Blanche And Pearl…“They Only Ever Had Each Other”

Blanche And Pearl...”They Only Ever Had Each Other”

Today seemed to be a good day to share one of the illustrations which I’ve been working on while my chickens helped some with a few pictures for “My Life With Gracie.” This illustration work really is work!

This is one of four large illustrations for How To Explain Christmas To Chickens. It is for the first section titled “Blanche And Pearl.” Each section will begin with a large illustration and then each chapter will have a smaller panoramic banner illustration. (Imagine just the bottom third of this drawing.)

It is a drawing challenge for me to work with only black lines and gray tones because I definitely miss being able to use color which adds so much life and emotion to a drawing. But with the cost of color printing, it is the only affordable alternative for a book of this length. Having grown up with only a black and white television, I am comfortable seeing the world without color, and I think perhaps the drawing style may somewhat recall a previous time period.

Some things are the same as the drawings which I’ve done from the beginning such as the low horizon line which gives a “chicken’s eye” or “child’s eye” view of the world. Also the illustrations which include people, such as The Bottle Cap Lady, will only show no more than the lower body, not the face. (Not because I can’t draw faces, but because the chickens are the main characters. It’s also important to the story’s message for The Bottle Cap Lady to be anyone anywhere, and facial details or a regular given name would interfere with that.)

You may notice a bit more realism in this drawing. Much of this is because the novel explores Pearl’s real genuine emotions about not being accepted by the other chickens and then later losing Blanche and needing to face life alone. Those themes don’t seem suited to a lighthearted cartoon style of drawing. There are also many straight lines and angular shapes, and only the chickens and the German iris use curved lines and rounded shapes. I think this contrast helps bring attention to the smaller elements in the drawing like the chickens. (Often Pearl feels small and insignificant, though she never gives up hope.)

My goal is for this illustration to capture the relationship between Blanche and Pearl and the feelings expressed by this key sentence from the story’s first part: “They only ever had each other.”

You may be thinking this doesn’t look like a typical Christmas illustration or sound like a typical Christmas story. You are quite right. But then Pearl is not a typical chicken and The Bottle Cap Lady is not a typical neighbor either!

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

How does this drawing look to you? Can you tell which chicken is Pearl? And is this Pearl as you might imagine her in a world of black and white? I live with these chickens and with these illustrations, so it’s often a challenge to see things with different, and perhaps more critical, eyes. Your perspective, even if not-so-favorable, is truly appreciated.

“How To Explain Christmas To Chickens”…An Update And A Possible Cover!

How To Explain Christmas To Chickens

I finished the major editing work for “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” on Christmas morning. Approximately the last third of the novel takes place on the days leading up to Christmas and then Christmas day itself.

Each day, I edited what would happen on that day. This helped with details and continuity. Would the pomegranates still be ripe enough for Pearl to use them to make ink for her letter to Santa Claus? Would anyone be laying eggs during the shortest days of the year? Both of these were important elements to the novel’s ending which needed to be feasible to me. Now you may not believe that chickens talk with people who love them and can dance ballet, but as I see it, the other details need to be accurate. (If this seems a little idiosyncratic, I won’t argue with you. It seems that way to me as well.)

After Christmas, I began putting the edited text into publishing format which includes a final check of what I call “the ability to be easily read aloud.”

Everything was moving along nicely, but then on New Year’s Eve, I found a post on Twitter from a publisher in England. They were providing an open submission day – one day only – on January 2, 2020 in honor of their 20th year of publishing.

Honestly I had never considered the traditional publishing route. Who would want to publish stories about backyard chickens? Even ones who enjoy dancing ballet?

But perhaps it would be worth an attempt for no other reason than the publisher is named Chicken House, Ltd. They are located in England. Some of our very favorite readers are in England!

It seems sort of a natural fit, doesn’t it? When Gracie and I looked at their website, we found they were featuring a mystery book about ballet! When she saw that, she knew it was the right thing to do because the publisher must surely like chickens and ballet.

