Come With Me To Inclement….And Pack A Bag!

Today, I’m taking Inclement on the road.  Not in a big way, but still, I’m going to be out there talking to kids about my town, reading a book to them, and doing a couple illustrations.

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This isn’t one of our Creative Collaborations that I do with BETWIXT–gosh, I REALLY have to do a blog post on those guys.


No, this is just a simple half hour at a Family Fun Night at a school nearby.  But although I will be there just half-an-hour, it is an important night.  You see, not only is Inclement just about my favorite place in the world to spend my time, and a place that provides so many ideas I don’t have time to write about them, it is also business for me.  And an important rule in business is that you have to get the word out that you ARE in business.  You have to let people KNOW what you do.  In half an hour, over the course of maybe two books, I hope to say something or do something or read something that sticks in those parents’ and childrens’ and teachers’ minds.  Perhaps they will buy some books.  Perhaps they will hire BETWIXT and me to do a Creative Collaboration at the school.  Perhaps a Mom or a Dad somewhere will sit down and draw something with their child instead of telling them to go play video games.  Whatever happens, whatever the outcome of half an hour, it can’t be bad.

Half an hour is a very short time.  In the scheme of the universe, it is like a baby-biscuit nano-second.  But the process for preparing for that half an hour is huge.

Here is my list today:

1. Pack computer equipment.  When I read to large groups, I do so with a laptop and a digital projector.  Makes it MUCH easier for everyone to see the illustrations in the books.

2. Pack the cords for computer equipment.  This is a biggie.  If I forget the cords, what is the point of having the computer?

3. Pack my illustration supplies–easel, BIG PAPER (sheets of 3 feet x 4 feet), chalk pastels.

4. Trim 150 bookmarks to hand out.  I printed them yesterday, and today, I have to trim them.  I hate trimming.  Oh, and I have to pack these, so I don’t forget them.

5. Money.  I have to get change and pack the cash box.  People may want to purchase books.  Can’t forget this.

Wonder how it will work for MY fiscal crisis...

Wonder how it will work for MY fiscal crisis…

6.  BOOKS.  I can’t forget books.  This is probably the biggest pain as far as packing goes.  I have 7 book titles now, and I’m going to take some of each.  Which leads to 7 different boxes of books, and I never know how many to take of each, so I always bring more than I need….

7. I forgot this in the first part of the list–check to make sure all the book presentations WORK on my computer BEFORE I pack it up.  If the book doesn’t run on the computer, there is NO POINT in bringing the computer.

8. Babywipes.  No, I don’t have a baby.  But, they are very handy in cleaning my hands after I use chalk pastels for 10 minutes or so.

9. Water.  I always get thirsty.

10. Carry everything out to the truck.  This is where my 14 year old son comes in, AND his father, after he gets home from work.

11. Get ready myself.  See, I have to tell myself to do this, because I get out of the house so infrequently.  I planned my wardrobe last night, fortunately.

12.  Oh, another thing I forgot–my camera.  I have to pack the camera so I can get pictures of me doing what I do, so I can BLOG about it tomorrow to whomever might be reading this.

13.  Eat.  When I get busy like this, I forget to eat.  Then I get really hungry during my presentation, and sometimes I feel like I’m going to “lose my cookies”, and that isn’t fun when I’m reading to families.  So, I must eat before I leave.

Tastes just like chicken...

Tastes just like chicken…

I think that is it.  Lucky 13.  All of this, to get Inclement out there, in front of families, to hopefully enchant them a little bit, to make people see what I see when I visit that little place in Southwest Iowa, from which all magic and wonder flows–at least for me.


So, tomorrow, I may have a tale to tell about my brief half hour.  Perhaps I’ll have a booking for a Creative Collaboration for next fall.  Perhaps I’ll have a new idea for a book.  I will definitely be working on Soda’s Valentine.  Finishing layout, so I can turn the file into a pdf and upload it!  Yay, getting closer.  But for today, my focus has to be on this half hour that occurs around suppertime tonight.  Think happy thoughts for me!  And pray I don’t forget anything.

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

What Should I Write About?

