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.

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

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