Tag Archive | Publishing

Across the Plains

The view on the way in to Saskatoon

The view on the way in to Saskatoon

My week in Saskatoon was nothing short of wonderful. My cousin (my Dad’s cousin to exact) is an amazing lady. One of the friendliest, most energetic, and kindest people I’ve ever met, she is also one of the most petit. Standing at only 4’7″, she is a tiny fireball of amazing energy and personality. She and her lovely 20-year-old daughter hosted me in typical Prairie fashion, with plenty of warmth and welcome, even arranging a family dinner one night so that my other relatives (I have a few) in Saskatoon could come by for a visit. I was able to reconnect with an old roommate and dear friend from my University days, which was equally wonderful. I’m so pleased I got the chance to reconnect with all of these great people who I rarely get to see. And staying at my cousin’s place there is never a dull moment, due to the presence of three very cute, very small, very friendly dogs that would race up to greet me whenever I entered the house. The littlest one, a Yorkshire Terrier named Bean, even slept on my bed at night on her little yellow towel, so I was never lonely.


My adorable housemates

Too cute for words!

Little Bean kept me company at night.

I spent my days in Saskatoon working at Earth Bound Bakery, and I really don’t know where I would have been without that place. The day I left town, I loaded up on sandwiches with thick, freshly-made hemp-seed bread, homemade soups and chocolate croissants made from organic, unbleached wheat flour and organic butter (you can really rationalize that something is good for you if it has enough good ingredients!).

My (almost) guilt-free breakfast treat–an organic latte with a chocolate croissant made from organic, unbleached flour and organic butter.

My (almost) guilt-free breakfast treat at Earth Bound Bakery–an organic latte
with a chocolate croissant made from organic, unbleached wheat flour
and organic butter. Yum!

I set out for Lethbridge at what I thought was a reasonable hour, but I had somehow shortened the driving time in my mind. Google tells us it’s 6 hours 41 minutes, which of course means in perfect conditions with zero traffic and no stops. I clocked in at about 8.5 hours with gas and food breaks (my sandwiches eventually ran out), and at times I felt like the drive would never end. The weather was cold and there were a few flurries at times, but the highways were mercifully clear. I made my way through Swift Current and Medicine Hat (which were both much larger than I expected), and finally, at about 9:30pm, I arrived in Lethbridge. I called my Air B&B hosts to let them know I was nearby, and followed the GPS through a labryinth of similarly-named streets to find the house where I was staying. Vastly different from my Regina accommodations, this was a family home, where I was to stay in the spare room in the basement and share a bathroom with the owners and their two teenage daughters. As daunting as this may sound, it was actually great. The family blew me away with their kindness, hospitality, and down-to-earth attitude. They invited me for home-cooked meals each night, (which always featured beef and were uniquely delicious), and printed out numerous maps to help me find my way downtown, to the show, and in and out of their maze-like suburban neighbourhood. They had a big white cat named Paul who took a liking to me, and the last night I was there I thanked them with a bottle of red wine, which we sat around enjoying over great conversation until the wee hours.

Aside from the oddly complex neighbourhood street system that I was positioned in, Lethbridge was quite easy to navigate. As always I sought out a good organic cafe, and one of their daughters directed me to the next best thing. ‘The Penny,’ a coffee and lunch shop with delicious homemade sandwiches and soups, that nearly gave Earth Bound Bakery a run for it’s money, except for the organic designation. I made it my daily morning stop, which was possible only because Lethbridge was so small and easily navigable. That weekend a snowstorm hit, and I found myself driving (sliding) in about a foot of snow on most streets. At one point, on the way to the exhibition grounds, I tried to round a corner on a quiet, snow-covered street, and my steering and breaks failed me completely. I slid right into the curb and heard a loud ‘CRUNCH.’ Oooohhh, that can’t be good. When I checked the tire, I saw that the rim was pretty badly damaged. I didn’t think I could make it to Edmonton in that state, but I had to get out of Lethbridge. It was a Sunday, and I had to work at the show all day, and Monday was a bank holiday. Yikes! There was nothing I could do for the time being, so I decided to worry about it later.

'The Penny' coffee-house in Lethbridge, home to great homemade eats.

‘The Penny’ coffee-house in Lethbridge, home to great homemade eats.

