'Buster' is a sweet, cartoonish dog with a good tale

July 11, 1999
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

I love the illustrations in Lisze (pronounced "Lizzie") Bechtold's first children's book, "Buster the Very Shy Dog."

Buster is a cartoonish looking black lab who shares an owner and a household with another dog, a bossy female with frizzy ears named Phoebe.

It takes Buster time to discover his own special talents in these three little stories for beginning readers. But Bechtold brings the reader along just as she does Buster, leading to a very satisfactory conclusion.

"Buster" (Houghton Mifflin, 1999, $15) will tickle any child or parent who lives with dogs and cats. It is officially described as an early reader for children as young as 6 years old. Bechtold is both the writer and the illustrator.

Bechtold, who lives in Pasadena with her husband and three sons, graduated from Davis High School in 1970. When her book was accepted for publication, her grandfather, G. Ledyard Stebbins (first chair of the UC Davis genetics department and longtime Davis resident) announced the news.

"I'm glad my granddad is on the ball," said Bechtold. "We just moved to a new house after 24 years in our old one, so I'm toe-to-nose in boxes and a bit disorganized right now."

Bechtold attended Mount Angel College in Oregon for two years, then went to the California Institute of the Arts, where she earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in film graphics. She worked in the animation industry for 15 years, including some time at Walt Disney Studios, before a gradual shift to full-time writing and illustrating children's books.

"I was a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) for nine years before ever submitting a manuscript to a publisher," she said. "Publication took a long time for me because I was submitting manuscripts during a period of severe turmoil in publishing. After two years of submitting 'Buster' and other manuscripts by mail, I went to New York to show my work in person. This paid off with the first sale of 'Buster.' We were still in contract negotiations when the entire staff of the imprint was fired. The contract fell through and I submitted the book to other publishers. The then editor-in-chief of Houghton Mifflin Co. offered to buy the book, but was fired before I could sign a contract.

"I resubmitted the book to HMC, did some rewriting, and finally got to sign a contract two years after the first sale. It was another year of rewriting and a year of work on the dummy and final art (during which time we moved to Paris for 1 1/2 years) before publication," she added.

Bechtold says the three boys and old house keep her pretty busy. She visits schools, volunteers at her children's schools, and helps organize the Southern California SCBWI Illustrators' Day.

"It's often a real struggle to get work on my books done," she said. "My lifeline to creative sanity and productivity is my critique group of six other author/illustrators, which meets once a month."

She has some advice for other would-be writers, however.

"Join the SCBWI and write from your own feelings and experiences as a child. These are my first suggestions," she said.

"Then form or join a critique group. That's the next step, although you have to be very careful about this. One person who cannot take criticism, or a group that is too timid or over-generous with criticism is not helpful either. It's best to meet writers at an SCBWI function and see who you get on with personally.

"Then have some very firm rules about how the group will function, with some advice from experienced critiquers. The one whose work is being critiqued has every right to be specific about what kind of feedback she or he is ready to hear. A first draft needs only general guidance and lots of encouragement. Nitpicking is for third drafts.

"Further, it is very productive for an illustrator, whose work is ready, to make a trip to New York to show his or her portfolio to editors and art directors.

"Another useful thing to do for picture book manuscripts, even for non-illustrators, is to make a 32-page mock-up of the book with the text laid out on each page, a dummy. Be sure to include the title page, too. This will show you immediately where your manuscript is text-heavy, lacking action, or needing a page turn. I always end up rewriting when I start a dummy. I just think of other things when I'm on the drawing side of my brain."

Bechtold also recommends two books about writing, which have nothing to do with children's books per se but are writing classics: "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott and "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg.

"These are my two favorite books on writing," she said.

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books at discounted prices [ Click Here ]

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