Posted by: Robin Koontz | August 24, 2015

Never give up when you have a quest. Even a small one.


Vintage photo by Jane Wilson, inset photo by Marvin Denmark

In 1967, my dad gave me a beautiful Martin 016NY guitar. It was the last birthday gift from him, as he died less than a year later.

Since I’d never seen any paperwork on my guitar, I decided to get it registered. C.F. Martin & Co. was founded in 1833 and their guitars are still handmade in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. And like a lot of fine instrument makers, they give a lifetime warranty to the original owners of their creations. I sent in the paperwork and it was rejected because of no original receipt. I contacted the Washington Music Center in Wheaton, Maryland, where the Martin was purchased, and a nice guy wrote back that they don’t keep records from that far back! I asked the Martin folks what else might work, and they said they could accept a vintage photo of me and my guitar. So now I was vintage. I liked that. However, I had no such image.

A few months later, without even asking, a friend on Facebook posted a bunch of photos of us hanging around together, and go figure, one was a photo of a Halloween party where I was sitting on the floor playing my Martin. I sent a copy to the Martin folks, and I never heard another word. I followed up a few times, even sent a certified letter, and they continued to ignore me! I fumed for a while, gave up, then tried again. I wrote again, whimpering more than usual, and a different guy responded. He said he’d take care of it right away. He told me that only about 15% of Martin buyers bother to register their instruments, and he was glad to be of assistance. And a few weeks later, my official Martin registration arrived.


Today I convinced Marvin to try to replicate that photo of me. He did the best he could given the vintage subject matter. I mean, really, look how aged that guitar is! Anyway, more proof that we must all endeavor to persevere. Or as in this case, pestervere.

Posted by: Robin Koontz | June 16, 2015

More about bats.


I worked with the third spread for my book idea about opposites and this is how far I got. Lots of tweaking yet to go, but it’s so fun to carve out some time to illustrate. Now it’s time to get back to writing. I’ve put one client off for three weeks, so I better get back to it!

Thanks for your comments!

Posted by: Robin Koontz | June 12, 2015

Bats Rule!

It was a very long winter and spring working on “work for hire” writing projects along with the usual spring gardening, greenhouse and yard chores. I have eight (8!) books coming out in August, which you can find by searching my name as the author. My latest Boxcar Children Mystery was released in March, which you can see here: The Mystery of the Stolen Dinosaur Bones

I’m also excited that What Was Hurricane Katrina? is on the August list. I’ll post more about it once it is released.

So that’s a total of nine books, egad. Only one other recent project isn’t on the Amazon radar yet, but it will be soon. I finally got hired to write about robots! I am totally fascinated with them. I guess my engineer genes rear up once in a while. But I miss illustrating, which was after all, the original career quest.

And to note, so far, it pays better. Sorry, writers. And I’ll also tick you off by saying it pays better because it’s HARDER. It is. For me anyway. Especially when I stop practicing.

So it was fun when the writing work dried up to carve out some time to get back to illustration. These spreads (a spread is two pages with the book spine down the middle) are from a project I haven’t sold. It’s a concept book of opposites, with a nonfiction theme about the world’s smallest and largest mammals on the planet: bumblebee bats and blue whales. So the backdrop, somewhat abstract, is Thailand, where bumblebee bats reside. And blue whales appear just about anywhere if they feel like going as long as it’s an ocean, so I think it works. Here are the first two spreads from Bats Inside, Bats Outside:



The text for the next spread is:
We spy a PRICKLY turtle,
And a SMOOTH little snail.
(spiny turtle, green snail, both of which reside in Thailand)

As always, I have no idea if this project will ever sell, but it’s been fun playing with the new style of illustration – designing a page, painting lots of paper, then using computer programs to put things together. Let’s face it, I’m too lazy and indecisive to cut and glue paper down permanently.

Happy almost summer!

Posted by: Robin Koontz | April 6, 2015

Updated Portfolio for Spring 2015

PrintI deleted a few pieces and added a few pieces, so now my design portfolio is all about collage. As soon as time opens up, I’m going to start working in scratch board. Just call me an old dog that loves new tricks!

Here’s the link. You will need to open it using Adobe Reader: KoontzPortfolio2015

Posted by: Robin Koontz | March 4, 2015

Free Range Children

It was on the CBS morning news – parents who were put on notice by the CPS because their children, ages 10 and 6, were allowed to walk to the playground by themselves. The children were “at large” which was, according to the CPS, a case of neglect. The couple has chosen to fight the charge and all the nasty ramifications that came with it. Here is the story if you’re interested. This particular case is happening in Maryland.

I grew up in suburban Maryland, with a few years and summers in Alabama tossed in. Back in my day, kids basically had a few simple rules: do your homework, don’t talk to strangers, and be home for dinner. That was pretty much it.

Are things worse than they were when I was a kid? I don’t think so. But I do think, as usual, we can thank the mass media for hyping every bad thing that happens in the world and basically scaring the spit out of all of us and making us paranoid. Kids are monitored on their smart phones with instructions to call every hour. School buses around here drop off the kids at their front doors or else a parent meets them at the end of the driveway. I understand the fear, but I worry about what all the paranoia and limits on freedom do to a child’s spirit.

