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


November is Picture Book Month and PiBoIdMo! There's still time to register for both.

November may be NaNoWriMo month for some, but it's also Picture Book Month and Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo).

Picture Book Month is an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November. Every day in November, there is a new post from a picture book champion explaining why he/she thinks picture books are important. Founded by Dianne de Las Casas, Katie Davis, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Tara Lazar and Wendy Martin. Logo by Joyce Wan. You can register here.


Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) focuses on writing picture books. The challenge: to come up with a picture book idea every day during November. Get daily inspiration through the guest blog posts by authors, illustrators and picture book professionals on Tara Lazar's blog. Founded by Tara Lazar. Logo by Joyce Wan. You can register here.

I've registered for both. Although I already have picture book projects lined up, I'm always thinking about new book ideas and PiBoIdMo is a good way to get extra-inspired. For Picture Book Month, I'm going to be reading a new or older picture book every day and will also post about why I believe picture books are important.


I won't be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, though I'll be cheering on everyone who is. For those of you doing NaNo, do check out my friend Errol Elumir's NaNoToons, being posted daily. I had to opt out of co-authoring NaNoToons this year because of scheduling, but I'm looking forward to seeing what Errol posts. :-)


Will Write For Chocolate: Technology and Rejections

For more, see Will Write For Chocolate.


All Hallow's Read: Give A Scary Book This Halloween!  #AllHallowsRead


I'll bet some of you hadn't heard about the time-honored tradition of All Hallow's Read, whose origins some scholars have traced back as far as this Neil Gaiman post. Basic idea: In the week of Halloween, give someone a scary book.

Here are just a few deliciously scary books for young people that I've mentioned in my blog in the past year:

DOLL BONES, a middle grade novel written by Holly Black and illustrated by my friend Eliza Wheeler, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. Read my interview with Eliza here.


THE MONSTORE, a picture book written by Tara Lazar and illustrated by James Burks, published by Aladdin. Read my interview with Tara and James here. (Pssst: Don't worry -- this picture book isn't REALLY scary, so it's safe for even the most timid young readers. :-))


GOBLIN SECRETS and GHOULISH SONG are middle grade books written by William Alexander, published by Margaret K. McElderry Books. Goblin Secrets won the National Book Award For Young People's Literature and its companion novel, GHOULISH SONG, came out earlier this year. Read my interview with William Alexander here.

Speaking of Halloween, feel free to download/print some new Halloween-themed activity sheets I recently uploaded to the I'M BORED Bonus Page.


Learning new digital techniques from observing non-digital process, Richard Jesse Watson inspiration and some Tiffanny Varga watercolor tutorials

Although I primarily illustrate using digital methods (Photoshop CS6 with a 7.5" x 11" Intuos Wacom tablet), I'm starting to experiment more with non-digital media on the side. Partly because I like to always be learning something new, to try different techniques, but also because I'm often inspired to try new digital techniques after observing non-digital process.

To illustrators: whether you use digital or non-digital techniques, don't turn your nose up at The Other Side. In my experience, you can always learn something from how other creative types work.

Richard Jesse Watson at the 2011 SCBWI-LA Conference

In 2011, for example, I was super-inspired by the Illustrator Intensives at the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. That year, a bunch of experienced children's book illustrators demonstrated their techniques in a hands-on demonstration; you can see my reports about the sessions on KidLitArtists.com.

Richard Jesse Watson gives a demo

Kudos to the SCBWI Illustration Board and artists involved for providing this amazing opportunity for illustrators to observe. There were two rooms set up so that while the attendees were in one room, the next artist could be setting up, PLUS cameras set up so we could see a close-up overhead view on a screen as each artist worked. There were a wide variety of techniques and styles from renowned children's book illustrators like Paul O. Zelinsky, Marla Frazee, Richard Jesse Watson, Kadir Nelson, Denise Fleming, David Small and Jerry Pinkney.

