July 27, 2011

Pets and Language

Jackie, December 2009

The following post originally appeared online in 2004. I'm pairing it now with some photographs of the wonderful dogs (and birds) in my family's life. Enjoy!

The media is all abuzz about new science findings regarding dogs who "are much smarter than scientists have thought." Thousands of dollars of research might have been saved, had they spent anytime at my home, or observing the lives of many of my friends who also have dogs. Here's what I could have told scientists, for free:

  1. Dogs know when you are happy, sad, busy, angry, worried, ill, and in love.
  2. They know when you mean it, don't mean it, aren't sure if you mean it, and are consulting dog behavior books to find out if you should mean it.
  3. Dogs know that exercise is good for you.
  4. Dogs know that high-protein diets make them happier.
  5. They can find their way around the neighborhood and communicate with the neighbors.
  6. They understand that mail comes six days a week and sometimes what's in the mail is worth yelling about it.
  7. Dogs realize that fashion isn't important.
  8. Dogs are comfortable with all their body parts and the body parts of those they love.
  9. Dogs are not afraid of other dogs bigger than themselves. In fact, the smaller the dog, I've found, the more emphatic they are to express their bravery.
  10. Dogs can tell who is naughty and who is nice.

Those of us who love animals are glad they are finally getting the respect they deserve.

My sister Joyce with Susie, circa 1974. Susie was my wonderful pet through junior high and high school. She died when I was in college. (Photo by Woodrow Phelps)

My mother with her dog, Brownie, circa 1936.

"The Best Dog in the World," Buster. Buster was a rescued dog from the Bishop Animal Shelter in Bradenton, Florida. He was the dog my sons grew up with. 1991 - 2003

Tyler, 2011.

My sister, Joan, has two very smart African grey parrots. Koby, 2008.

Beautiful Maximillian pionus Gracie, 2010.
Note: You can view a rather silly video on YouTube of Gracie taking a shower at THIS LINK.

Pretty Girl Farley, was Mark's dog until we married. Now she's mine too. She is so cuddly and soft, fast and smart as can be. This past year she had major knee surgery, but she's doing well now. Farley was a rescued dog and a real gem! Below, is a drawing I did of Farley shortly after we met.

Goffins cockatoo, Bailey. Sadly, she died in 2006, a few weeks after I received a contract to write "Open Your Heart with Pets: Mastering Life through Love of Animals" (Dreamtime Publishing, 2007).

Bailey helping my son Bryce with a puzzle.

This handsome 30-something Amazon parrot is Jake. Jake was a rescued parrot who now lives a happy life of retirement in North Carolina. Jake was the parrot with a dozen "Hellos!" (Bored "hello" for when the phone rang. Friendly "hello" for when someone new visited. Seductive, think Joey on "Friends", "helllloooo..." for if I ever walked up to his cage half-dressed.)
Here I am with my first dog, Joey, in the early 1960s. (Photo by Woodrow Phelps)

Do not dismiss the humble teddy bear hamster as a pet. Timmy spent most of his life in a cage, but loved to sit on my knee and watch television. His short life ended in 2001. (Photo by Sonja Beal)

Above is the last photo taken of our Pomeranian Sable who died in 2004 at age 13. Before she became ill, Sable had long fur and looked like a little black bear. She drew curious glances when riding around town in my car.

Dogs with dark faces are difficult to photograph. This photo was taken by my sister Joyce and is of her dog Oscar. Oscar died not too long ago and Joyce rescued Hayley, a big dog who now enjoys a good home and keeps our mother company during the day. (See photo below by Joyce Phelps).

Animals are not just a part of my personal life, but of my work life as well…

From Still Her Spirit Sings by Robert W. Kurkela. Bob's loving dog Spirit was mostly black, but I altered his appearance a bit to fit the format of the book. I came to love the character of Spirit after working with Bob and Kidzpoetz Publishing on this book.

Above and below are drawings from They Called Me Beautiful. (I self-published the retelling of the classic story Beautiful Joe with illustrations under a pen name.) Above, you can see the children who rescued Joe from the hands of a cruel master. Below is Joe's friend, Dandy.

All photos on this page, unless otherwise noted, copyright by Janice Phelps Williams. All rights reserved.

July 23, 2011

Cool Photos for Hot Days

It is my pleasure to share with you some of my photographs of water. Keep cool, everyone. And don't forget to pay extra attention to the needs of your pets during this heat wave.

St. Kitts

Sunset, Eastern Caribbean

St. Croix

Our dog, Tyler, on Drummond Island, Michigan

Bradenton Beach, Anna Maria Island, Florida

Old Man's Cave in the Hocking Hills of Southeastern, Ohio

Rose Lake, Southern Ohio

Marblehead, on Lake Erie (Ohio)

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills, Ohio

All photographs copyright Janice Phelps Williams. All rights reserved.

