Posted by: Robin Koontz | March 19, 2014

Dear whoever,

I am researching author/illustrators to visit an elementary school this spring. Are you available this Spring? We don’t have a fixed date yet. Also, the Media Asst. wants to do something with math as well as literacy. Does this sound like a possibility? Please let me know what your presentation fee is as well.
Thank you,
A return address not associated with a school

Apparently someone got the task to fish for author/illustrators at the last minute for a spring event. She got a list of us from somewhere and sent out this rather vague invite with apparently no interest in exactly who she was inviting. And she neglected to tell us who she is or what school she represents. If she hadn’t mentioned a “Media Asst.” I’d have trashed it.

I’m sure she is hoping someone will answer, and I’m sure someone will. My spring is full, but I won’t answer. It’s not so much because of the vague and impersonal note; I figure she won’t care if I can’t come, only if I can. Egad, I hope she would care if I said yes! Maybe she is hoping for a huge response! Then they can pick the presenter they like best and ignore the rest.

Seriously, I do hope that this kind of invitation is not part of all the other acceptable rudeness that texting has introduced into our lives and that makes me crazy. If so, as my mom would often say, “I think I’m on the wrong planet.”


Here’s a happy photo of my mom on the right planet.

Posted by: Robin Koontz | March 13, 2014

Book Spine Poetry

A blog I follow listed a fun thing to do for National Poetry Month. Here’s the link to be part of the 2014 Book Spine Poem Gallery.

The criteria suggests to look at book spines and cobble together a poem from titles that strike you. I decided to just copy what we have on our own shelves and see what they have to say without me cobbling anything. I took a few photos and settled on this little group, and I swear I didn’t move anything:


As you can see, we aren’t that organized about book shelving. I think we go mostly by size. And where there is a space.

Here’s their poem:

Brilliant blunders, fiasco -
American military adventure
in Iraq.
Indian legends – a taste of light
Dinosaur heresies,
The day the world exploded.
Writing creative nonfiction – the hornet’s nest.
The squandering of America?
The Nez Perce Indians and the opening of the Northwest
Ethics – Gloria Steinem
Bridges and men recollections
the bridges across time,
getting past no.

Those are all the titles, in order as they appeared on the shelf, but some are combined. It came out sort of interesting, not great poetry. Anyway, as the blogger promised, it was a great way to procrastinate. Right now I’m in that hornet’s nest of trying to write creative nonfiction, so this was a fun break.

Posted by: Robin Koontz | March 2, 2014

A Cure for the Winter Blues

We have a lot of friends and family members enduring what seems to be no end of a horrific winter. Here are three suggestions for ways to endure what seems to be the worst winter season ever:


1. Grow something inside the house. My friend Denise and I have been starting tomatoes, peppers, basil, and other seedlings about this time every year for 14 years. A cheap heat-mat and gro-lite and you can see spring springing right in your house! Here is a closer view of the little tomato plant sprouts that appeared about 8 days after planting:


2. Grow plants that are brazen enough to flower when it’s freezing. Plant daffodils, snowdrops, winter aconites and crocus flowers and watch them pound their way through a crust of snow and ice. Meanwhile, here is the amazing hellebore, which will bloom as early as March in Zone 5B (okay, that means maybe late April in Chicago).


3. Believe that climate change is real and we’re causing it, and do something to reduce your carbon footprint and vote for people who have a brain. FYI, hotter air around the globe is causing more moisture to be held in the air. The added moisture fuels heavier precipitation in the form of more intense rain or snow. Add to that the rising ocean levels and melting polar regions, and we have a problem. Only we can work to solve it.

Posted by: Robin Koontz | February 19, 2014

The Original Social Media

So today I was out and about, doing mundane chores I’d been putting off for a few years…seriously. One was getting my birth date fixed at the Social Security office. Another errand was getting my favorite watch fixed. I bought the watch because the band is made of cast silver that depicts little stories. I call it my story watch. It seemed to be the theme for the day.