So I had a good deal of quick learning to do. In all of the books I’ve read about writing a novel, I’ve always skipped over the chapters about submitting to a publisher. I never felt that my odds would be very good.

But I kept reminding myself of all my chickens had taught me. I thought of fearless Amelia who launched herself on a journey to fly to the moon. (That story will perhaps be our next novel.) I thought about Pearl, eternally hopeful Pearl, who has never given up no matter how many times her goofy plans may fail. (That story is this current novel.) Most of all, I thought of what Gracie had told me.

“Life is a gift, and so is a talent. Wherever there is a gift, there is also a giver. But do not trust the gift. Trust the Giver of the gift.”

But you will read more about these things in “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” whether traditionally published or self-published.

For now, we are waiting the required six weeks while the folks at Chicken House, Ltd. review our pitch letter and first three chapters. If we have not heard from them, we will just continue with self-publishing as we had planned all along.

Gracie thought you might enjoy a peak at our possible cover design if self-published, and so that is today’s illustration. Hopefully it strikes the right balance between playfulness and seriousness. It could also serve as an illustration for the last chapter of the novel.

It is still difficult for me to say where this book would fit in a bookstore or library. My goal is for it to appeal to a wide age group without fitting into any particular standard genre. Sometimes I think of it as an adult book pretending to be a children’s book, and other times I think of it as a children’s book pretending to be an adult book. Either way, like a bank of snow, there is more than what you see.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

From “Pearl’s Comedy Coop” To “Freak Show Chickens”

Freak Show Chickens

This draft of a chapter comes a little later than the last one which I shared. Tension builds as The Bottle Cap Lady begins to take a greater part in the story.

“Yeah, I see you got them Freak Show Chickens!” yelled The Bottle Cap Lady from the street. “And you ain’t nothing but a Freak Show Old Man!”

She had been walking back and forth, up and down our little block, from her house on the corner to the dead end turnaround.

Like most days when she did this, she was wearing her waitress apron. It had a lace-trimmed pocket for her order pad and matched her lace-trimmed waitress hat. The hat was her favorite part of her uniform, and she wore it like a diamond-trimmed tiara.

Pearl loved The Bottle Cap Lady’s hat.

It might have looked like she had gotten her old job back, but she still had on her house dress underneath. She missed being a waitress. When she wore her apron and hat, she felt as if she was somebody. The Chicken Place has been a landmark restaurant in our neighborhood for many years. It still has a big statue of a white chicken on the roof which has withstood many hurricanes and nor’easters.

Some days, The Bottle Cap Lady would just keep walking back and forth on our street as if she was looking for something or someone. Occasionally she would step into someone’s yard and look behind their trees or in their shrubbery. It was as if she was playing “Hide And Seek” and looking for someone but never found them.

“What are you doing with them chickens? Teaching them tricks for the circus? You and your Freak Show Chickens! Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”

“They’re all white like little clowns. Give them some red noses to go with them silly hats and you’re in business. The Freak Show Chicken business!”

“Don’t pay any attention to her,” I said, adjusting my newspaper so The Bottle Cap Lady couldn’t see I was talking. “Just stay calm and quiet. She doesn’t know what she is saying.”

Pearl was particularly troubled. She was the only one who had ever worn a silly hat, and that had been the night of Pearl’s Comedy Coop. Now because of it, she felt she had put the whole flock in danger. She wanted to get out and run away from me, from the other chickens, and even away from Blanche.

“Look at that little one running and hopping around like she don’t got any good sense in her head, her Freak Show Chicken head!”

Pearl could feel the pecks again even though she and Blanche were separated from the others and Blanche had become too weak to peck her.

Peck. “Be.” Peck. “A.” Peck. “Normal.” Peck. “Chicken.”

Pearl heard and felt every bit of it all over again. Only this time instead of the others asking her, she asked herself. “Why can’t I just be a normal chicken?”

