Archives: Art Car Fun

Wrangling Words and Authors!

The Texas Word Wrangler Festival, benefiting the Giddings Public Library and Cultural Center.

It’s never easy to travel out of town for a school or book engagement. I have to consider mileage/gas costs, hotel rates, meals, and other logistics. But when I was invited to feature my children’s book at the 13th Annual Texas Word Wrangler Festival—benefiting the Giddings Public Library and Cultural Center—I had to say YES! This resulted in a two-hour drive, a two-night stay … and a lot of fun. Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car loves a good road trip!

Author Jonathan Oliver poses with staff members of the Giddings Public Library.

The first stop was an author visit where I spoke to third graders at Giddings Elementary School. I gave four presentations back-to-back, and after the last talk the teachers said they were having so much fun they didn’t want to leave! So, I stayed a bit longer, answering the many hilarious questions that the students had for me. It was AMAZING!

Thank you for the beautiful drawings and artwork, St. Paul Serbin students!

My second school visit took me to a beautiful facility with the most gorgeous cemetery nestled in a secluded, rural area. There, I gave two presentations for K-5th graders at St. Paul Serbin Lutheran School, and the kindergartners presented me with a stack of colorful, beautiful artwork. I love receiving handmade drawings such as this, and I’ll keep them forever.

The next day was full of book sales at the library. School after school poured through the doors as students were brought by the busload for field trips to meet the authors. The children lined up for autographs, bookmarks and books. I signed one girl’s book and wrote “Be Amazing!”—as I always do—and she nudged her friend, whispering, “Can you beeee-lieeeeve it? She wrote ‘Be Amazing’ in my book!” My feet were aching but my heart was full!

“A Little Bit of Nonsense” was there!

This year, it was Alan Bourgeois’s idea to add a new Saturday event to the festival, complete with food trucks, snow cones, cotton candy, kiddie train rides, a jumpy-bouncy house, and MORE book sales. Alan is founder of the Texas Association of Authors and is a long-time supporter of the Texas Word Wrangler Festival; his efforts helped the library create what we all hope will be a new Saturday tradition. I invited Randy Blair to bring his art car, “A Little Bit of Nonsense,” to the festival, allowing visitors to see and touch a REAL art car up close. Randy and his car were a hit!

One of the best results of this weekend event was rubbing elbows with the other featured authors. I met so many smart, creative professionals, and it was wonderful to exchange ideas and knowledge. It was an amazing weekend full of irreplaceable moments, and I’m glad I was welcomed and honored by the warmth of the people of Giddings, Texas.

Cick here to see the WORD WRANGLER festival website.

Below I’ll post as many photos as I can of these talented writers who were in attendance with me.

Kat Kronenberg of Austin, Texas is author of “Dream Big,” and her next book “Love Big” will arrive soon.

Here I am with Harry Capers of Sugar Land, Texas, author and illustrator of the “Dino Buddies” series of children’s books.

Andrew Fairchild of Texas City, Texas is an award-winning author of many children’s books.

Kathleen Shields wowed the children with her “Hamilton Troll” series and other books, too.

 

 

Jonathan Oliver (shown here with his mom) is a stay-at-home father and author of “Joy In the Journey.”

P.G. Shriver is author of the “Sally The Travelin’ Saddle” series and many more books.

Mystery writer Kathryn Lane spoke to 100+ students in Giddings, Texas.

Carolyn Stovall is author of the award-winning cookbook, “A Texas Gal Cooks” (I bought a copy myself!), and “Granny Ozark’s Treats.”

Angela Castillo and Jamie Foley are co-authors of the “Busy Moms Guide To” series as well as middle grade and young adult books of their own.

Woo-hoo, Chattanooga choo-choo!

Can you believe it? My book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, has taken me on the road to speak to children at schools around the country! To date, I’ve spoken at some 38 schools in my hometown of Houston; in Shreveport & Monroe, Louisiana; in Atlanta, Georgia; and in Austin, Texas.

Bill Megenhardt says this is the kind of art car a ram would probably drive!

Most recently, I was invited to travel to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and I spent a beautiful morning speaking to students at Bess T. Shepherd Elementary School. Three art car drivers joined us at my school visit: Isaac Cohen (Houston), Wendy Tippens (Tennessee), and Paulette Perlman (Florida). And the presentation wouldn’t have been complete without the talent of my amazing illustrator, Bill Megenhardt. Together, I think all of us delivered a visit that the students will remember for a long time. And that’s not all—several other art car drivers visited a few more schools around town: Jewelz Cody, Bonnie Blue, Ted Mangum, and a few others (I’ll try to find out their names to add them later!).

We were IN THE NEWS throughout the Chattanooga weekend, starting with an article published in The ChattanooganRead the article here!  What’s more, News 12 (WDEF-TV, David Moore) was on hand to film the school event, and the children were excited to meet a real author, a real illustrator, and to view the art cars up close and personal. Click the words “ART CARAVAN” below to see the televised feature!

Art Caravan

Kate Warren (Art 120), Cathey Nickell, and Lee Warren.

I also had the pleasure of meeting the dynamic Kate Warren, executive director of Art 120, a seven-year-old non-profit organization created to enrich Chattanooga and its surrounding community through the creation, education, and celebration of STE(A)M-based learning. Kate explains, “About 32 of our 42 elementary schools in Chattanooga do not even have art programs, so our organization raises funds to bring art to the schools.” Read more on what ART 120 is doing by clicking this link!