There was a security cop at the Social Security office. The cop was not that interesting, but his character will stick in my mind as the quintessential security cop if I ever need one. He asked if I had a “gun, knife, sharp tool, box cutter, mace, pepper spray, fireworks, razor, or cellphone.” I had to admit that I had a cellphone, not that I know how to use it to cause harm other than talking loudly on it in a restaurant, but turns out he just wanted me to turn off the ringer. Whew.

The jewelry store gave me another memorable character, maybe even an entire novel. A visibly pregnant gal pushed a cart into the area where a few of us were waiting around, and apologized for making everyone move. Inside the cart was a large fruit pie of some kind and a giant purse. This was one of those “we have it all but we’re not Walmart” stores. Anyway she told the jewelry clerk that she wanted to have her wedding set cleaned, and um, also find out what it was worth. The clerk checked out the wedding ring. She gently offered that it didn’t appear to be gold and the gal said that’s funny, her husband said it might turn her finger green but she thought he was kidding!

He wasn’t kidding, it wasn’t gold. Then the clerk checked out the big bling engagement ring. More bad news: the bling was glass and the ring was un-cleanable without causing damage to the metal, that again wasn’t gold, but at least it was silver with gold plate! The girl thanked her and left with her big fruit pie in a cart while the clerk said after her, “I’m sorry about the bad news!”

We sort of chuckled that the husband would probably get the couch for a while and the guy fixing my watch said he’d be surprised if the guy was allowed that far inside the house for a very long time. But we were all sad for this young kid. She was pregnant and starting her new life with a liar.

There were other overheard and shared stories today, making for a fun few hours of mundane chores that took place far outside my usual safety zone. But I’ll be thinking of the pregnant girl with the fruit pie in her cart and worthless wedding rings, and will always wonder what happened next.

Posted by: Robin Koontz | January 12, 2014

Not the dummy!

I can’t remember the last time someone requested to see a full mechanical for a picture book, also called a mock-up or a book dummy. A mechanical isn’t requested much anymore for a proposed picture book since we submit most of these tentative projects via the internet.

A storyboard might be appreciated if the story needs further explanation (and most of the time it should not be necessary). I provided one for this idea because there are about about 15 words in the entire text. Picture story books almost always need a storyboard to explain them. Writers who can’t create a storyboard can submit a manuscript that clearly identifies the illustration description that fills out the text.

If you don’t know what a storyboard looks like, I’ve posted a few examples in previous posts. A mechanical is a mock-up of the book, and usually to size. A terrific book that talks about all this stuff is still in print, Uri Shulevitz’s Writing with Pictures.

So what happened was an editor who had expressed interest in a picture book I submitted said that my storyboard was okay, but she really needed the physical book that a mechanical portrays to try to get a true feel for the story.

Today I had fun printing, putting it all together, and then searching for a glue stick. Even all blown-up to full-size, I still love the idea and to note, it is all still at the sketch-stage. But it was a joy to see the idea as it might someday become: a real book.

And nope, that’s not the real title. But maybe it should be!

Posted by: Robin Koontz | December 23, 2013

Yay for Lighter Days!

This winter has been busy with contracted projects plus a couple of requested outlines and proposals that also take up a lot of time – hey, here’s to hope! Anyway two of the subjects I’ve written about during these cold, dark, dreary days are pandemics and hurricanes. While the research has been interesting, these are not very happy subjects. And writing dark stuff can have an adverse effect on the brain.

So, in honor of the Winter Solstice with the promise of less darkness, I decided to take a dark break and create a couple of goofy mascots to perhaps silly up some text about the workings of a TV remote, toilet, and binoculars: aliens pondering Earthling inventions! This project is for very young kids, so I was trying to come up with friendly, funny characters as a way to break up the technical bits:
These are just sketches that I’ll keep futzing with over the holidays, along with some other fun projects. They were a welcome break from the dark stuff for sure. Plus, most writers know that switching gears once in a while can sometimes be more productive than just grinding away at a project until it is done. If you don’t like to make art, make cookies! And er, invite us over.

Happy holidays and see you next year!

Posted by: Robin Koontz | December 8, 2013

Family Ties

For a lot of people, this is the time of year when famlies get together and celebrate the holidays. And maybe they get into a few arguments.