But anyway, this is not an opinion piece. The news story actually made me a little nostalgic. I recalled the house where I grew up and how very easy it was to slip out when I was supposed to be in my room doing homework or some other quiet task. So I checked out the street view of my house via the Google Spies:


My bedroom window is upstairs on the far right – over the retaining wall and rock garden that my mom built back in 1954 or so. There used to be a set of casement windows under a large picture window. You get the plan? I opened a window, climbed out and landed on that wall, dropped to the ground and headed on to whatever trouble I was hoping to find, usually finding my friend Annie and spying on neighbors, or heading to the local mall. Then I’d climb back in later, or just sneak in the unlocked front door.

But alas, there is no more escape route. The windows are gone, and I’ll bet the front door is locked with an alarm.

I’m glad my mom was never arrested for letting us grow up and take our chances. I’m glad she never knew all the stuff we did. I’m glad we got to be free range kids.

We still turned out okay.

Posted by: Robin Koontz | October 6, 2014

And Then it Hit Me…

We walk the same 1-1/2 mile path system on our place every day, and just like the mail carrier, nothing keeps us from our appointed rounds. There are a lot of trees along the way, most less than 25 years old, but a few areas have some huge older maples and Oregon ash.


An ash that we walk past each day recently dropped this on our trail. There was no wind, rain, or snow. It was just time for this rotten bough to hit the dirt. It’s not the first time there have been branches this big or even an entire 80-year old tree fall in our daily path. Our reaction is always the same. We clean up the mess or else build a path around it. We never turn back.

That’s how I try to deal with the barriers, creative blocks and negative forces in my life: I try to clean them up. And if that doesn’t work, I walk around them, creating a new path. Some barriers won’t be budged no matter how strong or persistent we are. Just remember that there are other paths for us to take. As Joseph Campbell wrote, “Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”

To note, we do hope that the trees continue to do their messy business while we are elsewhere on the property. So far so good…

Posted by: Robin Koontz | October 1, 2014

Throw Back Thursday: March 28, 1957


I ran across a sad story while rummaging for something to post for Throw Back Thursday, a little ritual that some of us nostalgic folks who like to talk about ourselves participate in on Facebook. I was actually looking for something else, and uncovered a letter from my grandfather to my mom, dated March 28. I acquired the letter and some old newspaper clippings stored in the original “air mail” envelope after mom died in 2000. Granddaddy spent a little extra for the stamps so that the letter would make a quick trip from Alabama to Maryland.

There was also a check in the envelope, mentioned in the letter – a gift for my mom and my brother. They had birthdays one day apart in early April. Why hadn’t she ever cashed the check? I wondered at the time. I stashed the envelope along with tons of photos and other family stuff I’d brought home. And life moved on.

So today, I wondered again about that check. The year on the check is 1957. One of the old newspaper clippings was an obituary for my grandfather. I was three when he died suddenly of a heart attack. That much I knew, but I didn’t do the math on these family heirlooms until today. He wrote this letter to my mom, giving her a little grief about renewing her driver’s license (ask me later about “Susie”) and talking about his new flower garden.

Then died that night.

You can tell from his jovial letter that he was feeling good about life after three years of retirement. Finally some time to write long letters and work in his garden. I can imagine how devastated my mom was when he died so suddenly and then the bittersweet delight when she received his letter a few days later. She may be the last person he really talked to and shared his last day on earth. He teased her about Susie the car and about how he only shared his letters between she and her sister when they didn’t “say anything insulting about each other.” I loved the letter when I first read it long ago, and now I love it even more.

So that’s my Throw Back Thursday offering this week.

Posted by: Robin Koontz | September 18, 2014

Book Design Portfolio

Recently I’ve been doing some design work for a fellow author – a book cover, interior graphics and design, and a bookmark. The project reminded me that I like doing this kind of thing! Maybe someone else will hire me? So I found one lead and they wanted a “design portfolio.” I created one and you can view it by bonking on this link and downloading or viewing using Adobe Reader:

Robin’s Design Portfolio

Feedback is welcome. Meanwhile the summer has otherwise been about finishing up a huge (for me) book project called What Was Hurricane Katrina? This was originally part of a series proposal about engineering disasters – in this case, the New Orleans levee system – but the publisher preferred it to be more about the devastating aftermath of the most destructive (expensive) hurricane in U.S. history. Suffice it to say, it was very depressing to research. Now I’m working on a new book about fun things to do in Missouri and futzing with a picture book idea that keeps nagging at me to figure out.

Happy fall! Here’s our new family member Shinny helping me draw.


Posted by: Robin Koontz | March 2, 2014

A Cure for the Winter Blues

We have a lot of friends and family members dealing with what seems to be an endless winter. Here are three suggestions for ways to endure what seems to be the most horrific winter season ever:


1. Grow something inside the house. We 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.

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