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


In The End, It's All About Young Readers

The whole I'M BORED adventure has been amazing and continues to be amazing. Whenever things start to settle, something else happens that reminds me all over again to appreciate every moment.

I was floored about how it all began, with a rejection and a friend's encouragement. Then came the Simon & Schuster BFYR book illustration contract and the SCBWI Illustrator Mentorship program. Then the fun and immense satisfaction in collaborating with my editor and art director on the project.

Because I had been so focused on just trying to get published in past years, I underestimated how much joy I would get from reader feedback. Wow. 

Experienced authors and illustrators out there are likely much more used to this, but I'M BORED is my first children's book project and I'm still getting used to the fact that people out there -- people who aren't related to me and don't know me -- are looking at my illustrations in a published book they bought or borrowed.

From Paula Speer White, who sent me the photo above: "This book is excellent for teaching verbal irony at the secondary level and self-efficacy at the elementary level~I give it a 10! Humorous, courageous, and witty!"

I've heard from some parents whose children have learning challenges or who are slow readers, who delight in the humor and want to read the book over and over again.

Parents tell me that their older children are enjoying the book as well, reading it on their own.

Librarians tell me that I'M BORED has become a favorite with their young readers. I so love the idea of a copy of the book eventually becoming battered and dog-eared because of constant use. 

I think about a young person sitting down with a copy of I'M BORED, or perhaps having the book read to them by an adult, and try to imagine what happens as they listen to the story. Does it make them laugh out? Does it engage their imaginations? Do they identify more with the little girl or the Potato? Does the experience engage them enough to encourage a greater love of books and reading?

Does it change them for the better, even in a very tiny way?

Oh, I truly hope so.

What I've come to realize: While it's good to keep the market in mind (particularly if you want to get your work accepted by a traditional publishing house), remember that it's all about young readers. In the end, we create the magic for them, not the industry.


For more fun photos, see the I'M BORED In The Wild reader gallery. If you'd like to submit a photo, here's how.

Teachers: if your class sends me snaimail about I'M BORED, I'll write back (with doodles!).


Interview with John Martz, illustrator of WHO'S ON FIRST by Abbott & Costello (Quirk Books)


I first met John Martz at a National Cartoonist Society party in Toronto a few years ago and am also a fan of his popular illustration and cartooning blog Drawn. In addition to his professional comics work, John is the illustrator of several picture books including Dear Flyary from Kids Can Press, written by Dianne Young, and most recently he adapted the classic Abbott & Costello routine Who’s on First? into a picture book from Quirk Books. His first graphic novel, Destination X, will be released in May from Nobrow Press. John is also the founding editor of the popular illustration and cartooning blog Drawn.

Q. How did this project begin?

I was approached by the publisher, Quirk Books. I got the email while I was sitting in a coffee shop in Wellington, New Zealand on my honeymoon, which was a nice addition to the trip. The book was published in cooperation with the estates of Abbott and Costello, so there were no copyright hurdles that needed jumping, at least not in regards to my duties -- the material was already approved by the time I was brought aboard.

Q. What was your illustration process for WHO'S ON FIRST?

The manuscript for the book was essentially the script from the original Who's on First? comedy routine verbatim, although there were a few things removed or edited just for simplicity and kid-friendliness. Because the material is completely dialogue-driven, it was a given that the story would be presented in comic-book-style with speech bubbles.

My first task was breaking down the dialogue into pages and spreads. I printed out the script and cut out the different pieces of dialogue so I could manually move the bits of paper about until I had figured out the optimal breakdown from which to start thumbnailing. They took up the entire floor of my studio. The illustrations were created digitally, but this physical cut-and-paste way of figuring out pacing and is much easier when you can just move stuff around at will and stand back to look at everything.

The process was pretty straightforward then -- I presented the publisher with a thumbnailed version of the book, I incorporated their feedback into the first draft, and then after an additional round of feedback, I completed the final illustrations. As for character design, I was told I didn't need to worry about making the characters look like Abbott and Costello themselves, and that the characters should be animals.

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

This is only my second picture book, so I'm still a relative newcomer to the field. Attending comics shows like the Toronto Comics Arts Festival and SPX in Maryland has been a great way to meet and interact with publishers and fellow artists. My first picture book Dear Flyary, written by Dianne Young, was the direct result of meeting my editor while manning my table at TCAF.