I learned from everyone, though I was especially inspired by Richard Jesse Watson's demo because his approach felt closest to mine. I loooved how he used different techniques to add texture to his color, his frenzied creative energy. After seeing his workshop, I started experimenting with how to add more texture to my digital illustrations, including learning how to create my own custom-made digital brushes in Photoshop. I ended up using a lot more interesting textures in illustrations for NAKED!, a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black that comes out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers next year:

Anyway, I recently came across some fascinating watercolor tutorials by Tiffanny Varga. I love the way she how lets different hues of the colors mingle instead of mixing them completely. I'm so going to try this with my real-life watercolor experiments as well as figuring out how to do this effectively with digital watercolor.

Thanks to Children's Illustrators On Fire for the video links!

You can find Tiffanny Varga on YouTube and Twitter, plus her sketchbook blog and portfolio.

© Tiffany Varga.


2013 TD Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards: Photos, List Of Award Winners

What was in my swag bag from the TD Canadian Childrens' Book Centre Awards event Untitled Had a great time celebrating Canadian children's books at last night's TD Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards gala! This was my second time attending the event, and it was just as fabulous as last year's. Lots of great conversation with kidlit-types before the ceremony began, lots of yummy food and drinks, cheering on the finalists/winners, inspiring speeches. And then champagne and decadent desserts!

I opted to leave my regular camera at home and just use my iPhone 5s to take pics this time. I was pretty happy with how most of them turned out (much better than the flash photos my old iPhone took), though I had to warn people about the double flash...one small pre-flash then the main flash along with the photo being taken. The first flash helps the phone camera determine color temperature.

Anyway, you can see my photos on Flickr and on Facebook. So great to see some of my Torkidlit friends again, plus I enjoyed some new kidlit-types as well. My children's book author-illustrator sister (Ruth Ohi) was there, too:

With my sister Ruth, whose KENTA AND THE BIG WAVE (Annick Press) and FOX AND SQUIRREL (Scholastic Canada) came out earlier this year. KENTA got a starred review in Kirkus!

I also ran into some of the Simon & Schuster Canada team:

Had fun chatting with some of the Simon & Schuster Canada team!

Speaking of which, I'm looking forward to attending a mega-celebration bash tonight to celebrate Simon & Schuster Canada's new publishing program!


TD Canadian Children's Literature Award: ONE YEAR IN COAL HARBOUR by Polly Horvath (Groundwood Books)

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award: MR. ZINGER'S HAT written by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Dusan Petricic (Tundra Books)

Norma Fleck Award For Canadian Children's Non-Fiction: KIDS OF KABUL: LIVING BRAVELY THROUGH A NEVER-ENDING WAR by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood Books)

Geoffrey Bilson Award For Historical Fiction For Young People: THE LYNCHING OF LOUIE SAM by Elizabeth Stewart (Annick Press)

John Spray Mystery Award: THE LYNCHING OF LOUIE SAM by Elizabeth Stewart (Annick Press)

Monica Hughes Award For Science Fiction and Mystery: SERAPHINA by Rachel Hartman (Doubleday Canada)

There was also a special TD Canadian Children's Literature Fan Choice Award given to Polly Horvath for her novel, ONE YEAR IN COAL HARBOUR. And Loris Lesynski (author) and Michael Martchenko (illustrator) gave a short speech about their Annick Press picture book, BOY SOUP, being shared with first grade students across Canada as part of the TD Grade One Book Giveaway. That's 500,000 copies!!

Thanks to TD and the Canadian Children's Book Centre for a fine event, and congrats to all the finalists and winners. You can browse the list of all the finalists at the Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards on the CCBC website as well as more detailed info about the awards, jurors, etc. in this CCBC press release.



International Caps Lock Day began as a parody holiday by Metafilter user Derek Arnold but has since been embraced by one and all. 

Well, at least by one. :-)

See more WWFC strips at my Will Write For Chocolate blog.


Second Life, Inkygirl Haven and DOLL BONES: when virtual/real-life worlds collide

My writer's cottage in Second Life

I've always been a fan of online communities, and used to be all over the virtual world of Second Life. I rented a virtual cottage, bought virtual land, built a virtual community for writers where I had an educational center that included resources for aspiring children's book writers:

With the SCBWI's blessing, I even created a virtual book with some of their basic info for newbies, and users could actually page through the book and read the contents. Keep in mind that this was BEFORE digital readers became popular.