This photo is of my two great aunts and their mom, taken in about 1916 in Pickens County, Alabama. My favorite great aunt, Miss Willie Nettie Mullins, is on the right. That’s her mom, Virginia Corder Mullins, on the left. Big sister Ellen Mullins Yarborough is in the middle. I wonder if this was taken during a holiday get-together? It sort of looks like it.

Miss Nettie was a teacher and also a writer trying to get published. She did publish one poem in the newspaper and wrote a lot of rhyming stories that she submitted to various publications. One piece was about Howard Hughes, which I might submit for her one of these days. I have a rejection letter that she received for it, dated 1926. It’s hilarious how much it is like the form rejections sent out today.

On a brighter note, here’s a clip from one of her poems:
The Bee
Busy, buzzing, working honeybee,
How he gathers food for you and me.
From the fragrant, opening flowers
He sips the nectar in summery hours.
With music he keeps the woods alive,
As he gathers honey for the hive.

The presumption that the productive honeybee must be a male is not surprising, given the era in which Miss Nettie grew up. In her later years, she wrote of being troubled by something that happened in her past, and by dreams that she tried to decipher. Her ramblings were heart-breaking to read. I prefer to remember Miss Nettie as the fun writer lady who had lots of cats and lived in the old farmhouse in Alabama.

When I was contracted to write articles for our local edition of Ruralite Magazine, I used the pseudonym Nettie Mullins, in her honor. It was the kind of writing gig that I thought Miss Nettie would have enjoyed.

Happy holidays!

Posted by: Robin Koontz | November 26, 2013

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.*

Today I encouraged a friend on Facebook to credit the artist when posting a copyrighted image. It’s just a little quest that I have. Yah I know you found it on a site, or another friend shared it first, but I don’t care. I located the artist and posted the link to their work. To note, anything an artist creates is automatically protected by copyright law. It does not need a little c with a circle that can be easily obliterated anyway.


So. A person decided to comment on my actions. Since Facebook comments are in the public domain, I will share what this person wrote: “I realize people break copyright laws all the time and that is not right. That said, I do think most of these little thingies which we share are made by people intending for you to share them and are not expecting to be credited.”

Okay, I’ll break in here. Really, thingies? Thingies? Egad. Obviously this commenter doesn’t have much respect for the art that she feels it is okay to steal.

“And honestly, all this one says is ‘Brian’….” Me again. Yes, that’s the artist’s moniker for his very large portfolio of syndicated cartoons, owned by Hallmark and well, copyrighted. I looked him up. But I’m jumping ahead.

“I have no clue how you found who did it.” Here’s what you do, if you have a spare 60 seconds between Facebook postings, tweets, and texts: copy the image and plunk it into Google’s image search. 90% of the time, it will pop up all over the place, because it’s been *shared* over and over again and usually you’ll find the artist’s name. If not, type in “copyright” and you’ll usually find the copyright owner’s name. Easy. Okay now back to our commenter:

“If I have to decipher who the artist is and look them up on each thing like that, i will not bother sharing at all. And I suspect most of these people would just as soon you share their work. That’s why they made it.” Oh yes! We create art to give away. We work at Walmart during the day (and the night shift on Thanksgiving) so that we can afford to create art for you to enjoy and share with no credit and without a single penny of compensation. In fact, a lot of sites take our art and add a few thousand other images! Their website or blog becomes so popular that they can sell ads and make money! Isn’t that great?

No, it is not. But yes, it is true that many artists share their art without expecting monetary gain. But it’s their choice. I post funny sayings (in the public domain) with photos of my cat and dog and welcome people to share, and some do (feel free to share the one enclosed here). It is also true that illustrators share their creations via their websites, blogs, Facebook pages, etc.; it’s how they attempt to get exposure and maybe make a living. If they invite you to share their images, they appreciate that you credit them. Maybe even link their website or store where someone who likes what they see can purchase cards, prints, calendars, t-shirts, books, and the like.

The reality is that when you post these “thingies” on your blog, Facebook page, twitter account or website and do not give credit where it belongs, you are taking the credit. You get the *likes* when it is the artist who earned them. But sadly, based on the following from the commenter, few people care. “I don’t think it’s wrong to look people up and credit them if you are inclined to do so, but I’m not sure most people will take that time.”

