Welcome to Inkygirl: Reading, Writing and Illustrating Children's Books (archive list here) which includes my Creating Picture Books series, Writer's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, #BookADay, writing/publishing industry surveys, and 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day Writing Challenge. Also see my Inkygirl archives, and comics for writers (including Keiko and Will Write For Chocolate).
I tweet about the craft and business of writing and illustrating at @inkyelbows. If you're interested in my art or other projects, please do visit DebbieOhi.com. Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Three Questions for Children's Book Author, Samantha Berger: SNOOZEFEST, advice for young writers and mystery fruit
I love children's book author Samantha Berger's enthusiasm and creativity. Have you seen her #ePUNymousPortraitSeries? In addition to writing wonderful picture books like CRANKENSTEIN (illustrated by Dan Santat) and A CRANKENSTEIN VALENTINE (sequel). Samantha has written cartoons and promos for Nickelodeon, comic books and commercials, movie trailers, theme songs, poetry, magazine articles. Not only that, but she's also a voiceover artist!
Samantha's newest picture book is SNOOZEFEST, a hilarious and endearing bedtime story written by Samantha and illustrated by Kristyna Litten, just out from Dial Books For Young Readers. It's perfect for anyone who loves sloths, music festivals and/or the joy of SLEEPING. If you're on FB, check out her hilarious #Snoozefest Countdown pics.
Q: Could you please take a photo of a random object in her office and tell us about it?
Yes indeed I can. I took a picture of this lovely grapefruit, that grew right in the back yard! I am working in a California office for a few weeks, and the owner of the house where I'm staying gave it to me. The idea of fruit growing on trees has always been MAAAAGICAL to me, and I may have missed my calling as a migrant worker. And I really want to eat this one, but I have one reservation.
The yard where it grew contains five dogs, using that tree as a bathroom. This grapefruit reminds me to ask the important question: Am I such a germ phobe I won't eat this grapefruit? Or is that grapefruit some kind of dog poo/citrus hybrid. A "pisstrus" fruit, if you will. Stay tuned.
Q: What advice do you have for young writers?
*I would say, if you wanna write, WRITE. WRITE ALL THE TIME, EVERY DAY. WRITE like a passionate discipline, like something you HAVE to do. No excuses. Write.
*Blather, blurt, and blab. Just keep writing. Do not write and edit at the same time. Write, write, write, then go back and read/edit, at a completely different time.
*Make your decisions, all of them, for a REASON. Make no choices arbitrarily. From dedication to author photo, every choice must be made with intent. That is what separates great writing from mediocre. Be prepared to defend every single word.
*Find your best way (pantomime wall building, pretending to erase, meditation) to block out any negators and nay-sayers. There will always be critics, opinions you don't agree with, and close minded haters. Don't engage, always ignore, keep being you, move on.
*Always find time to PLAY and HAVE FUN when you write. Pretend you're not writing for an audience, a paycheck, a critic, a career, a review, an award, an assignment, or whatever, just WRITING FOR THE SAKE OF WRITING, and go create. For the joy of it!
*Own your truth, speak your truth, and become brave enough to write about the things that terrify you the most to talk about.
*Don't dumb down words or ideas. Respect language. It's incredible.
*All writers, whether it's your first manuscript ever, or you're Judy "Prolifika" Blume, go through a perpetual pendulum swing, between excitedly exclaiming I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS CAME OUT OF MY BRAIN and a depressed disappointed "i can't believe this came out of my brain." There are days where we all feel like untalented hacks. All of us. And it's really important to remember this. If you didn't, you probably wouldn't be a writer. So cut yourself a break, go do something that makes you happy, such as a hot tub, a hot sake, or hot stones.
Q: What are you excited about these days?
I'm excited for these spectacular Pacific Ocean sunsets every single night! I'm excited to read Kay Yeh's book THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE! I'm excited to be writing on two new preschool animated originals. I'm excited for karaoke, wigs and sunglasses, glitter-toes, oysters, using the word "smidge" more, and sea-frolicking with my dog Polly Pocket.