I'm still learning a lot about self-promotion. I'm a little leery of the hard sell online because it contradicts the types of artists and writers I tend to follow on Twitter and social media. Genuineness goes a long way online, and I prefer to follow creative types whose updates aren't just a stream of self-promoting ads. I end up supporting the artists, instead, that provide me with a real sense of personality and likemindedness who produce great work. I think it's a delicate balancing act between promoting your work and trying not being a carnival barker.

My method is to just be myself online, and develop the trust and goodwill with the small-but-growing audience I have, and to hope that when I have new work to share, that my friends and fans and readers will be receptive and want to share it as well.

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

I just finished my third picture book, Black and Bittern Was Night by Robert Heidbreder, which will be out from Kids Can Press in time for Halloween, and I have a science fiction graphic novel called Destination X that will be out from Nobrow Press in May, debuting at TCAF. A collection of my webcomic Machine Gum will also be debuting at TCAF from La Pastèque.

Where you can find more info about John Martz:

Website: www.johnmartz.com

Twitter: @johnmartz


Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.


The Book Mind Of Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly)

TomGauld mousebook

Above and below: samples of the book-friendly cartoons by Tom Gault, whose YOU'RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK is being published later this year by Drawn & Quarterly. I have to buy this book!

TomGauld ebook

See more samples of his comics in BookPatrol as well as Tom's Tumblr blog.

50 jetpack


MicroBookReview: DEATH WATCH by Ari Berk

Love this. It's the kind of book I want to read slowly, to immerse myself in the atmosphere. Gorgeous prose. It gave me nightmares...but in a good way.

I just bought the sequel, Mistle Child, and can't wait to read it!

More info about the book.

Author: Ari Berk.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.


Click on my "microbooktweet" tag to browse some of my other micro-length book reviews and tweets. Please note that I am not seeking new books to review; I usually only review books already in my To Read pile.


Happy International Book Giving Day!

It's International Book Giving Day! The goal: to get as many new, used and borrowed books into the hands of as many children as possible. You can celebrate this EVERY day, of course: find out how.

I created a special bookplate in honor of the occasion. You can download it from the International Book Giving Day website.


Thanks to Nancy Tandon for giving International Book Giving Day and my bookplate some blog love today!


Comic: Valentine's Rejection

Poor Sam.


SCBWI-NYC Takeaway #2: Meg Rosoff, children's books and changing lives

I loved Meg Rosoff's HOW I LIVE NOW, and I look forward to reading her other books. I had never seen Meg in person, so was looking forward to hearing her keynote at the SCBWI Winter Conference. Meg is wonderfully blunt, witty, opinionated. And very, very funny.

One of the things Meg said in her keynote really hit home: That sometimes we get so caught up in worrying about how to get published, promotion, reviews and sales figures that we forget to remind ourselves of how important our books can be to children, and how our books can change their lives.

To be clear: I want to make a living at creating children's books; it's not just a hobby for me, so I DO need to appreciate the business side. However, I think I also need to remind myself more often about one of the reasons I love children's books so much.

Books affect me as an adult, but not nearly as deeply as they did when I was a child. My view of the world and myself changed so much as a result of reading books back then, for good and for bad. There were books that became part of me and are still part of me. Reminding myself of how important books were to  me as a young person will not only help motivate me to craft better stories but also help me persevere when the publishing process gets difficult.

Something else that Meg said that I wish more aspiring children's book authors would understand: children are not dumbed-down adults. I've seen so many mss that talk down to young readers in a way that makes me wonder if the author has forgotten what it was like to be a child himself/herself.


For more info about Meg Rosoff and her work: http://www.megrosoff.co.uk/

For more info about the SCBWI: http://www.scbwi.org/


SCBWI-NYC Takeaway #1: Shaun Tan & The Importance of Maintaining A Bubble Of Delusion

For those who haven't yet heard the term, conference takeaways are generally regarded as insights or key points that someone who attends brings away from the event. It differs for everyone, based on their own level of experience and context. 

I'm going to be sharing some of my takeaways, starting with Shaun Tan.


I've long admired Shaun Tan's work. The quirky/dark have always had a strong appeal to me (see my Little Nightmares Flickr set from ten years ago as an example), and someday I'm going to write and illustrate a picture book in this style. My main challenge: to figure out a way of doing dark without overwhelming the book with too much dark, if that makes any sense. Having a good story is the most important, of course. I've been working on ideas for ages but haven't been happy with any of them yet. Someday, though. These Little Nightmare guys keep bugging me to find the right story for them.

But I digress.