I also created and sold virtual writing supplies and tools for people's virtual offices. This was way fun because it was sort of like programming (I used to be a programmer/analyst way back) mixed with sculpture and a lots of creativity. You basically took geometric objects and then combined and manipulated them, adding your own textures and scripts. 

I made writer-themed jewelry, a portable writing desk and easel, writergeek clothing, a customizable book, laptop whose screen would display a different partly-typed manuscript each time you touched it, and so on. Some I gave away for free, some I sold through the Second Life Marketplace.

Updating the gallery

Above: One of the rooms in my Inkygirl Haven For Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, where I hosted chats, helped promote other people's children's books (touching any of the book covers above in-world would take the user to the book's website as well as give out a notecard with info). Here's a shot of Inkygirl Haven from the outside:

Inkygirl Haven For Children's Book Authors & Illustrators on Second Life

I later built a river that ran beneath the building, with several small waterfalls and a secret underground cavern. I also set up sounds as well so that, depending on where your avatar was standing, you could hear the water, birds in the trees, etc.

The challenge, I found, was convincing children's book types outside of Second Life to learn how to use the interface well enough to be able to participate in-world. There's a steep learning curve that was a real barrier. I also found that as fun and full of creative potential as Second Life was, I very rarely ran into other kidlit/YA types in-world unless there were scheduled events.

McMaster Library on Second Life

And although there were (early on, anyway) many libraries and educational institutions who had set up buildings and sometimes entire campuses in Second Life, I never seemed to run into anyone when I visited. I always felt like I was wandering through a ghost town. Cool to look at and check out some of the exhibits, but after a while I got tired of never running into anyone.

Plus the lag was getting really, really bad. Sometimes I'd arrive in-world but not be able to do ANYTHING (I couldn't fully rez) because of the lag.

Daily Poetry Dash at Milk Wood Colony For Writers (Second Life)

Milkwood Writers' Colony (the group now has a website called Virtual Writers, Inc.) still hosts regular events, and I drop by from time to time; SL lag varies but seems to be improving. It's a lot of fun -- sort of like dropping by your favorite coffee shop for a short writing session with friends. Check out the Virtual Writers list of interactive social events for the upcoming schedule.

Virtual painting in a virtual world

I used to write during these sessions but these days I'm more likely to be illustrating in real-life while the others write. Check out the easel I created above, complete with paint stains, brushes and a rag. I didn't write the script but bought it from the SL Marketplace -- when I "wear" the easel, my avatar immediately starts going through the motions of painting. I update my virtual painting on whim.

I've also since created an artists' toolbelt and used it for some shameless promo for I'M BORED. Here's a close-up of a virtual book I had clipped to my belt along with a sketchbook and brushes:

Book promo on my writers' tool belt


But that brings to me to this afternoon, when I dropped by a Book Island booth I'm renting short-term to help promote my book projects. Just for fun, I browsed the list of upcoming Arts & Culture events on Second Life, and was delighted to find that the Senchai Library on Imagination Island was going to be doing a live voice reading from DOLL BONES by Holly Black, illustrated by my friend Eliza Wheeler!

Screenshot from Second Life

How cool and bizarre. Here I was, in a virtual world reading about an actual voice reading in a virtual library from a real-life book that was illustrated by someone I knew (!!).

I won't be able to attend the reading (the librarians at Seanchai are very kind and let my avatar paint quietly on my easel in the corner while they do their readings) because I'll be going to a Simon & Schuster event in Toronto, but I love the idea! If you're planning to attend, by the way, note that all times listed on SL are always PST.

Anyway, you can find out more about Eliza's illustrations in DOLL BONES and her own picture book book, MISS MAPLE'S SEEDS, in the interview she did on my blog a while back. 

Loved Eliza's creepy illustrations in DOLL BONES, by the way, and Holly Black's story is fantastic. Highly recommended.

But I digress...

I ended up leaving Second Life in favor of Twitter and Facebook because that's where the children's/YA writer community were hanging out, including my agent. I still love the creative potential of Second Life but now that I actually have book contracts (*gasp*), I'm having to pare down my social media time. I've also been shutting down most of my many blogs, including my Second Life blog:

I've started to gradually get vacation-type photos of my avatar reading I'M BORED in various places in Second Life. Like in Paris!