I'm excited my book Snoozefest came out this week, and that it has an anthem performed by Chubb Rock, and for the Pajama Party Snoozefest Boozefest I intend on throwing to celebrate. I'm excited about a new 2 book co-author deal with the amazing Martha Brockenbrough and the legendary Arthur Levine. I'm excited to see/conference with/laugh with/write with/ and dance with all my beloved book people and SCBWI-ers again, and for all the incredible books everyone has coming out right now (including YOU, Debbie! Cannot wait for WHERE ARE MY BOOKS!).
Thanks so much for asking me these questions 3 on inkygirl.
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.
I do most of my reading on my iPad and my Kindle; it's easier for traveling, especially since I always have multiple books on the go and angst too much about which one to take with me.
However, I still strongly prefer print when it comes to picture books.
Just finished reading Uncle Montague's Tales Of Terror by Chris Priestley, with wonderfully creepy illustrations by David Roberts. I've always been a fan of scary stories ever since I was little and I used to write a lot of scary, sinister short stories in grade school. My eighth grade teacher attended my I'M BORED book launch, which was a total (and wonderful) surprise, and apparently he was telling my husband about how many of the stories I wrote back then were very dark.
I don't read as much horror now but I do still love indulging in creating creepydark illustrations sometimes, just for the fun of it.
Speaking of illustrations, here's a fun interview on The Independent's children's book blog with illustrator David Roberts. Interesting that David says he doesn't think much about the age group when he's working on book illustrations. He says his work is more a response to the story. His tip for aspiring illustrators: "Don't be afraid of that vast expanse of white paper (or I guess these days you could say computer screen). Sometimes your mistakes can be good and you can always start again if you don’t like it."
Chris Priestly advises young writers to have at least a rough outline of their story. "Give yourself a decent start and plan where you are going. You don’t have to stick to it – but it will make your life easier and it will mean that you will be less likely to give up."
More info about Uncle Montague's Tales Of Terror on the Bloomsbury website.
Three Questions For Kat Yeh: Twinkie Pie, Advice for Young Writers and what to do when you get Stuck
I devoured Kat Yeh's debut middle grade novel, The Truth About Twinkie Pie (comes out from Little Brown later this month), in two sessions. I got so hungry from reading the fabulous-sounding recipes sprinkled through the book that I had to take a break to eat something. Before I stopped, however, I had already teared up as well as laughed out loud at least once. Couldn't wait to keep reading!
Twinkie Pie is my favorite kind of book: a wonderful voice, characters I care about and an unexpected but thoroughly satisfying ending.
I'm also a big fan of food books and food movies. While reading E. Nesbit's books, I lusted after an English Tea years before I really knew what it was. I always felt ripped off when a story text said "they had supper" but didn't give any details. The Truth About Twinkie Pie deftly weaves together the themes of food, family and friendship in an irresistable story about two sisters trying to make it on their own. You can find out more about the book on the Hachette/Little, Brown website.
An aside: I wasn't kidding when I said that the recipes throughout the book sound fantastic. I am SO going to try making No-Peek Chicken, Maybe Even Better Soup, Madder'n Heck Smashed Potatoes, Special-Occasion Fancy Sandwiches, Pull-Aparts, Easier-Than-Pie Pudding, Impossible Pie, Tangled-Up Pie, Heartbreak On Toast, Pick Me Up, Cherries In The Snow, and of course...Twinkie Pie!
I'm not the only one who loved Kat Yeh's The Truth About Twinkie Pie. Here are just a couple of review excerpts:
"Filled with enough characters and plot for two novels, Yeh’s nimbly voiced, combination fish-out-of-water, personal transformation and emotional family tale is also stuffed with charm." - Kirkus Reviews
"...in her first novel, picture book author Yeh (The Magic Brush) skillfully builds toward a breathless, emotional conclusion." - Publishers Weekly
If you're in NYC, you can help Kat celebrate the launch of The Truth About Twinkie Pie on Sunday, January 25th from 1-3 pm at Books Of Wonder. Wish I could go!
Kat has kindly agreed to answer three questions for me.
