Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Arthur Zarr's Amazing Art Car

by Cathey Graham Nickell
illustrated by Bill Megenhardt

Genre: Children's Picture Book/Outsider Art
Publisher: Twenty-Eight Creative
Date of Publication: November, 2015
# of pages: 40

 Author Interview 

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I have a background in journalism and public relations, so writing has always been how I made a living. For many years, I've jotted story ideas into a small journal. Most of these ideas are kid-lit topics, but some are novels, memoirs, and young adult. In the late 90s, I took a break from the workforce to spend more time with my four children, and I didn't write anything for many years. Then, in 2012, I was hired by a Houston nonprofit organization, called the Institute for Spirituality and Health, to research and write their six-decade history. The result was my first book, a nonfiction history called Uniting Faith, Medicine and Healthcare: A 60-Year History of the Institute for Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center (Copyright 2015, ISBN: 978-0-692-42612-8). That freelance writing experience brought me back into writing after a long hiatus while raising children and taking care of my family (and a dog named Cricket!). While I was busy writing the Institute history book, ideas for children's books were pouring out of me, one after another. My small journal got fuller and fuller! I knew when I finished the Institute's history book I would venture into children's literature. The first project I tackled was Arthur Zarr's Amazing Art Car, and I'm having fun taking it into the schools for Author visits, and getting the word out.

What was the hardest part of writing this book? And what did you enjoy the most?
The hardest part of writing Arthur Zarr's Amazing Art Car was keeping it short.  Today, the publishing industry is pushing writers to keep the word-count down in their picture books; 500 words or so is encouraged. But my picture book is longer than that, and I cut it down as short as I felt I could. The story needed time to evolve through all 26 objects that Arthur Zarr adds to his car -- he adds the objects alphabetically.  The story also needed time to have Arthur learn what art cars are, enter his in the parade, and then wind down to the resolution at the end where he does not actually win the big trophy. Keeping it short enough was definitely my greatest challenge.
The part I enjoyed the most was dreaming up the objects that would go onto Arthur's car; he starts off gluing on an acorn and ends up adding a zipper! It was fun to think about who would give him each object and what it would be.  For instance, the postman gives Arthur an umbrella; the coach gives up his whistle; and the music teacher hands Arthur her beloved xylophone. It was fun to create a sense of community in this manner, and I chose objects that would be fun for an illustrator to draw.

What projects are you working on at the present?
Right now, I'm spending a great deal of time marketing and selling my first children's book, Arthur Zarr's Amazing Art Car.  Because I chose to self-publish this book, it takes a great deal of time and attention to promote it, get it into bookstores, and get the word out on social media, etc.  I've also written a middle-grade chapter book manuscript, called, At Last, A Cast, which is currently undergoing a full rewrite.  Once it's completed, I'll either self-publish that book or attempt to find an agent/publisher via traditional publishing. I'm still deciding which direction to go.  I've also written a rhyming picture book manuscript quite recently, and I'm not sure what I'll do with it, but I think it has a lot of promise. In February, I won second place in a "Valentiny" writing contest, hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill.  The challenge was to write a short, 214-word story about a grumpy Valentine, and I was pleasantly surprised (shocked!) to come in second place with my story, "Kandie's Kiss."  I might submit that story to an agent, along with the new rhyming picture book I've written.  I have many other story ideas, but finding time to sit down and write them is always the challenge.

What's something funny that most people don't know about you?
I can say the Pledge of Allegiance in Latin!  I took Latin in high school, and our teacher made us stand up every morning, face the flag, and recite the U.S. pledge in Latin!  It was such a fun thing to learn, and it stuck.  I've never forgotten it, and I think it's a funny thing to do when someone asks me if I have a talent.  Although I'm sure there are other people who can say it in Latin, besides me, I've never met such a person (except for my sister, Ginger, who took Latin from the same teacher). 

What do you like to read in your free time?
For the past few years, I've been reading a lot of Young Adult.  I've read every book by John Green.  I also like the books by Rainbow Rowell, Celeste Ng, Robyn Schneider, and Kathryn Stockett. I read a lot of memoirs, too, such as The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.  And Stephen King's, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is one of the best books I've read in many years. Finally, Liz Gilbert's Big Magic should be on the "to-read" list of every writer, painter, or anyone in a creative field.  I never read poetry books or self-help psychology books. 

