Welcome to Inkygirl: Reading, Writing and Illustrating Children's Books (archive list here) which includes my Creating Picture Books series, Advice For Young Writers and IllustratorsWriter's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, my poetry for young readers, #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). Also check out my Print-Ready Archives for Teachers, Librarians, Booksellers and Young Readers.

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


Interview: Lisa Dalrymple and Suzanne Del Rizzo on the making of SKINK ON THE BRINK (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)


Author: Lisa Dalrymple - Illustrator: Suzanne Del Rizzo

Publisher: Fitzhenry & Whiteside -  June 2013

I first heard about Skink On The Brink at a CANSCAIP meeting. Not only was the title intriguing, but I love the inspiring publication success story (details below). Lisa and Suzanne are popular children's book presenters; their activity session at Toronto's Word On The Street this past weekend drew over 100 young people! Lisa and Suzanne were kind enough to be interviewed for Inkygirl, and both give a TON of valuable info and insights into their process.

Lisa Dalrymple loves to travel and has lived in such countries as South Korea, Thailand and Scotland. She now lives with her husband and their three children in Fergus, Ontario. Her story, Skink on the Brink, won The Writers’ Union of Canada’s Writing for Children Competition in 2011 and is now a picture book illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo. Lisa is also the author of If It’s No Trouble… A Big Polar Bear and its sequel, Bubbly Troubly Polar Bear, coming in October 2013.

Where to find Lisa online: Website - Facebook

Suzanne Del Rizzo loves the squish of plasticine between her fingers. Her illustrations appear in Skink on the Brink (Fitzhenry & Whiteside Spring 2013), written by Lisa Dalrymple. Her cover illustrations appear in the YA novel The Ehrich Wiesz Chronicles: Demon Gate ( Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Fall 2013) written by Marty Chan. She lives in Oakville Ontario with her husband and four children.

Where to find Suzanne online: Website - Twitter - Facebook (personal) - Facebook (professional)


Stewie is a very special skink — he has a beautiful blue tail which gives him a superpower against his enemies. Stewie loves singing his songs and rhymes as he dashes around his home. But as he grows up his beautiful blue tail starts to turn grey — he can't call himself Stewie the Blue anymore! And without his rhymes, his home by the pond doesn't feel as special either. A new Tell-Me-More Storybook about self-esteem, change, and growing up. Includes non-fiction back matter with bonus information and activities.

See the Fitzhenry & Whiteside SKINK ON THE BRINK page for supplemental materials created by Lisa and Suzanne, including coloring pages, activity pages, word searches, and more.

For lots of photos of Suzanne's amazing plasticine-illustration process, read further down in the interview.

A few of Suzanne's plasticine carving tools. Read further for lots of photos of how she created the amazing illustrations in SKINK.

Q. What was your publication process for SKINK ON THE BRINK?


I actually can’t remember when I first started researching and writing the manuscript, but I think it was sometime around 2008. (It usually takes a couple of years for me to develop and craft a picture book story until it is finally submission ready.) During this time, I was also working on other books and I was trying to learn the ropes of the publishing industry by getting out, meeting other writers and professionals, and attending trade shows, festivals, etc.

Christie Harkin, editor at Fitzhenry & Whiteside. Photo from Cynsations interview.In September 2010, I went to Word on the Street in Toronto. I remember that it was first thing in the morning that I saw Christie Harkin, the kids’ books editor at Fitzhenry & Whiteside, getting their booth ready for the day. I knew I wanted to talk to Christie, to find out what she was looking for in a manuscript and to establish a personal connection. However, first I had to walk around for a while to try to summon up the nerve. When I finally did, it was the end of the day and Christie was packing up her supplies to go home! She told me that she was developing a line of “Tell Me More” storybooks. In these books, while the story is, of course, the most important element, there’s also an additional educational component that can be more fully explored in the non-fiction back matter. We both agreed that Skink on the Brink might be a good fit for this line and that I should send it to her.

Suzanne and Lisa do a signing with Michael Martchenko & Loris Lesynski at Toronto's Word On The Street

There was a long period where I heard nothing, but I was getting used to no response if an editor really wasn’t interested. By the time February 2011 rolled around, I had completely given up. I went with a group of friends to the OLA Superconference in February and some of them stopped by the Fitzhenry & Whiteside booth to say ‘hi’ to Christie. When she noticed my nametag, she said, “Hey! You’re the skink lady!” I’d never been so excited to think that she remembered me and my manuscript. We had a “pre-editorial” discussion right there and I went home to create yet another draft of the book I’d now been working on for three years.

When April 2011 rolled around and neither of the books I had under consideration with two separate houses had yet acquired that elusive “yes,” I submitted them both to the Writing for Children competition hosted by The Writers’ Union of Canada. This competition receives between 600-800 entries each year and I submitted every year so, of course, I had no real expectation that I would win.

But then there was a day, the same day that I heard from Tuckamore Press that they were ready to send me a contract for my book If It’s No Trouble… A Big Polar Bear, when the phone rang and Nancy MacLeod informed me that Skink on the Brink had won the competition – and that I was sworn to secrecy for almost a week! By this point, Christie and I had a friendly relationship and I think it may have been my post on Facebook, “This is one of the most exciting days of my life,” that prompted her to get in on the excitement and send me my first official book contract!

Suzanne adding detail to one of her illustration elements. Wow.

In October 2011, we signed the contract and Christie let me know that they were considering Suzanne Del Rizzo to illustrate the book. She sent me a few samples of Suzanne’s work. Of course, I was thrilled! Suzanne’s plasticine artwork is beyond anything I would have imagined for Stewie and his story and I was so excited to see it finally start coming to life.