Pearl’s face looked troubled. She wanted to run away from herself too, but that is never possible.

“Pearl, there is nothing wrong with you being yourself, even if that means you are different. You are not a Freak Show Chicken, and you never will be.

“I love you, Pearl. We are going to have more shows and more hats and more anything else you want. Just don’t be afraid to be yourself.

“She is as wrong as wrong can be about you.”

Blanche nodded in silent agreement.

By then, The Bottle Cap Lady had move further down the street to another house.

“Why didn’t you go and peck her on the head and tell her to stop?” asked Pearl.

“People don’t do things the way chickens do them.”

“You could have at least told her to stop.”

“But she did stop, didn’t she?”

“Yes, but you didn’t say anything to her.”

“I didn’t have to. Her own conscience told her to stop. A conscience is a powerful thing. It’s when a person doesn’t have a conscience that you have to watch out.”

This big word was new to Blanche and Pearl, just like The Bottle Cap Lady’s behavior was new to them.

They wanted to believe me, especially Pearl. It was easy to believe me when I was right there with them, but they would still be cautious while I was away from home. That was probably a good thing.

When I got home from work the next day, there were a few pieces of corn left scattered around in the old run area. They were white shoepeg kernels, a kind I only rarely give my chickens.

“The Bottle Cap Lady was here again,” is all Pearl would say.

Gracie and the others said the same, but told me more. She only went to the smaller coop beside the driveway. She never went to the large one in the backyard where the others were. She was either too afraid to go any further into our backyard or was only interested in Blanche and Pearl. They looked like the big chicken on top of The Chicken Place.

These visits happened more than once over that season. Sometimes she just stood, leaning over to look more deeply into the wooded brambles, and you would not even know she was there. Other times she was mean and difficult to ignore. After each of those mean times, she would leave Blanche and Pearl a treat the next day.

I was unsure if she had been giving them corn because she felt sorry for her behavior or if she was trying to gain their confidence to take them away. So I asked Pearl to tell me more about what The Bottle Cap Lady did when she came into our yard.

“She is always very quiet when she visits us, and then she gives us something to eat. She goes away with her head down.”

Pearl took a few steps like The Bottle Cap Lady would take to show me how she moved. Then she paused and looked around nervously.

“There was one time that she said something to me.”

“What was it?”

Pearl tried to stand the way The Bottle Cap Lady stood. With a raspy old hen voice she carefully repeated the words exactly as she had heard them.

“Someone as pretty as you should never have to look at someone as ugly as me.”

Then she made a sound someone holding back tears might make.

“What do those words mean?” she asked. “What does that sound mean?”

“I think they mean she is sorry and she can’t help herself.”

Pearl thought all these things over very carefully.

One of the worst and scariest times for us was when The Bottle Cap Lady stood at the edge of our driveway and started yelling more loudly than ever before.

“I’m going to come and get that big fat lazy chicken you got there and take her in to The Chicken Place. They’re going to look at her and give me my job back as a reward. There has never been a bigger chicken and I bet there has never been a juicier chicken either.”

She laughed a deep throaty laugh, “Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”

Then she did a little dance in a circle, flapping her arms like they were chicken wings.

“Why don’t you just be a normal old man with normal old smelly chickens?” she called out one last time. Then she tossed her empty beer bottle into my yard and staggered home.

“Blanche isn’t lazy. She is just not feeling well,” said Pearl. “Why can’t she see that?”

Then after a long pause, she added, “And why don’t you just be a normal old man?”

“That’s a fair question, Pearl,” I said. “Because a normal old man would call the police and have her arrested. And that’s not what I want. More importantly, that’s not what she needs.”

“What does she need?” asked Pearl.

“A miracle. Just a simple everyday miracle.”

Pearl had not yet imagined she would be the one to play a part in giving The Bottle Cap Lady that simple everyday miracle.

But she would.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!