Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Doppelganger:
The Horrifying Discovery That Your Book Already Exists

This Saturday, at approximately 7:23pm, a dream of mine was officially, irrevocably, and absolutely shattered: I discovered that that book I wrote already exists. 

But my story doesn't start here. It starts in November of 2005.
I was a senior at The Rhode Island School of Design working on my final project in my children's book writing course. The task was to take four weeks to write an original story, layout the book dummy, and illustrate one or two final spreads from the story, all of which culminated in a final presentation to a panel of special guests from the publishing industry (our teacher was a children's agent from Boston so she used her connections to wrangle in a few notable people). It was an extremely important event in my life at that time, especially as former students had gotten book deals resulting from this particular class. A true optimist, I hoped with all my heart that my own book might make be selected and eventually published.

Having only about one month from start to finish, and many other classes to contend with, my manuscript was certainly no polished masterpiece. But for what it was, it was very special to me and very well received by my classmates and the panel of publishing insiders. I was given extremely encouraging feedback from the final critique and I left ELATED that my book had potential and that one day, after graduating, maybe I could really develop it into something worthy of the bookshelf.

Since then, I have picked up my manuscript from time to time and made some tweaks, but I always felt it could be better. I figured that when the time was right I would really take it seriously and do something with it. I was very confident that somehow, somewhere, sometime, it could realistically be published. I believed in it just enough to imagine that reality, but not enough to dedicate myself to it over the past 5 years. 

Flash to May of 2009. 
Reluctantly, I decided it was time to dust off my manuscript and take advantage of the fact that my contract with Abrams for Ballots For Belva REQUIRED me to submit any future manuscripts I might write to them before I could shop them around to other publishers. In an industry rife with anti-unsolicited submissions policies, it was too good an invitation NOT to at least try and get some feedback. So I sent it to my editor there and eagerly awaited a response. Something. Anything that might validate its potential. I didn't care if they published it, I just needed to know I wasn't crazy for thinking it was good. (Which I rarely feel towards my own work anyway).

A while later, I finally heard back from my editor, who had this to say about it:
"Thanks so much for your patience as we take a closer look at your manuscript. I thought it was a very clever concept, and your writing is lovely. I like books with a little bit of a secret, and this one definitely delivers on those secrets. And as always we love your art — these pieces have especially great details. In the end, though, I think the concept is not quite right for us. It’s on the esoteric side, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but just means it’s a little harder to grasp the central hook right away. We’d love to see something else from you, though, and to hopefully be able to work with you again in the future. We love your work!
You are free to submit this around elsewhere, and I really hope you’ll consider us again for your next idea, whatever that may be. I’m always happy to read your manuscripts."
Well, that was definitely a welcome response. SO WHAT if it wasn't right for them?! It might be right for someone else. And if I cared about it enough, maybe, just maybe, it was something worth caring about.

Flash back to this Saturday, January 29, 2011, 7:23 pm.
I'm standing in the children's book section of The Strand in NYC (18 MILES OF BOOKS!). I'm surrounded by thousands of books, floor to ceiling--

I don't know if you are a believer in fate, but I sure am. 

There were so many kids books you could easily spend days in the children's section alone. But I only had about 45 minutes to peruse, which makes my story even more serendipitous. 

Of all the thousands of books I could have picked up, one instantly caught my eye. The cover looked interesting though it wasn't until I started reading that my jaw dropped. The moment I turned the pages I had a very tight, deeply knotted feeling in my stomach and knew that a small part of my life would never be the same. 

This book was not just "similar" to the book I wrote while in school, it was almost the EXACT same concept from cover to cover. It was as if I had bumped into my own doppelganger, as if I was staring at a strangely distorted but uncannily identical version of myself. My face in a funhouse mirror. 

It was published in 2009.

I was struck with the earth-shattering realization that not only had someone beaten me to my own idea, but that apparently this idea was not even ORIGINAL. No longer UNIQUE. No longer MINE.

It's a tough feeling to have. Even now I am still in a bit of a state of shock with how much it has rattled my cage. I've shown the book to my husband, my parents, my sisters--- all of their jaws have dropped at the stunningly sameness of our ideas. 

So the question is, what do I do now? What is this all about?

First off, I am undoubtedly in a strange and unexpected state of mourning for my own pride in an idea. I think that's a natural and expected reaction. Part of me wants to cry, part of me feels violated. Part of me wants to curl up in a ball and shout IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO BE ORIGINAL!!! I GIVE UP! And part of me worries that I'll never, ever, ever, ever, write my own book now.

So I let myself feel these things. But knowing that getting upset won't change anything, I pull myself back to rational thinking. And in doing so, I discover that I am actually extremely THANKFUL for this turn of events.

I am thankful because in some way, I am validated that everyone who ever told me that my book should be published was right. The concept WAS good enough. It was worthy to be brought into the world and it would engage children in every way that I hoped it would. 

I am thankful that my doppelganger book was written so well, and that the illustrator did such a fantastic job. I am thankful that this concept was done right, even if I was not the one to do it. 

I am thankful that I even found my doppelganger book. I am thankful that the universe knew I needed to find it. I am thankful that I found it before I poured my heart and soul into developing it anymore than I already have. 

I am thankful that when I casually approached my editor at Abrams Books a few years ago with my manuscript, they passed on it.  I am thankful that I've sat on it ever since instead of trying to shop around a book that already exists. I am thankful that I will never be an accidental copycat.

I am thankful that I can move on from something that has been lurking in the back of my mind, haunting me with its promise and potential. 

Amongst mixed emotions and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no longer a place for this particular book in the publishing world now, I feel FREE. Free to start again. Free to find that story that can and WILL be all MINE. 