In January 2012, Christie and I got started on the ‘first round’ of edits, which actually became the ‘never-ending round’ of edits as we kept passing the manuscript back and forth, trying to get some of the rough spots ‘just right’ so that Suzanne could get started.

And then the real fun began. I was so excited that Suzanne would consult with me about the illustrations. Her artwork was fabulous and she wanted to check in with me from a research perspective. We both wanted to make sure that we were using our combined knowledge to make sure that the book was as biologically accurate as possible.

Once the artwork was done, in January 2013, I received the ‘final round’ of edits from Christie and the book went to the printer. Then, in May, Suzanne and I were able to drop by the Fitzhenry & Whiteside office to finally hold the finished book in our hands!


Q. What was your writing/illustration process for SKINK ON THE BRINK?


I wish I could say I have a process that indicated some sort of routine but, working from home for the past few years with small kids around, any routine has been pretty hard to establish. I’m hoping this will improve when my youngest daughter starts school fulltime this year because I know how important it is to have that dedicated writing time. 98% of writing is pure hard work – just keeping that butt in your chair and working, preferably with few to no interruptions! Sure, there’s that other 2% of writing that’s genius inspiration, where the brilliant ideas come to you (usually in the shower) and you hop out, words already flying from your fingertips. That kind of writing can be done almost anytime, anywhere (although I would recommend getting out of the shower first.) But the other 98% is very difficult to do when there are so many demanding distractions of family life and when we all know how tempting it is to give in to distraction in the first place.

At the same time, my kids make huge contribution to my writing process. Getting their input and ideas, as I’m crafting a story is an invaluable part of the process for me. I can’t tell you how many years we’ve spent out in the wilderness on family camping trips, pretending to be skinks and shouting things like “I’m Stewie the Blue” over the pond – and how informative and inspiring it is to see how kids engage with your story when it’s still all coming together in your mind.


My process for this book began with lots of research. I must admit, I’d never heard of a skink before reading Lisa’s manuscript, so I had some homework to do before I even put pencil to paper. I researched all I could online and from books, and took photos at my cottage (which falls within the geographical region of the Common Five-Lined Skink’s habitat) to create a massive photo reference file:

Lisa also provided me with some great shots she had taken while at The Pinery Park where she had seen a Common Five-Lined skink up close. Stewie the skink would be undergoing both physical growth and coloration changes throughout the story, and because this was also a Tell-Me-More story book with accompanying cross-curricular back matter; I wanted to ensure I was maintaining as much biological accuracy as possible.

I envisioned having lots of secondary animals and vegetation to make Stewie’s habitat rich and authentic, so I also needed to familiarize myself with the various animals and plant life that co-exist in his habitat. I then created some sample art for Christie to show at the sales meeting, and after landing the contract, I began thumbnail sketches.

Christie encouraged Lisa and I to get in touch and bounce ideas around. It isn’t always standard for authors and illustrators to discuss a project, but in this case, I think it really helped us achieve something special with this book, it was a fantastic collaboration. It even led to some hilarious “oops” moments...like the time when I made a minor flub and put a moose in one illustration... moose don’t extend quite this far south- oops. Luckily Lisa caught it and it was easily changed to a white-tailed deer. If you look closely on my full- sized sketch:

...you can see the moose, yet in the final plasticine illustration it has been changed to a white-tailed deer:

Once thumbnail sketches were approved I worked up full-sized tight pencil sketches:

Because I work in plasticine, I prefer to create very detailed, tight pencil drawings to show my editor, and ideally make changes at this phase of the project. Each plasticine illustration can take from 20-40+ hours to create, depending on its size and complexity, so it’s much easier to erase a few pencil strokes at this point then to peel off/redo the plasticine final art.

My illustrations are essentially low relief sculptures created in plasticine(modelling clay) and pressed onto illustration board. The final plasticine art is then professionally photographed:

Before I started any final art I premixed the colours, after some initial colour studies, to create a colour chart:

I hang this next to my sketch for quick reference. Then I made up large amounts of my colours so I’d be able to maintain consistency throughout the illustrations. This type of chart comes in handy if I run out of a colour and need to make more. To begin each illustration, I’d smear on plasticine in a thin layer to create the background, then gradually build up and add on, then move onto foreground objects as I go:


(From Debbie: click here for a close-up look at some of the detail in the final illustration)

One of my favorite parts of any illustration is adding the final textures and details to really bring life to the piece. I use a variety of clay sculpting tools but often times I end up using my good ol’ favorites-a large safety pin, toothbrush, toothpick and my fingers. Sometimes I even make my own tools. For Stewie the skink, I made a selection of polymer clay tools that make impressions of reptile scales:

then I used an acrylic gloss to make him glisten.

For intricate parts, I sometimes worked on top of a Ziploc bag that I’d place directly over top of my sketch:

(Note from Debbie: Click here to see details in a bigger version of the woodpecker)

Then I could check to ensure that my sculpted objects were the correct size- plasticine has a tendency to spread and flatten as you work with it, which can be frustrating. So I kept a bowl beside me for my “rejects”...and believe me there were plenty. Faces are especially tricky to get just right. But that’s the great thing about plasticine- it never hardens, so you can just peel off the offensive bits and smoosh ‘em, and start afresh. My kids like to raid the reject bowl (as they call it) and put these bits to use in their own creations.

Having a little kiddo sitting next to me on the floor, working on their own plasticine is one of the best perks about having my art studio in my home. Kids are also the best source of inspiration.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring children's book writers and illustrators?

Lisa: There is so much important advice out there given by far more experienced writers than me – but you’re not going to hear any of it if you’re sitting in your house staring at a cursor on a screen...

