Another Step to New Website

Much of the day went in to clearing and cleaning my desk space. Our concept for my new website is built around my workspace. This is the starting photo. You’ll get to see it evolve.

desk workspace

New Logo, Website Redesign

Richard and I are working on a website re-design. We’ve decided, in consultation with our friends in marketing at Boyds Mills Press, that we need to make it more user-friendly and find better ways to highlight some spanking new content.

For a start, here’s my brand new logo design.

logoWhat do you think?

I am also spending time learning new tools that should make my work and home life easier. I am learning to use Evernote, an information management tool. I was introduced to the program by some of my writer friends in the Southern Breeze Region of SCBWI. I used it to some good effect this year while working on two curriculum development projects. I decided to invest some time in watching some tutorials to refine the way I use it. It’s been interesting, and I feel like I will be better able to keep track of the components that go into projects.

Studio for Wolfsnail App Project

coverWe’ve been talking for some time about making an iPad app inspired by Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator. I started thinking seriously about making an app after attending a session at this year’s National Science Teachers Association Convention. (Read about my time at the NSTA here.) Richard made a start on an app that would run on an iPhone, but we weren’t convinced that it was working. We have had a few conversations with our editors at Boyds Mills Press, both Andy Boyles, editor for science titles, and Mary Alice Moore, editorial director. They had good questions that helped us re-think our approach. Some were: Are we making an app just because we can? or, put another way, Is there something about the platform (iPhone, iPad, or other tablet) that would let us do something different than the book offers? Who will buy the app? Who will use the app? Do you see it as a substitute for the book? If a person owns the book, would they also want to buy the app?

After thinking about these questions, we put the app for the iPhone on hold. We decided we thought the larger format of the iPad (or other tablet) would provide a better tableau for our content. We put the Wolfsnail project on the back burner while we finished the Fibonacci Folding Book Project app. It is a free app that contains a full-fledged lesson plan for a multi-disciplinary unit that works well with our book, Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. (Read about that app here.)

About a month ago, Richard hit upon a good idea. We have decided to create entirely new visual content — in video. Rather than try to “animate” the photographs somehow, we are shooting video of every scene and action in the book. Luckily, I found a snail earlier this autumn (October 17 – thanks FB). We figured we’d have to do our video capture indoors so we set about to create a studio that would be appropriate to the task. I did some research into white boxes, but none seemed to be big enough.

white box homemadeWe decided to build our own. Richard put together a frame with pvc pipe. I stitched muslin panels, which would bounce the light. We created a plant box from an under-the-bed storage container. We got a big bag of potting soil, planted the plants, and brought in a bunch of leaves. We’re using water from our rain barrel to keep the plants, leaves, and snails moist.

white box with plastic containerall put together
I’m still a sucker for still shots so I took a few. This whole setup reminded me of the snail playgrounds our son, Nathan, set up when he found the first snails a decade ago. I’ll see if I can scare up a photo of those playgrounds, often made from cereal boxes, toilet paper rolls, and empty juice cartons.
snail playground
I took these with a Nikon D700 using a regular lens. Richard is using the Tamron 90 mm macro lens on the Nikon D7000.
closer up snails on leaves

These bottom two photos are from July 2003. The boys were 6 and 4. (It is so nice that digital photographs take the guesswork out of dating images.)
old style snail playground
close up playground

Christmas: Old Photos, New Photo Tools, Handmade Items

Posts always slow around Christmastime because we are working on things we cannot post. Richard and I scanned and restored these photos and put them together in a panel for my sister, Emilye, to recall her days of Little League baseball when she was “the best backcatcher in the state of Mississippi.”

Emilye Baseball

You can see last year’s photo panels here and here. Unfortunately, the USPS, which I was praising to high heaven earlier this holiday season, managed to lose the tube in which this photo panel was sent. I am re-ordering from Deville Camera today and it will go out, again, soon.

Christmas tablecloth

Here’s our Christmas Eve table at Mom and Dad’s. I made the tablecloth for Mom for Christmas. It has two sides: one for Christmas and one for the rest of the year’s parties.
just the laid table

And, for tools, Richard got an LED light shaped like a ring that mounts onto our Tamron 90 mm lens. We’ve embarked on our project to create an app for Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator.
ring light
snail video project

Photographs from Ocean City

Pinecone with 5 spirals and 8 spirals

Lovely windy beach

washed up on beach. a ray?

Wild flower growing along sidewalk on Coastal Highway. A five.