July 18, 2011

Emptiness as "the beginning of everything"

On Saturdays when I visit my son, Bryce, especially in the early summer months . . . when the air is just warming up, yet not laden with moisture . . . I keep the windows rolled down on the drive over and listen to “This American Life” with Ira Glass. I love the program, the way a story is woven, up down back forth, through the circumstances of an individual. Not dissected as in Vanity Fair. Not marketed and sensationalized like CNN or “Dateline.” Simply told, much like a welcome guest tells an interesting story. Think Meryl Streep as Isak Dinesen in Out of Africa: “I tell stories.”

A good storyteller invites, rather than seduces with sensationalism or bullies with fear. A great storyteller not only captivates with plot, but with the art of description. The words themselves and the sounds of the syllables create an audible prose that elicits a response from the reader: intrigue, disgust, anticipation, empathy, pity, anxiety, peace, jealousy, understanding . . .

I am not Ira Glass; not a gifted storyteller, noted journalist, nor best-selling author. I’m a woman who works with words and lines and color for a living. Who treasured books as a child and now more accurately values them as an adult.

I am a mother of two sons, a sister to two women, a daughter and, most recently, a lover and wife. I’m an editor, designer, friend, client, patient, painter, vendor, customer, consumer, crocheter, baker, movie watcher, dog lover, writer. I love flowers, houseplants, yarn, make-up, good stationary, my husband’s laughter, our dogs’ personalities, my younger son’s skin, smell, voice, and humor,and my older son’s eyes, eyelashes and quirky pragmatism.

I treasure my mother’s encouragement and my sisters’ belief in my abilities. In my son, Jesse, I see the future extending like gently rolling farmland on a spring day. I won’t live to know it all, but I trust it will be there. That alone makes me happy.

With all this, there are still times I silence the ringer on the telephone, head to the couch or bed, and lie there stunned, thankful, and bewildered. Anxious – even fearful – a dozen emotions at once in a mix that gently blends as I relax. And all these feelings and thoughts and memories and hopes become one thing, but even that one thing is not my soul. It is, however, my story.

In my story I walk down the coldest, longest, concrete and marble corridor to a stark confining room of plexiglass, metal, and stone; down a hospital hallway to give birth; down an aisle to be married (at 22) before I was mature enough to make such a decision.

I walk into a store, 29 years later, a woman who knows something about herself, and love, and who is found by a man who will love me, and with whom I can love and build a new life.

I’ve walked into dog pounds, county jails, doctors’ offices, courthouses, X-ray rooms, banks, nursing homes, car dealerships, airplanes, and post offices more than I wanted to.

I haven’t painted, written, photographed, organized, questioned, or filed as much as I wish I had. But there’s still time.

I love this time in my life. I love my family and my place in it. How did I get so lucky?

Of course, I don’t like everything. Although I once wrote a poem with lines about my memories, which “tap, tap, tap with unselfconscious ease/until I learn to cherish every one/that’s made me what I’ve finally become/someone who though once seemed so small/saw herself and forgave all.” Now I can be more forgiving of others because I’ve had enough time with myself to recognize my imperfections. And, like choosing the right hair color (Clairol Nice-and-Easy #103A) or the best dress length (just below my knees), I’ve learned how to recognize my assets. But back to the couch . . .

When I am there, and the mix of happy and sad thoughts and memories begin, sometimes tears form and creep along my Cover Girl-covered face, and, moments after they wet the pillow I’ve rested my head on, I fall asleep. And in sleep there is no heaviness, no sense of dread, no fear of what I’ve done and what I’ve left undone. No pressure, no memory, no want, no regret. I walk down a mental hallway of nothingness, and, in that brief moment of time before my dreams begin, I learn what nothing teaches.

Nothing is the silence before you say words that will change someone’s life forever.

Nothing is the pause before someone says “I love you” back.

It’s the lack in your bank account, or in your heart.

It’s what you didn’t get from your parents.

Nothing is the emptiness, but also space.

It’s lack, but also freedom.

It’s the opposite of more, but not the same as less.

Nothing is what existed before you painted that painting, wrote that letter, baked that pie. It’s a blank slate. Nothing can hold promise or acceptance. Nothing includes everything we could have said and done, but didn’t.

Nothing is not very memorable – we seldom remember what we didn’t do, unless we are filled with regret. Then nothingness taunts us like a schoolyard bully. But then it is more of a something than a nothing.

Personally, I have an affinity for nothingness. It’s everything I don’t need. The nothingness is the white space that makes everything else in my life appear more vibrant than it otherwise might.