The Christmas Market itself was smallish, as to be expected, but we still did a respectable amount of sales, and what was really wonderful was that Spirit Bear began to sell well. Part of this, I believe, was due to my improved sales pitch, but it also seemed as though an inordinate number of people knew what a spirit bear was in this town. In Regina, I could count on two hands the people that had actually heard of the spirit bear, yet here every second person seemed to know about it. Many referenced a documentary, and a few mentioned Simon Jackson of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition having visited Lethbridge to speak about the bear, so word was getting around. On Friday I was shocked to find that Spirit Bear outsold all of the other titles at my booth, which was something I really didn’t expect. But it seemed that people here really connected with the idea behind the book, and appreciated the free learning resources and low eco-footprint. It gave a me a great feeling to see so many people getting excited about the book in its printed form, and not just as a concept anymore.

Monday morning was spent searching for a mechanic’s in Lethbridge that was actually open. I called the car rental company but I soon became trapped in a maze of circular dial pad pressing, and I realised it was all a ruse–I wasn’t going to get ahold of a person that day. Finally I found a Canadian Tire that was open and had a garage. Thanks goodness!!! The mechanics were a team of teenagers, the oldest one being 18, but he looked no more than 15. The head mechanic happened to be there on his day off, and he had a few more years under his belt. He took one look at my tires and told me the front ones were essentially bald, and unsafe for winter driving. He said he wasn’t at all surprised that my brakes had locked up and my steering had failed. He said I should never have been sent out with tires in this condition. This surprised me greatly, as I had specifically requested winter tires from the rental company, as I was driving on dangerous highways, not the least of which was the one to Fort MacMurray.

My damaged rim had to be sacrificed in order to make it to Edmonton.

My damaged rim had to be sacrificed in order to make it to Edmonton.

I explained to them that I needed to get to Edmonton that day, and the boys kindly bumped me to the front of the queqe and hoisted my little car up onto the lift. Before I knew it, they had replaced my rim and rotated my bald tires to the back, so that I’d at least have some traction for my drive North. They advised me to trade the car in as soon as possible, though, and agreed to back me up if the rental company tried to hold me liable me for the accident. Prairie kindness strikes again!!!

I wound up waving goodbye to Lethbridge much later than planned, loaded up with goodies from The Penny, and made my way up North in my newly souped-up vehicle. Luckily the roads were clear, so I didn’t have to test the baldness of those tires yet again, and I arrived safely in the late evening at the home of family friends. This family had been very dear to me as a child, we had often visited each other when my brother and I were young, and we loved playing with their two boys, who were just a few years younger than us. The boys had long since moved away, but their youngest daughter was still at home, and I had only met her once before as an adult. Busy lives, years and distance had caused us to drift apart, though I had seen their parents from time to time when they came through Vancouver.

I was greeted warmly when I arrived, and welcomed in as though I were family. Their daughter even moved into the basement while I was there so that I could sleep in her room. I was touched. My first evening was spent sipping wine, catching up and reminiscing.

My first order of business the next day was to switch out the car. I was nervous that the rental company might try to hold me responsible for the damage, but I had the mechanic’s phone number in case things got dicey. I needn’t have worried. The staff fell over themselves apologizing to me for this terrible inconvenience, and swiftly packed my things into a shiny new upgrade for no extra charge. Now I had a sweet Sonata with brand-new all-seasons (they don’t offer winter tires), and a trunk big enough to actually fit all of my books plus my suitcase. I was ready to roll!

Saying goodbye to the Mitsubishi that got me from Regina to Edmonton in one piece despite the bald tires.

Saying goodbye to the Mitsubishi that got me from Regina to Edmonton
in one piece, despite the bald tires.

My new sweet ride with extra trunk space – all ready to get dirtied up on the road to Calgary!

My sweet new ride with the extra trunk space–all ready to get
dirtied up on the road to Calgary!

That evening I caught up with a friend who lived in town, who I had actually met on a Whistler trip through a mutual friend years before. We went for a drink with his co-workers in the Strathcona area, which I found quite delightful, as it was peppered with brick buildings and charming little shops, bars and restaurants. A welcome break from the series of strip malls that seemed to populate the roadsides of Edmonton, Strathcona is an historic district located in the south-central part of the city, and was once the downtown area of the separate city of Strathcona. It’s now Edmonton’s main entertainment district, filled with theatres and live-performance venues. There are also a number of character buildings in the area including the Canadian Pacific Railway Station and the Strathcona Hotel. Always a sucker for the old part of town, I made a point of walking up and down the strip, popping my head into all of the little shops along the way. It’s so nice to see a city like Edmonton taking pride in their heritage and preserving their historical areas for the people to enjoy, as it truly enriches the experience of the city on the whole.

The Old Strathcona district in Edmonton, Alberta.