Suzanne: ...or working away in your art studio. And I’m even more “green”, LOL but I am always happy to share what I have found helpful on my pursuit to publication.

Lisa: Get out there and meet other writers and creators. The camaraderie and support of a network of peers is invaluable – for information sharing, providing a shoulder to cry on (or a glass to clink with), for forming critique groups and for gaining access to all that wonderful advice.

Suzanne: Yes, you said it Lisa! We creative types tend to be an introverted lot, but it’s so important to put yourself out there and meet others, connect, share ideas and soak up advice from more seasoned author/illustrators. I have found this community of author/illustrators, both online and in person, to be extremely supportive and encouraging

Lisa: In Canada, some good places to start are organizations for children’s writers such as CANSCAIP and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC). Internationally, look into the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Any festivals, trade shows or signings in your area that have anything to do with books can also be useful places to connect with other writers or industry professionals.

Suzanne and Lisa with their editor Christie Harkin (in red shirt) and friends Jan Dolby & Joyce Grant at Toronto's Word On The Street

Suzanne: The thought of attending a large conference might be utterly terrifying if you are just starting out, so start small. Check out the monthly CANSCAIP meetings, or go to Word on The Street and mingle at your pace, or hop online and get to know the Twitter and Facebook community of illustrators and kidlit writers. I must admit to having a bad case of “imposter syndrome” when I first made the career switch from working in a science research lab, after all I didn’t have an art degree. Could I make a go of it as children’s book illustrator? I decided to be brave and just go for it. The self doubt still creeps up on me some days. But I had to start somewhere. Those first small steps, attending meetings and making initial connections paved the way to bigger conferences and helped me gain my footing as an illustrator.

Joining a critique group is invaluable. We often work in a bubble, isolated, “in the zone” creating, be it painting, sculpting or typing away the hours on our tread-desk. We tend to be our toughest critics which can often lead to self-doubt or worse still the dreaded “analysis paralysis”. Crit groups will not only help you grow as an artist, by pushing you in a direction you may never have considered on your own, but they also give valuable, honest criticism of your work and provide a safe environment to share new ideas, ask those silly questions, and learn about the industry. I belong to a few crit groups, one of illustrators, and another of authors and author/illustrators. Authors and illustrators look at manuscripts (and artwork) from a different perspective, and it can be very helpful to get both types of input, especially if you are interested in writing and illustrating, as I am.

Lisa: A critique group is really important. Even if your writing is already awesome, there is so much to be learned from seeing other perspectives on your work. Engaging with other people’s stories when offering a critique has taught me to see my own work with a more critical eye and helped me to develop further focus and direction in my own writing.

Suzanne: Like I mentioned above, get online and make connections. Joining Twitter, and Facebook is one place to start. Every Thursday at 9pm EST there is a Tweet Chat of kidlit creators, just follow #kidlitart, and check it out. They are a welcoming and fun bunch. Zero2illo is another fantastic resource I found extremely helpful when I was starting up my illustration career. It has many great resources, from setting up your portfolio website to designing a business plan. I also belong to their zero2illo confidential, a crit group of sorts but so much more.

Lisa: If anyone reading this has any further questions, or would like direction to an online critique group for serious children’s writers, they can feel free to contact me through my website. (www.lisadalrymple.com)

Suzanne: Yes, please contact me through my website (suzannedelrizzo.com) if you have any further questions.

Q. What are both of you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?


Suzanne and I have decided to dub the past few months “the Summer of the Plasticine Road Show.” We’ve been taking Skink on the Brink and Suzanne’s fun and interactive plasticine workshops to events all over southern Ontario. For the fall, it looks like the Plasticine Road Show lives on! We were recently at Toronto's Word On The Street; I will be at the Family Resource Centre in Peterborough on September 28th, followed by a signing at Peterborough Chapters; we will be taking part in the Creemore Arts Festival on October 5th.

As for what I’m working on now, my third book, Bubbly Troubly Polar Bear, is due out with Tuckamore Books in October 2013.

I’m also very excited about a picture book with a multicultural theme that I’m working on, in which a young Canadian girl travels around the world with her archeologist parents. Through attending school in Thailand, Peru, Jamaica, Scotland and South Korea, she participates in both the differences and the similarities of daily life. I’m hoping to have her experiences to show, through an eight-year-old's eyes, that, while there are many diverse cultures, there can be a common understanding in the sharing of music, food or something as universal as a game of Hide & Seek.


As for me, I just finished a project for a YA novel cover for The Ehrich Wiesz Chronicles: Demon Gate (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, Fall 2013) by Marty Chan. I created the front and back of a steampunk medallion/Infinity Coil in polymer clay and watch components. I also have another Tell-Me-More storybook project in the works with Fitzhenry and Whiteside. I’m working up some of my manuscripts into picture book dummies for submission as well.

Q. How did your book launch go? And how has reception to SKINK ON THE BRINK been so far?

Complete with plasticine activities and a skinktastic chocolate cake:

the official launch of Skink on the Brink was at Story Planet in Toronto, but this summer has actually been a series of exciting launch events. We held a second launch at Roxanne’s Reflections, in my current hometown of Fergus and it was every bit as much fun as the first! Then our favourite event this summer was definitely introducing Skink on the Brink to the Pinery Provincial Park at their annual Savannah Festival.

The Pinery is one of the few places in Canada where the Common Five-lined Skink can be found and it’s the area that inspired the character of Stewie and his story. There was something really special about reading Skink on the Brink right in Stewie’s natural habitat and then working with the kids on their terrific plasticine creations on the very veranda where he’s known to hang out and bask.