Growing Patterns Book Trailer

It’s ready to view! See the book trailer for Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. I’d love to hear what you think.

It’s also available on my website and on my Amazon author page. (Look in the far right column at the bottom.)

Making a Book Trailer

Ron and Kathryn Rodenmeyer

Our marketing package for Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature includes a  book trailer. This is a new venture for us — book trailers not being as much of a “thing” when Wolfsnail came out. Since we got grants from the Mississippi Arts Commission and the Greater Jackson Arts Council to support marketing efforts, we were able to hire Mosaic Media, a pr and video production company owned by Ron and Kathryn Rodenmeyer. After looking around at other book trailers and reading some reviews of trailers, I decided I wanted a trailer that would address two ideas: first, that despite the somewhat intimidating sounding name Fibonacci, the number sequence at the center of my picture book is pretty simple; and second, that examples of Fibonacci numbers are all around us in daily life. I set the desired length at 1 min. & 30 sec.

Kathryn encouraging Kate to cuddle up to her pretend Mom

With these key parameters set, Kathryn told me the next step was for me to write a script. She told me I would need to write more informally than I was used to. The words would have to flow like conversation. I put something together. Ron and Kathryn liked the concept, though they suggested I needed an intro. We came up with an intro and then Kathryn developed a list of video and still shots, music, and voice/over and on-camera audio. Then, we started talking about talent. I asked my friend Julie to play herself (mom and librarian); I asked Ron and Kathryn’s kids Ben and Kate to play Julie’s kids; and I engaged Tanner the dog as himself.


We decided to shoot the indoor scenes at my house and the outdoor shots at my parents’ house. I bought flowers for the inside and the outside (we had the worst cold snap in the state’s history last week, which zapped all the pansy blossoms).

I can’t tell you how great it was to be working with people who knew the video medium. There are so many things to think about with video that us still photographers don’t have to think about. Most of these have to do with time and audio.

I got to see the set-up.

I got to preview the set-up

Besides bringing Ben and Kate to “star” in the book trailer, Ron and Kathryn also brought along their oldest, Eve, to engage the younger ones after their work time. When the Rodenmeyer kids were off camera, they played ping-pong with my boys and then we played bananagrams. Ron, who was working the entire time (directing, shooting, recording), had to shush us when we forgot we were on a set.

We had a few last-minute script changes. I woke up with the idea that Julie should record some of the lines that had been slated for me. She was a good sport. I wasn’t in on her recording session, but I know it went well.

Julie reads

Ron was good at coaching. He had me read a few lines to check the audio levels. Then, as soon as he said, “We’re good to go. Ready when you are,” I belted out the lines like I had to project to the bleachers. Woa! You never know what you’ll do in front of a microphone. I’m trying not to think much about appearing in my own book trailer. It goes with the territory and getting nervous just makes it harder. We left Ron and Kathryn with all the raw footage, some still images from our family archives, and some bags of pasta. I will be giddy with anticipation until I get to see the rough cut. This is fun!

(Richard documented the whole thing by taking the photographs in this post. He also helped with set-up, provided a back-up tripod, and offered critical opinions.)

Ron adjusting the tripod


under the lights

note the pillow

finding a pinecone while walking the dog

examing pansies

close-up of examining pansy

the stand-up

Always Learning

I am so pleased to learn that it’s good for the brain to learn new things. In order to keep up with technology, I have to learn new things all the time. Today, I am figuring out how to use tiny urls so I can put internet links into my tweets. I also linked my tweets to my facebook page. They will appear as status updates. I read a recent New York Times article, suggesting that twitter is here to stay and also very useful. I am still learning how to put it to good use. I’d appreciate any tips from my readers.

My blog traffic surged on the day I posted the interview with Irene Latham. When I mentioned this to her, she said she had tweeted about it. Perhaps that drove some of the traffic. I also have a hunch that video is a draw.

Even though I have a Google alert set up for Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator, I still miss things. The staff at Horn Book magazine printed a list of Mind the Gap Awards, a humorous awards list, in the July/August 2009 issue. Wolfsnail won in the category of Scariest mollusk. In this case, I missed it in two formats: online and in hardcover. I am a subscriber and I know I read that issue because it included the acceptance speeches for the major ALA awards.

In unrelated news, Richard, who designed my website and blog, just finished re-designing a website for zata3, a political consulting firm that specializes in phone services like polling, virtual town halls, and get-out-the-vote.