Archives: #picturebooks

Fifty (school visits) is Nifty!

What better way to mark the day than with gold balloons?

Milestone alert! I recently celebrated my FIFTIETH school author visit! I’ve delivered my presentation so many times, I can practically do it in my sleep. Nevertheless, every visit feels fun and special. There’s always something new and different that comes up, which means no two visits are ever alike.

Take, for example, that one student who asked, “Why don’t you have a body guard since you’re supposedly so famous?” And the time an honest child informed me that I look older in person than I do in my poster’s marketing photo. Oh, and the really bold kid who wanted me to sign his forehead!

Those are some funny examples, but there are tender moments, too. “I can’t wait to go home and write a book” is a frequent and favorite comment I receive at most every school visit. The girls often tell me they love my necklace (it’s a little blue car charm) or that they love my dog (Cricket is featured in my presentation). I’ve even had some sad comments, like when a child comes up to tell me that he/she doesn’t have a mother (that has happened) or that their father passed away (that has happened, too). When that occurs, I know to just give the child a big hug. Silly, sweet, or sad—I cherish all of these experiences.

Dragonfly Whimzee and Penelope helped me celebrate my 50th school visit!

Reaching my 50th school visit felt important, so I decided to ring it in with STYLE! Houston’s amazing Ridgemont Elementary School in Fort Bend ISD was the school that happened to be my special fiftieth, and I invited not one but TWO art cars. Art car driver Elizabeth Burnham brought her purple furry “Penelope,” and Jada August brought her new painted art car called “Dragonfly Whimzee.” The kids LOVED them!

Jessica Edwards WON the door prize!

A girl at Ridgemont Elementary couldn’t wait to show me her leggings! CRICKET!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also created a huge gift basket as a door prize (something I’ve never before done for a school visit). I filled it with numerous autographed books, candles, artwork, trinkets and chocolate—I mean, who doesn’t like chocolate? P.E. Coach Jessica Edwards was the lucky winner, and she made my day when she said, “Omg, I never win anything! Thank you!” Then she quickly took off to lock it up in her office for safekeeping, lol!

A roadrunner art car by Bill Megenhardt.

And finally, I gifted the school with an oversized custom drawing by my amazing illustrator, Bill Megenhardt. He drew Ridgemont’s roadrunner as he thought it might look in an art car parade! The students, faculty and staff went crazy for Bill’s creative rendition, which will forever hang in their library.

My 50th school visit at Ridgemont was a good day, and it reminded me of comedienne Molly Shannon as the infamous Sally O’Malley on Saturday Night Live: “I’m fifty! And I like to kick, stretch and kick! I’m fifty!” And that’s how I really feel … kicking my heels up (literally) each time I book another school visit … and streeeeeeetching myself to get outside of my comfort zone.

I can’t wait until the day that I get to post about my 100th school visit … stay tuned! And I hope you all keep kicking & stretching along with me.

~ Be amazing!

 

 

 

Be an Inspiroror!

Have you ever been an inspiroror? Are you unsure what one is? Well, my almost-nine-year-old niece Marie seems to know. We share the exact same February birthday along with an affinity for writing stories. A few months ago, when Marie’s mom attended Back-to-School Night, she spotted this and texted it to me:

“My aunt Cathy is the writer of: the art car. She is an inspiroror. I love love her, and her writeing.” — Marie.

Come on!  It would be hard to feel rejected after that kind of praise. Marie loves me; she was spot-on drawing my poofy brown hair and art car t-shirt. And after seeing this mini-article she wrote, I was motivated to write my own blog post (this one!) after a long dry spell.

Inspiroror-ation comes from unexpected places. I’ve never drawn a comic strip, but in October, I was motivated by the morning news of all things. I watched Chris Cuomo and Carol Costello on CNN as they reported on several random stories. My brain strung them all together, and I drew a cartoon to illustrate what the news felt like that day.

I’m not going to post my lame drawing, because I prefer to avoid politics. Plus, it’s just really embarrassingly bad! At the time, I thought it was the CNN anchors that inspired me, but I now believe it was one of my writer friends, Lisa Sinicki. Lisa is a public relations professional in Atlanta, and author of My Mother Served Gouda When Company Came: Scenes from a cheese-lover’s life. You can find it on Amazon.

We became friends through an online Mastermind facilitated by Dan Blank, founder of WE GROW MEDIA. Lisa and I, along with a few others from that Mastermind group, have kept in touch and continue to support each other. Lisa draws playful cartoons, which she regularly posts in her newsletter. I recommend you buy Lisa’s cheese book (it’s gouda!) on Amazon and that you subscribe to her newsletter: Queen of the Chronic Overthinkers.

One of Lisa’s recent comics called “A Visit From the Idea Fairy” had my husband and I cracking up. I wrote to tell her the good news: “Lisa, it made us spit soda out of our noses! Someone needs to buy them!” She replied that she submitted some of her cartoons to The New Yorker: “I sent a couple of early one-panel things that got rejected. I recently sent in five better ones. I imagine that IF I keep submitting eventually something will stick.” I admire Lisa’s positivity, because I’m sure she’s much like me and other creative professionals who struggle to stay confident in the face of rejection.