The kids at all of our events have been tons of fun to work with and incredibly excited – especially those who managed to catch a glimpse of a real Five-lined Skink in the wild, and Suzanne and I now both have households full of plasticine critters! But the best part is definitely hearing the kids’ enthusiasm for conservation efforts and for protecting skinks and their habitat.


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


See MY INTERVIEW in the 2014 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, yay! (and what I wish I could tell my younger self)

Debbie CWIM2014 v2

The 2014 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market is now on book shelves, and includes AN INTERVIEW WITH ME!!  I'm pretty thrilled. 

I've been buying this annual guide for many years, not just for the great info about children's book publishers and other markets, but also because of the excellent interviews and advice for pros in the industry….so actually being mentioned in the book as well as ON THE FRONT COVER (thanks to my friend Carolyn Dee Flores for pointing out the latter) this guide is way exciting for me.

I'm also SO flattered to be included in the blurb description about the book, especially considering the other names mentioned. An excerpt:

"Interviews with some of today's hottest authors and illustrators, including author R.L. Stine (the Goosebumps series), author Marie Lu (Legend), author Beth Revis (Across the Universe), and illustrator Debbie Ridpath (I'm Bored, written by Michael Ian Black)."

How cool is that?!?

Wish I could send that paragraph back to my younger self to help take the edge off all those rejection letters.

Anyway, thanks so much to Ricki Schultz for interviewing me and to Chuck Sambuchino for editorial guidance.

More info about the book on the Writer's Digest website.

Photo of me at I'm Bored signing courtesy Walter Korynkiewicz.


A comic in honor of Talk Like A Pirate Day....


Music video: Picture book writer Sue Fliess pitches with a Pitch Perfect musical parody

Love this.

You can find out more about Sue Fliess and her work at:  http://www.suefliess.com/

and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/SueFliess


Happy International Dot Day!


International Dot Day is a celebration of creativity around the globe, inspired by Peter H. Reynolds' book, The Dot.

I was  invited to contribute to the Celebri-Dots gallery, and came up with the image above.

To authors and illustrators: If you're interested in contributing a Celebri-dot to help inspired young people, here's more info.


Interview: Peggy Eddleman and SKY JUMPERS (Random House Children's)

SKY JUMPERS - Author: Peggy Eddleman - Hardcover / 288 pages / Publication date: Sept. 24, 2013 from Random House Children's Books. ISBN 0307981274. More info about the book on Goodreads.

SKY JUMPERS by Peggy Eddleman is a fast-paced middle grade adventure with engaging characters and imaginative world-building. I was totally fascinated by the idea of the Bomb's Breath, a layer of chemically altered air that will kill those who breathe it yet slows the fall of Hope and her friends when they jump into it. I can't wait for the next book in the series! Highly recommended.

Book description:

What happens when you can’t do the one thing that matters most? Twelve-year-old Hope Toriella lives in White Rock, a town of inventors struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath—the deadly band of compressed air that covers the crater left by the bombs—than fail at yet another invention. When bandits discover that White Rock has priceless antibiotics, they invade. With a two-day deadline to finish making this year’s batch and no ingredients to make more, the town is left to choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from the disease that’s run rampant since the bombs, or die fighting the bandits now. Help lies in a neighboring town, but the bandits count everyone fourteen and older each hour. Hope and her friends—Aaron and Brock—might be the only ones who can escape to make the dangerous trek through the Bomb’s Breath and over the snow-covered mountain. Inventing won’t help her make it through alive, but with Aaron and Brock’s help, the daring and recklessness that usually gets her into trouble might just save them all.

About The Author:

Peggy lives at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Utah with her husband and their three children. She enjoys painting, playing games with her family (especially laser tag), and of course, reading.

Where to find Peggy online: Website - Blog - Twitter - Facebook

Q. What's your writing process?

I know it’s strange, and unlike 97% of authors, but I don’t write in my pajamas. I don’t write on the couch, and I don’t write in bed. Ever. I do line edits on my desktop computer, because it’s easiest there. But my desktop is also where I tackle all the non-writing aspects of being an author, so being in front of that computer distracts me. Plus, I feel like I’m in a cave. And I face a blank wall. It’s all very uninspiring.

Peggy writing in the Museum Of Art gardens.

So when I write or revise, I take my laptop somewhere else. A lot of times it’s my kitchen table, with the blinds on my french doors wide open, spilling in sunshine and a view of the trees, with my hubby and kids nearby. Sometimes it’s on my porch swing on my back patio with the bugs and the cat. And sometimes I go anywhere else. I take a camp chair to the ridiculously beautiful mountains overlooking my valley, I go to the park, the beach, next to a stream in the canyon, or at a neighborhood fast food dive that has the best shakes and who don’t care if I stay forever. The more ambiance and sunshine, the better.

Peggy writing on the beach.

When I first became a writer, I got my best ideas while folding clothes (which was mightily convenient). Sadly, though, that seemed to wear off. Now I work though the trickiest of plot problems while walking. There’s a great pedestrian canal road that runs alongside my town where I can talk out loud to myself all I want (because that when the best ideas always come, right?), and people are rarely close by enough to care. It gets hot where I live, though. Like melting hot.

Peggy writing in the mountains.

Because of my publishing schedule, my summers are always spent deep in revisions, and it’s just way too hot for my canal walks. So I wear paths around my shaded backyard, circling it and circling it and circling it until I come up with my answers. It also gets cold where I live. Like freeze-your-lungs cold. Winter is when I draft, though, and that’s when I’m left to rely on a good ole basket of laundry for ideas.

Q. How did SKY JUMPERS get published?

I decided that I wanted to take the traditional publishing route, and I started by reading everything I could about that process. I poured over writing blogs. I went to conferences and classes and joined critique groups. I made writing friends online. I read post after post about writing query letters. I learned what querying can do to your mental state and prepared myself for it. I learned hot the publishing industry worked. I was determined to go into this with my eyes wide open, and to have myself as prepared as possible for every aspect of it.