Q. How did you come up with those wonderful recipes?
The recipes! That was one of my favorite parts of this process and so much fun! Some of them are just classic recipes that have been around forever (like Banana Pudding) that I tried to give a fun little twist. Some I made up. And some, my friend, Elise Coster, who is a chef, helped me to figure out. There was an awful lot of taste testing going on in my house for a while there. I'm not complaining :-)
Q. What advice do you have for young writers?
Last year, I started a correspondence with a young writer who reached out to me. It's been pretty amazing to hear how passionate she is about writing and creating and to read the questions that she has for me.
Our letters are rather lengthy so I will share only a little excerpt with you:
Dear Kat Yeh,
My name is _______. I’m fourteen years old and also a writer. So far I’ve written two childrens books (although that was in second and third grade), a novel, a play, and I’m currently working on my second novel. I do mostly realistic fiction writing.
My dream is to one day be a published author. I realize that, being only fourteen, that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, but I was wondering how you actually go about getting something published.
I was also wondering if you ever go back to read something you wrote a while ago, or even a couple days before, and just don’t know what you were thinking when you wrote it. That happens to me a lot and I wanted to know if that happens to other people too.
…YES! I often look back at what I've written and wonder WHAT WAS I THINKING?!! This is good.
This means that you are allowing yourself to write without editing yourself. You are allowing yourself free reign to put down whatever it is at the moment that is feeling right and true. THIS is how great writing happens. Here's a secret that most writers know: Writing is Rewriting.
Rarely do we get things perfect the first time. The real art is in the work. Write something. Set it aside. Set it aside long enough that you can see it with new eyes. Read it. Think. Think about why you wrote what you did and what you were feeling and hoping. Edit. Make it better. Set it aside again. Repeat. :)
IF you have friends who also write, think about starting a group in your school where you read each other's work and talk about it. Find a teacher who is willing and interested in reading extra stories outside of class. Yes, you are young, but you already know what you love - this is wonderful!
Another thing that I often hear young writers talk about is how they get Stuck. And just do not know what to write.
So I tell them what I do. I write anyway.
I write about how Stuck I am.
And I keep going. I go on and on about the Stuckness and how Stuckish it really is and that it's as Stuck as a Stuck door or — or a painted window — you know the kind that has, like, 10 coats of paint on it so that the edges are all painted over and you can't open it. Not even with all your muscles and might! …not even if you HAD to get out because you were hiding in that over-painted bathroom and needed to sneak out the window only you didn't realize that it was stuck and now you can hear the footsteps coming closer and closer as you look at that stuck window one last time before the door knob turns and the door begins to creak open and -
well, you get the idea. You never know where one idea will lead you if you let yourself just WRITE whatever comes to mind. (I'll let the young writers finish that story for me!). What it comes down to is if you're stuck, write about being stuck. If you're bored, write about that. If you feel frustrated, write about that. And go on and on until it turns into something. You can always rewrite. But only if you write to begin with.
Q. What are you excited about or working on now?
I recently finished edits for my next picture book, THE FRIEND SHIP, which comes out next year with Disney Hyperion. AND I'm working on my next novel for Little, Brown which I am crazy excited about and nervous about and so, so hoping that I do it justice!
Kat Yeh grew up reading, doodling, and scribbling in Westtown, Pennsylvania. She worked for many years in advertising and sports marketing — while writing for herself in the wee hours of the night. She currently lives on Long Island where she can see water everyday and explore all the bay and harbor beaches with her family. She is the author of children’s books YOU’RE LOVABLE TO ME, Random House Books for Young Readers (2009), THE MAGIC BRUSH: A STORY OF LOVE, FAMILY, AND CHINESE CHARACTERS, Walker Books for Young Readers (2011), and THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (launching next week!), and THE FRIEND SHIP, Disney-Hyperion (coming 2016)!
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.
Those of you who have no trouble saying no can just skip the rest of this post.
Some of you, however, may be like me. I like making people happy and don't like disappointing them. I also dislike conflict. I like helping people. So when people ask me for things, I used to usually say yes....even when I knew I'd probably regret it later.
I'm gradually learning how to say no.