The Old Strathcona district in Edmonton, Alberta.

My last night in town, my host and her daughter took me to dinner at one of their sons’ restaurants; the younger of the two boys I had played with as a child had begun a highly successful chain of pizza restaurants using classic Italian cooking techniques and ingredients. The food was delicious–thin-crust pizza made from fresh dough, with tomato sauce made with tomatoes imported from Italy. And we finished  off our meal with a tiny glass of real lemoncello, just like I’d experienced in the old world. Deliziosa!

I was presenting at a school in Calgary early the next day, so I had to wake early for my drive. I was sad to say goodbye even though I’d be returning in ten days time, as reconnecting with these old friends had been amazing, and they felt more like family to me now. No matter what I sell on this trip, the relationships I’ve had the opportunity to re-establish have been more than worth the journey.

One of those boys that I had played with as a child (but had not seen since before my teen years) now lived in Calgary, so his mother insisted that we meet up when I arrived in town. It’s been nearly twenty years since I saw him last, so this ought to be interesting!

Next Blog: Connections in Cow-Town

Prairie Bound

My next blog post was meant to be about how I came up with the idea for Spirit Bear, but I am going to bump that storyline in favour of relating my experiences on my first ‘book tour’ of the Prairies.

As mentioned previously, the Moose in a Maple Tree  Christmas collection was my first experience with children’s books–I illustrated the three-book series for my friend Troy who has his own publishing company, Polyglot.
He wrote and I drew, and for the past two Christmases I have worked various tradeshows and Christmas markets selling the series along with a compilation CD featuring musical versions of each book.

This year it was decided that I would do a Prairies tour. I have visited Edmonton and Saskatoon before, as I have family there, but Regina, Calgary, Lethbridge and Fort McMurray are all new to me. I’m excited!!! Fort McMurray in particular interests me, as I plan to drive North to the Tar Sands to observe the situation up there for myself. I understand it’s a treacherous drive, and tourists aren’t exactly welcomed, but I intend to have my own Tar Sands experience and report on my findings here, so stay tuned.

Troy has kindly agreed to let me to sell Spirit Bear alongside our MIAMT books, so this tour will be a great opportunity to test out our newly printed book on the Prairies markets.

The Dragon's Nest B& B

The Dragon’s Nest B&B, my home for 3 days in Regina

My tour began in Regina at the Signatures show. I arrived at 2pm on Halloween day and got settled in at my B&B, a delightful character house called the Dragon’s Nest. My room was lovely and cosy, and cost a modest $70 per night. It was perfect with a little desk for my computer and a full bathroom down the hall shared with one other guest. I soon discovered that this place was famous among the locals for the colourful dragon statue that sat above the front entryway, as I had only to mention the name when I was out exploring the neighbourhood, and people knew exactly the place I spoke of.

I must say that my first day in Regina was all I could have expected it to be–everyone I encountered was incredibly kind, friendly and helpful, living up to the reputation that Prairie people have earned over the years. Even the neighbourhood animals shared the same warm, welcoming demeanour–cats and dogs alike rushed up to me as I walked down the street, greeting me with wagging tails and friendly purrs, begging for a bit of affection, which I was happy to proffer.

I was fortunate to find that two ladies from Red Deer who were staying in the downstairs suite at the Dragon’s Nest were also working the same show selling Christmas fruitcake, and they kindly offered me a ride to and from the show each day. They even helped me to unload my gear at the B&B on their way to the airport (I had planned to walk and take cabs, as the show was only about a kilometer away).

The first day I arrived at the show to set up, Spirit Bear was there waiting for me. It was my first time seeing it in print, and I held my breath as I turned the pages. I had been terrified that the recycled paper would make the colours look too washed out and dull, and that this would hamper sales. I was prepared for the worst,  so I breathed a sigh of relief as I flipped through the pages–it looked alright! Yes the colours were duller than those in other children’s books, and it lacked the lustre of MIAMT’s coated pages, but it didn’t look bad, and the illustrations were strong enough to shine through despite the natural, muted tone of the pages.

A first copy of 'Spirit Bear,' hot off the presses!

A first copy of ‘Spirit Bear,’ hot off the presses!