Kate is the mastermind behind the Scenic City Art Car Weekend, which she brought to her town about six years ago. This year, more than a dozen art cars showed up from around the country, bringing a weekend of inspiration to the city. Perhaps you’ll consider a DONATION to Art 120 to help support the amazing work they’re doing for school children in Chattanooga. Every $5 donation brings art to a child, and Kate’s passion for her mission is contagious. (I hope you catch it!)

Isaac Cohen brought the beautiful wooden “Slider” from Houston for the weekend festivities.

The cherry on top of my stay in Chattanooga was a book signing at Barnes and Noble (thank you, Kelly Flemings). It was a great weekend full of fantastic art cars, hometown charm, delicious food, interesting sites, and a whole bunch of new friends. I enjoyed my visit so much, and I hope you’ll read more about the creative, important work of Art 120 through the links I’ve posted here.

Be like these guys—be amazing!

Ted Mangum’s “Radio Flyer” was one of the art car hits of the weekend!

 

Keeping It Rolling!

I feel the same sort of awe whenever I see Randy Blair’s art car called “A Little Bit of Nonsense.”

This week, students at three elementary schools will hear all about art cars, writing, publishing, illustrating, creativity and inspiration when I show up to present my children’s book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. The lucky schools are Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet, Travis Elementary School, and St. Stephen’s Episcopal School. And the timing could not be better since Houston’s 30th Art Car Parade  will roll at 2:00 pm Saturday, April 8, downtown along Smith St.

I’ve been presenting my book to various schools in Houston and beyond since last year’s launch. Just this year alone, I’ll have been to about 20 schools by the end of May! WOW! You can check out my calendar here.  I speak to students about how I got the idea for my book (hint: my car sports 16 bumper stickers and counting), how they can come up with their own amazing story ideas, the writing and publishing process, and, of course ART CARS! I also reveal a few “insider secrets” about the making of my book. My illustrator, Bill Megenhardt, often accompanies me on these school visits. And there is always a real art car for the students to see up close!

The student artwork from Atlanta’s Fernbank Elementary was AMAZING!

The best part is getting thank-you letters from the students. One fantastic school—Fernbank Elementary in Atlanta, Georgia—presented me with a huge binder full of their own art car illustrations! It’s also fun to see how creative the schools get in honor of my visit. They build their own miniature art cars, hang art car banners down their hallways, paint wooden cut-out art car signs, and more. Sometimes I can’t believe my little ole’ book encouraged some of these ideas!

A lot of folks ask me how I wrote and published my book. In case you don’t know, I’ll explain how it all started back in 2015. I moved to Houston about twenty years ago, and I had never seen an art car until I landed in this awesome city. These rolling wonders fascinated me, and over the years I took photographs whenever I spotted one “in the wild.” So, I don’t drive an art car myself, but the concept for Arthur Zarr came to me one morning during rush hour while I was driving my teenage son, Will, to school.

A creative parent made this painted wood car in honor of my visit to Southfield School in Shreveport, Louisiana.

I keep the back of my SUV covered with various bumper stickers. I joked with my son, Will, that I need to be a polite driver and obey the laws of the road because my car is so incredibly recognizable. He laughed at me, insisting that no one ever notices me and certainly not my car. “You’re the only person who thinks your car is cool, Mom,” he teased. Throughout that drive, Will’s comment got me pondering what else—besides bumper stickers—might make a car memorable? That question triggered me to think about art cars, and by the time I finished my morning carpool, the initial concept for Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car was born. (Here’s another post about those inspirational bumper stickers!)

I’ve highlighted, notated and dog-eared this book through at least three full readings!

Simply put, I had a playful idea, and I acted on it. Immediately. That very day. I didn’t wait to finish the laundry or to load the dishwasher for the millionth time. I decided to say “yes” to my idea. Most of us have moments of inspiration, but we’re often too tired or too busy to do anything about it. Right? Best-selling author ELIZABETH GILBERT talks about this in her book, Big Magic She writes, “Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.” She goes on to say that she believes “ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners.” I believe that I was an agreeable human that day during my morning carpool.

It’s been a life-changing experience, and I enjoy sharing my message about inspiration and creativity with elementary students. I tell them about my book, which is set in an imaginary town, where Arthur Zarr is a quiet man who lives alone. When he gets a creative idea to add everyday objects to his car’s plain exterior, the people in his community start noticing Arthur for the first time. Neighbors and other bystanders join him by adding their own artistic flair to the car. Soon, Arthur becomes a contender in the town’s Art Car Parade. His life becomes more colorful as the book progresses, and he makes friends along the way. (Hey! That’s kind of like me!)

Themes include recycling, outsider art, friendship building, community pride, and the power of imagination. There’s an ABC motif that runs throughout the book—Arthur adds objects to the car alphabetically. At the end of the book, I included a page that gives readers the “History of Art Cars.” Teachers and librarians appreciate that I added this non-fiction summary, as it helps them tie the story into their curriculum and possible assignments. I explain more about school visits here.

The final result: Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, a hardcover book with dust jacket, published by my very own company, Twenty-Eight Creative (ISBN: 978-0-9961150-0-1; $19.99). It is available for purchase directly from me (there’s a PAYPAL LINK on this website under the BOOKS tab) or at various retail outlets and online through Amazon. Houston shops that carry the book include: Brazos Bookstore, Bering’s Hardware (Westheimer location), and The Beer Can House.