If you could have a superpower what would it be? 
This is an easy one: the power to be able to live (and still be healthy) without needing to sleep. Since I started promoting my art car book, I have found that I don't have enough hours in the day to get everything done! 

Arthur Zarr is a quiet man with few friends. His life is rather plain, and his car is plain, too. But not for long! When Arthur gets a creative idea to add everyday objects to his car’s plain exterior, he’s noticed for the first time. Neighbors and other bystanders add their own artistic flair to the car, too. What happens when he enters his bedazzled vehicle in the town’s art car parade? Mr. Zarr finds happiness and makes friends by building an amazing art car. In this whimsical story, children learn about recycling, community, friendship building, and the power of imagination. The book includes a “History of Art Cars” page for readers who’ve never heard of this creative form of artistic expression. It also has a subtle ABC theme, as Arthur Zarr adds objects to his art car in alphabetical order! This is the first—and so far, the only—children’s book published about an art car. Suitable for all ages but especially ages 4-8. Illustrated by Houston graphic artist, Bill Megenhardt.

 Praise for Arthur Zarr's Amazing Art Car:

“Nickell’s book is a treat for sight, sound, and sense, for readers and artcarfans (no, you won’t find the word in your dictionary just yet, anyway) of all levels.”
Lone Star Literary Life.

“A wonderful story of art, opening up to the joys of life, and celebrating the artist in everyone.”—Lynette Wallace, Executive Director, Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, Houston, Texas.

“Cathey Nickell’s book will help fuel the desire to make positive changes in our world through artistic endeavor.”—Alicia Duplan, Assistant Director, Art Car Museum, Houston, Texas.

“Cathey’s story. . . is both engaging and warm. By the end, I found myself rooting for Mr. Zarr. I even felt a small twinge of disappointment when he didn’t win the trophy. Artcar Nation highly recommends this book. Give it to all the children you know.”— Paul McRae, Artcar Nation.

ALSO AVAILABLE AT THESE BRICKS & MORTAR STORES: BEER CAN HOUSE, 222 Malone St., Houston, Texas (weekends only).  BERINGS Baby and Kids Dept., 3900 Bissonnet St. and 6102 Westheimer Rd., Houston, Texas. BETWEEN THE COVERS BOOKSTORE, 224 W. Colorado Ave., Telluride, Colorado. BLUE WILLOW BOOKSHOP, 14532 Memorial Dr., Houston, Texas. BRAZOS BOOKSTORE, 2421 Bissonnet St., Houston, Texas. CONTEMPORARY ARTS MUSEUM, 5216 Montrose Blvd., Houston, Texas. THE JUNG CENTER BOOKSTORE, 5200 Montrose Blvd., Houston, Texas. TOY FAIR at Pierremont Mall, 4801 Line Ave., Shreveport, Louisiana.

Cathey Graham Nickell is an author, mother, and wife living in Houston, Texas. She is best known as the seeing-eye-person for her little blind dog named Cricket. Cathey launched her first children’s picture book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car, in November 2015. She doesn’t drive an art car herself, but she has a habit of covering the back of her SUV with bumper stickers! Cathey also snaps pictures of art cars—which are plentiful in Houston—when she sees them. Her all-time favorite car was the bright-yellow Volkswagen Beetle that her grandmother drove in the 1970s.  Cathey draws from her experience as a former newspaper reporter and public relations professional. After taking a few years off to raise four children, Cathey started freelance writing again in 2012 when a non-profit organization called the Institute for Spirituality and Health hired her to research and write its six-decade history. Uniting Faith, Medicine and Healthcare: A 60-Year History of the Institute for Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center was published in 2015. The book is used as a marketing and communications tool, and all financial proceeds benefit the Institute (not Cathey). Cathey graduated from Baylor University with a BA in Journalism in 1985. She earned a Master of Arts from Louisiana State University-Shreveport in 2013. Find her online where she blogs about her writing and publishing adventures.

GIVEAWAY!!  Three winners will each win 
$20 CASH & an Author and Illustrator 
Signed Copy of the Book!

Check out these other great blog stops on the tour!

3/7     Hall Ways Blog  – Review 3/8    
             Because This is My Life Y'all – Author Interview
3/10   Books and Broomsticks -- Review
3/11   The Librarian Talks – Excerpt
3/12   The Page Unbound – Review
3/13   Texas Book Lover – Guest Post
3/14   The Crazy Booksellers – Promo
3/15   Missus Gonzo  -- Review
3/16   A Novel Reality  -- Author Interview

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