Happy Holidays, One & All!
Welcome to the first of what I hope will be a regular annual Yuletide letter from Nick. For the past several years I’ve told myself that I really ought to write one; but I never quite got around to it… until now.
I’m still substitute teaching in a number of school districts in the southern part of New Jersey. Despite the fact that I work nearly every school day, money’s a little tight at times, especially during the summer months, when I must rely on low-paying temp work.
However, there is a significant ray of hope in the form of Malibu Books for Children, the little publishing company that Preston McClear and I started about six years ago. Last year, Malibu Books (or “MaliBooks,” as I call it) experienced its first taste of fiscal solvency as income from our first print run of The Sailor & the Sea Witch began to roll in. This nearly doubled our revenue, and suddenly we had money to pay our printing bills and pay ourselves. My personal MaliBooks paychecks were small, but added to my usual income it made a tremendous difference. This period lasted a few months, then abruptly ended as we ran out of copies of Sailor & the Sea Witch and ran into a terrible spate of bad luck! Having just received a large print run of The Boy Under the Bed, our first and best-selling title, we were back down to our earlier income level. Our printer, attempting to crack down on delinquent customers, told us we could do no more printings until we’d paid off at least half of our enormous bill. Without a second title bringing in money, however, we wouldn’t be able to pay it off before running out of books altogether. To make matters worse, the SARS virus struck Hong Kong, where our books are printed, ruining the economy over there and putting more pressure on us to pay the bills immediately. (There were several other problems as well, even more technical and typical of the publishing business.)
Fortunately, a small business loan and an explanation of the economics of our situation to our kind and understanding printer bailed us out at the last minute. Now we have a second printing of Sailor & the Sea Witch and our first printing of Frannie & Pickles, our new baby. Our first checks for orders of these books should arrive right after Christmas, and we hope to be able to make our printer (and ourselves) feel very happy in 2004!
The cover and two illustrations from Frannie & Pickles.
Well, enough of the hard-luck story of 2003. What lies ahead? Nobody knows for certain, but I’m now illustrating my fantasy novel Jenna of Erdovon, and Preston and I are looking toward publishing that next. It will be illustrated in pencil drawings, with a few full-color spreads. Although I sketch every painting before I paint, I haven’t done a full-fledged pencil drawing in eleven years! It’s nice to see that I still have the skills, and that even my middle-school students, who usually find anything not-in-color to be totally boring, are blown away by my Jenna drawings.
A preliminary sketch for what will be a full-color scene from Jenna of Erdovon.
Three finished drawings from Jenna. Left to right: Our young heroine narrowly escapes being fed to a dragon; meeting the Fairy Queen; on the trail in her new Fairy-made armor. I think the Fairy Queen needs a little more work, especially on her right hand. One co-worker said she was pleased to see that I drew the Queen as a “full-figured” woman. Well, I always figured that, no matter what the size of the other Fairies, their Queen should be this zaftig BBW-type. (Big, Beautiful Woman, to those of you who don’t know what BBW stands for.)
Further down the line is my Arabian Nights book, called Four Tales of Wonder, which will be similarly illustrated in pencil and paint, with pen-&-ink drawings for the third story. Although still in the early stages, with only rough sketches for illustrations, it has earned a favorable review from both Lily and one of my young fans (the only people who have read it). I wrote it merely because I’ve always wanted to make an Arabian Nights book (or movie, or both); but, with this tragic war dragging on in the Middle East, I now find myself hoping that it will also help remind folks that people can do good things as well.
Some of the cuties from Four Tales of Wonder.
Lily and I are still working on getting married. Yeah, I know it’s been a very long engagement! However, she has been acclimating herself to living under my roof on a regular basis. She enjoys cooking, and has made some excellent meals for me. She has a lot of tutoring assignments this year, which keep her busy and give her many opportunities to exercise her teaching skills. She also is making a tidy profit selling USANA health & beauty products on ebay.
In late September my sister Joelle married Don Gray, and Lily & I had a lovely time at the wedding. I think the ease with which the event was carried out reassured Lily that weddings can be fun and simple.
The Nairobi Trio: Me on drum, Jordan on guitar, Stefan on lute (and recorder)
Lily & me, lookin’ cute.
The happy couple: Joelle & Don, lookin’ cute also. Stefan menaces Haidee the bridesmaid.
Joelle & Dad dance to Brahms’ waltz #15 in A major from the Opus 39.
Speaking of weddings, my brother Stefan and his fiancée Heather are planning to tie the knot in March! The fun and festivities will be in Phoenix, Arizona, which should be an interesting expedition.
I’ve become the caretaker of a small toad. (We looked up the species, and it just has the un-imaginative designation of “American toad.” Lily’s niece Holli named him “Angelo,” which is more interesting.) Lily’s sister Conni picked him up late last summer and took him home to show to her children. They started taking care of the little fellow, and soon found out they had to take care of him all autumn and winter long. Apparently, toads burrow underground at summer’s end and hibernate until spring. By the time they learned this, the ground was already too hard for burrowing. Before long, Conni, who is a singer, developed a sore throat and suspected that she might be allergic to the toad. She transferred the allergenic amphibian to her parents; but their house is really cold in the winter! So now little Angelo is hanging out at my pad. This fat fellow eats lots of tiny crickets and mostly sits like a rock. When it’s warm enough, he tries to get out of his terrarium. It’s tough to explain patience to a creature with a brain the size of a ball bearing! For fun & exercise, I sometimes take him out of his terrarium, put him in a large plastic laundry basket, and hum the theme to The Great Escape while he scales the walls to (temporary) freedom. In spring, we’ll all (Lily & I, and Conni & the kids) get together and release Angelo into the wild. He’ll be glad when that happens.
The Great Escape begins…
“Almost… there! If I can just… squeeze… through…”
Out of the basket! (And out-of-focus.) Then back in his terrarium, poor fellow.
And that’s the year in brief. I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones in good health and good spirits. Happy Holidays to all, and best wishes for 2004!