While it's true that saying yes to one "just have a quick favor to ask, would appreciate just a few minutes of your time" is no problem, saying yes to a LOT of these favors accumulates. And in my experience, "just a few minutes" inevitably turns into hours or sometimes days.
What's hardest: saying no to projects that DO sound like a lot of fun and/or worthy and that I really, really want to do. There are many of these. One of my challenges (and I suspect some of you feel similarly): I want to do EVERYTHING. There are so many good causes, so many people I want to help, so many projects I'd love to be a part of.
By saying no more often, however, I'm able to focus and enjoy the projects I say "yes" to more fully AND have more flexibility about when I do take on a new project.
Whether I'm working on my own writing (including the 250, 500 and 1000 Words/Day Challenge) or an illustration project, I find I'm able to better focus and be more productive if I can create a mental space in which I feel safe enough to do my best work.
Perhaps safe isn't the right word. I like Shaun Tan's "bubble of delusion" idea, which I first heard in his talk at an SCBWI Winter Conference a couple of years ago.
Sean's advice: Set up a safe space in which you feel positive about yourself and your work, and in which you know that you WILL do great work. Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people. Try to avoid negativity as much as possible. Sean says he steers clear of reading reviews of his work, for example.
Part of the way I do this is trying very hard to STAY OFFLINE when I'm doing creative work. Even dropping in on Twitter or FB for a few minutes can end up being an energy-sucking black hole, often making me question whether I'm doing enough (especially in terms of promotion, networking, working on my craft, etc.) or doing it -whatever "it" is- the Right Way.
What do YOU do to create your own Bubble Of Happy Delusion?
Three Questions for Kevin Sylvester: indie bookseller podcast, advice for young writers & illustrators, and outer space
Kevin Sylvester is not only a talented children's book writer/illustrator and broadcaster, but he's also one of the nicest kidlit people you could hope to meet. His Neil Flambé books for Grades 3-7 are incredibly fun; you can find out more about these and Kevin's other books on his website. In addition to Neil Flambé and the Bard's Banquet (Book #5 of the Flambé series) coming out today, Kevin's Baseballogy: Supercool Facts You Never Knew just came out from Annick.
If you're in the Toronto area this Sat. Jan. 17, 2015, you can meet Kevin at Chapters Markham at 2 pm. Details on Facebook.
1. Could you please take a photo of a random object in your office and tell us about it?
How about this?
It was on my desk when I got the email, so I just picked it up and took the photo.
It's a microphone I use to record the Great Kids, Great Reads podcast. I bought it a couple of years ago and I can take it on the road with my iPad to interview independent booksellers. I've done "on the road" versions in Ann Arbor, New York, all over Ontario and in Phoenix. The podcast is my chance to talk to indie booksellers about their picks for the best books for kids. (It's available on iTunes)
I love independent bookstores a lot. The sellers there read everything, and tapping into their expertise makes me smarter too.
2. What advice do you have for young writers and illustrators?
The best advice is to very carefully examine your favourite artists and actually see how they do what they do.
Do they use simple sentences? Or complex? Do they mix it up? Do they end each chapter with an open question, hooking you in? Do they draw digitally with lots of details? Is line more important than colour? Find out what they do, and how they do it, and then copy them.
Don't plagiarize or steal, but mimic. I read a lot of Artemis Fowl when I was writing the first Neil Flambé and I can see echoes of Eoin Colfer's humour and descriptive sentences in my book. I think my own voice has emerged in the later books in the series (and my new series MiNRS, which launches this fall) but I stood "on the shoulders of giants" to get there. Bob Dylan sounded a LOT like Woody Guthrie on his first few albums, and the Beatles lifted songs straight from Chuck Berry, but that gave them the experience to go beyond.
3. What are you excited about these days?
Space. I grew up with a poster of the universe over my bed and I would stare at it for hours, meditating on the fragile improbability of our existence. 2001 is far and away my favourite movie. I've always wanted to set a book in space, and that book comes out in fall 2015 (MiNRS#1, Simon & Schuster).
