Earl’s Diner is Closing

Earl’s Diner inhabits a small portion of the space owned by Earl. The country/bluegrass amphitheater and the oversized barn that houses his collection of John Deere tractors and farm machinery take up the rest of the lot. My husband grew up, up the road from Earl’s and it was the place his family went for breakfast. “Down to Earl’s.” I’ll remember a lot about Earl’s: the Bell jar fruit glasses, the table legs that were jeans and cowboy boots, and the way my oldest son (who was only a toddler then) used to watch the ladies make the cinnamon swirl buns that were as large as a dinner plate. He’d press his little hands and nose against the large window that gave people a view of the mouth watering treats.  I remember the huge tubs of butter and lard. That’s what made it so good. YUM . My hubby will, I’m sure, remember much more. A farming community held together by country fairs, school events, and weekends that started with breakfast at Earl’s. God speed Earl. Check out the NYTimes article here.

Taking Care of Business

” For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see
Paul Simon

Well friends I’m home from Memphis, TN. The snow sparkles and shimmers outside my window and icicles drip on my neck each time I scoot out the door and I am happy. Happy to be home in my comfy bed, happy to empty my suitcase, happy to have my computer and my routines and regular bedtimes. It was lovely to reconnect as a family for 10 whole days. We’ll be back together when the snows melt. (Or maybe sooner considering the persistent snowfall.)

We did visit Graceland and I felt that I was, as the song suggests, pulled there by some inexplicable force. I loved the obvious, the stained glass peacock windows, the mirrored TV room with 3 TV’s, the fabric covered walls of the billiards room, the golden seat belt buckles on the airplane.

But the lasting memory is the more subtle fact that this man, this celebrity, this incredibly prolific artist was frozen in time. Elvis was frozen in his youth and as a poor youth he bought a fancy house that is actually pretty small compared to the Extreme Makeover homes of today. We still see him as he was because he and his work never had a chance to evolve. The tour and its information were choreographed to move the thousands of people through his life in a clean and organized manner. The treatment of his death gets one sentence about “heart failure” and “prescription medications.” Even as we walk through hallways glistening with gold and platinum awards, we, I feel for him because of what could have been.

We did plenty of other things too. I highly recommend the Pink Palace Museum and the Children’s Museum of Memphis. FedEx is headquartered in Memphis and has given a lot of corporate funds to the CMOM which includes a great flight exhibit. We also saw A Year With Frog and Toad at the Orpheum theatre. If you are a parent in Memphis look out for other children’s productions, including the Very Hungry Catepillar, coming to the Orpheum later this spring. A huge thank you to the Bricks and the Abbots for taking us in, feeding and treating us like family. Take care of hubby while he’s down south for me.

New York follow up

Let’s jump into the time machine and with a whir and a wiggle, jump and jiggle back to last Thursday. There I am in the fifth row of the Minkoff Theatre watching the Lion King. A show I’ve wanted to see for its puppetry and stage design. After the show, our group of SCBWI Regional Advisors got to go back stage and talk to the cast. An amazing experience.

Friday brought the illustrators’ intensive. The highlights of the day were hearing Jerry Pinkney talk about his lovely realistic watercolors and seeing the New Yorker cartoons and children’s work of Harry Bliss. Also, the marketing and publicity role play by the Scholastic team was informative and engaging. As a conference planner myself, I have to mention that the schedule was less than comfortable. We sat in the same room listening to others talk at us all day with no scheduled break. Lunch was on our own which is okay, but the portfolio drop off was at the same time so we had about a half hour to find something to eat. I went with the longest line at a street vendor and picked correctly. Great gyros!

Saturday and Sunday were filled with people and speakers. Lin Oliver kept it lite even through a minor emergency. There was a fire in the laundry chute which we didn’t really know until later in the day. When the warnings started I was on the top, 44th floor of the hotel and walked down quickly, That’s a lot of stairs! We were not required to evacuate but I wasn’t going to be up there if there was a real problem. Nikki Grimes’s  work blows my socks off and I was thrilled to hear her give voice to her rhythmic poetry. David Wiesner, multi-Caldecott winner, was relaxed as he showed us his early kid work and professional process. Wow. Just wow.