I love my thank you letters! Keep it rolling!

If you have an idea that you think has some legs to it, please grab hold and don’t let go! The creative process is a fun—and sometimes exhausting—pursuit. But it’s one that I don’t regret following. Liz Gilbert believes “we are all capable at times of brushing up against a sense of mystery and inspiration in our lives … You can’t explain it. But it felt as if you were being guided.” That’s what I experienced when I was creating Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. So, I’ll tell you the same thing I tell the students when I speak at schools: Be like Arthur Zarr … Be amazing! The laundry and dishes can wait.

10,000 Smiles Per Gallon

It was my first book signing for my children’s book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. I was terrified. Which was kind of silly, because all I had to do was set up a table at an elementary school holiday market. Nevertheless, I felt nervous and unsure. So, I did what any mature author would do … I begged my mother to be my sidekick!

Cathey & Randy at the Wilchester Elementary Arts Market.

Cathey & Randy at the Wilchester Elementary Arts Market.

As Mom and I parked in the school’s unloading area, I was surprised to see an artcar in the lot. It was covered with every glass object, trinket and phrase you can imagine, and I’ve since learned that it’s called “A Little Bit of Nonsense.” Mom helped me lug my case of books inside, and the first person we met was a 6-foot-4 bald man wearing tie-dyed clothes and antlers on his hat!

“I’m Randy Blair,” he said, walking over for a handshake. “I have a very hot wife, wanna see?” He opened up his wallet to show off a photograph, and a huge orange flame snapped out. Ha! That’s how I discovered that—in addition to decorating and driving one of the most spectacular artcars I’ve ever seen—Randy also does magic tricks. And he makes and sells jewelry. And he’s a chef. And he runs his own private catering business, “Five Loaves and Two Fish Catering.” And he’s a father to five kids, a husband to Wanda, a cancer survivor.

Randy Blair is a big tall bundle of interesting! But that day, he was the person who made me feel comfortable about selling my new artcar book. He was my first buyer that morning, too. He bought a copy and stepped back over to his own sales booth to read it alone. I had no idea what he thought of it, and his opinion mattered to me. Not only was he a REAL artcar driver, but also he was the FIRST “cartist” I’d ever met in person.

After awhile, Randy came back over. “You know what? You wrote my life story! I’m just like Arthur Zarr!” He went on to explain that (like my Arthur) he never intended to build an artcar, but it accidentally evolved over time. For some 20 years, Randy was a chef in corporate America, forced to wear a required, conservative, plain uniform. In 2001, he started his own catering business, which allowed him a new level of freedom. “I’ve always been very creative and very visual, and it started seeping into other areas of my life,” Randy says.

Take his vehicle, for instance. Randy’s first artcar was an old green Honda CRV. He decorated the interior dashboard and let people sign the roof of the car with markers. Soon after, he bought a pair of crazy tie-dyed chef pants that he wore with his white jacket. Over time, Randy’s plain chef’s coat was replaced with a colorful one dyed by Don Bingham, owner of Tribal Grounds in Houston. “First my car started changing, then my clothes started changing,” Randy laughs.

The amazing “A Little Bit of Nonsense.”

When the aging Honda’s engine finally died, Randy bought a brand-new candy-apple red Toyota Yaris. (I’ve always thought that artists had to buy an old jalopy as a base to build an artcar. Wrong!) Immediately after buying the Yaris, Randy started decorating the interior, and—like my book’s character, Arthur Zarr—he began to get noticed. “People would tell me, ‘Your car is so cool on the inside!’” Friends recommended he enter it in the Art Car Parade; so, he showed photos of it to some folks at The Orange Show—the group that hosts Houston’s Art Car Parade each year—and the rest is history.

Like Arthur Zarr, Randy knew his car needed more oomph to be ready for the parade. He bought a kiln and started making “fused dichroic glass” as a hobby. These colorful, shiny objects made their way to the outside of his Yaris. By the time he drove it in the 2009 Art Car Parade, the exterior was completely covered with objects. That first year, Randy won first place for daily driver and first place for participant’s choice. The following year, he won both categories again. And just like my Arthur (and me!), Randy made a whole bunch of new friends along the way.

Randy’s “A Little Bit of Nonsense” artcar now has multiple layers and significant height to it. He drives it daily because he loves making people happy. He says viewers often ask him if the weighty objects affect the mileage he gets per gallon of gas. He answers, “It doesn’t matter how much weight I’m adding, because I’m getting 10,000 smiles per gallon!” Those smiles are addictive, he tells me, and it’s why he keeps driving his artcar.

Just one of Randy's many artcar quotes!

Just one of Randy’s many artcar quotes!

I agree with a phrase that’s printed on Randy’s car that says, “The sweetest fruit is at the end of the skinniest branch.” I had to get out of my comfort zone to reach my fruit. To write and publish my children’s book. To put myself out there. To risk rejection. When I speak to students at elementary schools, when I sign books for children, or when I see someone smile at my book cover—I know it was worth climbing out on that bendy limb.

 

Be Amazing.

Note to my favorite book reviewer, Paul McRae: Yes, I spelled artcar as one word. For you. 🙂

Arthur Zarr By The Numbers

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Promoting my children’s book has become a favorite pastime!