I'M BORED in Paris, France (sort of)

Is it worth it for writers and illustrators to check out Second Life? At this point, I'd say only if you can't help yourself, and if you have time to spare. It's not yet clear if Second Life has a longterm future, though the CEO claims they're still working on improvements.

If you're on Second Life, feel free to add me ("Inkygirl Omizu") as a friend...but be warned that I'm rarely in-world and when I am, I'm usually only online very briefly. Though who knows? Maybe we'll run into each other at a Milkwood Writer Dash or at one of the Book Island chats someday.


Poll Results: How Many Books You Read At The Same Time

Last week on Twitter and Facebook, I asked how many books people were reading right now. I specified books that you were at least partway through and planned to keep reading within the next month. What I hadn't taken into account: the number of editors out there -- several of you said you didn't answer the survey because you were in the midst of reading a LOT of manuscripts. :-)

I was relieved to find out how many others have multiple books on the go. I have at least one print book in pretty much every room in our house, plus I also read books on my iPhone, my Kindle and my iPad.

Most of you have at least 2 books on the go, with 3% having more than 20 (!!!). The majority are in the midst of reading 3-10 books.

@janhoffman29 says that all the book she's reading (5) are about improving her writing, illustrating or teaching methods stronger, or for her understanding of the app generation.

@edenza says she's actively into 3-4 and has at least 3 on "standby," which is her usual. 

From my friend @randbellavia: "26 on my Kindle alone -- I didn't even bother to count the physical books." The other respondent who checked the "More than 20" answer choice was @Aimeeereid.

@nobilis says he's reading 5 and adds: "It's really too many. Reading books by @planetx, @riznphnx, @teemonster and @philippajane, @cmpriest and LeGuin."

Several of you also posted comments on Facebook but I didn't include them here because I wasn't sure if you minded me sharing them. Always comment via my survey form if you don't mind your feedback being shared; you can remain anonymous or you can include your name/Twitter id/website.


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


AFRICA IS MY HOME: A CHILD OF THE AMISTAD by Monica Edinger, illustrated by Robert Byrd (Candlewick, 2013)


Author: Monica Edinger / Illustrator: Robert Byrd

Publisher: Candlewick Press, October 2013

Recommended age range: 10 and up

How I wished a book like AFRICA IS MY HOME: A CHILD OF THE AMISTAD existed back when I was a student. Although I got good marks in history, it was only because I excelled at memorizing. And with a few exceptions, that's all history really was to me back in school: memorizing dates and dry facts. It was only years later that I began re-discovering history, mainly through creative nonfiction and videos/movies that inspired me to find out more about a particular period of history.

Monica Edinger'AFRICA IS MY HOME: A CHILD OF THE AMISTAD is a fascinating and moving account of the Amistad Africans from the viewpoint of the children on the ship. Based on the true story of a young girl who is taken from her home in Africa when she is only 9 years old and sold to slave traders, the first-person narrative is gorgeously illustrated by Robert Byrd and also enhanced with reproductions of archival images and documents. I also found the Author's Note interesting, including Edinger's note about why she decided to switch away from telling the story as straight nonfiction.

Anyway, now I want to find out more about the Amistad and that period of history.

Side note: I loved the typeface in which the bulk of text was set. Combined with the exquisite illustrations and thick off-white paper, it makes for a beautiful and satisfying tactile reading experience. 

Highly recommended.

Related links:

School Library Journal review

Publishers Weekly review

Goodreads entry 

You can find Monica Edinger online: blog - Twitter 


Interview: Greg Pincus on MG novel THE 14 FIBS OF GREGORY K. (Arthur Levine Books/Scholastic) & his book launch this Saturday

Photo: Rita Crayon HuangI first met Greg Pincus through #kidlitchat on Twitter, which he and Bonnie Adamson founded and co-host. 

His first novel, The 14 Fibs of Gregory K., is now available from Arthur A. Levine Books. You can attend the launch party in person or virtually this Saturday, October 19th (details near the end of this post).

This middle grade story is laugh-out-loud funny, sweet (especially the scrumptious descriptions of pie) but also full of heart and emotional truths. I especially recommend this book for young people who are torn between pursuing their own favorite hobbies/interests and that of the people around them. It's a story about being true to yourself.