But what's amazing (and unintentional on my part) is that we are in a golden age of space exploration right now. The Hubble telescope continues to unlock secrets of star formation, the european space agency landed a satellite on a rock, and NASA is discovering earth-like planets all over the place. Chris Hadfield also stirred up the popular imagination with his time in the space station. So, wow.
And here's me being all fangirlworshippy at the Inspire! Toronto Book Fair, in the Simon & Schuster Canada booth:
For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.
"Forget advice about finding the right atmosphere to coax your muse into the room. Forget candles, music, silence, a good chair, a cigarette, or putting the kids to sleep. It's nice to have all your physical needs met before you write, but if you convince yourself that you can only write in a perfect world, you compound the problem of finding 20 free minutes with the problem of finding the right environment at the same time. When the time is available, just put fingers to keyboard and write. You can put up with noise/silence/kids/discomfort/hunger for 20 minutes."
Totally thrilled that NAKED! is a 2014 BCCB Blue Ribbon winner! Congrats to the others on the BCCB's Blue Ribbon list, including others in the picture book category (shown above). Here are BCCB's Blue Ribbon picture book picks of the year:
Black, Michael Ian. Naked!; illus. by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Simon. 4-7 yrs (July/August)
Campbell, Scott. Hug Machine; written and illus. by Scott Campbell. Atheneum. 4-7 yrs (September)
Dolan, Elys. Weasels; written and illus. by Elys Dolan. Candlewick. Gr. 1-4 (February)
Dubuc, Marianne. The Lion and the Bird; written and illus. by Marianne Dubuc; tr. from the French by Claudia Z. Bedrick. Enchanted Lion. 5-7 yrs (July/August)
Frazee, Marla. The Farmer and the Clown; written and illus. by Marla Frazee. Beach Lane/Simon. 4-6 yrs (November)
Haughton, Chris. Shh! We Have a Plan; written and illus. by Chris Haughton. Candlewick. 4-7 yrs (November)
Nolan, Dennis. Hunters of the Great Forest; written and illus. by Dennis Nolan. Porter/Roaring Brook. 4-7 yrs (December)
Ruth, Greg. Coming Home; written and illus. by Greg Ruth. Feiwel. 4-7 yrs (January 2015)
Shea, Bob. Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads; illus. by Lane Smith. Roaring Brook. 5-8 yrs (December)
Tan, Shaun. Rules of Summer; written and illus. by Shaun Tan. Levine/Scholastic. Gr. 3-5 (July/August)
I posted about the BCCB on my NAKED! blog, but for those who missed it:
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (BCCB) is one of the leading children's book review journals for school and public libraries. You can see the full list of the other 2014 BCCB Blue Ribbon winners on the BCCB website.
"Blue Ribbons are chosen annually by the Bulletin staff and represent what we believe to be the best of the previous year's literature for youth." You can see the Blue Ribbon Archive for other lists from 1990 through to the present. You can also download a PDF version of the list.
You can browse BCCB Blue Ribbon book covers from past years in theLibraryThing Book Awards archives.
Curious about how books are reviewed at The Bulletin Of The Center For Children's Books? Check out the video above, which shows a book's journey through the CCB and how it becomes part of the CCB's research collection.
The Bulletin Of The Center For Children's Books is devoted entirely to the review of current books for young people. It provides concise summaries and critical evaluations to help its readers find the books they need. Each review gives info about the book's content, reading level, strengths and weaknesses, quality of format and suggestions for curricular use.
From the website of The Center For Children's Books: "The Center for Children’s Books (CCB) at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) is a crossroads for critical inquiry, professional training, and educational outreach related to youth-focused resources, literature and librarianship. The Center’s mission is to facilitate the creation and dissemination of exemplary and progressive research and scholarship related to all aspects of children’s and young adult literature; media and resources for young (age 0-18) audiences; and youth services librarianship.
In partnership with The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books—an authoritative analytic review journal—the Center aims to inspire and inform adults who connect young people with resources in person, in print, and online. The Center sponsors activities and hosts interdisciplinary research projects involving both theory and practice. In its dual role as research collection and educational community, the Center has national impact on the future of reading and readers."
And again, THANK YOU so much to The Bulletin of The Center For Children's Books for the Blue Ribbon honor!