One of my biggest takeaways from the conference was Shaun Tan's advice to artists about the necessity of creating a Bubble of Delusion in which they feel safe to experiment and create. This applies to writers just as much as illustrators, I believe. 


A few of Shaun Tan's thoughts on the Bubble Of Delusion:

(Please note that these are my notes taken during the Illustrators' Intensive, so are subject to interpretation/misinterpretation)

- Set up a safe space in which you feel positive about yourself and your work, and know that you will do great work.

- Surround yourself with encouraging people.

- Avoid negativity, and try to steer clear when you see it coming. Shaun says he doesn't read reviews. I don't think I'd have the willpower to avoid reading reviews completely, but I do what I can to keep from interacting with negative people. Sometimes it can't be helped, but I do what I can in the future to limit the interaction.


I've experienced this myself recently, though it was necessary bad stuff (like getting an injured limb re-broken so it could heal properly).Trying to work on anything creative, however, was like walking against a gale force wind…I could do it, but it was an effort rather than the fun it usually is. Not good.

What I'm Doing To Help Maintain My Own Bubble Of Delusion:

1. Doodling something purely for the fun of it every day, no matter how busy I am. I used to draw for fun all the time! I need start doing that again. I'll post some of these daily doodles online (on DebbieOhi.com), but some I won't…these drawings are for myself.

2. Write something purely for the fun of it every day, no matter how busy I am. I'm getting back to my private journal again, my equivalent of Morning Pages.

3. Do what I can to avoid industry angst. I love social media and online communities, but sometimes I let myself get too caught up in worrying about sales figures, publishing politics, conflicting advice, peer envy.

My advice to you all, especially those who are trying to find their own writing or illustration style: do what you can to create your own Bubble of Delusion. And then when you're doing something creative, STAY IN THE BUBBLE. It's impractical and inadvisable to stay in the Bubble all the time, of course -- we all need to deal with the other Stuff in life, plus the other Stuff helps to inspire and motivate us.

For me, one of the keys is staying off the Internet when I'm trying to create. What do you do to maintain your Bubble? Feel free to post below. 

For more info about Shaun Tan and his work, see his website.

For more info about the SCBWI, see the SCBWI website.


Interview with Jo Knowles on writing process, writer advice & SEE YOU AT HARRY'S

I've been a fan of Jo Knowles ever since reading Lessons From A Dead Girl and even more so after See You At Harry’s (Candlewick, 2012) plus I love her fun and positive tweets from @JoKnowles on Twitter. I've also heard great things about Jo's Pearl and Jumping Off Swings, so am looking forward to reading those next!

 Jo has a master’s degree in children’s literature and taught writing for children in the MFA program at Simmons College for several years. Some of her awards include a New York Times Notable Book of 2012, Amazon's Best Middle Grade Books of 2012, An International Reading Association Favorite 2012 Book, an SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, the PEN New England Children's Book Discovery Award, and YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults. Jo lives in Vermont with her husband and son. Her next book, Living With Jackie Chan, a companion to Jumping Off Swings, will be available September 2013.

Q: What's your writing process? What was your writing process for SEE YOU AT HARRY'S?

So far for all of my books, I've just started writing and discovered the book as I went. Not surprisingly, my first drafts are big messes. After I clean things up a bit and have a basic rough draft, I create a storyboard to help me get organized and figure out the themes, plot and rhythm of the book.

Storyboard from Jumping Off Swings.

The storyboard process I use I learned at a workshop with Carolyn Coman. Basically, you get a sheet of paper that's large enough to fit enough squares to represent each chapter of the book. Then you follow these steps:

1. Think of a scene with the strongest image that best represents that chapter. Draw it as best you can in the first box.

Part of a storyboard series from READ BETWEEN THE LINES, Jo's newest project.

2. Write a very brief phrase that describes the point of that chapter and write it in the bottom of the box.

3. Think of the strongest emotion conveyed in the chapter and write it at the top of the box.

Repeat for each chapter, one per box.

Part of a storyboard series from READ BETWEEN THE LINES, Jo's newest project.

This leaves you with a big visual that illustrates the movement of the book both actively and emotionally.

Part of a storyboard series from READ BETWEEN THE LINES, Jo's newest project.

Since my books tend to be less action driven and more emotionally driven, seeing the book this way is a big help. I can see the spikes of emotion and how they play out in the text, and where I need to insert more or less action, or emotional peeks.

