Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How To Make a Personalized Children’s Book

For Christmas this year I put together an illustrated children’s book featuring my family. It was fun and took a really long time. The finished product was put together at the local copy store twenty minutes before they closed on the eve of Christmas Eve. Some of the paint was still wet on the illustrations when I scanned them in last-minute and the cover was done last-nanosecond. Wish I'd left more time for that.

Here’s some tips and things to keep in mind if you’d like to write and draw a book starring your nieces, nephews, sisters, parents, in-laws and Aunt Donna.

It’s deucedly difficult to draw a convincing likeness of people, especially if you want to remain on their good side.

Good caricatures exaggerate features. Nobody in my family has forty-two fingers or fish gills behind their ears or a foot growing out of their forehead, but still you sketch something out while looking at a picture and it just . . . I don’t know. A sketchy artist on a boardwalk somewhere can draw a giant forehead or little tiny ears or whatever and get away with it. Not that anyone in my family is sporting giant foreheads or tiny ears, but you rip something out and think, well, that’s not unflattering but somehow not flattering either. I think I’m going to buy scented candles as gifts instead of this project. But you push on.

 ‘Caeser salad’ doesn’t really rhyme with anything.

My niece Claire adores Caeser salad and that was a pivotal point for my little book. You can go through the alphabet in your head (, then search the internet for ‘rhymes with.....’

I ended up with ‘valid.’ Definitely a stretch, but, hey. Nobody really wants a scented candle.

 It helps if you put the pages in proper order.

A Dr. Seuss-like ripoff already doesn’t make a whole lot of sense so when you switch pages around at the copy center and insert a rhyming couplet about a sea turtle where it should be rhyming a snippet about a metal detector, you risk confusing the reader. And yourself.

In your defense, back-to-back pages that come out of the copier with page 7 on the back of page two look an awful lot like page 9 through 12 and it’s almost closing time so you need to throw this thing together because you don’t have the industrial stapler at home and you should have started and finished this way earlier and remember when you were going to send this off and have it bound professionally? Do they still make soap-on-a-rope? Maybe Dad would like some nice aftershave. Anna could use a nice Barbie, I’m sure, and everybody else can get a calendar from the hardware store.

Cost and putting it together.

Seven bucks a book. Seven pages of double-sided color copies on 8 1/2 x 11. Folded in two, so each page out of the printer makes 4 pages when folded up. Cover was card stock. Back cover had a little illustration just because. So that made for 26 pages with either text and image or just text or just an image.

I found it helpful to make a little mock-up from notepad paper sheets with the proper number of pages, then you can layout how each chunk of text fits with your illustrations and fit the thing together. Also helpful or even absolutely necessary when you start making the actual pages. I used a brochure template set up for two pages back-to-back, which helped keep things orderly. Ended up with seven pdf files and in theory this should have kept things in order as they came off the copier. In practice, it got jumbled and I wound up figuring out how to reinvent the layout of the wheel and getting it wrong on one copy. Oopsy.

So there you go. To make a picture book about your family vacation to Hawaii, you should write a story, then get some crayon-slash-paints or whatever those things are and pretty soon all your pictures will have the same four colors in them, but whatever, and then do some trigonometry to figure out how many pages you need and what goes where and look for a template to lay it out and make a pdf and -- boom. You got yourself a book.

Easy peasey. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Wind Doth Blow and the Hot Tub Stove Doth Glow

 Ma Nature cranked up her box fan a few weeks back and I cranked up my chainsaw after seeing the results:

Hello firewood.

The timing of this was interesting, as I planned to move the lawnmower inside for the winter on that very day. And the day before that and etc.

So missing the lawn tractor by inches was awfully decent of the falling spruce. Downright thoughtful.

Some of those limbs will find a new home in the hot tub stove, pictured here after I didn't crack the drain valve before single digits froze up the works.

Fire and Ice: not just a title for romance novels. 
...or I'm assuming it would be a title for a romance novel....I don't really know because I don't read stuff like that. Seriously. I just....c'mon, it sounds like it would be a title for a romance novel, doesn't it? Not that I'm familiar know what, I don't care what you think.

It's harder to get the wood fired tub up to temperature in windy conditions, but bad weather and hot tubbing go together real fine. Watching big flakes of snow come down in the moonlight while sitting in hot water is proven to reduce your stress index by a factor of four. I did a scientific test with a control group of somebody shivering in the cold. And I was way happier by a factor of four. Results to be published in The Journal of Hottubbing vs. Hypothermia

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Santa For President

Got pretty good feedback on the last Furthermore column in the Chieftain. But you can't even write the word 'wolves' without getting a big spread of reaction. I haven't heard back from Canada yet.