Some extra background: Greg (the author, not the main character) came up with the six-line, Fibonacci-series-based poems (Fibs) mentioned in the book back in 2006, and his Fibs post garnered 400+ comments.

In addition to being a novelist, Greg's also a poet, screenwriter, volunteer elementary school librarian, and social media consultant. He is a blogger, writing about children’s literature and poetry at GottaBook and the social web at The Happy Accident. Through the wonders of social media, he’s sold poetry, helped himself land a book deal, ended up in The New York Times, The Washington Post, School Library Journal (multiple times), and many other interesting places… and also made friends and gotten free cookies on more than one occasion! 

Where to find Greg:

Website - Blog - Social Media site - Twitter

Q. What was your publication process for THE 14 FIBS OF GREGORY K?

My path to publication was pretty typical: my blog went viral while talking about poetry based on the Fibonacci sequence, it got written about in The New York Times, and then Arthur Levine called me up and asked me to write a novel based on the kid who seemed to be the "author" of many of my poems and with the tone of my query letters (for many submissions rejected by him in the past).

There was no manuscript when the deal happened... potentially why the book is just appearing now in 2013 when the deal happened in 2006. Arthur and I communicated mostly by email, with notes coming on manuscripts from time to time. Again, with the unusual deal, we never had a firm publication date until, I guess I'd say, the book was ready.

Q. What was your writing process for THE 14 FIBS OF GREGORY K?

Arthur Levine with Greg's bookNon-linear. Long. Usually caffeinated. Because there was no manuscript or even a full story idea when we set the deal, Arthur and I did some separate and joint brainstorming and then... I wrote a first draft. Which we completely threw out! That was a fine day. Oh, yes. Waiting for notes and then... back to square one. The thing is... it was the right call, and I knew it then, too. After that, I wrote a draft that I threw away without showing Arthur and then finally a draft that became the base of what the book is today. And while I say we threw everything away from that first draft, that's not entirely true: there are a few actual lines that are the same, the basic family structure didn't change and even hints of the basic plot remain intact.

The key for me in the whole process was accepting the freedom that Arthur gave me, listening thoroughly to the notes of all my readers, and then trusting myself with the story I wanted to tell. When I treated notes as prescriptions, I wrote poorly. When I got to the meaning behind them, the writing became smoother and progress easier. When I added coffee and a quiet writing space, well, better still!

Greg with a mug featuring the cover of The Late Bird his poetry collection.

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

If you're going to be a writer, you gotta write. Yes, reading is good. But you gotta write. Yes, it's important to hone your observational skills, and it's wonderful to be able to see the world from different points of view. You need to work on your craft and understand how words work together. You want to be able to tell the story that only you can tell. And to do that... you gotta write. Then you have to re-write (which, of course, is writing). In between drafts, you might read and observe and think deeply. You might want to revisit books on craft or take classes or go to conferences. I know I do. Yet to finish a book? You have to write. Do it longhand or by typewriter or by dictation while you're standing or sitting or jogging or on the train. But seriously... my one piece of advice would be to write.

Stalking Greg Pincus at a #kidlitchat tweetup at SCBWI-LA 2010

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

I'm working on a second novel with many of the same characters as The 14 Fibs of Gregory K, as well as (always!) writing poems. I have a few picture books I hope to complete, other novel ideas, and even one story that might draw me back to my screenwriting past. I will be out and about with my book - school visits, a launch party (the 19th of October, if that matters!), Skype visits, a conference or two - and once I have time again, I plan to hold some online social media classes, too. Heck, I'll be everywhere, often without even leaving my office!

Q. So tell us about your upcoming book launch for 14 FIBS OF GREGORY K.

I'm excited to be doing my launch both in person AND live online simultaneously (Saturday, October 19th from 3-5:00 PM Pacific time). Flintridge Bookstore is hosting the launch, and Google+ is letting me broadcast live. You can find the stream at http://www.youtube.com/user/gregorykpincus/live and, if all works right, on my blog at http://gottabook.blogspot.com. I'll post updates at my blog, too, so instructions will be there. Flintridge Books also has made it so you can buy my book on their site, and I'll personalize it at the launch - there's a place in the ordering to say who to sign it to and everything! I wish I could travel town to town and see friends, relatives and fans in person, of course, but in the interim I hope the live stream lets everyone be part of the fun. (Plus, yes, it satisfies my inner geek!) It'll be interesting to see how it all works - relying on technology can be dicey, of course. And, I'm sorry to say, I won't provide pie to the virtual guests. For that, you gotta show up!