In A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo (Doubleday 2007) Guo describes a Buddhist stra, given in the book in Chinese letters and explained in English as follows: “it means the emptiness is without form, but the form is also the emptiness. The emptiness is not empty, actually it is full. It is the beginning of everything.”

When I read this I knew that I was not the only one to value nothingness (oh naive Midwestern girl still inside of me). Or to contemplate it.

Perhaps part of appreciating all I’ve experienced and “gone through” is valuing the nothingness. I can only describe the nothingness to you by the something surrounding it: The person who could have been angry at me, but forgave instead. The not waking up on time and going to the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11. The date who said “I could rape you” but didn’t. The man who said “I could kill you” but didn’t. The letter I threw away before sending. The candy I didn’t eat. The slap I wanted to give my son, but didn’t. The hatred I chose not to feel. The resentment I knew I couldn’t let take root. The television show I didn’t waste my time watching. The street I didn’t go down that might have taken me somewhere not best for me to be. The harsh words I didn’t say. The words I heard and chose to forget. When I forgot, there was nothingness, and that nothingness was good for me.

I don’t know where these thoughts of nothingness will lead, and how they tie in with the idea of a good story; but there’s something there that holds my attention. And like so many somethings and several nothings in my past, I feel compelled to look closer.

Have you thought of the nothings in your life? Do the things you haven’t said or done ever take on the same significance as something that existed. Did you ever find emptiness to be “the beginning of everything”?

--Janice Phelps Williams, copyright 2007, revised 2011.

All photographs on this page copyright by Janice Phelps Williams. All rights reserved.

July 13, 2011

Free Delivery on Cats?

This past weekend I spent some time going through file folders of writing from years ago, before I'd written or illustrated or designed a book, when I just had the dream of writing more, doing more, but I was not sure how to get there.

This snippet, which I hadn't read in twenty years, brings a bit of a smile to my face, and a disconcerting lump in my throat…my son is now 30. He has not, however, lost one bit of his tenacious hold on what he wants from life, though as a person with disabilities his life might look different to others, something they don't quite understand. In any case…

Free Kitten!

Our family loves animals but my personal pet limit was reached after a dog, a rabbit, two hamsters, two gerbils, and an aquarium. My eldest son, Bryce, was determined to get a cat despite my firm, exasperated, "No!," and was looking through the classified ads in the newspaper for a free kitten.

Finally, he accepted the fact that I would not take him to get a cat, and after our "discussion," I went to my bedroom to get dressed for work. I then heard my optimistic child talking to someone on the phone.

"I called you about the free cat," he said. "Do you deliver?"

July 11, 2011

Tyler at Old Man's Cave

Tyler at Old Man’s Cave

all those favorite days
how I love to think on them
the sun was shining
and warmed my arms, my head
the caves welcomed us
you ran free in wonderland
your dog essence
overflowing with happiness
as I followed behind you in wonder
I placed you on a high ledge
in the sunshine, my small dragon
and you seemed to be in heaven
in your presence, I felt safe in the woods
nothing bothered me, then

July 6, 2011

Creation of a Book Cover: "My Beginning" by Melissa Kline

The very best part of the work I do is creating book covers…there's nothing I love more than this part of the publishing process. Today, I'd like to share with you the steps to creating the paperback cover for
My Beginning, a young adult novel (sci-fi) by Melissa Kline, published July 1, 2011 by Lucky Press, LLC.

Melissa is a very creative person, not just with words but also with art and craft materials. She is a miniature artist and has displays in the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls, and Toys, coinciding with the release of My Beginning. Melissa's enthusiasm for all things creative made creating the cover of My Beginning even more fun.

My Beginning tells the story of 16-year-old Ivory, a blonde-haired girl who lives confined in an "institution" -- a place where many children live under the watchful eyes of mother-nurses. The children are not allowed to go outside, for they are told that if they do, they will immediately die, due to a plague that has almost wiped out humankind. Ivory meets Aidan, the first teenage boy she has ever been interested in and the only one of her friends who did not spend his whole life at the institution. After receiving harsh punishment for her relationship with Aidan, Ivory escapes with Aidan into the unknown world outside of the institution and that is her "beginning."

The scene I choose to illustrate, after talking with Melissa, was just after Melissa and Aidan open an old rusty door and emerge into a beautiful wooded area. Here's how I did the cover:

I began with a pencil drawing of how I envisioned Ivory and the woods.