And Furthermore: An open appeal to North Pole's leader

Dear Santa,
Thank you for the nose hair trimmer and the Candy Land game last year. Candy Land is the best! You’re the best! The trimmer works way better than the old way of burning out my nose hairs with a candle. Also, thanks for the first-aid kit and the burn cream. It’s healing nicely.
Don’t let the wolves get your reindeer when you come to Wallowa County, Santa. Are you giving presents to Canada this year? Because they’ve been naughty and gave us a case of the wolves. Yessir, broke out like a rash all around our north end and thank goodness it hasn’t spread to our south end just yet.
I’ve got some requests here, Nick. Can I call you Nick? Rose Caslar says she would like a mule this year for Christmas. A mule with fuzzy ears. Along those lines, ‘The Ruby Gap Mules,’ the old-time band that just played with ‘Homemade Jam’ for the Wallowa County Museum fundraiser, well, the Mules are toying with the notion of going by another name but haven’t settled on one. So they asked if you’d bring them the perfect band name. I suggested ‘Kiss My Bluegrass,’ but they weren’t going for it. They had some excuse about not playing bluegrass, but with a name like that it sure seems like you’d adjust. Maybe just get them a Candy Land game instead because if they’re that hard to please. . . .
We could use another wind storm, Santa. That last howler didn’t quite strip all the shingles off my garage roof and I was hoping for one more gusty day to finish tearing it off before I climb up there to re-roof. Make it blow from the other direction, though, so it will pry the Enterprise football goalpost back into position.
What I’d really like this year, Santa, is for you to throw your fuzzy red hat into the ring and announce your candidacy for president. I don’t think you’d win, with that string of breaking and entering counts on your record. And there would be the question of a birth certificate, because if Hawaii doesn’t count, no way the North Pole is going to fly. Then there would be allegations of your elves being illegal. All that.
The coverage of these debates has been so painful to watch, Santa, I want to put some of that burn cream on my eyes. If you were president, I just think politics and the world in general might get along better if we applied Christmas thinking to every day. Not just naughty or nice and throwing a quarter into the Salvation Army kettle, but reasonable. I asked for all sorts of stuff when I was a kid. You remember. But I didn’t threaten to recall you when I didn’t see a battery powered Jeep in the living room on Christmas morning. I didn’t put a NoSanta bumper sticker on my Big Wheel.
What I like about your system is we all know there’s a reason. There’s trust. Maybe we’ll shoot our eye out, so that’s why we didn’t get the Red Ryder BB gun or a new war. Toys are great, but in all fairness we do need socks and underwear and education funding. We may not be thrilled with paying for highway maintenance or getting a hand-knit sweater, but we recognize it’s thoughtful and practical so we thank our aunt or state legislature and stay warm in our ugly sweater while driving smooth roads.
I don’t know, Santa. I haven’t seen your books so maybe you’re running a massive deficit and this notion of you bringing a fresh approach to politics is a bad idea. But I like your style, Claus. Everyone figures they get what they deserve from you and trusts you’re not funneling pork barrel projects into building unprofitable doll factories in one corner of your workshop to buy votes. I just wish you could leave some of your mojo in all of our stockings.
Could you at least be a consultant in D.C.? A lobbyist? Endorse a candidate?
You know what, I’ll just take Candy Land again. Or Battleship or Chutes and Ladders or something. Let’s keep this simple.
Merry Christmas, Santa. Don’t forget to vote.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lloyd Tommy Doss

Came across a real treasure today. Signed photo from Lloyd Doss. One of the Sons of the Pioneers and just a great guy.

Lloyd died not long ago. And that makes me sad. Rich Wandschneider wrote a nice piece about Lloyd in the Chieftain.

Rich is who sent me to meet Lloyd, back when I was doing a radio show. Said I had to meet this guy.

Lloyd's life story is one of the best I've heard. Goes like this, in a nutshell:

Wants to be grow up to be in the ultra-super-popular band the Sons of the Pioneers.

Grows up and by God if he doesn't pull it off and get into the super-ultra-popular band the Sons of the Pioneers.

Lloyd was working as a garbageman in La Grande, Oregon when the break came in the form of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. They came to town, Wills heard Lloyd play and sing, Wills liked it and said they could use a guy like him and he could join if he wanted to.

