Sneak Peek – “Hide and Squeak”

The great thing about writing a picture book is that I can brag about the illustrations, since I had absolutely nothing to do with them!

Is this beautiful or WHAT?

I am so incredibly fortunate to have my story illustrated by C. F. Payne.  Wait until you see the artwork inside.  He’s amazing.  And so is Chloe Foglia, the talented designer in Simon & Schuster’s art department who masterminded this adorable cover. Talk about a powerhouse team!

I can’t wait to hold the new baby when it’s published next February.  (Yeah, I know, 2011 is a long time from now … but I couldn’t resist offering you this squeak sneak peek.)

A pearl of a film

I’m donning my movie critic hat again here briefly to let everybody know about a FABULOUS documentary we watched over the weekend:

A Man Named Pearl came out in theaters in 2006, so obviously I’m behind the times here.  If you are like me, however, and missed it, you must go IMMEDIATELY to the video store (or Netflix, or the library) and track it down.  It’s one of the most inspiring and uplifting movies I’ve seen in a long time, and as empress of the world (well, OK, of this blog), I’m hereby designating it required viewing for artists everywhere.   Heck, for everyone, everywhere.

The son of a sharecropper, Pearl Fryar bought a home on the outskirts of Bishopville, S. C., a couple of decades ago, only to learn that because he was African-American, residents didn’t think he would keep his property up.

Boy did he prove them wrong.

Pearl taught himself topiary and worked night and day in an effort to win the local garden club’s “Yard of the Month” award.  The result (which has now spilled over into downtown Bishopville and many other destinations) is a visual delight, filled with whimsical creations that have been described as “Dr. Seuss meets Edward Scissorshands.”  Pearl’s garden draws tourists from all over the world and has elevated him to the ranks of horticultural and artistic genius.

Part sculptor, part gardener, part philosopher, part philanthropist, Pearl Fryar is one of those rare human beings who lights up not only the screen, but also the corner of the world in which he’s been planted.

But I’ve given too much away already.  Watch it.  Please.  Trust me.

The indispensability of art

Earlier this week, artist Barbara Cook Spencer wrote an essay for The Christian Science Monitor entitled "Art: a basic necessity of life," in which she challenges readers to think more deeply about the place of art in our daily lives.  Beautifully written, passionate, and inspiring, it’s essential reading for writers, poets, painters, dancers — anyone engaged in the arts, in my opinion.  It’s going directly into my "keeper" file to be savored often, and shared with all my future writing students. 

Art and love

Groundhog Day by Andrew Wyeth


One of my favorite artists passed away recently. I discovered Andrew Wyeth in high school, and was immediately drawn to his spare, evocative landscapes, particularly those set in my native New England.   His subject matter was not always particularly cheery – he painted his fair share of abandoned houses, empty rooms, and barren vistas – and yet I always perceived a quality of hope in his art. For me, this was most evident in his paintings of windows. Open or shut, there’s something inherently hopeful about Wyeth’s windows, whether it’s a certain quality of light that beckons from beyond, or the wind from the sea that blows in, carrying with it the enticing tang of a distant horizon. When I look at Wyeth’s windows I often feel I’m standing on tiptoe, holding my breath, caught in a fleeting moment in time that is ripe with possibility.


Wind from the Sea by Andrew Wyeth

 “Painting,” Wyeth once told an interviewer, “is about love.” I’ve been thinking about that statement a lot since I heard of his passing. I think, perhaps, that it just might be the single best description of art that I have ever heard. Wyeth made it clear in the interview that he wasn’t talking about the “in love” kind of love, but simply love itself. Doesn’t this word distill all that is beautiful and yes, sometimes painful, about the act of creation? Certainly Wyeth’s statement applies to all the arts, writing included. Love wells up from the heart of every artist, spilling onto canvas or page. 

I write because I love. I love my craft; I love practicing my craft, even when it means wrestling with frustrations and set-backs. I love what William Maxwell once called “the happiness of getting it down right.” Most of all, I love the thrill of connecting with readers through words, and the way words knit hearts together, for truly love is what connects artist and audience.  

If art is about love, then, does it follow that the more we love, the better our art will be? Something worth pondering, perhaps.