Thursday, February 28, 2008

Regina Doman is in the hospital with appendicitis. She will be there for a few days. Please keep her in your prayers.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Happy Belated Valentine's Day!

If I had found this earlier, I would have posted it on Valentine's Day! (I was looking around for something special to post!) Check out this really cool fan pic by Mary Firiel, which is an imaginative depiction of Rose's first meeting with Fish (in The Shadow of the Bear). You can click it for a larger version.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Of Reepicheepian Proportions

My article on the third book of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is up on Here's a snippet.

My favorite character is the Mouse: Reepicheep, who starts the book as a clown and ends it as a musoline saint approaching the beatific vision. In some ways, he epitomizes Lewis’s storytelling in this tale, taking us from pirate adventures to spiritual heroism. Read more...

I've Been InPersonned!

Just a note to say that the National Catholic Register ran an interview with me on their front-page column "In Person." I'm honored! The article is called Fighting Dragons (cool title) and if you subscribe to the Register, you can read it here. This past week was Catholic Colleges Week, so I think that's why they ran it with the subtitle "Catholic College Helped Author Face Crises." I actually haven't seen the article myself, but I've heard from some folks who enjoyed it. So if you get a chance, check out the Feb. 17th issue of the Register and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

For MacDonald Lovers...

Like most people, I started reading George MacDonald through C. S. Lewis. When I was a teen, I savored reading MacDonald's fantasies, Phantastes and Lilith. I read The Princess and the Goblin and its sequel, and his collected fairy tales. Then I went on to read some of his realistic romances, the ones edited and adapted to American tastes by evangelical writer Michael Philips for Bethany House. Taking the advice on the back of the book, I made a cup of tea and enjoyed The Fisherman's Lady and its sequel The Marquis' Secret (both books were an adaptation of MacDonald's novel Malcom. I loved that romance, but my favorite became the book retitled The Maiden's Bequest by Philps (it was originally Alec Forbes of Howglen).

Well, there is no substitute for reading MacDonald, but if you've already done that, you probably want to check out George MacDonald: Literary Heritage and Heirs, newly published by Zossima Press. These fourteen essays on his life and legacy range from his influences (including the melancholic William Blake), his interactions with other Victorian authors such as Lewis Carroll (who was a close friend), and whether or not he's been treated fairly by his more recent admirers, including Michael Phillips and C.S. Lewis himself. A provocative essay by John Pennington argues that despite his professed admiration for Phatastes, Lewis never really fully appreciated MacDonald's fictional talents. Pennington and others ask readers to re-examine MacDonald apart from Lewis's eclectic critique and see if they're pleasantly surprised.

I thoroughly enjoyed most of the essays in the book (although some of them were a bit too modern lit-crit for my taste) and it whetted my appetite for more MacDonald. So I did what any self-respecting booklover would do -- I went to the library and got a book of MacDonald's collected fairy stories so I could partake again. If you love the redoubtable Scottish writer, or if you've never read, this book is an excellent companion to his books. Enjoy!

Monday, February 11, 2008

So You Want to Publish a Picture Book?

From time to time, I've had people email me asking for advice on publishing a picture book -- a story book with lots of illustrations for young children. I almost always tell them the same thing, so I thought I'd post my answer here.

I hate to be discouraging but children's picture books are about the hardest books in the world to get published. Most publishers (think: in particular, Catholic publishers) don't like to do picture books for three reasons:

1.) color printing still remains very expensive, and the price of coated paper which is required for good color printing continues to rise. Because of this, even picture books by famous authors and illustrators have short print runs and quickly go out of print. Remember this: not only is it hard to get published by a big publishing house: it's hard to keep your books in print! Since authors get paid royalties only as long as their books are still in print, this means it's hard to make money on picture books.

2) a book with illustrations means paying both an author and an illustrator (even if the author does his own illustrations) - hence a double cost to the publisher. And the hassle of working with two parties - author and illustrator - is a large disincentive to them. Publishers always want to pick the illustrator, so offering to illustrate the book yourself, even for free, doesn't necessarily solve this problem for the publisher. Don't offer to find your own illustrator for the book, unless the publishers ask you to. Most publishers prefer to work with artists they already know and contract with, not an unknown.

3) and this last one is a biggie -- EVERYONE thinks they can write children's books, so publishers are flooded with submissions and, as an unknown author, you are competing with many, many more people (including already-estabilished picture book authors, and celebrities who've written a picture book for their kid) for a very few slots in a publisher's lineup. Because of this last factor, many agents won't even accept picture book manuscripts: they inundated with so many of them. Remember, the fact that picture books are short and appear easy to write means that lots of other people are trying to write them too.

So what is a first-time author to do?

First of all, understand that you are better off trying to get published by writing magazine stories with few illustrations or grade-school books that are mostly text. There is less cost and competition in those areas. Don't underestimate the magazine market: if you have a string of stories published in high-quality magazines like Cricket or Hilights, a publisher or agent might be impressed enough to give your manuscript a look. As a personal example, I only was able to get my picture book, Angel in the Waters, published after I had two young adult novels and about thirty magazine and newspaper articles published.

Self-publishing is an option that is becoming more affordable now, if you can find a quality illustrator for your work. But remember you will be shouldering all the marketing and promotion costs yourself, and that can be a lot of work.

But if you just want to have some copies of your own book for friends, families, or a ministry, self-publishing is a great option to pursue.

Either way, expect to pay at least a few thousand for a good illustrator, if you want a good product.

Which brings up the point that picture books are all about the pictures. Make sure your story really needs pictures. If you study professional picture book guidelines, you'll notice that each page of text should be paired with a page that describes your suggested illustration.

In my experience, most amateur picture books have far too much text, far too much verbiage, and their picture descriptions are way too vague.

As an exercise, try visualizing your story WITHOUT words. Map it out on scrap paper, minus all the words. Then only include the words you need to tell the story. If your imagined picture shows a little girl running joyfully to her dad's arms with a big smile on her face, then your text should NOT say: "Margaret ran joyfully to her dad's arms with big smile on her face, and said 'Daddy I love you!'"

What about just:

"I love you, Dad!" said Margaret. (Illustration: girl runs joyfully to dad with a big smile on her face)

Let the pictures tell the story!

So that's my two cents. If you really want to get your picture book published, consider joining - the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. They are a great networking professional organization and they have great contacts in the established industry. The dues are worth it, and the local groups are great too. They'll connect you with other authors like yourself, and their conferences are very helpful places where you can have the chance to meet and talk with agents and publishers.

Hope at least some of this is helpful to you! God bless your work!

Peace and good

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fan Report: Fairy-Tale Sleepover

I was honored to find out that Amanda ("Lady Rose") and her friends had a Fairy-Tale Sleepover at her house in January. Check out the entry from her blog here. Cooking, drinking tea (but of course!) and posing for their own "coma" photos were among the activities (I don't know where you all come up with these things!). Enjoy!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Black As Night typos fixed....

Not that you'll want to run out and buy a new copy, but I fixed up more typos and tightened up some grammar in Black as Night. Why am I telling you this...? Because it's the last thing I had to work on before starting to revise The Midnight Dancers. Woot! Just clearing my desk before the next project....!