Thursday, September 8, 2011

Evolution of an Illustration

I recently sent "Prof. Barrister's Dinosaur Mysteries #5: THE CASE OF THE CRESTED CRYPTOCLIDUS" off to my publisher, Nimble Books. Yay! But as an author-illustrator, sending a work to my pub means more than just the manuscript; it also means the illustrations.

Now, just like the text, illustrations can go through edits. Sometimes, an illustration is perfect (or pretty close) the first time I draw it. Other times it needs to be fixed. Here's an example from THE CRESTED CRYPTOCLIDUS that I thought was kind of interesting.

Here, one of the books' heroes, intrepid 3rd grade dinosaur expert Nate, is swimming for his life from a giant Jurassic predator known as Liopleurodon.

Very rough, but conveys the idea. I knew when I drew it that I'd want to improve it. When I returned to this illustration, I realized two things: (1) I liked Nate's expression and body position (which is an extension of his expression), but (2) the illustration lacked the urgency and peril I wanted.

I realized the solution lay in the scale. Nate was too big compared to what I was trying convey as a gigantic marine monster. So I simply shrank Nate down (reduced on a photocopier) and tried again.

That led to also adding depth to the Liopleurodon's mouth. Much better. But still not quite right.

The Liopleurodon's snout was too blunt, and not like the scientific illustrations I'd seen. (I pride myself on paleontological accuracy). So I transformed it from stubby and dog-like to sleek and crocodilian.

Way scarier. Note that Nate hasn't changed from the original sketch.

Now just a matter of cleaning & adding color. Voila! The final illustration:
Very worth the edits, I think.

THE CRESTED CRYPTOCLIDUS is scheduled for December release, with this and 17 other full color illustrations. For information on the first four books (including links to purchase them!), check out

Bonus question: You may have noticed something about the Liopleurodon's nostrils. Free Prof. Barrister sketch to the first person who posts a comment correctly explaining what it is and why it was important to the animal.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Becoming a Better Writer

"A little bit of editing is a dangerous thing."
--Stephen Penner

I realized recently that I'm on the right path in my writing journey, although it was a bittersweet realization. The reason I know I'm becoming a better writer is because I'm not satisfied with what I've written lately. Not that what I've written is bad. It's not. It's pretty good, in fact. Almost very good. With the occasional gem of language or plot twist. But still not good enough.

I have two major works-in-progress which I've written but not yet edited. One is a middle grade adventure novel; the other an adult science fiction novel. I love each of these books and am very proud of what I've written. But I know they need more. A lot more.

I need them to pass the "Who cares?" test. Sure, I care what happens to my characters because I wrote it. But it needs to be better than that. It also needs to be better than my mom caring, or my buddy at work, or my best friend on Twitter. It needs to be better than the dream-literary-agent or acquisitions-editor-at-the-big-publishing-house caring. It has to be so good that the person who doesn't know me at all, who will forget my name after s/he has picked up the book, who isn't going to make any money or fame or friendship or anything off the book--that person has to care.

And right now, my books aren't near good enough for that person to care.

So I will return to them, and edit them, and step back, and edit again, and try to be patient. A year or two ago, I might have thought they were good enough. They were finished, after the sense that I'd written "THE END" on the last page.

But now I know enough to know they aren't good enough. And that's a good thing to know.