So he did. And years later the Sons of the Pioneers were wondering how they were ever going to replace Bob Nolan, who was retiring and was the same guy Lloyd had modeled his singing after. And Lloyd sounded an awful lot like Nolan and that was that and his dream came true.

The Pioneers already had Lloyd Perryman, so Lloyd Thomas Doss went by Tommy Doss for that part of his career.

Some boys say they want to grow up to be astronauts and some of them make it -- but c'mon. This would be similar to being a big Rolling Stones fan and eventually joining the Rolling Stones. With a lot of hard work and dedication and natural ability and -- plus, he's a handsome devil, isn't he? Look at that photo.

So I got to know Lloyd and his wife Naomi. Their son Tim is my neighbor. I tried to get Lloyd on my radio program but it was no dice. The guy was proud of his work, loved music, but just genuinely was not interested at all in limelight. Not even the tiny bit of local limelight being a guest on my little radio show would have put on him. He told me being in parades was one of the worst parts about show business for him. This from a guy that's been in Disney movies. John Wayne movies. Played Carnegie Hall. Did not like waving in parades.

So I tried to talk him into doing a book instead. Because naturally if you don't want to be on the radio and talk about your life, you'll want to have a book written about it. Sure. And for a brief while we were working toward that. He thought about it, wasn't sure, said no, then OK.

And I was excited. Because Lloyd's a straight-talker and nice and had interesting observations about a glitzy world he didn't necessarily embrace. Once he came home from being on the road and strangers were in his house. His family had had to move while he was traveling with the band and his wife had no way of letting him know. I think the strangers gave him his new address. 

So Lloyd would tell me awesome stories and I had to go out on his porch when I went to leave and scratch notes down, because he frowned at my tape recorder the first time I plunked that down to do an interview. So I put that away and started to take notes but he was comfortable just talking and not interested in being interviewed. So no taking notes.

On one hand, I like that approach. If the stories are interesting you're going to remember. But it sure makes it a challenge when you get down to names and dates and whatnot.

I showed up for our last interview, which I was thinking was an early interview in a long string of them, and I remember I had suggestions for increasing the times we got together so we could step up the pace. Also there was already interest from a publisher. And I was always pushing him and knew I shouldn't but couldn't help it and he heard me out with my interview schedules and all that and apologized, but said he just realized he didn't want to do it.

We'd kind of had similar starts and stops like that before, but he meant it this time and I don't know if that's when he gave me this picture or it was another visit -- but I suspect it was that one because I've always associated it with him being very sincere and very clear that he loved the music but he just did not want to talk about himself. Or talk up a subject that had already been talked up enough.

I like how he writes 'to you' in smaller letters below 'Always My Best' on the picture. I don't know. I just like it because it seems kind of like an afterthought. In a good way. Like always my best is something you would write on every picture if you had to sign a bunch of pictures over the course of your life because you were in a legendary band that had a song called 'My Best To You' but you were like, what the hell, I'll throw 'to you' in there in a different size, make this personal.

That was just my initial reaction so I still think that.

I framed that photo and hung it over my desk at the radio station -- I even moved the signed picture of Willie Nelson to give Lloyd the top spot. No offense, Willie.

And when I hung up the microphone and headphones and got out of the radio business, I moved Lloyd's picture into my office at home and it had another top spot, above a bookshelf by my desk.

My visits to Lloyd after waving off the book project didn't get uncomfortable, I guess, but maybe. Because I'd still work on him about it, despite believing he wasn't interested and telling myself to back off. Still, I'd lose my resolve to just talk to the guy and enjoy his company and pretty soon I'd start in again on blah blah blah amazing story blah blah blah.

So my visits tapered off and I kept wanting to go visit but didn't and I was cleaning up my office when I saw something behind the bookcase and it was this picture that Lloyd had given me, which I'm delighted to have and somehow it had been knocked down behind the bookcase for I don't know how long and I was very disappointed in myself for allowing that to happen and not noticing.

So just like every time a person I've been privileged to know crosses to the other side, I confront the fact that I didn't pop in more to say hi when I thought about it. Instead there were other things somehow more pressing that I can't remember now and that, my friends, is a no refund policy.

I've shined up and Windexed the glass on the picture frame. I've got some Sons of the Pioneers recordings here and copies of solo stuff Lloyd gave me. I've poured a whiskey and I'm going to listen to you sing, Lloyd. And tomorrow I'm going to try to go see Naomi and say hello.

Thanks for the picture. Always my best to you, too.