I guess I’m not most people.

*Clare Boothe Luce

Posted by: Robin Koontz | November 14, 2013

All in a Day’s Work

This week I finished a pretty horrifying but interesting proposal that was requested based on a query. Here’s how it works much of the time for nonfiction projects: you pitch an idea to a publisher that is accepting queries only. First you make sure they haven’t done anything like it and yet you feel it will fit into their publishing program. Then you write an exciting query that reflects your enthusiasm about the subject, and wait. If they say okay, then follow their guidelines for a proposal, get it done, and hope for the best!

So I turned in the horrifying proposal, then worked on a poem for a contest. The due date was October 31 but hey! I would have made it, but I noticed on their website that it was extended until tomorrow. So yeah, I put it aside and did other work, like that horrifying proposal.

Now the poem is done, it’s called Autumn Spawn, but I still have 24 hours to let it rest, let friends read, tweak it a bit, and then submit.

Meanwhile today, there was good news and there was bad news. The good news is in the photo above. Jeep the dawg is showing off a wonderful book of photos and captions that a 2nd grade class sent to me as a thank you for the books I sent to them. Back up a bit: I got to know this class because one of the 7-year old students wrote to me about a mistake in my fictional book Butterfly Spring. She pointed out that I had the butterfly emerge from a cocoon and everyone knows that they emerge from a chrysalis! Okay, they also don’t talk, but that wasn’t the point and she was absolutely right. I thanked her and sent my pop-up books to the class and got this wonderful little album as a thank-you note.

This sweet gift was especially nice to receive since today I received a rejection on another nonfiction proposal. This was also requested. Another project was rejected but the editor was interested in a spin-off that would fit into a series. Alas, she gently let me know that she had been unaware that a similar project was already in the works, so had to reject it because while not the same subject exactly, the books would compete with each other. It happens.

As the volunteer regional advisor for the SCBWI Oregon, I spent over 20 years attempting to convince writers and illustrators that the only way to keep on in this business is to treasure the love and the victories, and let rejection be a teacher. I already sent the first project elsewhere, and I can reformat this spin-off proposal for someone else. Or I can just get started on the next one, I do have a long list of them. Whatever I do, I’ll keep on keepin’ on, one day at a time, and treasure the love.

Posted by: Robin Koontz | October 25, 2013

We get by with a little help from our blogs

I follow four blogs, and also read a variety of posts I run across or that people recommend. I’d subscribe to more, but it is too easy to read that stuff all day rather than get to the work at hand. Like other freelancers, I’m often working on speculative projects with only a self-imposed goal to meet. The discipline to finish something with no real deadline isn’t easy, so time-sucking distractions must be avoided.

Thanks to for permission to post this image

This camel hints at one of two huge proposals I finished and submitted this month. Neither project has a contract and may never get one. Writers and illustrators generally don’t get a job without some advance work. We prospect for jobs and submit speculative projects. Illustrators create new art and send new samples. We offer up book and article ideas. Today, I submitted a revised storyboard for a picture book that was requested by an editor, knowing that in reality, some projects sell, and some don’t. But we keep working, and keep submitting.

So, as for taking a break for blogs, once in a while, a real gem appears, at just the right time. A dear friend mentioned her daughter’s blog as we messaged about our daily challenges as writers/illustrators. I checked it out, and am now a follower. Here’s what Rudy wrote recently that brightened up an otherwise somewhat dismal week, and she wasn’t having a great time, either:

“At the end of the day I think it has to do with less worrying and more doing. Just play and keep playing. Don’t worry so much about the scoreboard, the ranking, the shoulds, coulds, and woulds. Instead, focus on the now and don’t lose sight of why you’re in the game to begin with. Keep your eye on the ball. These are the reminders I need to keep telling myself. With my pencil in hand, game on!”

This lovely person is about half my age, and as we have learned about each new generation, she is already smarter about life than we were then. And in many ways, smarter than we are now. You can see for yourself. Check out Cup of Cosmos. Maybe you will like it, too.

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