My first day at the show, however, I began to worry once again. People didn’t seem to see the tiny, thin paperback stacked neatly beside the colourful MIAMT hardcovers, and passed right over it to pick up the bigger, shinier books. I found myself ignoring Spirit Bear myself and focusing on the Moose books, or selling it with a half-hearted pitch that impressed no one. Had I made a huge mistake? I began to wonder if I should have gone against my beliefs and printed hard covers on new paper–the books would look so much more impressive that way, and would certainly capture people’s attention. But that was not the intention of this project, the whole purpose was to create a book with a low ecological footprint, something that we could be proud of as a ‘green’ company, something that could stand out as a good example in an industry that relied upon new trees and chemically-coated paper to attract buyers. Was it possible that no one would ‘get’ what we were trying to do and actually buy our book?

As the day wore on, my sales pitch got a little better, a bit more confident and concise. I began to realise that I had to ‘sell’ Spirit Bear in the same way I ‘sold’ the MIAMT series, by showing it in it’s best light, and keeping the pitch short and to the point. This had been a struggle for me to learn with the MIAMT series in my first year of selling, as I am no sales person by any stretch of the imagination. But over time you learn what to say and how to say it.

By the end of the show I had a short, confident pitch for my new book that engaged people and made an impact on them, whether they bought the book or not. I discovered that there were a lot of people who really loved the concept, and felt that it was a truly wonderful idea and a beautiful book. They understood the importance of using recycled paper, and once I filled them in on the reasoning behind the choice we had made, they decided they really loved the natural look of the pages. Once again, I breathed a sigh of relief.

The show was a moderate success. I sold 30 copies of Spirit Bear as well as 190 books and CDs from the Moose in a Maple Tree series. I will approach upcoming shows with new confidence, and the knowledge that there are people who can appreciate Spirit Bear, as well as the shiny, colourful books I’ve been known for in the past. I even connected with several Regina-based teachers interested in booking me for school visits in the New Year. So many possibilities ahead, it’s truly exciting.

Earth Bound Bakery and Delicatessen, an amazing organic cafe in Saskatoon.
A great spot for coffee and blogging.

Today I sit in a lovely organic cafe in Saskatoon. I drove up last night from Regina via Moose Jaw, where I stopped in at the Temple Gardens Mineral Spa for a much-needed massage and dip in the mineral pool. After a weekend of sales at the Regina show my neck and back where in rough shape. The deep-tissue massage was wonderfully rejuvenating, and the pool was just incredible, the highlight being the outdoor section where steam rose off of the heated waters into the chilly night air. Floating on my back in the warm mineral water, I had a view of the lamp post and a leafless tree dotted with white Christmas lights, set against a dusky cobalt sky, as tiny flecks of icy snow swirled down and stung my cheeks. It was truly heavenly. A short stint in the steam room completed the visit, and I was ready for my trek to Saskatoon by 7:30pm. It begs mentioning that Moose Jaw certainly earns its reputation as the ‘Friendly City’–everyone I encountered seemed in the best of spirits despite the icy weather, and treated me like an old friend being welcomed back to my hometown. I certainly recommend stopping in at the spa, and Veroba’s on Fairford Street is a great spot for some solid home-cooked food made from scratch.


The beautiful outdoor section of the mineral pool at Temple Gardens Mineral Spa in Moose Jaw

Good home-cooking at Veroba's in Moose Jaw

Good home-cooking at Veroba’s in Moose Jaw

That night I set out in my little mid-sized rental car on roads that had been receiving a healthy dusting of snow throughout the day and over the course of the previous evening. My first hour on the road was clear and ice-free, but as I neared the halfway point of my journey, the roads became caked with snow that was rapidly approaching the consistency of ice. There had been a bit of salt applied in places, it seemed, but overall the highway was incredibly scary. At times I drove straddled between both lanes, as that was the only way to avoid driving on top of what was fast becoming a skating rink. Not a few times I found myself beginning to lose control of the car, and at one point I was certain that I was bound for the ditch, as my little Mitsubishi began fishtailing wildly across both lanes. I kept my cool, pumped the brakes rapidly and steered into the swerve as I’d been taught, and managed to regain control. Thankfully I was alone on that strip of highway–had traffic been heavier at that moment, things could have taken a disastrous turn. For most of the drive I was far from any other cars, with the exception of a number of semis that I passed along the way. It was a good experience in Canadian winter driving for me, and it gave me new confidence in my ability to handle treacherous, icy roads in the dark.

I arrived an hour later than expected at my family’s house, where I was warmly greeted by my cousin’s husband with typical Saskatchewan-style hospitality. He was off to Hawaii first thing in the morning, my cousin was working the late shift and their daughter was already in bed, so he and I stayed up for several hours visiting and pouring over their travel photos from Australia and Cancun. When I finally hit the sack at 1:30 in the morning, I slept like the dead.