This week—May 3, 2016 to be exact—marks the six-month anniversary of the launch date of my children’s picture book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. I thought it might be interesting to celebrate the occasion with a breakdown of numbers and other fun facts.

NUMBERS:

  • 783 = total number of books sold so far
  • 100 = number of books donated to schools, libraries, and contest winners
  • 95 = number of books purchased by customers online through Amazon.com
  • 40 = number of pounds that each case of books weighs
  • 41 = number of readers who posted five-star reviews on Amazon
  • 1 = number of times I’ve been interviewed on a NPR station (Thanks, Kate Archer Kent, formerly of Red River Radio!)
  • 8 = number of newspaper or magazine articles about my book
  • 5 = number of schools I’ve presented to
  • 1,000,0005 = number of schools I wish I could present to!
  • 1,400 = approximate number of children who have heard/seen my presentation
  • 5,000 = number of giveaway bookmarks I ordered
  • 10 = number of Indie book shops and other stores that sell my book
  • 23 = number of states my book buyers come from
  • 21 = number of months it took me to write and publish my book
  • 29 = number of art car parades Houston has hosted since 1987
  • 1 = number of art car exhibits inspired by my book so far (Thanks, Northeast Louisiana Children’s Museum and Melissa Saye!)
  • 1 = number of bearded men driving a Santa Claus car I’ve met (Hi, Bryan Taylor!)
  • Countless = number of art car daily drivers and other new friends I’ve met as a result of writing this book.

FUN FACTS:

  • Canada = country where my book was printed
  • Venezuela = purchase made from the farthest away
  • Roswell, New Mexico = most interesting city represented by a buyer (Hmm, aliens?)
  • Patsy Stamps Graham = name of person who thinks she bought the first copy of my book (Thanks, Mom!)
  • John Cooper = name of person who actually bought the first copy (Sorry, Mom, but I’m finally admitting that he beat you to it!)
  • Connie May Bingham = name of person who made the first online Amazon purchase
  • Jason Rounds = friend who drove the farthest to attend a book signing event (Jason and his daughter drove 1 hour from Texarkana to Shreveport). Two of my relatives, Shawna and Amanda Cotten, did the same!
Front page of the Houston Chronicle's neighborhood section!

Thank you, Houston Chronicle, for the front page Community Extra article!

THANK YOU, to Bill Megenhardt, for your amazing illustrations and wonderful collaboration. And, THANK YOU, to everyone out there who helped make my publishing success possible. I appreciate every book purchase, every Facebook like or share, every re-tweeted Twitter message, and every friend or stranger who showed up at a book signing event. I appreciate all the creative art car artists who have welcomed me into their fold.

The thing I’m the most proud of is that Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car has inspired so many children to open up their imagination in countless ways. I remember the boy from a Houston school who said, “Mrs. Nickell, I went straight home after your talk and wrote and drew my very own art car book.” I feel like I’ve left a small mark on the world, and it’s been a life-changing experience for me.

Be like Arthur Zarr … be amazing!

 

 

For Me, Second Place is the New First

ValentinyHave you ever come in second place, but still felt like a #1 winner? I have. Quite recently. Last week, I was chatting with a fellow writer friend, and she told me about a fun “Valentiny” contest she had entered. It was hosted by kid-lit author SUSANNA LEONARD HILL, and I couldn’t resist. The challenge was to write a short, 214-word children’s story about a grumpy Valentine. I immediately had an idea, churned it out, and posted it on the contest site within hours. A few days later, I was surprised to discover I was one of the 12 top finalists! What’s more, Susanna reported that she had received 154 entries—her largest contest turnout to date. Her team narrowed all the entries down to 12, and she then opened it up to public voting.

On the morning of Friday, Feb. 26, I discovered that I had won second place! For me, this was a FIRST in so many ways. I had never entered a short story competition before (or any writing contest, for that matter), and I placed second place. It feels great. CLICK THIS LINK to read my entry, called “Kandie’s Kiss,” told from the point-of-view of a heart-shaped piece of candy. The winning story, written by Dawn Young, is a tale called GRUMPY BEAR’S VALENTINE. I don’t mind coming in second behind Dawn, because she wrote an adorable piece, and there’s plenty of Valentine love to go around!

I’ve been riding around on huge puffy white cloud all week. There’s something validating about being recognized with a title (2nd Place Winner!) and a prize (I’m waiting to find out what I won, but the various gifts were all incredible). As the saying goes, “winning isn’t everything;” but this nod in my direction made me realize how important it is to HAVE FUN with my writing career. It’s easy to get bogged down with the marketing, research, phone calls, scheduling, and never-ending to-do lists. This cute little Valentine’s Day contest—or as Susanna Hill calls it, “The First Annual Pretty Much World Famous Valentiny Writing Contest!!!”—makes me think I just might know how to write a little bit after all, despite my frequent worries to the contrary.

goodreads logoA few other amazing numerical things happened this week.  I promoted a Goodreads book giveaway, offering five autographed copies of my new children’s book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, in a free drawing. Well, I was blown away to hear from Goodreads that in just one week, 687 members signed up, all hoping for a free copy of my book. I wish I could send one to everyone, but there are only five winners who will soon receive their free book. Congratulations to Robert from Missouri, Rebecca from Indiana, Tee from Missouri, Linda from North Carolina, and Angela from all the way up in Canada. And thanks to everyone out there who signed up for the drawing. It warmed my heart that my book cover caught the attention of so many readers. Or maybe they just like FREE stuff; which is fine, because I’m kind of like that, too.