A reminder: before you worry too much about a promo/marketing plan for your yet-to-be-published book, make sure your book is as polished as you can possibly make it. No matter what the format, how gorgeous the cover, how well-promoted....you need to have a good story and strong characters.
Take the time to hone your craft.
Having trouble finding the time to write during the day because of interruptions or other distractions? Or fighting the urge to go look stuff up on Google during your writing sessions?
(hand waving weakly here)
This year I'm going back to writing first thing in the morning to learn how to focus again. I have no problem focusing when I'm illustrating, or doing nonfiction or blog writing. When I'm doing fiction writing, however, I find myself constantly distracted.
Part of this, I'm suspecting, is insecurity. My theory: my subconscious is yelling "if you finish this new book, you're just going to get rejected again! I'm not going to let you finish!"
To my subconscious: I'M NOT GOING TO LET YOU TAKE CONTROL ANYMORE.
Julia Cameron suggests doing three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. I tried this some years back and while it worked for a bit, I just found the process of writing by hand too laborious; I'm so used to typing on the computer keyboard. I'm also aiming for a specific wordcount rather than number of pages. However, I love the basic idea so am adapting it for my own situation.
I'm trying to do some writing first thing in the morning, before anything else. I also gave this a shot early last year but got too easily distracted. Trying it again this year but instead of fighting the distractions and worries that crowd into my head as I'm writing, I'm EMBRACING IT. If I start getting the impulse to "just take a second" to go check something online, I put that into my stream-of-consciousness writing session instead ("Right now I'm fighting the urge to go look up xxxxx...").
Sounds silly, I know, but it seems to satisfy the part of my brain that needs to do something about the thought RIGHT THEN AND THERE, so I can keep on writing about other things.
I'm also counting this as part of my Daily Words goal, which is currently 500 words/day. This morning I wrote 433 words but later today I'm going to do another writing session specifically for my own writing projects. I also find Ommwriter and Coffitivity help me focus. I've tried apps like Freedom, which turn off Internet access on my desktop computer, but I find it's way too easy to hack them. :-\
Much better, I think, to try to change my habits rather than try to hide the shiny toy.
My hope: that the habit of writing first thing in the morning starts feeling more natural to me than my OoShinyToyMustGoogleIt and "just spend a few minutes checking social media" urges.
And if the morning stream-of-consciousness exercise feels like it's becoming a regular habit, I'll stop counting those words as being part of my Daily Words goal and just count my project writing. I'll keep doing my morning warm-up, though.
If any of you are having the same issues as I am, I encourage you to try stream-of-consciousness writing, first thing in the morning. Let yourself write ANYTHING: poetry, fiction snippets, personalstuff, whatever pops into your head....just keep writing and DON'T leave whatever app you're using to "just look something up" or check email.
Good luck! I'll check in later in a month or two to let you know how I've been doing as well.
Looking for a daily writing challenge with flexibility? Short on writing time for a particular project? Or are you motivated to write but have an unpredictable schedule? I started the 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day Challenge for those who want to work on a particular writing project but are finding it hard to find the time because of (1) a day job, (2) parental duties, (3) bill-paying freelance work, or (insert YOUR reason here).
If you have no trouble writing thousands of words a day, then I encourage to skip the rest of this post. :-) To those people: if you must post a comment, I'd appreciate you posting encouragement or advice rather than "I don't need this challenge because *I* write 5,000+ words a day." Thanks. :-)
1. Pick a goal: 250, 500 or 1000 words a day.
2. Aim to write that many words a day. It's up to you whether or not to make your goal public or not. Feel free to use one of the badges I've provided. Also feel free to follow/comment on the Facebook page.
3. If life gets in the way, then put the Challenge on hold. Try not to do this more than a few times a year if at all possible. DON'T try to "catch up" when you get back.
To others like me, who have other work or activities that usually have to get first priority, I encourage you to check out how to participate in my 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day Challenge. You can also follow my 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day Facebook Page for motivating tips, advice and to exchange encouragement with fellow writers taking the challenge.
Just one reason you should always keep a notebook handy -- you never know when inspiration will strike!