I’m beginning to enjoy this Prairie life.

Next Blog:  Headed for Lethbridge

The Back Story

My first published book as an illustrator, A Moose in a Maple Tree, was copied by Scholastic. Ironically, this is what truly kickstarted my publishing career.

My first published book as an illustrator, A Moose in a Maple Tree, was copied by Scholastic. Ironically, this is what truly kickstarted my publishing career.

Ever since I got into children’s publishing in 2007, I have been inundated with questions from curious folks who seem fascinated by what I am doing and who want to do the same thing. It is astonishing how often people ask me, once they hear what I do, ‘How did you get into that? I have a GREAT idea for a children’s book myself…’ or, ‘I’ve always wanted to write my own children’s book, any advice?’ 

The short answer is that there isn’t one.

It’s a tough game, and one that I am still learning to navigate every day.

In the interest of sharing my experiences with more people,  I have decided to keep a regular diary of my experiences building Eco Books 4 Kids, writing Spirit Bear, and launching and promoting the book. It’s been a crazy ride so far, and I think it’s going to get a whole lot more interesting, so I may as well share it with you. But first I guess I should explain how it all really started.

People always ask me, why children’s books? Did I go to school for this? Take a course?

The answer is no. As long as I can remember, I have been writing stories in my head. On my walk home from elementary school I’d be creating stories about mermaids, fairies and elves and talking to myself like a crazy person. In the summertime my brother and I would play in the woods near our house, and make up fantasies about witches, warriors, dinosaurs and dragons which we acted out in a series of vignettes with various friends. A girlfriend and I created an entire alternate universe populated with alien beings that we wrote elaborate stories around. I once wrote a play about a purse-snatcher while mucking about with some friends in my basement that we wound up performing in front of the entire school a few months later. I just loved making stuff up.

I think I got through school essentially because I had great writing skills. I wasn’t particularly gifted in any other subjects, with the exception of art, (and biology, only because I adored it and worked at it furiously), but it’s incredible how the ability to spell, conjugate and whip out a decent essay in a single evening can get you through almost any subject. My tendency towards ADHD prevented me from becoming a true scholar, but I had the ability to cram and regurgitate, which sadly works in our educational system, so that someone like myself can coast through school on A’s and B’s without actually truly learning or retaining much at all. Pair that with great writing skills, and you can look darned smart. I assure you this is in no way the case.

At any rate, after an ill-fated decision to pursue a BA in Anthropology, (with a minor in Environmental Studies, my true passion), I eventually stumbled into graphic design, one of the few industries where artistic types can earn a reasonable and stable living. I did this for 12 years and never loved it, often hated it. Always I had children’s books in the back of my mind, but it seemed like a pipe dream. Doesn’t everyone want to write a children’s book? Turns out, they do. Why should my work be worthy of print?

So I scribbled ideas, sketched characters, wrote rhyming couplets. I have notes all over my apartment for numerous book ideas that I think have merit. I completed one, a rhyming tongue-twister about a selfish shellfish that I have always meant to illustrate and shop around, but I found it incredibly difficult to believe that my own ideas could really be truly valued by others. So I kept them stored away, nicely warm toasty on my great big back burner.

Then came Troy. I met him and his finance in London England where I lived for a couple of years on a working visa. Awesome people. We kept in touch over the years, and he knew I liked to draw. He told me he wanted to write children’s books and that he’d like me to illustrate for him. I said ‘Sure Troy, sure.’ Didn’t everybody say they wanted to do that? I figured it would never happen.

Troy was an Aussie, so when he and Cheryl-Lynn finally returned to Canada and wed, he was forced to live as her dependent for a year before he was able to take paid work in the country. That’s how we treat our Commonwealth immigrants in Canada.

This turned out to be a good thing for Troy, though, as he now had the time freed up to work on his dream of publishing. He decided to compile a book of recipes made with wine from BC wineries, complete with beautiful full-colour photos of the dishes featured. Very clever, the wineries supplied the the recipes and the photos, happy to get a bit of free PR. Everyone likes wine and food, and the book took off. Soon he had a series and a nice little publishing company called Polyglot.

Troy's first book was a hit, and signalled the birth of Polyglot, the publishing company that would produce my first book series.

Troy’s first book was a hit, and signalled the birth of Polyglot, the publishing
company that would produce my first illustrated book series.

That’s when he approached me to draw for him. I was amazed and thrilled – this was actually HAPPENING!!! I took to the job with relish. I had an older laptop and little free time, and the advance he gave me was enough to support me for exactly two weeks, but I didn’t mind. I was going to be a children’s book illustrator!!!