Then, I colored the drawing using a technique that works well for me. First, I color in the major color shapes with Sharpie brand markers. Then, I go over that, in detail, with Prismacolor colored pencils (I use no other brand, as Prismacolors have the best wax content for blending, IMO). Here is a photo of the work in progress:

I saved coloring Ivory until last because I knew her dress would be white and her skin light and I didn't want that part of the drawing to get scuffed or "dirty" while I did the brighter colors. Here (at left) is a detail of Ivory once I have colored her figure.

After the drawing is completely finished, I scanned it with my Epson scanner. Because the drawing was larger than the scanner bed, I had to scan in two sections then merge the sections carefully in Photoshop. (On day I hope to have a larger bed scanner, but they are quite expensive!)

After scanning the photo, I convert it from RGB format to CMYK, the format required by book printers. I also reduce it to fix the dimensions of the finished book (5.5 x 8.5 inches) with an additional 1/4 inch on all sides for necessary bleeding of the image off the edge, to allow for the book to be trimmed to size at the printer's.

So, at this point, I have the illustration in my computer and sized to the correct size for the book cover. But, that is just the end of one phase; it is not yet ready to be a bookcover. This is the point at which many designers new to cover design or author's self-publishing and doing their own covers stop, put on a title and author's name and call it a day. But, by thinking more about the characters and story and letting them speak to you (I know it sounds weird, but it works for me) and also loving the process and the wonderful things you can do in Photoshop, yet knowing how to keep things simple…well all these things are learned by experience and become intuitive to the experienced designer. I have been designer, publisher, or production manager on over 200 books, and finally feel I can trust the process at this point. I dislike being rushed in the creation of the cover; it seems such an organic process. Often what happens is I'll be doing other things, and suddenly this compulsion to work on the cover whispers its way into my consciousness. I'll leave everything else and go to my computer (or drawing pad) and out comes the cover; it seems to pour out from whatever soup was brewing just under my level of awareness. Anyway…. the finished, colored drawing is shown at the top of this post.

Here is my first attempt at making a cover using the illustration. As you can see, it is not well integrated, color-wise or design-wise. It just does not have enough "umph" and the structure of the design does not lend itself to the open, hopeful feeling of Ivory's discovery of the world beyond the institution.

One thing I do like about this cover (at left) is that I choose to use some of the "artistic filters" in Photoshop to bring out the edges of forms in the drawing and enhance the illustration beyond my hand-work. Below, you can see part of this process.

Melissa mentioned the surface of an old white file cabinet; she thought it would work well for the background. I started wondering if I could drag one of Lucky Press's old metal cabinets outside and create a rusty surface using water and the yucky snowy weather we were having here in Ohio at the time. Lucky for me, I had been introduced to Dreamstime stock photos by another wonderful author, Chuck Zigman, who wrote The World's Coolest Movie Star (and another book that I'll write more about this fall).

Here are three textures I liked for this cover. I choose to go with the third one, at bottom left.

Below is the cover as it stood after merging the illustration with the textured background and after I added in the title and author's name. Still, something was not quite right...

Melissa had the wonderful idea of having the illustration show through a keyhole shape and also of having some sort of rusty looking texture behind the illustration. (You are seeing now just how collaborative this cover design process was… our ideas bounced off one another and made the whole process seem not like work, but like a creative adventure!) Here is my third version of the cover with the keyhole and with new fonts for the title (Melanie BT) and author's name (Gil Sans Condensed).

At this point, I knew we had nailed it, though some might think otherwise. Popular YA covers may feature photographs and quirky drawings, but this cover aims to capture the themes of confinement, freedom, nature versus machine, and the innocence and hope of a teenage girl.

After the front cover was completed, it was time to work on the "mechanical": the entire cover layout as it is sent to the printer. Melissa and I fine-tuned the back cover text (synopsis) and chose the reviews that would appear. I obtained the EAN barcode and confirmed the spine width with the printer. Here is the full mechanical for My Beginning.

One of the great reviews we chose to use on the back cover was by Terry Matalas. "Terra Nova" premieres on FOX Sept. 26, 2011 and sounds like a great show, too!:

"Kline has woven a rich tapestry of romance, science fiction, and adventure. Ivory's journey through an Orwellian post-apocalypse grabs hold of you and never lets go." ~Terry Matalas, television writer, FOX TV "TERRA NOVA"

As I mentioned, Melissa creates miniature scenes based on her novels. The final picture here today shows one of the miniatures she created for My Beginning as it displays in the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls, and Toys.

My Beginning is now available in paperback from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and through your favorite bookstores. It is also available in Kindle format from Amazon. You can find Melissa Kline's blog, "Reflections on Writing," at THIS LINK and you can friend her on Facebook at THIS LINK. Her photo (by Anissa Long Photography) is below.

Lucky Press is online at www.luckypress.com and you can learn more about my artwork at www.janicephelps.com/illustrations.htm.