Seeing the images also helps me to think about how stagnant certain chapters or groups of chapters might be, and helps me pinpoint where I need to move my character around more. (For example, in PEARL, Bean spent way too much time on the roof, which was her place to escape. I don't know that I would have realized this if I hadn't drawn a storyboard and had that visual.)

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Remember that getting published is not a race. I recently read a blog post by someone who had taken three years to sell her first book, referring to her journey as "The Long Road to Publication." Long road? Three years?? Oh my.

In reality, I think the average time it takes most people going the traditional publishing route is more like ten. I think people tend to measure success on how quickly they can sell their first book. This is a shame because speed has nothing to do with it. I think longevity AFTER you sell your book would be a better marker.

Childhood restaurant that inspired Harry's in SEE YOU AT HARRY'S.If you want to be an author, you need to take time to learn the craft and learn it well. Read a thousand picture books. Study the rhythms of your favorites. Type out the text and close- read it without the pictures. Pay attention to the types of details that are in the text versus the ones that are implied or easily and more effectively shown in the illustrations.

The next step is to learn how to revise. To learn how to listen to feedback and make the best use of it. I can't tell you how many aspiring writers I've met who have told me they didn't want feedback because they felt their work was as polished as it could get. But they hadn't shared it with anyone but family members!

One of the hard lessons I learned when I first started out was that I really didn't understand what revision meant. When an editor suggested a revision without a contract, I happily addressed the changes she proposed, but not to the degree I should have. I tweaked, I didn't revise. There is a very big difference.

Revising is rewriting. Not rearranging. Not fixing typos. Not deleting a sentence here and there. That’s what you do at the copyediting stage. Better to learn this with critique partners guiding you than with an editor who doesn’t have the time or patience to teach you him- or herself.

There is just so much to learn and so many early mistakes to be made when you're first starting out. It's worth it to take your time and get lots of feedback from other writers (and make those mistakes with them, not an agent or editor). Not only that, you will develop some wonderful relationships and create a community–a support network–which will be invaluable when you DO start submitting.

I am as impatient as the next person, but for new writers, I can't emphasize this enough: Please don't treat the time it takes you to get published as a race, or measure your journey against someone else's and use that as a marker for success and failure. Instead, think of your journey to publication as a travel experience to savor. The more you learn, the more people you connect with, the better prepared you will be for your final destination. And the more people you will have to celebrate your success with!

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

I'm currently working on two projects. One is a contemporary YA novel called READ BETWEEN THE LINES. After writing JUMPING OFF SWINGS I swore I'd never write another book with multiple points of view, so naturally this book has ten. It's kind of a "day in the life" sort of story about how each character's actions affect the next. While I wait for my editor's comments on that, I've started a humorous middle grade/tween novel tentatively called FROM THE COMPLAINT BOX, about a boy who goes to a funky independent school and the adventures/mischief he gets into with his two best friends. When I told my agent I was writing something funny he said, "That's how you described SEE YOU AT HARRY'S and it made everyone weep!" So, he's suspicious. We'll see!

Where can find out more about Jo Knowles:

Jo Knowles website - Jo Knowles blog - Twitter (@JoKnowles) - Facebook

SEE YOU AT HARRY'S book page


Don't compare w/someone else's progress as your success/fail marker. Savor the journey. @JoKnowles bit.ly/11UDU4K (Tweet this)

Writers: Remember that getting published is not a race. - @JoKnowles: bit.ly/11UDU4K (Tweet this)


Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.


MicroBookReview: THE DARKEST CORNER OF THE WORLD by Urve Tamberg


Author: Urve Tamberg

Publisher: Dancing Cat Books, an imprint of Cormorant Books


Had a fantastic time in NYC. More on this soon. But one of the books I read during the trip was Urve's The Darkest Corner Of The World, which is about a teen girl's struggle in Estonia during the World War II Soviet occupation.

I was never a huge history fan back in school. I got great marks, but that was only because I was very good at memorizing. As soon as the school year over, all the dates and facts I had spent hours committing to memory melted away like the last bits of dingy snow left after a long winter.

It was only years later that I began to become more interested in certain periods of history because of historical fiction I was enjoying. Caring about the characters made me care more about their world. After finishing a novel, I'd research using the library and (later) online resources to find out more. 

I'm currently reading The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich by William Shirer and enjoying it MUCH more than I expected. As a result, I'm also starting to seek out historical fiction tied in with related events. Code Name Verity was one, and The Darkest Corner Of The World was the latest. 

