UnSong update… and a few thoughts about Seuss… with an illustration

First off, the good news. I am almost finished with UnSong. Which means I’m looking for a few good…people…to read and review it. It’s in the Beta reading stage, then my art director gets to look over my illustrations and offer constructive criticism (or just fix my mistakes herself) and meanwhile I’m working on Scrivener to format it properly (page numbers and what not)…but it won’t be long before I am ready to send it out for advance reviews. Anybody interested?

Second, I’m finally ready to weigh in on the Dr. Seuss debacle (you know where the estate of Dr. Seuss took six of his books off the shelf because they contained racist imagery?). It took me a while to digest this and figure out how I felt about it because Seuss was a source of great entertainment when I was a child (though I admit I had a preference for the darker imagery of Mother Goose). Still, the Cat in the Hat was pretty creepy and fun.

Anyway, six Dr. Seuss books being yanked from stores and shelves and online dealers all at once caused a great deal of consternation among parents and teachers. How dare they? These are classics. True enough, though I couldn’t remember reading any of them except Mulberry Street and McElligott’s Pool. And though I didn’t recall any racist imagery in them, when I went back and looked, it didn’t take long to spot.

Still, surely it’s a bit of an overreaction to pull six books because of a few racist illustrations and words. Doesn’t the work itself outweigh those tiny infractions?

Not necessarily. As a librarian and a writer, I know books go out of print for a number of reasons. One of those is certainly outdated information, and Dr. Seuss’s talent for iambic pentameter and rhyme notwithstanding, his books were definitely guilty of that. Another reason for removing books from print and/or shelves is if there are other books and authors that provide the same entertainment or information value without the offensive characteristics. I can list a number of authors who can do this: P.D. Eastman, Shel Silverstein, David Shannon, Marcus Pfister, Eric Carle… If you want to broaden children’s minds rather than limit them, just Google “anti-racist alternatives to Dr. Seuss”. There are some amazing books out there for kids. And there’s always the rather dark, twisted and melancholy world of Mother Goose where children regularly break their crowns or eat blackbirds baked into a pie.

Dr. Seuss definitely played a role in my childhood. It’s possible he inspired some of what I write today. It’s also possible I’m still fighting some of what he taught me.

Worth considering, don’t you think?

By Michelle Garren Flye copyright 2021

Happy Birthday to Me! (with another teaser for UnSong)

Today is my birthday, and I’m celebrating by writing, but not just writing. I’m writing whatever I want. I’m also going back and reading some of what I’ve written in the past. If that sounds like self-gratification, keep in mind that I write what I want to read. It’s the main reason I enjoy it so much.

But I wanted to share another little bit from UnSong. I’m still working hard on the illustrations, and I’ve done most of the easy ones (and by that, I mean the ones that lend themselves to illustration more easily—they have a definite image. Poetry being poetry, not all of the poems in my volume do…or the image they have is a bit difficult for a novice artist like me to put on the page.

My point is, I’m getting there. The book is taking definite shape now. And I’m using Scrivener to build it, so I’m kind of proud of that, too.

I guess old dogs can learn new tricks.

Illustration and poem by Michelle Garren Flye copyright 2021

Update on UnSong (with a teaser)

I am so in love with my new project I’ve been working practically nonstop on it since last week. It’s tough when you’ve got a project like this that you can’t wait to see finished…but you’ve got to stop and do mundane things like pay the bills and get ready for taxes and, well, eat and sleep. (Though I will say I’ve sacrificed a bit of the latter.)

So I’ve been working nonstop since last week and I’ve gotten about halfway with the illustrations. But I just can’t wait to share at least one. So I chose one of my favorite haiku. Here it is with the illustration I finished just last night:

Poem and illustration by Michelle Garren Flye copyright 2021

If you’ve seen my graphic novel HourGlass, you’ll recognize where I got the idea for this one. This is half the battle, too. Though most of my poetry is pretty easy to illustrate, some of it isn’t. This one actually took me a while. If you’ve ever tried to draw rain, you’ll understand why. It’s not the easiest thing to draw. I played around with different “brushes” on my iPad and finally realized it was the hand that was the important part of the poem, not the wind and rain. And thanks to HourGlass, I already knew how to draw a ghost-like hand. Lol.

Anyway, I’m off to illustrate more poetry. Maybe write one or two as well. There’s one I’ve included in this book that I may not be able to use as I’ve also entered it into a contest. I’m at least half hoping it doesn’t win (which it probably won’t) because it’s the best one I have and could easily take up a two-page spread, and I have the illustration all planned out. Well, we shall see, right?

If it does win, maybe I can still include it and add a line to the front cover: “Contains the award-winning poem—————”

New Project Preview: UnSong

Do you remember the first book you ever read without pictures in it? It probably happened about fifth grade, at least that’s when I remember it.

It felt like a mistake, right? You were told to use your imagination to picture the characters and scenes, and I know I learned how to do that. It was so much work, though, I only really wanted to read the same books—my favorites—over and over. When I was assigned a book to read in school, it was almost always a chore, though some of those classics did make it into my favorites stack.

I’ve read plenty of books now, using my imagination to fill in the blanks left by the lack of art, but I started wondering. Why omit the art? Why not provide a few illustrations? Maybe that’s why graphic novels are surging in the marketplace. I know I still love a good comic book.

With poetry, in particular, there’s a definite need for art. Poetry is not just words. Poetry grows from feelings, is inspired by sights, might be as amorphous as a scent.

Other poets, of course, have already discovered what I’m just now concluding. I mean, look at Shel Silverstein. Also, I recently picked up Gabbie Hanna’s beautiful book of illustrated poetry dandelion in a bookstore (ahem, not mine), read the very first poem in it and got tears in my eyes.

So, like I always do, I’m throwing all my thoughts and feelings about something (in this case poetry), into a big kettle and seeing what boils out. So far, I’ve got most of the poems I’m planning to use and a few of the illustrations…and a title.

Possible cover, but probably not. 🙂 Stay tuned!