Today marks one year to the day when I handed over my security badge to the Austin American-Statesman, the newspaper where I worked for 13 years. It was the job that rescued me from “The Hawk” of cold Iowa winters (Des Moines), and bought me to sunny warm Austin, Texas.
My last day at the Statesman produced a myriad of emotions. I was sad about leaving the familiar newsroom. I was afraid about losing a steady paycheck. I didn’t want to let my family down. But admittedly, I was also excited about the opportunity to live my dream of being a full-time children’s book illustrator and author, right here in Austin, a hotbed for children’s literature creators.
Losing my job was sad, but it came as no surprise. For years I saw the end coming. I began working in the newspaper industry in the mid 90’s as a news artist for the Des Moines Register before taking the job in Austin. During that span of time, I watched nervously as the newspaper industry shrank like a wool sweater, and then unraveled completely just the same. As newspapers began to offer free content online, circulation dropped. Advertising revenue crashed. Colleagues at other papers lost their jobs. The light at the end of my tunnel looked dim.
Anticipating layoffs, I went part-time. This allowed more time to focus on developing my dream. With less time in the newsroom, I could hone my speaking skills. I could develop a school visit program. I had more time to write. My first authored book, It Jes’ Happened, published early in 2012. By the end of that year, the book earned three starred reviews from major journals. It made several end-of-year Best-Of lists, and the buzz of awards hummed loudly in several kid-lit librarian blogs. My author career took off at the same time my newspaper career ended.
Earlier this year, I finished illustrating THE CART THAT CARRIED MARTIN (Charlesbridge), written by Eve Bunting. The book published to critical acclaim, not to mention received two starred reviews (Booklist, The Bulletin). I also finished illustrating THE AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH (Eerdmans), written by my friend, Chris Barton. I wrote two picture books. I sold two picture books. And It Jes’ Happened did go on to win an award.
With success as an author, school visit requests multiplied. I spoke and presented at what seemed like a zillion elementary schools, writing/librarian conferences, colleges and universities (Vermont College of Fine Arts was a highlight). Finally I became comfortable as a public speaker. Says a lot for the once cripplingly shy boy who gypped high school speech classes.
2013 hasn’t been all rosy, though. One of our cars broke down, and we haven’t been able to afford another. Sometimes I’ve paid the mortgage late. I’ve had a few sleepless nights worrying about money. Thankfully I have a supportive wife who hasn’t complained about the hole in the kitchen ceiling (drippy water pump, or something), or not having a new dress or shoes when she wants to, or about having to ride the bus to work sometimes (okay, frequently). We’ve been contented with what we have, and we’re making do.
I try not to make it a habit of getting all church-boy on my blog, but if you asked me what I attributed to success over the years, I’d have to say it’s God. I’m a believer. I talk to him a lot, and, apparently, he listens.
Happy New Year to you. May your dreams come true in 2014.