Lots of fascinating details about Estonian culture and life back then, all skilfully woven into a fast-paced story about 15-year-old Madli and the difficult choices she must make in order to survive.

Click on my "microbooktweet" tag to browse some of my other micro-length book reviews and tweets.


Offline until Tues. February 5th, 2013

A quickie note to let you all know that I'll be in NYC for work meetings as well as the SCBWI Winter Conference until Tuesday, February 5th, though I may be doing some livetweeting from my @DebbieOhi account.


Interview With YA Author S.J. Laidlaw About Process, Persistence and AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE


I met Susan Laidlaw through the MiG Writer Critique Group and was excited to hear about the publication of her upcoming book, AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE, which comes out from Tundra on February 12th, 2013. I'm so looking forwarding to meeting Susan in person for the first time when all the MiGs get together at the SCBWI Winter Conference next week!

Set in Pakistan, AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE is the story of a teen girl living with her mother and siblings in a diplomatic compound. As if getting used to another new country and set of customs and friends isn't enough, she must cope with an increasingly tense political situation that becomes dangerous with alarming speed. Her life and those of her sister and brother depend on her resourcefulness and the unexpected help of an enigmatic Muslim classmate.

Q. What is your writing process?

In terms of scheduling my writing, I’m a very early riser and I’m always most creative first thing in the morning. Ideas percolate throughout the night. I often wake up in the night thinking about my stories, but I only rarely get up to write down my thoughts. Usually, I wait till morning.

I don’t set out a specific number of hours to write but I do try to write every morning and keep going until I feel I’m no longer being productive. Sometimes that’s only 3-4 hours but sometimes I’ll keep going all day. If I’m having a really good writing day, dishes are piled in the sink and we’re having tuna sandwiches for dinner.

I do a basic outline and a basic character sketch of my main characters. I find it helpful to have an idea where I’m going, even if I diverge, which I often do. I like to really think about all my characters’ backstories and motivations. Even if they aren’t central to the plot, I need to understand who they are to bring them to life.

Getting comfortable with the character’s way of looking at the world is also important. I’ve worked as an adolescent counselor for most of my career, so looking at life from a teen perspective is actually very natural to me but when I was writing AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE, I made a point of immersing myself in books with similarly aged main characters. I particularly liked reading books whose main characters were angry or a little snarky, as Emma, my main character, is both.

For about a year now, I’ve been working on my second novel. I wrote it, sold it, and now I’m in revisions with my wonderful editor, Sue Tate, from Tundra Books. This time I’ve been reading a lot of Young Adult novels with male protagonists, since the main character of my second novel is a 17-year-old boy. I particularly like novels with a bit of humor, since that’s an element of my writing, but I’ll really read anything from the young adult male perspective.

If I find a book that is particularly inspiring, I’ll keep it close at hand and re-read sections of it when I feel stalled on my own writing. If I’m really blocked I may take multiple writing breaks to just curl up and read. That’s one of the things I love about being a writer, you can fritter away hours doing your favourite activity and still call it work.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is one book that I re-read many times while writing my second novel. I’m also a massive, nerdy, John Green fan. I truly hope I never meet him because I know I’ll make a total fool of myself.

Q. If you could give your younger self advice about the craft or business of writing, what would you tell her?

Over twenty years ago I wrote my first book. I sent it off to one publisher. It was turned down but the editor wrote me a very nice handwritten note saying the book wasn’t a good fit for her publishing house but she’d like to see more of my work. I was devastated and didn’t try sending out my work again until just a few years ago. I realize now that that personal note was actually quite an endorsement and I shouldn’t have given up for twenty years.

So I guess my advice to anyone who enjoys writing is, don’t give up. You’re going to suffer rejection along the way. Look at it as part of the process and just keep sending your work out there.

One second piece of advice and it’s equally important is find a good writer’s support group. Being part of MiG Writers has been hugely beneficial to me and it’s not even for the critiquing so much as all the other things, sharing information, encouraging each other, celebrating each other successes, interviewing each other – Thanks for this, by the way.

Writing is by definition something you do by yourself. It’s a reflective, contemplative, process, as is it should be, but publishing is the opposite. It’s all about getting your name out there, getting people to notice you. This isn’t necessarily something that comes naturally to most writers – it certainly doesn’t to me - but having writing friends can make it a lot less intimidating.