Related links:

Publishers Weekly review of The 14 Fibs Of Gregory K

"Fibonacci Poems Multiply on the Web After Blog's Invitation" - The New York Times article about Greg in 2006

The 14 Fibs Of Gregory K: Greg Pincus - by Jen Robinson

The 14 Fibs Of Gregory K. by Greg Pincus - GuysLitWire review

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


I'm writing and illustrating two more books for Simon & Schuster!

Back home, and I HAVE NEWS.

I am delighted to announced that I am going to be writing AND illustrating two more picture books for Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

Many thanks to Jeff, Ginger Knowlton, Mina Feig (who works with Ginger at Curtis Brown) and my MiG Writer critique partners (especially Andrea Mack) for helping me get my picture book dummy for SAM AND EVA polished. I sent it to my editor, Justin Chanda, around 10 pm and he responded at 8:30 the next morning:

Absolutely 100% love this!


Ginger… I'll be in touch.

When I read his reply, I yelled and jumped up and down in my office (no lie) and then ran upstairs to wake my husband up to tell him. Jeff is not a morning person, but I figured he wouldn't mind in this particular case. :-)

I'll be posting more about how I put together this particular picture book dummy in my "Writing & Illustrating A Picture Book With Simon & Schuster BFYR" series:

Justin was the first editor to ever offer me a contract for a children's book, and I continue to be grateful to him and Simon & Schuster Children's for their continuing support of my work.

SAM AND EVA (title likely to change) will be published in Fall 2016. The second picture book is yet to be written and illustrated, and is tentatively scheduled to be published in 2017.

You can see an updated list of my upcoming book projects at DebbieOhi.com/books.

On Facebook, you can be kept up-to-date on my writing projects at https://www.facebook.com/DebbieOhiBooks.


Going offline for Canadian Thanksgiving

I'm going offline until next mid-week, so have a great weekend, all! Meanwhile, here are two comics for my fellow Canucks:



2013 SCBWI-Montreal Conference Report (Part 3): Jill Santopolo, Bonnie Bader, Linda Pratt, Silent Auction and the Illustrator Sketch Crawl

Continued from Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

(Check the SCBWI Canada East website for info about upcoming events; see my conference photos on Flickr and Facebook)

The fabulous Lizann Flatt during the morning announcements.

Continuing my report about the SCBWI-Montreal conference, we're now up to the Last Day. Not having to worry about a keynote talk, I was able to sleep a bit longer before heading down for breakfast. Had a delightful conversation with Linda Pratt and Michelle Jodoin about children's/YA books. Ended up buying Linda Urban's A Crooked Kind Of Perfect for my Kindle as a result. :-)

Philomel/Penguin editor Jill Santopolo talks about her list & what she's looking for

Sunday's sessions focused on wishlists: an open discussion about what Jill Santopolo, Bonnie Bader and Linda Pratt would love to uncover in their submissions pile, plus extra tips for authors and illustrators. 

Bonnie Bader talks about what she's looking for at her Penguin Random House imprints

And no, I'm not posting that info here --- that was for conference attendees only. :-)

I will, however, be posting a few of my conference takeaways tomorrow on the MiG Writers blog.

Literary agent Linda Pratt talks about what Wernick & Pratt Agency is looking for.

After the three sessions, there was a general Q&A with some of the faculty, and attendees were invited to ask anything:


Then we found out who had won various Silent Auction items. Earlier on, the organizers invited everyone to submit items for an auction whose proceeds would be used to help offset the cost of the event. I had (stupidly) missed seeing this notice, else I would have contributed something. :-( 

I bid on a bunch of cool stuff that others had generously donated but got outbid on everything except for these two items:

1) A cuuute weiner dog sculpture made by Michelle McKeon

And (2) this great Chris Jones print:

Photo: Chris Jones.