As I am busily designing pages for Soda’s Valentine (and you can learn about that process here) I reflect upon the most difficult question posed to me by both children and adults–“What should I write about?”.  I have 4 kids myself, and they are often-times stumped by what to write about.  Factual reports and papers are actually pretty easy, because they are assignments, and usually, the topic is assigned as well, so that takes away all the work of coming up with a subject.  But for writing a children’s book, or an adult’s book, or a poem, or even a blog, figuring out what to write about is sometimes the hardest part. Ultimately, this question is best rephrased as “How can I come up with ideas?”

For me, it is usually about what I see in the world. Visual things flip the switch in my brain, and make me generate ideas.  I am a visual-spatial learner, and I need visual input to activate the writing parts of my brain.  Which, in many ways is a bit contradictory.  Speech is a left-brained activity, and image processing is a right-brained activity.  So, creative writing is an interesting mix of right and left-brained activities that don’t always mesh well.  I am a compulsive doodler, for instance, and when I went to school, back in the dark ages, I doodled through every lecture, at least on the corner of my page.  My children tell me now, that this is often frowned upon severely.  But for me, when I doodle, it makes my brain much more able to handle the verbal concepts that are being presented to me.  So, that’s what I did, and I did pretty well in school.  It makes me wonder if we should be teaching a doodling class in school, for children who are visual learners instead of auditory learners–kids who learn by visualizing instead of by listening.  Anyway…

Some people process information–and come up with ideas for their writing in other ways.  Listening to music will spur some folks to come up with ideas, and other people need to take a walk or a run, do yoga, have a shower–these are all reflective of the way your brain learns and processes information.  Everyone’s brain is different.  Use what works for you.


If a bike ride with the dog works, go for it.


Today, I’m talking about what works for me.  However, the list at the end of the blog is good for anyone, regardless of HOW they get their brain to turn on.

Sometimes I have a very striking, visual dream.  Now, usually, the dream doesn’t TELL me a story (although that HAS happened, and I scribbled down the high points in my notebook for later use) but rather, there is an IMAGE in the dream that really gets me going.  For Sylvia McBye Learns To Fly, I had a dream about….you guessed it….flying.  And when I woke up, I knew I wanted to write about a little girl who wanted to fly.  Then, we went for a drive on a windy day in April.  You know the kind of day–you can smell the springtime in the air, and the wind rolls across the treetops, bouncing all the new, baby-green leaves.  My brain lept to flying kites, a memory I carried from my childhood.  I put those concepts together—the dream of flying, and the memory of kite-flying, and the story began to percolate.  I needed a name for my character, and I briefly thought of naming it after my daughter Sailor, who was kind of the inspiration for the character, but, I rejected that.  I just don’t like to borrow THAT freely from my real life.  So, my brain offered up the name Sylvia, and coincidentally, I have a photography client named Sylvia, who, coincidentally again, I photographed in my Studio wearing wings as a very small infant.  The pieces began to fall together.  During this ride in the car, I wrote about 80% of the book in my brain–I made some notes on paper, but no real sense of anything.  Then, we got home, I sat down, and two hours later I had the completed story written–it almost wrote itself.  It took me an additional 6 weeks to do the 24 illustrations inside.


Bug Summer is a bit different.  For those of you unfamiliar, my Bug Summer series of books is all about the insects my main character Zack, and his dog, Flash, encounter during their wanderings in Inclement, Iowa.  The books are heavily illustrated with art and macro-photography of insects–extreme close-up work, for those of you unfamiliar with the “macro” prefix.

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A giant spider….


I actually started photographing bugs roughly 6 years before I had a story written to go along with the photos.  I didn’t know WHAT the story would be, but I knew there would be a story.  So, I collected images.  And I drew sketches of who I thought the main character could be.  But I didn’t really DO anything with all this stuff for many years–I just kept the ideas, the images, and the concepts.