Free to prove that I'm more than a one-trick pony.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Slow Going...Still Going

I couldn't be more grateful for the inadvertent down time I've had lately. It's allowed me to slowly chisel away at the last of the famous American portraits for Scholastic and I am super lucky that the second half of the project (12 illustrated scenes featuring these people) doesn't get assigned until next week at the earliest.

Apart from that, I've been wrapping up some of the small educational spec jobs I've been doing for McGraw Hill. Some of it has been interesting, some of it has not. But it should be a nice little chunk of change when it's all over, which is great since (apart from the back and forth discrepancies in directions) I've barely noticed working on them over the last month.

This is are a couple examples of some of what I've been up to:
A museum interior in which students will draw Native American artifacts/art:

A 5th grader's explorer card and mock journal entry:

A Colonial furniture maker's shop:

And a wallet (the first pass and the revised art):
Thrilling, I know.
In other news....

The SCBWI conference is THIS weekend, and I can't wait to hear all the talks and presentations and take lots of notes so I can recap all the interesting highlights when I get back to my desk on Monday. It's going to be a long weekend, but at least I'll have my husband with me and my best friend Erica is kind enough to host us at her place in the city for three nights! I'm so lucky!

Yesterday I took some time to mat the artwork my husband and I will be putting in the Art Showcase. I really wanted to create a new piece for it, but this week has been the most challenging yet in terms of total body pain so I had to prioritize my stresses and opted to use one of the spreads from Red Riding Hood instead. Oh well....maybe next year!

That's all for now!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

NO: A Word Not Often Heard in Freelancing

Needless to say, life doesn't always go as planned. When I left my day job in June, I never could have foreseen that physical pain my body would be experiencing just eight months later. It's not getting any better, and may even be getting worse. But I refuse to give up. And although I have my bad days, overall I'm trying to stay positive and not let it affect my everyday life as much as it could.

I don't want to dwell on it, but rather acknowledge that it may even be a welcome challenge. I mean, come on. If I didn't have this back pain to contend with, life would be way too easy and I would feel super guilty about how perfect things are. Sounds crazy, but it's true.

In fact, all this may even be meant to help me focus more on my career. It makes sitting at my computer all day excruciating, BUT it also makes me realize that I need to be WAY pickier about how I spend my time everyday. I am beyond fortunate (right now) that I DO NOT rely on my job for a steady income, nor are our bills or rent dependent on how much I make with my illustration work. I imagine that this will change someday, but for the time being I should feel super lucky that I do not HAVE to take on projects if I don't WANT to. 

That being said, why in the heck am I taking on projects that I do not want to do??
I AM A FREELANCER. I work for myself. No one depends on me. So why don't I feel like I have the freedom to pass up work?

Is it greed?
Gosh, with the low-paying jobs I've done recently it surely can't be that.

Nor do they offer challenging benefits to my career experience. Most of the educational work lately has been more like a math problem with so many constraints that only one answer is the right answer and anyone can figure it out, if they work at it long enough. 

It's unbelievably frustrating to find yourself doing things you don't want to do when YOU are the person who put yourself in that situation to begin with.

So why do I do this to myself? I'm not supposed to owe anyone except myself right now. Why do I keep forgetting this?

Wouldn't my time be better spent working on my own projects, and moving my portfolio forward in the direction of the kind of artist I WANT to be? Heck, my time would better be spent reading than it would be working on some of the lame crap I've done lately. 

I know why I've said yes to this work, and bottom line it's because I felt like I couldn't say no. Like it would look bad to my agent. Like I needed to prove to myself that I can do these meaningless jobs and make a quick buck. 

But the bottom line is that I am not built with a switch that allows me to care less about one job over another. If I take on a crappy job, I'm going to work just as hard on it as I would an awesome job. No matter how long it takes me, no matter how stressed it makes me. 

So if I can't change my work ethic, than perhaps I need to protect myself from my own proclivity for perfection. And that means that it's going to have to be ok for me to say NO to something that doesn't deserve my attention. 

If someone else can do it, than get someone else to do it. Time is too precious. Don't waste it on art you don't want to make. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

So Long, Wolf

Here's the last spread of the Red Riding Hood book. I'm relieved to finally reach the finish line on this project, considering how much of a struggle it's been to work amidst all the back pain, holiday obligations, and other projects hovering around. I'll be sending these to the publisher for approval now, so apart from minor tweaks and adjustments, I should be able to say goodbye to Little Red very soon!

For now, it's on to the next project waiting in the wings.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Grandma Ain't No Fool

In this very, very kid-friendly and entirely non-violent version of Red Riding Hood, Grandmother sees Wolf knocking at her door and, having no desire to become his mid-day snack, runs off to hide in a nearby closet. Too funny. more spread to go! VERY EXCITED to be nearing the end of this project!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Flower Power

Another day and another spread down! That leaves me with just two more spreads to go! Yippee!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Five down, three to go

Probably my least favorite spread. Rather dull. But at least it's done!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Welcome to 2011

Woah! I can not believe it's actually the year two thousand and eleven. Seriously??? This spring will mark 5 years out of art school. It's incredible how fast time flies, especially considering that so many dreams have already come true since graduating. (a published children's book, a two year stint at a design job, a wedding, a happy year of marriage, living with my own cats in my own apartment, leaving my job and becoming an illustrator, and working from home everyday!)

Anyway. I'm hoping this will be another great year filled with exciting opportunities and chances to expand, experiment, and evolve my work! At least the first work day of 2011 was productive. We'll see how the rest goes!

Here's the sixth spread from the Red Riding Hood book, completed out of order from the story.