Coming home was not in the luxury of a time machine but on the Amtrak and then driving my van to pick up children and drive the long road home from Providence, RI to Maine. Monday after my trip was a wash, Tuesday I wrote twelve thank you letters and tried to help with the last edits on the SCBWI-NE conference brochure, Wednesday my children were home for a snow day and the dining room table was Valentine production central, today I’m trying to catch up on my colored pencil class homework and laundry. Tonight, after class, I pack up my children and myself and we are on a plane to Memphis tomorrow early to visit my hubby who is working with the navy for two months. ACK!  This chaos is why I’ve not posted about the end my lovely New York journey. Stay tuned for Memphis memories next week. Back to the time machine!

View Images from Anna’s New York Trip On Flickr

Lovelane Special Needs Horseback Riding

Dear Friends,
I’m back from NYC and can’t wait to update you on the tail end of my trip. Speaking of tail end… I got this link for a video in my in-box while I was away and I’d love for you to watch it.

Delaney and her mother Erica, featured in the video, are close friends of mine. Delaney was born a few weeks early after a healthy pregnancy. Things quickly turned bad and Erica was rushed to a hospital with a NICU staff. It was touch-and-go for a while but now you can see the beautiful, strong and lovely nine year old child Delaney has become. Perhaps in your giving this year, you will remember Delaney and “her” horses.


The agent and the ballet

I have had an amazing couple of days in the big apple. Hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen there are bound to be lots of smiles and maybe a squee or two.

On Tuesday, I was pleased to interview Cameron Dieck, and up and coming 19 year old from Mount Cisco, New York who has been dancing since the age of 3. He entered the School of American Ballet his fifth grade year and has had his eye set on the New York City Ballet ever since. He was the recipient of the 2007 Mae L. Wien award for outstanding promise. Cameron is  on the far right with the other young people.

Below is an excerpt from my notes of the experience:
“The teachers break room at the School of American Ballet (SAB) is furnished with modern furniture: strong lines, steel and chrome are joined with grey and black cube inspired furniture. The young man seated across from me is the opposite of his surroundings. Tall, a little over six feet, Cameron Dieck sits folded into a couch in a cozy maroon Harvard sweatshirt and jeans that accent his lean long legs. He has an infectious grin and sparkling eyes that light up when he talks about ballet and cloud over when he discusses the bullying he had to endure in middle school because of his love for dance. Our interview was more of a conversation and lasted for about an hour. These are the best interviews of all. Cameron is intelligent, well spoken and kind. I keep wondering if he is this way with all reporters or if we’ve so quickly become friends.”

Yesterday, I spent the day at SAB. Amy Bordy, the public relations person at SAB has been welcoming, friendly, and supportive and really opened the whole school to me. I know this is a treat and an honor and I am thankful beyond words. Amy took me on a tour of the school taking particular pride in the newly built additional studios which are suspended above two original studios that once had 30 (?) foot ceilings.
They each have deep, sprung floors and are surrounded by glass walls to take advantage of the huge windows in the original studio below. I also got to learn more about the residential program for students. Security is number one priority for the students who are sometimes as young as 12 in the summertime. Programing provided by the Residential Director helps build community, and integrates these talented young people into New York City safely. Many of their students are selected from a national audition tour so they have young people from all over who may be new to city living. After the tour, I was honored to observe the partnering class for advanced students taught by retired NYC dancer Jock Soto who is famous for his partnering techniques. More here. I will never watch ballet the same way again. His instruction was precise, demanding, and filled with examples from the everyday. Teaching 14 and 15 year olds is never easy. Teaching them to  create characters that understand the intricacies of relationships (including intimacy and sensuality) is near impossible but he did it all with a lovely sense of humor. The next class I saw was the 12 and 13 year olds. I was struck by their strength, centering and ability to remember the combinations. My kid can’t even remember the lunch box on the counter. The instructor John Stafford, principal dancer for the NYC ballet, was kind and gentle even when they lost focus. According to Balanchine, all music at SAB is live. The baby grand pianos are staffed by experienced accompanists who are able to pluck the perfect bit of music out of the air to go with the combinations that the instructors develop on the spot. If you are a boy interested in ballet SAB is the place to be.