Sending her first pass pages for Sky Jumpers back to NYC.

After I had a manuscript (my fifth) that was unique, critiqued by dozens, well-revised, and one I knew had a good chance of selling, I set to writing my query letter. Learning so much about getting an agent may have brought out the defeated perfectionist in me. I’m not going to lie– it was very difficult to write my query letter! And it was very difficult to rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite.

Signing her contract.I slaved over every word, every sentence, making sure they were the exact right one. And then I’d put it away and bring it out after a week or two, so I could slave over it with a fresh mind. Whenever someone offered a query critique, I took them up on it. I took a query-writing webinar and had an agent critique it. I took conference classes on query writing and had the presenter critique it. I had my sister critique it so many times, I was sure I’d invented a new form of torture.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I spent five months on it. Was that overkill? Quite possibly. Would I do it again? Absolutely. I’ve gotten some serious mileage with that baby! It got me both an agent and an editor quickly, a lot of the phrases / sentences from it are word for word in my jacket flap, and my agent uses it as an example when she talks about query writing at conferences. Best of all? Those phrases are burnt so deeply in my brain that when someone asks me to tell them about my book, it’s not so hard to tell them.

A question I get asked often goes something like this: “After your editor makes you change a bunch of things, did it feel like it wasn’t your book anymore?”

The answer is absolutely not.

When I got my first edit letter, my editor told me that I didn't have to change a single thing in my book if I didn't want to– that they loved it already and it was good enough to go to print as is. It could've been tempting to just say, “I'm going to leave it as is, then, because it's just how I want it. Then it’ll still feel like my book.” (For the record, it wasn't actually tempting.) Instead, I dove into the 9 page single-spaced edit letter full of really tough suggestions with an open mind and a willingness to work. And then we went through another three tough rounds and a round of tweaks after that before going to copy edits.

Standing outside the Random House building on a trip to NYC to meet her editor.

And do you know what I learned? That there really isn’t anything to worry about when it comes to the book no longer feeling like yours. Editors rarely tell you what you have to do to fix something. They just bring up the issues or places that it can be improved, and let YOU figure out how YOU want it solved. They’ll brainstorm with you on how to fix each thing if that’s what works for you, or they’ll let you figure it out on your own if that’s what works. The point is, in the end it’s still full to the top of your ideas and your writing. It’s just better. Because under the direction and support of someone who is brilliant, your own brilliance can find a way out.

In the NYC subway, holding her very first ARC of Sky Jumpers.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring children's book writers?

Three things: be persistent, be teachable, and be flexible.

Be persistent.

This profession is not for quitters. It gets tough and you’ll get knocked down and beat up and rejected a lot of times and in a lot of ways. And the only way you’re going to get through it is if you have a very strong conviction that what you are pursuing is exactly right for you, and that you are strong enough to do it. So when those really tough things happen, you can remind yourself that you were made for this, and you can take anything that’s thrown at you. That you can stand back up, lick your wounds, and most importantly, that YOU CAN DO THIS. That you aren’t going to let a little thing like a harsh critique or a few bad writing days in a row or a rejection letter or even hundreds of rejection letters or shelving a beloved manuscript and starting over again stop you. That when it comes right down to it, you are going to win because you never quit.

At the filming of her book trailer.

Be teachable.

When you first start writing, it is so easy to feel like you’re an expert. (If you’re in this blissful stage right now, enjoy it. Enjoy it A LOT.) But the truth is, the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. You can stay in that stage where you feel like you’re the expert for as long as you want, but you will never improve until you kick yourself out of it. And the only way to do that is by being teachable. When you have someone critique your work, and their critique hurts right down to the center of your soul, resist the urge to get defensive and to decide that they’re wrong. That they just didn’t get what you were going for, or think that they just aren’t as good of a writer as you, and therefore can be ignored. Let those feelings die down and then look at it with fresh eyes. There is truth in every critique if you are willing to be teachable. The thing about writing is that you will never get to the point where you can’t improve anymore, or where you don’t need to improve anymore. Yes. It’s both frustrating and awesome. The really great authors are the ones who never stop learning.

The kids playing Aaren, Hope, and Brock in the book trailer during their sky jumping scene.Be flexible.

Things rarely go according to plan in the writing world. From when you have planned to write, to that one scene not working out, to when you’re going to finish that draft, to when edits will be done, to when you plan to have an agent, to when your book sells, to where your book sells, to what marketing your book gets. Some of those things you can control. And some you can’t, no matter how hard you try to. You kind of just have to go with the flow, and accept that some things happen differently than you had hoped. Sometimes even after getting an agent, your book won’t sell. That’s when you change plans and write another one. Sometimes when you’re sitting down to write, your loved ones will need you. So you change plans and be with your family/friends. The more flexible you are, the more you will enjoy writing.

Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?

I am just finishing up the very last of edits for book two of Sky Jumpers, which comes out in a year, and I’m gearing up for my launch party for Sky Jumpers. It’s going to be a huge celebration, and I can’t wait!


Where to find Peggy online: Website - Blog - Twitter - Facebook

Her book blog tour continues tomorrow at the Society Of Young Inklings.


Peggy's agent, Sara Crowe, explains why she fell for Sky Jumpers - Literary Rambles

Cover Scoop: SKY JUMPERS by Peggy Eddleman - The Lucky 13s

SKY JUMPERS extras on Peggy's website

SKY JUMPERS on Goodreads


The really great authors are the ones who never stop learning. SKY JUMPERS @PeggyEddleman advice: http://bit.ly/165xFsE (Tweet this)

SKY JUMPERS author @PeggyEddleman talks about process, publication and writing advice: bit.ly/165xFsE (Tweet this)




For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Will Write For Chocolate updated: "What The New iPhone *doesn't* have...."