Many months of hard work later, we had a little paperback on the shelves called A Moose in a Maple Tree. I was never truly pleased (artists never are) with my illustrations, as I felt I hadn’t had the time or technology to make the effort I would have liked. So for three years Troy promoted the book on his own, working trade shows, calling up independent book stores and begging them to stock us, and working with Sandhill, our distributor, to get us into Chapters and Indigo among other places. I sat back and accepted the royalties, but that was the extent of my involvement.

He did great,  our book immediately received a thumbs up from Don Cherry. Story-telling legend Robert Munsch called it a “wonderful book” and CM Magazine gave it 4/4 stars. It has been at the top of the BC best-sellers list every Christmas since it’s release.

I would receive a small cheque every Christmas, the largest of which equalled just over $2000. Not exactly money you can live on, but a nice little bonus for doing nothing, and you get to say you have a book published.

Then came the Scholastic debacle. Troy had sent our book to them twice, once to see if they’d publish us, then a second time to see if they were interested in distributing. Both times he received a firm ‘no thanks.’ But then in October 2010, Scholastic  published  A Porcupine in a Pine Tree, a book with some pretty incredible similarities to ours. We were dumbfounded. It was ANOTHER 12 Days of Canadian Christmas.  With beavers, moose, maple leaves, mounties and even sled dogs. Our 5 hockey sticks were replaced with 5 Stanley Cups.

But the kicker for me was the ending. When Troy wrote the book, the final page was simply meant to be a repeat of the first, a moose sitting in a maple tree. Funny, right? But I thought it sounded like all of these other creatures were being added to the tree as well–whales, polar bears, lobsters, mounties, totem poles… a big crazy jumble of Canadian animals and icons, all up in this maple tree with the moose. It turned out to be a great idea and made the ending infinitely funnier. Guess who else thought it was funny and did the same thing? Scholastic. I was hurt.

Of course Troy questioned them, and they tiptoed around the truth, claiming lack of awareness of our book (despite having  it sent to them twice), then changing their story and claiming they did know about us before they went to press, but it was just a coincidence, they had magically come up with the EXACT same idea, with the same ingredients and ending. Parallel creativity. Only ours came out three years earlier.  And we sent it to them. Twice.

At any rate, fighting a monster like Scholastic would be like fighting city hall and would just make us look bad (it’s children’s books, right? Canadian CHRISTMAS children’s books to be exact). Scholastic knew this, of course–how else could they justify such a blatant theft? Canadian copyright laws favour  loopholes, so we fell right through one.

The silver lining, after the initial outrage, was that WE GOT COPIED!!! By SCHOLASTIC!!! The concept was good!!! And the Porcupine was selling like hotcakes, it was a runaway national best-seller! Imagine what we could have done with Scholastic’s money and distribution power. But all we had was Troy and his one-man publishing show and our little West-coast distributor Sandhill.

The similarities between our book and Scholastic's were impossible to ignore. But in the end, it only gave us added faith in our own product.

The similarities between our book and Scholastic’s were impossible to ignore.
But in the end, it only gave us added faith in our own product.

But this was still good news.

Troy approached me to update MIAMT’s illustrations and release two more he had written, The Night Before a Canadian Christmas and Canadian Jingle Bells, all of which would be released in hard-cover. The same month he asked for my help, I got laid off from my job. It was fate. I was living with a boyfriend at the time, and being a creative type himself, he offered to support me while I worked on the books, so that I could get a new career started. I hate to say it, but that’s essentially what it takes. You need money or a supportive partner in order to put in the time necessary to do something truly substantial. I’m not saying you can’t chip away at it in your spare time and make it work, but it will take much longer and be far more difficult.

[As an aside, I would just like to say that I am eternally grateful to Michael Arnott for the support he gave me that year to create and then promote my book series. A bit of freelance work helped to keep me afloat, but without his support I could never have produced the results that I did. And though we are no longer a couple, we remain the best of friends, and I have pledged to do the same for him–to help him to get a leg-up with his creative work so that he can quit his day job as an art director at a children’s toy company. He is the illustrator of my new book Spirit Bear, and I plan to create a series of books with him that I hope to have success with so we can both ultimately pursue our dreams of leading truly creative lives.]

So I drew for the next six months. I brought MIAMT to a level I was finally pleased with, and created two new books for a three-book series. AND Troy put together a 12-song compilation CD with the songs from our books, plus 9 other Christmas songs by Canadian artists. Now we really had something.

