paid grade-school teachers, we illustrators are a passionate bunch. The average pay for a 24 page picture book is about $2000. That's only $125 a week. Out of that, comes taxes and health care. Few of us can afford insurance. So, why do we do it?? Because it's who we are, and we can't imagine what our lives would be like, if we didn't. It's pure love, just that simple. :o)