In case anyone was wondering, I *have* decided to upgrade my iPhone to the iPhone 5s. I read ebooks on my iPhone as well as taking a ton of photos, so the improved graphics capability (and especially the new camera features) make it well worth it for me.

More info about Apple's new iPhones in the NYTimes today as well as (of course) on Apple's site.

Get Will Write For Chocolate updates on Facebook.


Comic: Serial Comma Killer

OHI0022 WRI CommaCuts

Re-posted for Mikki. :-)


Quickie Survey Results: Have You Seen Young People Reading Ebooks?

I recently did a quickie poll on Twitter asking the following:

Q. Have you seen a young person reading a book on a digital device in the past year? (where a "young person" is teenager or younger)?

Approximately half of the respondents said yes:


Some of the comments:

"Have seen students read on phones, iPads and ereaders." - @stein_valerie

"As a teacher, I regularly us ebooks to engage reluctant readers - YA and Middle Grade. Adding a layer of technology like a tablet or ereader can give kids who don't see themselves as readers a reason to at least try to read. From there, it's up to the story to engage them and keep them reading until the end."

"My 7 year old asked for an e-reader for Christmas. An e-reader mind you, not an app or internet enabled tablet. She loves the 'magic' of getting new books instantly without leaving home. No down time between Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie, priceless."

"Yes, on books, tablets, computers and phones- not really kindled though that might be my area." - @mz_christie

"My 5 year old likes reading ebooks with dad when he is away on business, over Skype. They each have a copy of the book on an iPad and can turn pages together. But the kids don't read on their own on ebook devices (too expensive to allow unfettered access!)"

"Yes, if my own kids count and they are using my device (with books I downloaded for them.) They never ask if they can read on my Nook. I've never seen a child in the wild reading on a digital device. Playing games...yes. Reading, no."

"Hard to tell on the subway WHAT a child is doing on an iPad, but it seems to always be games. I still see kids with pbooks, though!"

"Handy for teens reading public domain works for school." - @bhalpin

Please note that results would probably differ for a general public survey. My Twitter followers are almost all readers themselves, including teachers and librarians.


You can also see other current and past surveys in the Inkygirl Survey Archives.


Here's what a fox says...but more importantly, what's that children's book in the video?

I've been hearing the song in the above video in my head ever since my husband told me about it. The music video by Norwegian duo Ylvis went viral a few days ago. I love the wonky humor and tongue-in-cheek emo. 

Popular Science followed up with a "What Sound Does A Fox Really Make" post that could be enlightening for kids (and grown-ups!) wondering what sounds a fox DOES make. :-)

But what *I* want to know: what's that children's book featured in the video? Here's a screenshot:

A blurrier close-up of the front cover:

Here's the back cover, though doesn't it look as if part of the cover beneath the man's hand  has been torn?

If anyone can identify the children's book in this video, I'd appreciate it if you'd post in the comments.



Comic: Back To School

Figured it was a good time to dust this comic off from the archives...

OHI0073 WRI BackToSchool 600

Also see my Will Write For Chocolate comics.


Fairy Tale Gown Created By UK Bridal Dress Designer Used 2500 Book Pages



I came across this image while browsing St. Mary's Public Library Pinterest board. The dress was custom-made from 2500 pages of multiple issues of ANGELA CARTER'S BOOK OF FAIRY TALES a few years ago for Litfest, a UK literary event. The dress designer usually creates bridal gowns! You can see the full dress and find out more about how it was created in this Jennifer Pritchard Bridal Design blog post.

My Pinterest boards, for those interested.


Sarah Parker Ada and her "If You Love To Read" and "Read It Maybe" music videos

Just discovered this Rolling In The Deep parody created by Sarah Parker Ada to help promote the New York State Reading Association annual conference last fall. You can find the lyrics here (click "Show more").

Then I found her wonderful "Read It Maybe" video (parody of Call Me Maybe):

 According to this article on Reading.org, Ada is an adjunct prof for freshman composition at Jefferson Community College. I envy her students.

You can see more videos from Sarah Parker Ada on her YoUTube channel.

On Twitter: @SarahUkelele

Sarah's Ukelele Youtube channel


Thanks to 14-year-old Caitlan for being my 26,000th follower on Twitter

Thanks so much to Caitlan Washington (@CreatorWashingt) for being the 26,000th person to follow my @inkyelbows account.

With permission of Caitlan's parents, here's more about this young UK writer...

Caitlan says she's just "an ordinary 14-year-old girl from Leeds with a passion for performing."

From Caitlan:

"I've always been a fan of reading and creating stories for lessons in primary school and going into high school. About 5 months back, I started writing a book about a girl who owned mysterious dolls but I forgot about it until recently. It was until then I decided to make plans for a different style book and plan to stick to it, so I started Peek-A-Boo Clown. I adore performing and giving monologues out as work in class and I find it so interesting. I'm off into year 10 when I go back to school and I've been accepted into performing arts Btec and hopefully that will help my confidence."

Q. What kinds of books do you like reading?

"I love mystery and thriller books with cliffhangers at the end, making you want to read more."

Q. What were the last three books that you read?

Ann Cassidy - Looking For JJ

Yukiru Sugisaki - DN Angel

J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Q. What were your favourite children's books when you were little?

The Magic Key and Winnie the Witch.

Q. Do you find that your passion for performing helps you when writing stories?

It helps so much being much more confident to be much more creative.


