Monday, December 20, 2010
FEATURED AUTHOR: Joanne Johnson
In this concept picture book, “Small Man” and Dad go walkabout. He feels inspired by the colors of nature and chooses a pink hat. His father says “No! Pink is for girls!”…or is it? Pink Carnival offers sunny inspiration for kids and opens a door to meaningful conversations with interested adults. Set against the splendid backdrop of Trinidad's world famous carnival and using the radiance and delight of color, Pink Carnival gently addresses the issue of gender stereotyping. With his game of I Spy Pink, "Small Man", playfully debunks the bias in his father's mind. Carole Anne Ferris’s vivid photography celebrates the natural beauty and life-giving qualities of the Caribbean. (www.caroleanneferris.com)
Meaningful Books : Inspiration for Kids
Pink Carnival Children’s book trailer:
How did you start out your writing career?
My work as a writer began because I was a lover of books and enjoyed reading from as early as I can remember. I loved the solitude of it and the boundless nature of imagination. I could not articulate it until I was well into adulthood, but I felt clearly a question forming within me. “Why aren’t there any children’s books about the Trinidad world in which I live?” On my twelfth birthday my mother gave me a notebook. She had covered it herself in denim on which she embroidered My First Diary. The clasp was a denim loop and brass button. I have been writing daily for my own sanity and contentment ever since. As a primary school teacher in the 80s I would bring good calypso into the class room for study like Tambu’s “The Journey” and “Culture”; and as a children’s theater facilitator I wrote an interactive play called “The Island” which has now become my beautifully illustrated book, “Ibis Stew? Oh, No!” During the 90s after promoting home grown talent with SUN TV, I felt crushed by our lack of self love and wanted to continue the work in a way that allowed for greater personal and professional autonomy and independence. The dream of contemporary Caribbean children’s books came back to me. I approached an artist friend, Vanessa Soodeen with my ideas for a series of “I Am…” children’s books. We created three mock-ups and I put together a portfolio including our bios and whatnot, but before mailing it off I phoned Macmillan! Now you have to remember in 1998 there was no Google search; no emailing, texting and so on and everything I had ever read about the ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s of getting published strongly advised against disturbing publishers and editors with phone calls and un-agented submissions. I remember feeling pure creative desire and a profound sincerity powered by a gut feeling that it was what I needed to do in that moment. As the universe would have it the voice on the other side was Nick Gillard, relatively new on staff and a young publisher eager to discover and develop Caribbean. I simply introduced myself and announced my intentions to send a package. He politely confirmed the address. Six weeks later I received a letter saying that they wanted to license one of my texts “Go Barefoot”, but only to publish as a part of their Ready Go reading series for pre-school kids. They would illustrate and design it accordingly. At this point I felt elated for the opportunity but even more excited at the possibility that I could share it with others. I said I was happy to accept if they would allow Vanessa to illustrate the text again according to their guidelines for the series. If she was willing to paint a few samples on speculation, (i.e. no guaranteed pay unless they approved the work); and if she was willing to work ‘for hire’ (i.e. the copyright for illustrations in the Ready Go series are all owned by the publisher and the artist is paid a flat fee); they would consider her for the art work. Naturally, we both understood that it was a rare privilege to get a foot in an established publishing name like this. The rest is history. Vanessa and I created three books together and have both gone on to work with others and publish again and again.
What did you learn while writing this book?
A concept picture book is conceived more than it is ‘written’. It is about pictures first with concise, potent text. Even if you cannot render the visuals yourself having a clear understanding of elements, styles, colors, composition and so on, which will convey your story is vital. I learned that when the seed of an idea is ripe there are clues of readiness that prompt you to act. I had doodles of the idea for a few years. One publisher expressed an interest to include it as a part of a reading series but I really wanted more creative control. Then I met Carole Anne Ferris. Her soulful photography inspired me to think of Pink Carnival in terms of photo illustrations. To do that, I had to be willing to ‘write’ the visuals and text to some degree around her photographs. Luckily she has an extensive database of thousands of Caribbean images so the work was in paring down and selecting! Then I created a storyboard and we were able to cast and shoot the characters.
It all came together with tremendous ease and flow. The child in the story is so talented, we shot it in less than four hours. We had scheduled three days! Then Carole and I went about the work of honoring the carnival mas makers by getting their permission to use their costume images and in some cases to re-color them pink. Even though the copyright belongs to the photographer, we really took time to do every thing in a way that respects their work and are very pleased to have their support.
What did you hope to accomplish with this book?