Bug Summer--Raining Ladybugs

Bug Summer–Raining Ladybugs

So, what does all this mean?  Does it mean anything?  Personally, I believe that it tells us that creative writing is a process of following breadcrumbs through a forest, just like Hansel and Gretel.  And what is important here—following the trail even though it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere.  I pick up the breadcrumbs that are there before me, and store them in my pocket (brain, or, preferably, I write them down in a notebook) and I don’t worry about how they all connect.  But those breadcrumbs that seem to lead in random directions, they accumulate.  And eventually, some of them make sense, some of them form stories, and, if I’m lucky, they form books!  So, maybe more than a writer and an artist, I am a collector of breadcrumbs (ideas). And I note them down–random stuff that appeals to me for whatever reason.  I do illustrations that way too.  In the same notebook, I have scritches and scratches of drawings (doodles!) that many times turn into pieces of real illustrations for books.

I also pick ideas that I know something about, that I really like, or that I want to learn about. I think most people do this naturally, but it is important to mention that you won’t be successful writing about a subject you just don’t care about.  I like childhood, art, science fiction, photography, insects, things that are a little bit mysterious, friendships, the environment, music, nature, magical things, wonder, Halloween, animals….the list really goes on and on.

Sometimes I am really brainstorming without knowing it, and a whole bunch of ideas will come to me at once.  This often happens early in the morning, when the sun is just peeping over the horizon and everyone else is asleep.  Writing things down is crucial–if you don’t get it down, it gets away.


This is magic idea time for me…

Read a lot.  I read every day.  I read things I love.  I don’t read as many children’s books as I used to, because my kids all read themselves, but I do try to sample what’s out there.  It really doesn’t matter though.  Find an author or two or five that you love, that makes you want to be like them, and read their stuff.  Ideas will flow from what they have written, and HOW they have written it.

So, how do you figure out what to write about?

1. Keep a notebook of ideas and sketches and words that you like.  Add to it daily.

2. Be a lifelong collector.  Your notebooks should be a storage place for all the weird stuff that strikes you as interesting or funny or scary or inspirational.  It may take YEARS for a unifying idea to help you make sense of all the “junk” you have stored away in your notebooks.  Don’t throw them away, don’t think they are stupid, and don’t feel you have to share them.  Your notebooks are for mental hoarding…keep them well.

3. Write it down.  Write down ANYTHING.  If you don’t get it down, it gets away.

4. Make a habit of putting something down every day, maybe at the same time.  Pretty soon, your brain will associate that time with creative idea-building time, and it will get easier.

5. Write about things you know about, things you love, things you want to learn more about.  Keep a running list of what those things are, so you know when you are on track.

6. Read every day, things that you love.  Reading and writing are inseparable.

7.  Do things that activate your brain.  I doodle.  I scribble.  Some people run, or move, or dance or listen to music.  Do whatever works for you.  Then record your ideas somehow!

8.   When you feel inspired, when the lightbulb goes off in your head, write.  Write your story, your poem, your paper.  If you are in the middle of something else, at least make NOTES for you to write from later.  This is very important!  Do it when the moment strikes!

9.  This is also important—there will be ideas you have that you will never use.  Just like there are trails of breadcrumbs that you follow and they never take you anywhere.  This is okay.  Just keep moving forward with ideas, keep picking up the breadcrumbs.  Something will come together.

So, I am back to page design for today.  Hopefully, I will have a bunch more pages to share over the course of this week, as well as other projects I am working on!  For now, start generating ideas!

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative. This BLOG is about her creative journey into all her creative endeavors, including writing for children and adults, art and illustration, photography and photo-illustration, and book-building from beginning to end.  There may be other “sidetrips” that can’t be predicted–so hop in and enjoy the ride!  You may learn more about Tracy here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

Photo-Illustrations–The Beginning, With Flowers…

So, the cover has been designed. And the next step is the illustrations. As I have mentioned, I decided to use photography for the bulk of the story simply because it is a little faster for my production schedule. Don’t get me wrong….I LOVE doing actual art illustrations, but, for this book, and because it is about a REAL cat, I think the photography will add to the story rather than detract from it. So, the first thing I must do is make an illustration list.

I do this with every book, no matter if I use photography or art for the visuals. I read through the text and decide which parts of the text should be illustrated in some form. Not everything that happens in a story needs a picture, but for children’s books, I always feel the visuals are an extremely strong and necessary element to actually tell parts of the story. I need fewer words because the images are effective.