For me, I think it was a large dose of false confidence that propelled me into action on my CNN/Lisa-Sinicki-inspired comic-strip-drawing day. I finished my masterpiece, and I should have quietly filed it away; instead, I sent it to The New Yorker. Wait, what? Yeah, I did. I guess I wanted to be like my inspiroror—Lisa! Then, I waited. And waited. And then, I got rejected!

Are you familiar with a site called SUBMITTABLE? It’s an app where writers and artists can submit their works for possible publication. Check it out and you’ll find yourself going down a literary rabbit hole. Before I could mutter “submittable,” The New Yorker rejected my first-ever political cartoon. Undeterred, I submitted a few writing samples to other publications. As a result, an online site called Parent Co. accepted my personal essay called “If These Scars Could Talk.” It was published on Nov. 4, 2017 as a part of their November writer’s contest based on the word prompt: gratitude. YOU CAN READ IT HERE!

ME:  I’m on a roll!

That thinking led me to submit some more. I’ve had a short story called “Yellow” sitting in my computer for about a year. I sent it out to a few publications, and an online literary magazine called STORGY accepted it (to be published on Feb. 16). In both instances, I chose to adopt Lisa Sinicki’s mantra: “If I keep submitting, eventually something will stick.” (This should be a meme for creative professionals).

“Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car” is my first children’s book.

My first—and last!!—political cartoon wasn’t published in The New Yorker, and I don’t know what sort of response I’ll get for my short-story “Yellow” once it appears on STORGY. But some positive wins have happened since I launched my children’s book last year. Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car was awarded first place by the Texas Association of Authors in the category of Children’s Picture Book—All Ages for 2017. I’ve also spoken/presented at more than 35 elementary schools since launching my book. And the biggest win happens at that sweet moment when a student tells me, “You inspired me! I can’t wait to get home and write my own book.”

So, who is your inspiroror? Are you inspiroror-ing anyone? And as always, Be Amazing!

Happy birthday to us!

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. 🙂

Hey, NYC! I’m Back In Black!

I wore a loose-fitting, hot pink shorts set with white tennis shoes. It was May of 1999, and it was my first trip to New York City. Oh, and I was six months pregnant! If you know anything about NYC, it’s that the locals tend to wear a lot of black. Sure, they might experiment with color a bit during Fashion Week. But fuchsia maternity shorts with a coordinating top? Unlikely. Regardless, I thought my matchy-match pink outfit from A Pea in the Pod seemed appropriate for a scorching hot day touring the Big Apple.

macaulay

Pretty much me in New York in 1999.

I had that pregnancy glow. As I walked down Lexington Avenue, a passerby looked me straight in the eye. He pointed a finger at me and loudly said, “Hey Cutie… ” For a split second, I puffed up from the compliment and flashed a smile, about to respond with a polite Texan “hello.” No time for me to reply, however, as he instantly finished his sentence with “ …Roly Poly!” True story. He was thigh-slapping and laughing as he continued on, still muttering, “roly poly.” I stood there open-mouthed, gasping like Macaulay Culkin in the movie Home Alone.

“HEY CUTIE… ROLY POLY!”  —Mr. Manhattan

That’s how I first learned I don’t always fit in. That guy? He fit in. He was in the inner circle of NYC. He knew stuff. He knew where he was going and what to wear (black!). To be sure, I probably looked like a ridiculous pink balloon. But did Mr. Manhattan have to point it out? Did he have to remind me that I didn’t belong?

Sixteen years after that wardrobe malfunction, I found myself on a flight heading back to New York. Once again, I was nervous about not fitting in. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) was hosting its Winter Conference, and I didn’t want to miss the workshops and faculty lineup. One draw was the keynote speaker: Oscar-winner/writer/illustrator/creator and fellow Shreveporter, William Joyce. Also, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Rainbow Rowell, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Gary D. Schmidt. I was nervous about going alone, but most of my friends are uninterested in an assemblage of over 1,500 writers who want to talk about books. My husband, Kevin, who is always game for a trip to New York, offered to accompany me; but I knew I’d be booked in meetings all day. So, I went alone.

On the plane, I thought about my fear of not fitting in with the other writers I’d be meeting in New York—many of whom had agents and/or contracts with Big Six publishing houses. Doesn’t everyone feel like this now and then? I remembered my mother’s reassurances when I was a teenager: “Cathey, when you find yourself nervous about tackling a new experience, just remember that everyone else in the room feels the exact same way. Once you understand that, your fears will dissolve.” I decided I would walk into every conference situation with that thought in mind: I’m not the only one here who is nervous and full of self-doubt.

IMG_5977

Fitting in better in black, February of 2016.

Fortunately, our SCBWI Houston regional chapter helped us out by putting the local attendees in touch with one another in advance. There were about ten of us going from Houston, and we created a group text so that we could meet up once we arrived at the Grand Central Station hotel. I don’t suffer from a diagnosable social phobia, but I really hate going to an event and not seeing a single familiar face. Thanks to that group text, however, I had an immediate circle of friends with whom I could sit, dine, compare notes, and hang out. From the minute I arrived, a tribe of creative, like-minded colleagues surrounded me.

The February 2016 SCBWI Conference in New York was inspirational, and I’m glad I didn’t cancel my registration. I took notes, developed ideas, made friends, networked, exchanged contact information, got autographs from a few famous authors, and learned about the publishing industry. I felt okay. I fit in. And this time, I wore black.

 

 

 

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. ♥

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

 

 

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