IMG_6098I’m also lucky enough to have a few Author Visits at schools around Houston.  I’ll be the Grand Marshall at the St. Mark’s Episcopal School Mini-Art Car Parade in April. (My sister, Ginger, has jokingly recommended that I start calling myself “The Grand Poobah” from now on). I’ll be the keynote speaker at The Kinkaid School at their 4th Annual Art Car Parade Assembly. I’m also visiting The Grace School, Poe Elementary School, and a few others that will be confirmed soon.

Final bit of excitement: I’ll be part of a book blogging tour from March 7-16, hosted by Lone Star Literary Life. CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REVIEW BY LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE. More details on the book tour in my next blog. A few years ago, I would have never predicted that I’d be involved in school visits, art car parades, and Valentiny writing contests. I’m having so much fun! I hope you are able to carve out time to do that which brings you joy, too.   — Be Amazing

The Beer Can House is Selling My Book … How Apropos!

I have a long-standing relationship with beer. Okay, that didn’t come out right. I mean, I enjoy an occasional beer, but that’s not the point. The point is that autographed copies of my new book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, are available for purchase at the Beer Can House in Houston, Texas. If you don’t know about this delightful and iconic Houston site, you’re in for a treat. First, though, let’s get back to my relationship with beer.

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Margy Stamps, 1915-1994.

Margy Mae Stephenson Stamps was my darling grandmother, and her eight grandchildren called her “Ma.” Born July 25, 1915, I remember how Ma liked to brag about her Leo zodiac sign. And the Leo description fit her to a tee: “Charismatic and positive-thinking, they attract not only an abundance of friends and opportunities, but manage to survive life’s stormy times with style and good humor.” Ma had a playfulness about her, despite having experienced her share of hardship. She told us stories of going through the Great Depression, and of taking care of her two younger brothers when her mother fell ill. I also knew she had tragically lost her husband—my grandfather, Dobie Stamps—when she was just 48 years old. But you wouldn’t have known it, because she remained witty, spirited, hard working, loyal, and loving until she passed away in 1994 when I was age 31.

Scan 1

“Out of the mouths of babes!”

Ma liked her beer. Schlitz beer. My parents didn’t drink, and, growing up, we never had much, if any, alcohol in our home. So, as a child, it tantalized me that my petite, respectable grandmother drank a beer each day. How fantastically scandalous, I thought! Her affinity for a can of beer, coupled with her trendy style (think fashionable jeans instead of shapeless “grandmotherly” dresses), made her the coolest granny ever, in my eyes. In my youth, I wrote and illustrated hand-made books at a prolific rate. My heroine, Ma, was often the front-and-center theme of my childhood creations. This photograph is one of many silly examples in which I demonstrated Ma’s cool-factor in the form of literature and art (written by me at about age 8 or 9).

Ma would have been 100 this year, and I find it fitting that my children’s book is being sold at the Beer Can House gift shop. Does that sound like an odd location to sell a children’s book? Well, it’s not! The Beer Can House is a beloved Houston attraction that draws thousands of children and adults each year. John Milkovisch, a retired upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, started his project in 1968 when he began inlaying thousands of marbles, rocks, and metal pieces into concrete and redwood to form unique landscaping features. Next, Milkovisch began to add flattened aluminum beer cans to the sides of the house itself—a process that he perfected over the next 18-plus years. I’ve read that Ripley’s Believe It or Not! estimates that over 50,000 cans adorn this must-see monument to recycling.

Will, age 9.

Will, age 9, at Beer Can House.

In 2009, six years before I wrote or even thought of the idea for Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, I took my youngest son Will—who was then age 9—to visit the Beer Can House. I wanted him to learn about outsider art, and this was one of our many stops throughout Houston on what I dubbed our “art crawl.” I can’t remember if we saw any Schlitz cans nailed to the house, but it is reported that Milkovisch said his favorite beer was “whatever’s on special.” That sounds like something Ma would say, too. If she were still alive, I know she would get such a kick out of seeing my book on sale at the Beer Can House.

Are you still wondering why my picture book is being sold at the Beer Can House, of all places? Well, the restoration of this home is an ongoing project of the The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art—the same organization that hosts the annual ART CAR PARADE. So, that’s the connection! The Beer Can House is open most Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5 p.m. and is located at 222 Malone Street in Houston.

My Art Crawl, 2009.

My Art Crawl, 2009.

Admission is only five dollars, and kids 12 and under are free; and the fun memories of your visit are also free! While you’re at it, perhaps you’ll buy a copy of Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. Your purchase there will support the endeavors of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, which is a 501(c)3 publicly funded non-profit organization.

Note: Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car is also available for sale at The Orange Show’s main office, located at 2402 Munger, Houston, Texas. Check with them for hours of operation.

You can buy the book through other means as well, and I don’t mean to exclude all my other wonderful sales outlets. But today’s blog is dedicated to the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. And to beer. And to Ma. ♥

Art Car vs. Artcar

Two amazing things happened this week. Well, a lot more than that, but here are two I want to mention. First, a reporter from the Houston Chronicle called to interview me about my new picture book! Apparently there will be an article in their weekly Community section. I’ll post it as soon as it’s out. A photographer is dropping by this afternoon to take my picture … wow!