Pink Carnival is the inaugural title of a new imprint Meaningful Books. I want to use Meaningful Books, starting with Pink, to open doors for educating emotional intelligence in children and their grown ups.
Is the “writer’s life” what you thought it would be?
Yes, freedom is sweet. I am learning to measure luxury in a different currency: flexibility and autonomy. My creative interests are diverse so I happily supplement my income with other projects as needed. I have promoted and sold a lot of Caribbean books as well, not just my own. Working as a freelance creative requires an independent spirit. I value that part of myself. Even if I receive more financial income from other sources I work actively within and without to keep my soul’s creative spark as my priority. I haven’t had glamorous illusions about it at all. I do what I love and am learning to do it more and more without the angst so typical and even expected of creative people. If you can enjoy community over competition, process over perfectionism, there is a healthy way through for the artist life. Something right always shows up as a stepping-stone marked ‘next’.
Which five characters (can be from books, movies, or TV shows) would you invite over for dinner and why?
Well if you’ll allow me six:
Aging prostitutes Jean and Dinah from The Mighty Sparrow’s cross-generational hit calypso (soon to be film “Yankees Gone” see FB page of that name); sitting between them the Trini-Brit and desperate housewife Sabine from Monique Roffey’s White Woman on a Green Bicycle (Orange Prize nominee 2010). Across the table lets put the guys: seat Ti Jean from Derek Walcott’s play (which I am directing for St. Francois Girls College annual production 2011); then the blue, androgynous Loba from Jamaican author Michael Holgate’s, Moonbeam Award winning Night of the Indigo; and throw in Captain Bad the pirate turned watchman from my children’s book Ibis Stew? Oh, No! Just so he can survey them all about eating exotic meats and national birds while I serve them a vegan meal.
WHY? To keep it West Indian and relevant to my creative life now, to mix up the genres, age groups and all in the name of a chaotic Callaloo soup. I seldom invite anyone over for dinner, so if I get to do it in fantasy – let’s play!
What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?
Well the only place I feel to be is here and now. I am glad to be letting go of notions of ‘getting somewhere’ it brings clam and clarity to the creative process. I wish I’d joined the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators from the time I received my first contract in 1998. I spent a lot more time and money than necessary just learning about the business and legalities of publishing than necessary and did not have the benefit of community and networking that the SCBWI offers. I wish I had discovered Sol Stein on Writing long before I did, and had that feeling all through reading it.
Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?
Don’t aspire. Be yourself.
Do study and learn the craft and business of writing.
What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
Whether I am lolling around or typing I am “writing”. Writing is always being conceived through the process of living. Inspiration is every and any where. When we sit to literally write it out we claim authorship of that direct experience and aim to communicate it with others. I hear people express judgment or even envy towards the apparently ‘easy’ rhythms of creative life. Not so! Artists often appear to be on a lark and so out of the 8 to 4 routine, but really, even if we’re in PJs at noon, we’re working! ( If you had said two things, I would add that I hate to be interrupted when I am actually typing at my laptop. It’s nothing personal when I say “ I need my space.”)
What was the best advice you’d ever gotten about the publishing industry? The worst?
Best: It is a long slow process. Unless you’re in the 1% who is on the fast track, it is longer and slower than you think.
Worst: I never got any advice that I think was bad. Ultimately each of us is responsible for assessing points of view and choosing how to respond. I am grateful for different points of view even if they don’t sound true or right for me.
What is something readers would be surprised you do?
I like the question because nothing comes up right now and it makes me think “Hmm, I have to work on that…something surprising…”
If you could be a character from any book you've read, who would you be?
Anne of Green Gables, maybe.
Our theme for this month is Children’s Books. Can you recommend three books for children?
1. The Next Place, Warren Hanson – introduces the idea of eternity without religious words. I am so glad I got this book when my son was very small and we were not in an specific situation. Then the dog died and a few fish along the way. He is seven now and it is more serious for us since my beloved father is ailing. I am so glad we can talk about him going to “The Next Place” with such ease. It really is a blessing.
2. The Quiet Book, Deborah Underwood – explores emotional intelligence through the quiet moods children have.
3. The Top Job Elizabeth Cody Kimmel – There are no small jobs! A great way to reveal point of view and perception shifting to kids.
Oprah always asks, What do you know for sure?
One thing I know for sure is that change is constant.
As I mature I embrace this reality and it is no longer a threat to my sense of well being.
Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?
Coming Soon from Meaningful Books: "Please, Tell Me Where it Hurts" a children's book about feelings – Joanne Gail Johnson
Illustrations by: Vanessa Soodeen
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