I was a little star struck at meeting veteran ballerina and school administrator Kay Mazzo. I’m afraid I said little but “thank you so much,” over and over again. The thank you’s continued when Amy produced two press tickets to the NYC ballet for last night’s performance. My sister-in-law Sarah and I sat 10 rows back from the stage at dead center of the State Theatre at Lincoln Center. More here. We watched “Double Feature,” a homage to the black and white silent movies of the 20’s choreographed by broadway choreographer Susan Stroman. (The Producers, Young Frankenstein) One ballet was a melodrama the other a Buster Keaton type comedy and both were infused with humor and of course incredible dancing technique. While the choreography was not difficult for the dancers it must have been fun. The storyline required a bit of over acting which was fun to watch. Sets and costumes were all shades of black, white and grey and the occasional subtitles on the back screen completed the cinema feel.

I feel that I’ve gone on too long, but let me just say my meeting with Secret Agent Man (Don’t you love that song?) was so uplifting that I ended up on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building with the city wind in my hair. Everything looks rosy from up there.

On Sunday, I’ll go home, see my children and get to work feeling validated as an author/illustrator. Someone with good work to add to the world. But first, the conference…

Country Mouse goes to the big city

Day three in New York City and uptown, downtown and crosstown are starting to become part of my vocabulary. I’m also adapting to the Euro scheduling. In Maine, I go to bed at 9:30 and wake at 5:00 am. Here, nothing even opens until ten. I won’t bore you with the details but just give you a few highlights.

Yesterday, I met with the Creative Director of Clarion books. She was very kind to give me her time and her critque of my work was helpful and hopeful. The funny thing about critiques is that I don’t believe others tell us anything we don’t already know in our hearts. She wanted to see more energy and emotion in my work. This doesn’t surprise me as I’ve been working on capturing the energy of my sketches  in my final images. I was surprised to hear her say that I needed to work on the narrative quality of the images because that is something I think I’ve finally got. But the two are closely related so I think that as I master the emotional the story will also be more apparent. Most important, she said she’d like to see revisions and new work and that is the most any writer or illustrator can ask for in this business. Next I went to F,S, G and met with two lovely Assistant Editors. They currently work in the triangular Flatiron building and the security was interesting. I had to speak into a digital camera and say who I was and where I was going. When I got to their floor I had to call from outside their door to be let in. The editors were much more effusive about my work and would like to see more.

I was able to meet up with my childhood friend Michael Learmonth yesterday at the Books of Wonder children’s bookstore on 18th Street. Mike is great but the bookstore was even better. (smile) The collection of rare, and classic books was educational and fun to browse. I am a huge Crockett Johnson fan and I often wonder if his minimalist illustrations would get passed over in today’s technicolor market. Sometimes simplicity is more effective with children then the over-stimulation of many images that are published today. The bookstore also had wonderful original art and prints from illustrators. My favorites? A David McPhail watercolor and Mark Teagues paintings. I did take some pictures of the shop and will try to post them if my sister-in-law has a cable.

I’ll post about interviews and observations at School of American Ballet this Thursday!


Sometimes my webwanderings and research for my ballet book link up with my webwanderings as a conference director. That’s how I came upon Mark Siegel’s blog posting on First Second Books blog. This is a great posting about character development. Short sweet and visual. Mark Siegel is the illustrator for the graphic novel To Dance, with the subtitle A Ballerina’s Story (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum) written by his wife Siena who danced at School of American Ballet with Balanchine.  The connection is that I’m trying to pull together a group of graphic novel folks for an Illustration Academy at the 2009 conference. For info on this year’s Illustration Academy, keep your eyes on the mailbox and at NESCBWI for the conference brochure. It will be posted and mailed in Mid-February.

In other news…
1. I got a digital voice recorder for my interviews in New York. My kids want to record burps and other such bodily functions, so I’ve had to hide the recorder.
2. My lovely writing partner gave me feedback on my first chapter yesterday. I had high hopes that she would look at it and say, “Oh this is perfect don’t change a thing.” I’m glad she didn’t. The revision is a million times better.
3. We got a storm of “wintery mix” here last night and my driveway is like a skating rink. Only down hill. Eek.
4. Balanced the check book yesterday.
5. Printing images for the portfolio today.