Secondly, a writer named Paul McCrae posted a review of my book on his website called Artcar Nation. You can read Paul’s review here.  I was flattered by his positive words, especially because he had a right to be skeptical. After all, I don’t drive an art car. Who is this random person sending me a children’s book about an art car? he must have thought. But what I want the art car aficionados to understand is that while they express themselves through their decked-out cars, I express myself by writing (regardless of the topic). Either way, each of us believes in and is proud of what we are creating.

IMG_5058I’ve also made some new friends during this process of launching my book. Like Randy Blair–a fantastic Texas chef/caterer as well as art car driver of “A Little Bit of Nonsense” (pictured here alongside my SUV!). Randy also sells handmade jewelry, is father to a whole bunch of kids (I forget how many!), and a loving husband (he brags about his beautiful wife a LOT!). You can read about Randy Blair’s art car here!

I also had the pleasure of meeting Rev. Bryan Taylor, a former president of the Houston Art Car Klub. He drives a Santa Claus art car (SantaCar MKIV); I’ve seen it around Houston but, until today, I had not yet snapped a photograph of it. Now I have! Bryan says that I’ve misspelled ART CAR. He IMG_5200explains in a recent email, “Congratulations, Cathey. From what I have seen posted by the community on FB the last few days, you have a winner on your hands. I see one small typo that is very common. You see, Cathey, artcar is ONE word.  Not two, as it is a compound word made up of two separate individual words that, upon being combined, create something new and unique; and if that ain’t a description of artcars, then I do not know what is. More importantly, unless we begin spelling it correctly, it will not get entered into the dictionary, which is a goal of mine to help get accomplished before I drive up to the Big Recycling Center in the sky.”

Well, Bryan, I don’t know if it’s one word or two, but I do know that I like art cars (aka artcars), and I am happy that this particular book idea popped into my brain last year! Otherwise, I would have never met you, Rev. Bryan Taylor; or my illustrator, Bill Megenhardt; or chef Randy Blair; or Sue Shefman, the owner of the hippo car named Cheerio; or Lennie Henry at the Orange Show; or Alicia Duplan at the Art Car Museum; or the fun people at City ArtWorks; or Stephanie Walton at Wilchester Elementary School; or Kristin and Laurie, the librarians at St. Mark’s Episcopal School; or Ellen Leventhal/Sheri Bernstein/Toby Haberkorn, and all the other Houston authors I’ve met through this process; or Mitch and Eduardo, my website gurus. There are too many new friends to name here, especially since I have a Houston Chronicle photo shoot to get ready for! But all of you know who you are.

And if it wasn’t for my wacky art car book idea, I wouldn’t have met Mr. Arthur Zarr, for that matter, and he’s quite special to me.   — Be Amazing!

Publicity & Art Car Fun!

contest-wonDid I mention that my book cover WON a Facebook contest in October?  A site called Promoting Picture Books ran a fun contest, and my cover of Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car won! Thanks goes to my amazing illustrator, Bill Megenhardt, who designed the vibrant image on the front of the book and throughout all the inside pages!

My new picture book also was featured at the Wilchester Elementary Arts Market, where I had a booth and sold books. Bill was on hand to draw some adorable on-the-spot artwork for the kids! An art teacher at Wilchester, Stephanie Walton, made it all possible! She will also present my book at a workshop this week at the Texas Art Education Association (TAEA) Art Teacher’s Conference, held in Galveston. She helps other teachers learn how to incorporate art cars into their classroom lesson plans. She rocks! Thanks for handing out my bookmarks and flyers at the conference, Stephanie!

JMH_2026St. Mark’s Episcopal School welcomed me on Nov. 10 for an Author’s Visit. I had a great time talking to the kids in multiple grades about “Amazing Book Ideas: Where do they come from?” They were a fantastic bunch, were super attentive, and asked great questions. Thank you, St. Mark’s, for making me feel comfortable the first time I presented at a school. (Two of my nieces attend this precious school, which made the day even more special for me).

You’ll never believe what this Saturday Nov. 14 is … that’s right, it’s WORLD ARTCAR DAY 2015 Houston! Who knew there was a whole day set aside to celebrate these rolling works of art? The Houston Art Car Museum will have a mini-art car making workshop from 12:00 noon until 3:00 pm. Each child will get a toy car and all the paint, glue and accessories they need to create their very own miniature art car. On hand will be local art cars of the Houston Art Car Klub. Check it out here!

If I think of anything else going on, I’ll update the post. For now, I think this is plenty. It’s been a busy launch week, but lots of fun!

It’s been an AMAZING week!

Plenty of AMAZING news this week … My book is live on Amazon!

http://amzn.to/1S0kce7

And since I’m the distributor, it’s also aArthurZarr_BookCovervailable for purchase directly from me through my website. Go to www.catheynickell.com and you should see the PayPal “Buy Now” button under my BOOKS tab.

It doesn’t matter to me which way you purchase … Amazon or PayPal.  Either way is AMAZING!

I’ve showcased my book at a recent “Art of Conversation” luncheon hosted by City ArkWorks. It will also be showcased this week at the 34th Annual Gala for the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. Lots of cool stuff going on.