That Christmas, we were back with a vengeance. And now that I knew our book had value and I felt better about my final product, I wanted to be a part of promoting it. I sold the book at tradeshows, did Christmas concerts in schools, contacted media, got us reviews and pr in newspapers and magazines. I even managed to get a spot on CTV Morning Live in Saskatoon, and leveraged that appearance into getting our books onto the shelves of all the Indigo and Coles stores in the city. It was fantastic.


Our new series boasts three hard-cover books, plus a Christmas compilation CD.
All uniquely Canadian.

We cracked the top ten nationally with two of our titles, and MIAMT clocked in at No. 5, hot on the heels of Porcupine in a Pine Tree’s No.1 ranking. That Christmas I made $10,000. Suddenly this was looking like more of a THING. If only I had more books under my belt to promote year round, then I’d really be cooking with gas.

And that was when I came up with the idea for Spirit Bear.

Next blog:

Getting Inspired.

Geology of California: ABC Edition

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 11.51.28 PM

I am creating a kid-friendly book on the fascinating and dynamic geology of California. The book is geared toward K-8.

Why Geology For Kids?

For the entirety of my teenage son’s school career, he has been taught at home. We are not “traditional” home-schoolers in the sense you might believe. He has always been enrolled in a California independent study charter school. I have had the chance to be active in his choice of study and curriculum material. We gravitated toward independent study to foster his love of learning.

However, early on, I realized a gap in understanding the diverse geology of our state for young kids– especially for kids in home study programs. California has fascinating geology. I wanted to bring some of this interest to younger kids in a friendly, concise manner that could easily be used at home or in a classroom.

To view this Kickstarter Project, click here:

Geology of California: ABC Edition

Teach Your Kids 7 Languages Through Fables

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 2.01.14 PM

This project successfully raised its funding goal 6 days ago.

3 Fables, 7 Languages!

My name is Maya. I’m 12 years old. And I would like to help your kids get a headstart for the future! Relive the classics and learn 7 foreign languages at the same time. With the help of my parents, I will adapt 3 fables and make them easier to understand for kids. Each fable will have a different linguistic focus. Together the collection of fables will cover quite a few concepts and expressions in the target languages.

  • The Tortoise and the Hare (focus: verbs and numbers)
  • The Cicada and the Ant (focus: greetings and weather)
  • The Fox and the Stork (focus: food)

Everybody can learn a language

Our goal is to make learning languages easy, fun and accessible to all. We will deliver each fable in two formats: as a free IPad App and via the web. Not only will your contribution make it possible to buy the necessary software, accessories (like a digital pen for my drawings), and hire native speakers, but most important, it will allow us to create and release these fables for free in all 7 languages.

For more information on this Kickstarter Campaign, click here:

Teach Your Kids 7 Languages Through Fables


A Crocodile Named Tom

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 1.36.15 PM

This Kickstarter Project successfully reached their goal of $1000

A fun and educational children’s book that promotes the importance of endangered animals and habitat conservation in Sarawak, Malaysia.

“A Crocodile Named Tom” is an educational children’s book that I wrote to help address awareness for an endangered species of crocodile called the Tomistoma (Tomistoma schlegelii).

The children’s book tells the story of Tom, a small Tomistoma crocodile, who becomes lost and has to find his way back home. On his journey home, he has to overcome many challenges, meet new friends, and learn important life lessons. The story is fun, engaging, and heartfelt and helps relate people to important issues regarding the conservation of endangered animals like the Tomistoma. The story also helps relate readers to the unique animals, environment, and people of Sarawak Malaysia.

For more information on this Kickstarter campaign, click here:

A Crocodile Named Tom

StorySticker Recordable Children’s Books

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 2.04.36 PM

StorySticker turns any children’s book into a recordable audio book. Record and play their favorite books anytime, anywhere.

Make Any Book An Audio Book

StorySticker converts any physical book to an audio book. Apply it to any new book you purchase, or a cherished hand me down on your child’s book shelf.  Our app has been user-tested by dozens of families, and is purpose-built to be simple and easy for anybody to use!

  • Record: Read your favorite book, page by page, with the StorySticker app or at the StorySticker website.
  • Save: Your completed book is saved to your StorySticker, which is then placed in the cover of your book.
  • Play: Listen to your story anytime, anywhere – for a lifetime.

For more information on this successful Kickstarter campaign, click here:

StorySticker Recordable Children’s Books


What Makes a Baby

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 2.39.17 AM

A modern picture book about where babies come that it fits for every kind of family and every kind of kid.