Q. Any upcoming projects or events you'd like to mention?

I'm very excited about my second book, which I'm currently revising. It's set in Utila, a tiny island off the coast of Honduras, where my husband and I have a cottage. I've always used Utila as a place to write because there are no distractions, but it's also an ideal location for a mystery. More than half the island is completely deserted, just jungle and mangrove swamp. It's also a bit of a lawless place, particularly in recent months, though Utilans are working hard to keep the problems under control.

In my second novel, the main character's sister goes to Utila to study whale sharks. Utila's also one of the best places in the world to actually snorkel with whale sharks. I've done it myself. Anyway, Luke's sister goes to Utila to work at the whale shark research center - which does actually exist - but one night she disappears without a trace. The authorities think she must have drowned but they can't produce a body and Luke doesn't believe it, so he sets out to Utila to find her.

If everything goes according to schedule, that novel will be out in 2014. I just need to finish these revisions by March!


You can find out more about Susan Laidlaw and her work at:

S.J. Laidlaw website

On Facebook

On Twitter: @SusanLaidlaw1

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15767359-an-infidel-in-paradise


Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.


Interview: Joyce Grant on GABBY, Picture Book Writing & Editing Process, and Advice For Aspiring Writers

Joyce Grant
is the Toronto-based author of GABBY, a new picture book from Fitzhenry & Whiteside, illustrated by Jan Dolby. GABBY is Joyce's first picture book. If you're in Toronto, you're invited to come to the Jan. 27th book launch - see GABBY launch info.

In addition to writing picture books, Joyce is a freelance journalist and editor. She is also co-founder of the website Teaching Kids News, which offers free daily kid-friendly news, and is a passionate advocate of children’s literacy through her blog Getting Kids Reading. On Twitter, she's @JGCanada.

About the book: “Gabby” is the story of quirky, likeable Gabby who discovers that her alphabet book has a magical quality. Its letters can be used to create anything she likes! When Gabby puts the letters together to create a cat and its natural enemy, she has to think fast!

You can read a fun interview by Joyce with Gabby here.

Q. How did GABBY get published? 

About four years ago, I went to a CANSCAIP meeting and one of the speakers had some great advice. She told aspiring authors to visit conferences like the Ontario Library Association (OLA) and Reading For The Love Of It. All the publishers are there, and their books are on display. So you can see exactly which publisher might be a good fit for you—and you can meet people and network.

I took that advice seriously. I went to the next OLA conference and checked out every booth. I looked for a publisher whose books appealed to me and seemed to fit with Gabby. It was helpful that I’m also a children’s literacy blogger; publishers want to talk to book bloggers because of course they help publicize their products.

At the Fitzhenry & Whiteside booth, I introduced myself and got chatting with a publisher. It turned out that both our family trees go back to a town in Scotland called Forres. Forres is where Duncan’s castle in Macbeth is set; it’s got some history, some magic. Anyway, that connection sparked a wonderful conversation and I asked her if she would read my manuscript for Gabby. She passed it along to an editor at Fitzhenry—and three weeks later I got the good news!

I was incredibly lucky, because—although I’ve been a freelance journalist my entire career—it was my first creative manuscript submission. I’ll always be very grateful to the editors at Fitzhenry & Whiteside for taking a chance on me.

Image from GABBY (Fitzhenry & Whiteside), art by Jan Dolby.

Q. What's your writing process? or What was your writing process for GABBY? 

I only wish I had a proper writing process! I have about a dozen different writing projects on the go, every day. Freelance journalists—we wear a lot of different hats. Every day I do a news article for TeachingKidsNews.com. Every month I produce a newsletter called Administrative Assistants’ Update for Thomson-Reuters. And clients send me documents to edit, so every week I’ll get five or six of those; and then there are other odd deadlines, like marketing projects.

Here’s me: I wake up and grab my phone to check Twitter. Seven a.m., I’m looking at Twitter. I’m a huge news junkie. Then I’ll read the Globe and listen to the CBC. So I find out that a country in Europe is going broke, or there’s a demonstration downtown. So right away I want to write about it for TeachingKidsNews.com. I try to tackle all of my journalism and marketing writing first; after that I can do the work that is more creative.

When I write creatively, I have to have a bubble around me. I have to sort of become the character. I look around the room in her eyes, and I see the things she would see. So I find that I usually need a fairly large block of undisturbed time alone if I’m going to write creatively.

I edit my creative writing a lot. A lot. I’ll go over a sentence 15, 20 or 100 times until each word is exactly the word I want. A picture book is like a 350-word poem to me. There aren’t many words, so each word has to work hard.