So, my illustration list, or my “shot” list, as I will refer to it from now on ( in photographic terms) goes something like this for this story.

Flowers (2 shots)
Stew (2 shots)
Shoes (1 shot)
Candy (2 shots)
Bathroom (2 shots)
Hearts (1-2 shots)
Cupid (2-3 shots)

Now, I know, from experience, that I will actually take many more photos than those during my shooting time with Soda Pop.  I also know that my text may change slightly while I am shooting–the cat may do something unexpected and interesting that can be incorporated into the book, and I will photograph it, and then write it in.  So, even though I have 14 or so shots listed there, I will probably end up with at least 20, and maybe more for the book.  And that is EDITED shots.  I will actually take maybe 500 pictures in order to get exactly the ones I want for my book.  There will also be a few pages of illustrations as well, but I will execute those after the photography, because then I will know exactly what I need to complete the story.

If I were doing art illustrations for my book, I would make a similar list, and then start sketching ideas for each item on the list.

So, the first item is “Flowers”.  I decided to go with daisies, so, I sent my dearly beloved to the florist for a few stems.  Then, it was time to set up the shot and retrieve Soda Pop from wherever he might be having his nap-attack and take the pictures.  He is pretty cooperative, although he isn’t extremely intuitive when it comes to understanding what I want him to do.  So, here are a couple of flower pictures…..

I shot around 50 images to get these.  I’m not sure that these will be the ones I use, and I won’t know for certain until I have all images and illustrations in front of me.  But these are “possible-maybes”.  I still have to work with the flower images some more, in another image set….but a few things have to be secret about the book, right?

Overall, Soda Pop was relaxed during these shots.  His attention was captured pretty well by the flowers, and he sniffed and posed for me just fine.

Next post….the bathroom pix.  These were more challenging.

Tracy Lovett is an artist, author, illustrator, photographer, wife, mom, and all around creative gal trying to spread the message that creativity is one of our most important qualities.  She uses her books, photographs, and writings to encourage others to just take the chance and be creative.  You may learn more about her here.  You may follow her on Facebook here.

Wired For Wonder

So, people ask me “What’s the new book about?” and they’re talking about Buck’s Rodeo. Well, this is a toughie for me. All my other books were 36 pages long–at the most. They were filled with pictures and fun, rhyming text (most of them) and I could encapsulate the story in like, 20 seconds. But they were sure pretty to look at. So, when someone asks me the same thing about Buck’s, I have to consider deeply how much time I have to answer. It’s some 458 pages long, and I could talk for an hour. Most people don’t want to listen for an hour. They want a sound byte or two so they can decide if they want to buy the thing or not, and that’s it. Last night, I spent considerable time thinking about what my sound bytes are. And I DON’T want to memorize the back cover of the book and regurgitate it upon demand. Uck.

This is what happened when I tried to make her memorize the text on the back of the book.


So, I thought about ALL my books, including the novel. Is there a theme in all of them? And, it turns out, that as diverse as all the stories are and as LONG as the last one is, there IS a theme running through the whole dealio. (Sorry. Watched Napoleon Dynamite yesterday, and Uncle Rico says that. I love Uncle Rico.) So, here it comes. My sound byte. And I got it down to ONE WORD: Wonder.

I love wonder.....

That’s it. Wonder. You know, that amazing feeling you have nearly all the time when you are below 12 years of age? The world is big, the world is unknown, the world is magical, and you don’t have the experience yet to be sarcastic and crappy about life because, for the most part, life is pretty good. Life is about chocolate and chasing lightning bugs and cooking hotdogs over the fire and swimming in a crystal blue lake with your friends. Now, I know that this isn’t true for everyone. There are some really crappy deals out there for children. Child poverty is higher than it has ever been. Schools are oftentimes subpar. Parents are crazy/drunk/high/violent. There’s cancer. You can’t even quantify how awful that is. To quote the visuals in that Van Halen video: “Right now, God is killing Moms and dogs….because he has to.” Kids listen to the news, and listen to all sorts of discussions from the adults around them about politics and gas prices and people killing other people and they get the feeling that the world is not safe (which it ain’t. As the master, Stephen King said, “You can’t be safe on a skateboard…”) Then there’s that whole KONY 2012 thing, (and not only is that horrible, but I think the guy who set the whole thing up has lost his happy thoughts as well. Oh well. Another blog.) The world can be a HORRIBLE place for the little things, and that includes the little folks.