What Makes a Baby is my response to the fact that books about where babies come from leave many of us out.  They tell a nice story (mommy + daddy + intercourse = you!) but the truth is that more and more of us are acknowledging the help we get to bring children into our lives.  That help might be a doctor, fertility clinic, adoption or foster agency; it might be a turkey baster and a friend; it might be a sperm donor or a surrogate.  What Makes a Baby helps parents tell children a story about where they came from that isn’t just true for them, but true for everyone.

Crafted for children roughly from pre-school to 8-years-old, What Makes a Baby is written and illustrated to include all kinds of kids, all kinds of adults, and all kinds of families – regardless of how many people were involved, what the orientation, gender identity, or other make up of the family is, or how it came to be that way.  It’s a social justice approach to sex education.  Like all picture books, it’s meant to be read to a child and gives the adult reader the opportunity to fill in as much detail as they would like.

Written by a certified sexuality educator, Cory Silverberg, and illustrated by award-winning Canadian artist Fiona Smyth, What Makes a Baby is being designed and produced with the help of Zab Design & Typography and will be an exquisitely made hardcover picture book.  32 pages and full color, it will be as fun to look at as it is useful to read.

This Kickstarter Campaign successfully earned $65,516 from 1954 backers.  In the final day it surpassed the goal of pre-selling 2,000 copies!

What Makes a Baby

Charles the Lion Dog

The real and imaginary story of Charles – a lovable “labradoodle” who was mistaken for a lion, and became famous worldwide.

In real life Charles the Lion Dog became an international sensation when he was mistaken for an actual lion wandering the streets of Norfolk, Virginia. His playful owner, Daniel Painter, had groomed the very furry labrador/poodle mix to leave a longer “mane” and a tufted tail resulting in the uncanny resemblance to a lion. When Charles took an impromptu and unaccompanied stroll one morning along streets near the city zoo, several Norfolk residents couldn’t believe their eyes and quickly dialed 911 to report an escaped lion. Police sorted out this most peculiar case of mistaken identity and everyone had a good laugh. Then the local paper saw the police report and ran a story. That was picked up by the local TV news, which was picked up by the national media, which went viral on social media – and suddenly Charles was an international celebrity with appearances on Good Morning America and CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and nearly a million-and-a-half views on various videos on YouTube and more than 56,000 friends on his own Facebook page!

Charles the Lion Dog is aimed at young, emerging readers – but will certainly be enjoyed by children of all ages. It is the whimsical story of 7-year-old Daniel who has always wanted a lion for a pet.

His parents try unsuccessfully to explain to Daniel why that isn’t a good idea, suggesting more traditional pet choices, but the youngster isn’t dissuaded. One day while visiting the Humane Society in the hopes of maybe finding Daniel a rescue dog, his frustrated parents have a brilliant idea. They adopt a very raggedy, unkempt labradoodle who desperately needs a home to avoid an untimely demise. They take the dog to the groomer with specific instructions on how to clean up this lovable bundle of fur. The next day, when they present their son with his uniquely coiffed pet, Daniel is smitten. He finally has his lion!

For more information on this Kickstarter Project, click here:

Charles the Lion Dog

IdentityPollution’s First Artist Alley Project

This Kickstarter Campaign reached it’s goal of $2,500 earning $2,395 between March 20 – April 30, 2013.

My name is Damien Murphy, I go by IdentityPollution (my artist name) online. I have dreamed of selling my art at an artist alley table since I began going to conventions 7 or so years ago. This year I finally feel I am confident enough in my abilities to step out into the alley, expand my audience and kickstart my art career with the support of my beloved wife, Rebecca as my helper!

However getting started at your first table is expensive and this is where I need to ask for help. In order to sell at any convention you need to buy table space, at a big convention like FanExpo table space is $474.60 after tax. But you can’t have a table without prints! In order to produce a large quantity of high quality prints I have set a printing budget of $500. All extra funds raised above our original goal will go to bringing our customers and backers exciting new products and better rewards!

I will be producing more art from my personal fandoms (Sherlock, Doctor Who, Merlin, Harry Potter, Star Trek, Disney, Marvel, Supernatural, ect.) as well as other fandoms I’m not a part of to cater to a larger crowd so if you don’t see any art you want right now there will be much more added with-in the next 5 months. If you purchase the PRETTY AWESOME PACK or THE MASTERPIECE PACK you can request anyone you want, it may even be used for the convention!

IdentityPollution’s First Artist Alley