My illustrator, Bill Megenhardt, will join me this coming Saturday to autograph and sell books. We’ll be at the Wilchester Elementary “Holiday in the Park” Arts Market, from 10: a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Nov. 7, 2015, at 13618 St. Mary’s Lane, Houston, Texas, 77043. It’s an awesome event, which benefits her art class as well as a school Art Show in February. Stephanie Walton is an art teacher I met on Facebook, and she’s the person who developed this fun sales marketplace. Stephanie is an inventive educator who uses art cars to teach creativity to her students. What a concept!

https://www.facebook.com/MrsWaltonsArtCar

If you know what an art car is, I’m confident that you’ll enjoy Arthur Zarr’s story. And if you’ve never heard of art cars, you might like learning about this artistic expression. If you do purchase my picture book, please post a review on Amazon. Thank you!

While you’re at it, how about “liking” my Arthur Zarr on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/ArthurZarrsAmazingArtCar

Tip of the day: Be like Arthur Zarr & Be Amazing!

Arthur Zarr is Born!

My first children’s book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, has arrived!

IMG_4950A few silly bumper stickers triggered the concept for my new picture book. Nothing big. Just a twinkling of an idea that started small but took flight. And for my book’s main character, Arthur Zarr, it all began with an acorn that fell from a tree.

The costs that my book project incurred started off small, too. However, the expenses quickly grew, and while I don’t want to discourage anyone from self-publishing, I’ll be frank. It’s expensive to develop a hardcover book with dust jacket, complete with hand-drawn illustrations and Smythe-sewn binding! But my goal was to create a professional-looking book—one that could hold its own next to those developed by big publishing houses. So, I had to be willing to make a financial investment. I’m glad I did. (Note: e-books and print-on-demand books are considerably less expensive, but I had other plans in mind).

After a long ride from Canada, the books arrived this week. Like any proud mother, I can only see perfection when I look at my new baby. It will soon launch on Amazon (today, I mailed cases of books to three different Amazon Fulfillment Centers!), as well as Barnes and Noble, independent bookstores, gift shops, schools, libraries, my website, etc. Give me a few days, and it will be available for purchase by next week(Update 2018: My book is selling well and still available on AMAZON!).

Amazon!If you know what an art car is, I’m confident that you’ll enjoy Arthur Zarr’s story. And if you’ve never heard of art cars, you might like learning about this artistic expression. If you check out my picture book, I’d be so honored if you’d please post a review on Amazon. While you’re at it, how about “liking” my Arthur Zarr on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/ArthurZarrsAmazingArtCar

 

 

Am I a Legitimate Author?

“Can you help me get my book published?”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that question… it wouldn’t make me a millionaire, but I bet it would buy me a few tanks of gas. It’s funny, because a big-name publisher has not published my work. Nor a small publisher. Still though, it seems that some are noting my humble progress, and they’re asking how I’ve done it.

You’ve heard the well-known quote: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” Well, I’ve discovered that “getting my book published” and “getting on Amazon” takes a lot more than practice.

ISH-BOOKI have two books under my belt. The first—a historical nonfiction—was published in 2012, with a revision and second printing in 2015. Uniting Faith, Medicine and Healthcare: A 60-Year History of the Institute For Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center was the result of a freelance writing job. A Houston non-profit organization, called the Institute for Spirituality and Health, hired me to conduct interviews, research their annals, and develop a cohesive, historical chronicle of their years from 1955 to 2015.

The Institute project was unique because (1) I was well paid to write the book, and (2) the Institute funded all production costs to publish it. So, from a financial standpoint, I didn’t have to front the required capital. I didn’t take on any risk, other than my reputation as a writer. Since we chose to self-publish, I was able to skip the process of finding an agent, editor, or publishing house. I understood the publication process, thanks to my former years as a journalist and public relations professional.

ArthurZarr_My second book—a children’s picture book—has been an altogether different endeavor. In January of 2014, I came home from carpooling my son to school with a book idea. I sat down at my computer and created Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. I wrote the first draft in one sitting that took up most of my day. I felt it was an original story, and, after some research, I discovered that it would be the first children’s picture book on the topic of art cars. This led me to various appointments where I discussed my idea with smart, creative people. I considered self-publishing, and most everyone I talked to encouraged me to move forward with this idea.

The problem was that I wanted to feel legitimate. To me, that meant finding a “real publisher” or an agent. I couldn’t shake the notion that I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I self-published. Anyone can self-publish a book, was the nagging thought in my head. I discovered a small publisher that accepted non-agented work, and I mailed my manuscript off. I waited. And waited. After two months, I emailed the editor there, and she surprised me by writing back, saying that she was eager to read my story and would soon get back to me. I waited some more. And waited.

“PLAN B” IS SOMETIMES BETTER THAN “PLAN A”…

I never heard from that small publishing house. Looking back, I’m glad they didn’t respond. Undeterred, the months I spent waiting on that publisher’s call gave me time to develop a new plan. Ten months had passed since writing that first draft of Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. By this time, I had revised it dozens of times. I felt even more attached to my character and the dream of seeing Arthur come to life. I hired a local children’s book illustrator, and the real work began.

My constant narrative of “anyone can self-publish a book” wasn’t true. Producing my picture book has been a daily job that has required thousands of hours of proofreading, researching, learning, creating business/marketing plans, conducting cost comparisons, etc. I studied the basics of web design, blogging, social media, and building an author platform.

Self-publishing is hard work that’s not for the faint of heart or for the faint of wallet. In addition to the costs incurred in publishing a book, I’ve also taken courses, attended conferences, joined organizations, listened to webinars, and bought numerous industry books. Producing a hardcover picture book complete with dust jacket is an expensive endeavor with no promise of reimbursement through possible sales.