From Debbie: Thanks Caitlan, and good luck with your writing and performing!


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Rejections suck…but instead of letting them beat you down, make them work for you. Here's why and how.


Comic: Death and the Writer



Found my sister's just-released picture book FOX AND SQUIRREL (Scholastic Canada) in Type Books on Queen Street

To celebrate our wedding anniversary, Jeff and I wandered about Toronto yesterday, visiting bookstores and coffee shops and having picnics in the park. And guess what I found in TYPE Books on Queen Street? My sister's just-released picture book, FOX AND SQUIRREL (Scholastic Canada)!

I bought a copy, of course. :-)

©2013 Ruth Ohi. Spread from FOX AND SQUIRREL (Scholastic Canada). Click image above to see a larger version.


When Fox and Squirrel get together, Squirrel can only see their differences. Squirrel is small and Fox is big; Squirrel lives in a nest and Fox in a burrow; Squirrel likes the day and Fox, the night. But as they carry on, Fox gently points out that their differences are a good thing, and more than that, they have many things in common too. Even Squirrel begins to see that maybe they are not so different after all. This irresistible story about the adventures of two lovable friends is told through spare text and expressive watercolour illustrations full of energy, humour and warmth.

©2013 Ruth Ohi. Spread from FOX AND SQUIRREL (Scholastic Canada). Click image above to see a larger version.

More info about Ruth Ohi's books: http://RuthOhi.com More info about FOX AND SQUIRREL as well as samples: http://www.ruthohi.com/fox-squirrel/

©2013 Ruth Ohi. Illustration from FOX AND SQUIRREL (Scholastic Canada).

TYPE BOOKS: 883 Queen St W Toronto, ON M6J 1G3, Canada, Phone +1 416-366-8973

If you haven't yet seen TYPE's übercool video:


New Will Write For Chocolate comic: Mimi's Book Purge

For more strips, see WillWriteForChocolate.com.


The Oatmeal: Matthew Inman makes grammar FUN


Click the above image to see an excellent visual explanation of how and why to use "whom" in a sentence. I love The Oatmeal's entertaining and quirky take on subjects as traditionally dry as grammar. Example:

Grammar Potato

Woohoo, potatoes!

The mastermind behind The Oatmeal is Matthew Inman. His self-written bio says it all:

"The Oatmeal's real name is Matthew and he lives in Seattle, Washington. He subsists on a steady diet of crickets and whiskey. He enjoys long walks on the beach, gravity, and breathing heavily through his mouth. His dislikes include scurvy, typhoons, and tapeworm medication."

Matthew acknowledges the help of a librarian for his "whom" comic:


If you like Matthew's grammar posters, you can buy The Oatmeal Grammar Pack.


Hazel Mitchell and ONE WORD PEARL: Words and Art, Plus Advice For Aspiring Children's Book Illustrators

I met the bubbly and enthusiastic Hazel Mitchell through the children's book illustrator/author group, Pixel Shavings. Hazel is not only a talented illustrator but she is super-supportive of other children's book writers and illustrators.

I am SO looking forward to seeing ONE WORD PEARL, a new picture book written by Nicole Groeneweg and illustrated by Hazel, published by Charlesbridge/Mackinac Island Press. The book launched earlier this month in the U.S., but isn't available in Canada until late September. Art director: Anne Margaret Lewis, Developer.


Pearl loves words. All kinds of words. Words make up songs, stories, poems . . . and what does a lover of words do? She collects them, of course! But one day, most of Pearl’s words are blown away, leaving her only a few which she keeps safely in her treasure chest.

After that day, she uses each word carefully—one at a time, until she has no words left. When her teacher asks her questions at school, she doesn’t answer. When her friend wants to know what she has for lunch, she can’t respond. What will Pearl do without her precious words? Will she ever find them?

Artist as a teenager.One Word Pearl explores the power of words to transform, inspire, and cultivate imagination.

About Hazel:

After attending art college in the UK, Hazel ran away to sea and joined the Royal Navy, where she was taught to be a graphic designer.

She now lives and works in Maine, and says she still misses fish & chips and mushy peas ("but I'm learning to love lobster"). Several of her books have won awards, and publishers she's worked with include Charlesbridge/Makinac Island Press, Highlights, ABDO/Magic Wagon, Kane and Miller, Freespirit, Beacon Publishing, Reading A-Z and SCBWI.

Where to find out more info about Hazel and her work:

Website - Facebook - Twitter - Blog - Sketch blog - Tumblr - Flickr - Pinterest - Pixel Shavings - Turbo Monkey Tales

Q. What was your illustration process for ONE WORD PEARL?

Working on Pearl gave me the freedom to do something different with my illustrations. Because Pearl is all about words ... and writing ... I immediately got very excited about using more abstract layouts within the book. Before I even started thinking about character I was thinking about textures and colours and paper and how to incorporate the words Pearl 'collects' in a fun way.

So I started collecting textures of paper ... rice paper, handmade paper, paper with textures and flecks and I crumpled up paper. I tore pages out of notepads. And then I scanned them in and layered them and changed the colours and just played around. One heavily ribbed translucent rice paper scanned beautiful and I used it as the base for many of the pages, along with a layer of flecked paper and brown crumpled-up paper.

I adjusted the hues in photoshop and the opacity and I got a background that I used through out the book on nearly every page. I think it brings a coherence to the images and the flow, because some of the pages are pretty wild! I also used a lot of collage throughout .. because Pearl cuts out words and keeps them in her 'word chest'. So it made sense for me to do the same!

I spent a whole week in the evenings cutting out words from magazines and anything else printed. I spent a long time scanning the words and using them in the book. I also used a collage of cut out words flowing over the end pages. I think that's the favorite part of the book for me! In parts of the book I have used my own handwritten words that flow and swirl. It was fun thinking of the words!