In terms of ideas, I have learned that they can come at any time and there has to be a way of capturing them because as much as you think you won’t forget—you will. This year (!) I finally figured out that I need to have one, beautiful notebook. Just one. That’s where I jot my ideas, it’s where I take notes during interviews, it’s where I sketch and it’s where I write. So if my publisher asks me to change something in a manuscript, those notes are in that one book. And when I run out of room in that book, I buy a new one—it’s an indulgence. It’s always lovely, suede or leather—the kind of book that just begs you to write in it. And I prefer pages that are a beige or a cream colour. I use a blue Sonix Gel pen, which is a Staples brand. It’s my current favourite because the ink flows really fast. I have a favourite pencil, too—the Blackwing, which has a very soft, velvety lead. It’s so beautiful I even wrote about it (in my blog, Getting Kids Reading).

I have a great editor. Trust between an editor and a writer is extremely important. Once a writer and an editor have trust, the good work will just flow. You trust that the editor will bring out the best in your writing. And the editor trusts you to submit excellent, well-thought-out work and not get your back up when she tries to help you make it better. I’ve trusted my editor, Christie, at Fitzhenry since day one—since she listened to me describe Gabby and then hired the perfect illustrator to render her just the way I envisioned. As soon as I saw Jan Dolby’s sketches, I thought not only do I have a great illustrator to work with, but boy do I have a great editor. Because Christie was able to “get” exactly what I was trying to do—and then translate that to everyone else who worked on the book.

How do we work together?

I used to watch the CBC show Being Erica. It was about two women who own a small publishing house. After I got my contract for Gabby, I called my editors and said, “Can I take you out for coffee so we can chat about the book?” I wanted to have one of those cool, writer-publisher meetings like Erica did. You know, everyone dressed in black, sipping on lattes in a cafe, discussing “the book.” And that’s exactly what we did. And you know what? It was just as great as I thought it would be! So now every time I go to my publisher’s I try to convince them to have the meeting at Starbucks.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring picture book writers? 

Don’t give up!

It’s kind of funny, because the very day I got the phone call from Fitzhenry with the good news, I had gone to a meeting with my writers’ group and told them I’d decided to quit writing children’s books. To quit!

I belong to a group of six children’s writers who get together regularly to critique each other’s work and discuss stories and plots. Well, for whatever reason that day I was frustrated with my work—and I told the group I was quitting! Yep, that’s it! Hadn’t heard from the publisher—obviously she hated my manuscript—and I should just stick to journalism. Done.

That evening, I got home and the phone rang. It was my publisher calling to tell me they were going to publish Gabby. Unbelievable! Looking back, of course, it’s hilarious that I thought three weeks was such a long time for a publisher to get back to me on a manuscript. But that’s the innocence of ignorance, I suppose. Now I know that the average wait time is more like six months. I guess I was used to journalism deadlines, which are based more on the day or even the hour.

Build a community for your book.

Many years ago, I went to a Writer’s Union symposium—this was before everyone was on Facebook and Twitter—and I got some advice I’ve never forgotten. They stressed, “you have to build your reading community long before your book comes out.”

It’s so true. Gabby has a strong literacy component; for a long time (many years before I started writing for children) I’ve been a children’s literacy advocate. I used to be involved in the Trent Valley Literacy Association in Peterborough, and I blog about children’s literacy.

In Gabby, the main character can actually touch and manipulate the letters in her book to form words. That’s one of the foundations of my literacy theory—that one great way to get kids reading is to give them cut-out letters or Scrabble tiles so they can actually feel them and work with them.

So in marketing Gabby, I want to reach out to parents who are homeschooling, and teachers and other literacy advocates. There’s a huge community there, that’s always looking for good resources. I’m hoping they’ll use Gabby in that way.

Push past your fear of technology.

Of course, the best way these days to build your reader-community is through social marketing like Facebook and Twitter.

If you’re on Facebook, great. So now create a Facebook page for your work. Or an author website, or a blog. If you don’t know how, then starting talking to people and start reading. Or, just do it—often the program will walk you through the process as you go.

When I started my kid-friendly news website, teachingkidsnews.com, I didn’t know much about creating a website. I’ve written for quite a few, but had never actually created one. A friend suggested I check out lynda.com; I took their online course on Wordpress. Lynda.com lets you learn in 10-minute bites; it’s great. I learned nearly everything I know about websites from them. Also, I keep learning from other people and asking questions.

Social media are new—for everyone.