But, I don’t think that’s our natural state. I don’t think that’s how our brains are supposed to be wired. I think we are wired for Wonder. I think we want to look at the world through virgin eyes, just marvelling at the way the stars spread across the sky, at the sunset on the water, at the ladybugs on the flowers. I think there is a part of our hearts or our spirits or whatever, if we are a bit lucky, and if we have managed to hold onto it tightly enough, protecting it from the world, that will ALWAYS be 12 or 10 or 8 or 5.

EVERYTHING is magic when you're a kid.....

See, I go into schools and talk about my books to all ages of people, from the little kids struggling to make it to the bathroom before they have an accident to the teachers that have been there so long they are doing the same thing–trying to make it to the bathroom. We read my books–I blow up the illustrations on the big screen, and wow, it is WONDERFUL.

Bug Summer--Raining Ladybugs

I see it on their faces. I do art for them, on my Wacom pad, and on this huge paper with pastels.

Yes, that's me, with my back to the camera....

Again, wonder. We do hands-on art projects, where they get in on all the creativity, while they listen to some great tunes by the folk/rock band, BETWIXT(blog post coming about them).

My Boys, TJ and Jared---AKA BETWIXT

Wonder everywhere. But here’s the dealio: you can just see the kids that don’t feel comfortable with themselves. Maybe they’re wearing shabby clothes. Maybe their hair isn’t combed, or maybe (and this is somehow the most disturbing) they have a look to their eyes that says I have seen too much. I’m not supposed to see this much, I’m just a kid, but the grownups around me just don’t get it. I have seen too much. I see them, and it kills me a little bit. I want to help each of them. I want to roll back time and place them in a better situation. But, I can’t. I’m one person. The only thing I can do is try to make them forget about all the adult-created crap and give them their sense of WONDER back for a few minutes. It doesn’t matter how rich or how poor you are, where you live, the clothes you wear. If you can live each day as if it were really NEW, as if there is always something to be interested in….that is being rich.

And the cool thing is, usually, with the kids that are having a tough time, well, it doesn’t take that much to give them that wonder. A smile. Some encouragement. Their wiring for wonder may be buried a bit, but it is still intact.

They draw me pictures for me to take home. Sometimes they mail them to me. I know I’m not changing their situation. Except, maybe, for a little while, I am. Maybe, if they can read a story, if they can look at some art, if they can grasp a crayon in their fist and make magical marks on paper, maybe it gives them wonder, for just a bit. Maybe they can get lost in their own imagination for a while instead of drowning in the ocean of issues they didn’t ask for. And that is all I can do. It’s small magic, and in many ways, it is inconsequential, especially for adult problems foisted into children’s lives. But, as individuals, small magic is all that we have to give, most of the time.

This makes me EXTREMELY HAPPY....

But imagine, if all of us adults retained our sense of wonder, and encouraged it in the children with whom we are entrusted. If we all did that, one little instance at a time….incremental change, baby. My mind reels with wonder at what might actually happen then.

So, that’s it. Wonder.

In Buck’s Rodeo, there are four 12 year old middle class boys with issues that a lot of kids have–one of them has lost his dad. Another lives with a grandparent. Another has a divorced mom who is remarrying. The fourth has those crazy “helicopter” parents. They all live in Inclement, Iowa. They are friends, and they hang out in the lake in the summertime. They camp around a fire on the beach. There is an unexplained light in the woods, Grampa tells them a story about what that light is. They have adventures. There is danger and love and sneaking out the window after dark, and there is loss and death and friendship and hope. There is magic, of a sort. And there is Wonder.

Oh. And there is a beagle named Flash.

Flash splashin' in the mud....from Bug Summer--Raining Ladybugs....