DARE TO SHARE…

But something special happened to me during the process of creating and producing Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. I grew in terms of creativity, productivity, and confidence. I’m not sure how, but I whittled out time to write a middle grade book that is currently in the rewrite phase (and that I might produce next). I revised the non-fiction book for the Institute for Spirituality and Health, and I produced its second printing. I completed my thesis and earned a master’s degree. I served as a paid consultant on a book project for another non-profit Houston organization. I helped a new acquaintance self-publish her book of poetry called Conscious Transformations: Within Me, Within You (by Marla Maharaj, for sale on Amazon). I assisted my parents as they sold their home and moved into a new house. I was a friend, a mother, a stepmother, a daughter, a sister, and a wife.

At first, I was afraid to put my writing, my books, and my ideas out into the world with no assurance of acceptance or appreciation. But as the inspiring author Brené Brown says, I think I’m “daring greatly!” I feel like a legitimate author. I can’t wait to open that first case of books in two weeks. Loveable Arthur is almost here!

My Old SUV Inspired a Picture Book

I remember the playful statement I made to my teenage son last year on the way to his school. “Will, I need to be a polite driver and obey the laws of the road, because my car is so incredibly recognizable. Other drivers notice me, you know.” Will’s response? Eye roll, wrapped in a deadpan reaction, surrounded by mockery. “Uh, no, Mom, no one ever notices you. No one. And they definitely don’t pay attention your car.” We both laughed and went back to listening to our favorite morning drive radio show.

suvSee, I’ve spent many years braving the freeways of Houston during rush hour while chauffeuring my kids to school. What you don’t know about me is that I like to cover the back of my SUV with meaningful bumper stickers. There’s one from my alma mater, Baylor University. Will’s school, Bellaire High. Katie’s college, Southern Methodist in Dallas. Pamela’s law school at the University of Texas in Austin. Mason’s college, University of St. Thomas. Then there are my declarative stickers: I ♥ Telluride, I ♥ My Havanese, and Do What You Like/Like What You Do! The bumper stickers have become a running joke with my friends and family. But you can’t blame me for trying to make my car seem a little less ordinary than the plain, whitish-bronze, 2003 SUV that it is.

I teased Will that morning about having a memorable car that everyone notices. He bantered back that no one would ever notice me. It was a simple joke, but it got me thinking. What else—besides bumper stickers—makes a vehicle stand out? What makes a car memorable? My own questions triggered me to contemplate art cars. Art cars are pretty darn memorable, I thought. By the time I had finished my morning carpool, the idea for Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car was born. And even though I’m not an illustrator, I knew it would somehow become a picture book.

  • DO A BIT OF RESEARCH!

I wondered. Has anyone already written a story like this? Are there books available for children that describe art cars? I visited bookstores and libraries, and I researched the topic. I found several interesting photographic art car books for adults. But no colorful children’s books. No imaginative made-up stories. I asked around, and I was surprised that many people don’t even know what art cars are.

It seems that most residents in and around Houston know about art cars, because Houston is home of the country’s first and largest annual art car parade (now in it’s 29th year). But most of my friends and relatives outside of Houston have never seen or heard of an art car. This discovery made me want to write and publish my story even more. I couldn’t wait to see the Arthur Zarr of my imagination come to life.

I rushed home from my library/bookstore quest to write. The story is set in a small, imaginary town, where Arthur Zarr is a quiet man with few friends. His life is rather plain, and his car is plain, too. But not for long! Arthur gets a creative idea to add everyday objects to his car’s exterior. People in his community start noticing him for the first time. Neighbors and other bystanders join Arthur by adding their own artistic flair to his car. Soon, he becomes a contender in the town’s Art Car Parade. Arthur Zarr finds happiness and makes friends by building an amazing art car.

  • BE SURE TO COLLABORATE!

All this, just from a silly conversation about my bumper stickers! My husband read the manuscript first, and he liked it. His enthusiasm gave me the confidence to continue to pursue the project. Friends and family encouraged me to self-publish, but I needed objective advice. A local advertising guru agreed to a gratis consult. He listened to my idea, and he said the same thing: go home and self-publish your book. He said something else that stuck with me: “Start talking about your book, Cathey. I’ve seen ideas die on the vine simply because someone was afraid to talk about it. Start talking about your book. Start collaborating.”

I had already written and self-published a nonfiction history book, but never a picture book. I asked around and made a few calls, which led me to a handful of illustrator options. I narrowed the list down to Bill Megenhardt, an experienced Houston children’s book illustrator with great references. His services weren’t exactly inexpensive, but he wasn’t the most expensive either. It was manageable. The illustration and print costs are not small, so this is a serious venture for me. But as my bumper sticker advises, I’m doing what I like and liking what I do! If all goes as planned, the book will be ready by November.

Listen to that kernel of inspiration that might be tickling the back of your mind. Pay attention to the silly stuff you joke about with friends or family. You never know, an object as ordinary as a 12-year-old SUV covered with bumper stickers might be all it takes to trigger your next project. And, like Arthur Zarr, maybe you’ll build something as amazing as an art car.

Hey, how about “liking” my creative guy, Arthur Zarr, on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/ArthurZarrsAmazingArtCar

© 2018 Cathey Graham Nickell