Along side the complete chaos I caused with paper, magazines and glue in my studio, I started to work on Pearl's character. Her name immediately suggested a kind of Asian ethnicity, so my first step was to google lots of Asian children. I wanted her to have a bush of black hair and she is kind of geeky and sassy and a bit stroppy. (At this point I think I should tell you several people asked me if I modeled her on Debbie Ohi!) [Note from Debbie: HA!]

Character sketches. Copyright ©2013 Hazel Mitchell.

I had a lot of fun deciding what she would wear. I gave her some funky clothes and big 'ol monster shoes. I also wanted to give her a 'friend' who isn't mentioned in the text, and because of the Asian connection I felt she would have a little cockatiel type of bird. Pearl is solitary in many of the illustrations and I wanted her to have something to interact with, and to help emphasize her emotions. So the bird was born.

I am very fond of that bird! All the line work in Pearl is done in pencil, which is then scanned into photoshop. The colour is digital, but I also created watercolour washes on YUPO paper and scanned, coloured and manipulated them for textures in Pearl's clothing and in the settings.

Another feature of the book are the 'floating letters'. The letters are, I think, Pearl's subconscious (this is where it gets a bit deep!). Pearl, you see, is a frustrated writer ... like many of us! She adores words, but right now she is using other people's words .. learning what they mean, using them everyday. But, really, she has all these words inside herself longing to get out. And the letters some how appeared in one of the images I was working on and just stayed for the rest of the book.

They are like a cloud around her, sometimes chasing her, or running away, or just hanging out. I'd tell you what happens in the end, but it would spoil the story! Some of the images in photoshop have over 150 layers and I was going a little crazy with them!

Initially I work in very rough draft, just outlines. Then that gets refined and refined, probably 3 -4 times, before I get to the final drawings. I worked with the developer for Mackinac Island Press, Anne Margaret Lewis, and she made some changes at the sketch and final stages. I had no contact with Nicole, the author, during the illustration process.

I am always a little freaked out wondering if the author will like the illustrations. Luckily Nicole tells me she does! The book had a short deadline, 3 months from the time I got the m/s. I burned some candles towards the end, which makes me wonder why I put so much detail in the illustrations ... but they had to be how they wanted to be! And I am glad I did.

©2013 Hazel Mitchell.

My typical day when working on a book can be very long. I wake up early thinking about it and some days I am still there late at night. I'd like to say I could just work for 8 hours and have an hour for lunch, 5 days a week. But that's not how the creative life is. And in between crazy work schedules you get to go and do fun things, so it all works out!

Part of Hazel's studio.

Rituals - hmm .. I have a playlist that I turn on in the morning and it makes my brain settle into work. For most of the day I listen to audio books or BBC Radio 4 on the internet (visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/radio for great things to listen to!) I also become dependent on sugar by the final weeks. That's not good!

Q. What was your publication process?

This is my second book with Charlesbridge/Mackinac. The developer I worked with discovered me on Facebook from seeing my artwork posted. I am just about to start on my 3rd book with them. I work direct with my publishers as I am not agented right now. Most of my work comes from mail outs, contacts at conferences/workshops/word of mouth and social networks. I would love to work with an agent - but I guess I haven't found the right one yet.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring children's book illustrators?

At Cape May Author festival.When I started this journey, (really in January 2010 at my first NYSCBWI conference), I was clueless how the industry worked. I had worked in commercial design all my life and I found out that publishing was a whole other kettle of fish. Here's what I did .. maybe it will resonate with other's following the same path (although all our paths are so different!)

Attend all the conferences/workshops you can afford (and some you can't) and absorb information.

Learn the craft. Children's book illustration is an art-unto-itself. Study the masters, attend workshops where great illustrators are teaching. Go back to college if you need to.

Draw. Draw. Draw. There is no substitute for drawing.

Read. Read. Read. Immerse yourself in discovering new and old picture books, illustrated middle grade, cover work, graphic novels.

Find your voice ... how do you do that? By drawing and learning and imitating and seeking critique and then finally becoming unconscious of your style. Then you have found your illustration voice.

Work on your portfolio. A portfolio for children's illustration! Creating a website portfolio is very important! Tell people you exist!

Mail out, submit, direct people to look at your work.

Be open. become proficient in social networking. It's free and it can benefit you in unbelievable ways. But always give back.

Seek out other illustrators and create a band of brothers.

Did I say - draw?

"Steve Ashley, Jeannie and me."

Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?

Right now I am starting a new book for Charlesbridge/Mackinac Island Press for Fall 2014 that I am excited about and I can't tell you anything! I also have several ongoing WIP's that are not under contract including a graphic novel and a middle grade mystery.

As well as local events in my home state of Maine I will be speaking at the NESCBWI Illustrator's Symposium in Manchester, NH Nov 2nd 2014.

Where to find more info about Hazel Mitchell and her work:

Website - Facebook - Twitter - Blog - Sketch blog - Tumblr - Flickr - Pinterest - Pixel Shavings - Turbo Monkey Tales

Also see Marcie Colleen's interview with Hazel Mitchell on Marcie's blog today!


Writers/illus: social media can bring huge benefits, but remember to give back. - @TheWackyBrit http://bit.ly/1d2FuXt (Tweet this)

See how @TheWackyBrit used collage, paper textures, other techniques for ONE WORD PEARL illus: http://bit.ly/1d2FuXt (Tweet this)

Advice for aspiring children's book illustrators from ONE WORD PEARL's @TheWackyBrit: http://bit.ly/1d2FuXt (Tweet this)


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.