I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years, but when it comes to social media, I’m a neophyte. And that’s because for me—and everyone else—it’s new. We are in the midst of a technology revolution. There are no ancient practitioners of social media. New technology is coming out every day—new hardware, new software, new websites; we’re all learning together.

Get a good proofreader.

It’s not okay to have typos, grammatical errors and inconsistencies in our work. I’ve heard wonderful manuscripts read aloud and they sounded amazing—but when I looked at them on the page, they looked completely different to me. Horrible. I’m an editor (textbooks, journalism) and because I’ve been doing it for so long, typos just leap off the page—I know that’s what it’s like for other editors, too.

It’s the same with inconsistencies. Editors use a manual, like the Chicago Manual of Style or CP Style that defines how they format dates, for instance. Is it January 15th 2013? Or is it Jan. 15, 2013? I wouldn’t expect an author to catch something like that, but for editors it will stick out like a sore thumb.

That’s why, if editing isn’t your forte, you should hire a good proofreader. At least someone who will give you that final polish, looking for typos and inconsistencies. It’s important. I get my work proofread by someone else whenever I can—it’s almost impossible to proofread your own work.

Joyce & me, with our printer proofs last year.

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

I’m so excited to make the big announcement here: we’re doing a second Gabby book!

Jan Dolby is the illustrator and Fitzhenry & Whiteside will be publishing it. It’s scheduled to come out in the Fall of 2013. In the second book, Gabby will be taking a bit more control over her letters—she’ll be using them more deliberately, to create her own scenarios. It’s going to be really fun.

I have a few other creative projects on the go as well. I have a novel for adults that I’ve been working on for more than 17 years. I’m not kidding. And I do intend to have it published. I’ve workshopped it twice through the Humber School for Writers and I’ve been told that it’s publishable. The problem is, I just can’t seem to wrap it up! I need to wrap it up. I’ve given myself a deadline of next year. So there’s that.

I’m also working on a middle-grade book of short stories for boys. I have that query in to a publisher and I think it’s got some legs. We’ll have to see if they agree. I hope so; I’ve been working on some of the stories and I’m having fun with it, so we’ll see.

I’m exploring another YA book—non-fiction—as well. They like the idea but it’s one of those enormous projects that might fit into a publisher’s book list or it might not. So far, it looks promising. Again—we’ll see.

Of course, I have TeachingKidsNews.com (TKN), which is a huge commitment for me. We publish one kid-friendly news article every weekday. It’s a labour of love; my TKN partners are amazing. I also do a media lit workshop every week, where I talk to kids about the news. I’d like to do more of those. I’ll be speaking at Reading For The Love Of It this year; we’re doing four seminars. That’s on Thurs., Feb. 21 and Fri., Feb. 22, 2013.

I’ll be doing a book signing for Gabby at the Ontario Library Association Superconference this year, at the Fitzhenry & Whiteside booth on Thurs., Jan. 31 at 2:00 p.m.

And of course, Gabby launched on Jan.15! The launch party will be on Jan. 27 1pm at the Intergalactic Travel Authority Café in Toronto (Bloor St., just west of Dufferin) and I would love it if everyone would come down! After all, children’s book writers, editors and illustrators—we’re a village.

I’m on the Internet at:


www.joycegrantauthor.com (author website)


www.teachingkidsnews.com (daily, kid-friendly news with teaching questions)


www.gkreading.com (children’s literacy blog)


Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.


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Announcing my next illustration project for Simon & Schuster: NAKED! by Michael Ian Black


I enjoyed working on I'M BORED so much that I was secretly hoping that I'd get to illustrate another of Michael's stories...and my wish was granted! Entertainment Weekly posted the news this morning.

I am so very, very pleased to announce that my next picture book illustration project is going to be NAKED!, written by Michael Ian Black, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. I LOVE the story and am already having a ton of fun doing sketches for the book.

Plus I get to work with Justin Chanda (editor) and Laurent Linn (art director) again!

NAKED launches in the Summer 2014.

If you're on Facebook, I'd appreciate you Liking our new NAKED Facebook Page...thanks. :-)


Inkygirl chosen for Writer's Digest's list of 101 Best Websites For Writers

Inkygirl.com was included in the Writer's Yearbook 2013 list of Top 101 Websites For Writers! Apparently 4,350 nominations for sites were sent in, and the Writer's Digest editorial team sifted through them to choose the final list. Thanks to all who nominated me and to Writer's Digest for choosing Inkygirl!