Chris, by the way, provided the fabulous illustration of the pensive artist at the top of the SCBWI-Montreal conference brochure (the brochure was designed by Peggy Collins):

I also bid on a piece of original art by Niall Eccles, but the fiendish Hilary Leung outbid me AT THE LAST MINUTE. (Insert image of me shaking fist at sky) ;-)

David Diaz contributes a sketch he did at the conference to the Silent Auction.

After that were closing remarks from the organizers, and they also presented everyone on the faculty with gifts. Check out the Thank You card illustrated by Peggy Collins:


Inside, a gorgeous hand-blown pen made from Czech glass, created by Canadian artist Asem Nada:


So beautiful! And what a wonderful souvenir of the weekend.


Some attendees had to leave at that point because of travel plans, but others enjoyed their boxed lunches in the conference room while doing more chatting. Here's what came in the boxed lunch:


Yum! I was so tempted to decorate the blank box but resisted because I wanted to chat with Jasmine (who flew from Newfoundland to attend the conference!!) instead.

After that, people could opt for group manuscript critiques or the Illustrator Sketch Crawl. I opted for the latter, and we decided to settle in Chinatown to do some sketching:


Sooooo fun! Thanks so much to Peggy Collins, who organized the Sketch Crawl. She also invited members of a drawing group in Montreal to join us as well (the woman in the red coat above was from that group, for example).


A few of us took a break during the session to check out a nearby shop that had art supplies as well as some souvenirs, and I bought these sweet silver fish earrings:

Silver Fish Earrings from Montreal

I chose fish because they remind me of the NEW BOOK CONTRACT I received last week, for illustrating Aaron Reynolds's SEA MONKEY AND BOB picture book for Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers (comes out in 2015). They'll also remind me of this wonderful weekend.

Christine Tripp and Ellie Arscott.

Huge thanks to SCBWI Canada East, Lizann FlattAlma FullertonPeggy Collins, Michelle Jodoin and Rachel Eugster. I had an amazing time and will never forget my very first SCBWI faculty position. The other faculty members (Laurent Linn, David Diaz, Jill Santopolo, Linda Pratt and Bonnie Bader) were fantastic, and so was Jennifer Lanthier in her Crystal Kite acceptance speech. I also enjoyed meeting new writers and illustrators as well as reconnecting with those I've met in the past.

Do visit the SCBWI Canada East website for more info about its members and upcoming events.

With Tom McGranaghan.

And here are some other SCBWI-Montreal conference reports I've found online (if you have one, too, please do post the URL in the comments):

2013 SCBWI Canada East Conference report by Chris Jones


2013 SCBWI-Montreal Conference Report (Part 2): Peggy Collins, Illustrator Critiques with Laurent Linn & David Diaz, Crystal Kite Presentation, Faculty Dinner, Sat night Schmooze

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

(Check the SCBWI Canada East website for info about upcoming events; see my conference photos on Flickr and Facebook)

So yesterday, I inadvertently omitted Peggy Collins from the Bookstore Book Bash collage. This is especially embarrassing since Peggy was one of the people I most enjoyed meeting in person at SCBWI-Montreal! Not only did she design the great-looking conference brochure (with art by Chris Jones), but she's such a positive and enthusiastic person, working so hard throughout the weekend despite gradually losing her voice.


Do check out Peggy's blog and website to find out more about her and her work!

Simon & Schuster BFYR art director, Laurent Linn

But back to the conference. After my opening keynote, programming split into a For Authors and a For Illustrators track. I opted for the latter because two of my favorite illustrator types were on the faculty: Laurent Linn (my art director at Simon & Schuster) and David Diaz (one of my SCBWI Illustration Mentors).

Laurent Linn describes the illustrator choice process using THE SCARECROW'S DANCE as an example. Author: Jane Yolen. Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline.

Laurent discussed the anatomy of a picture book with some behind-the-scenes examples of where picture books are today. He also analyzed popular book genres and demonstrated how writers and illustrators brought new ideas to well-trodden territory.

I've worked on two books (I'M BORED, NAKED!) with Laurent so far and am now working on a third (WHERE ARE MY BOOKS?), but always learn something new whenever I attend his sessions. One of the things I love most: how his focus is always on the young reader, and how we (as illustrators/writers) can best serve young readers.


David Diaz was next. David's illustrations for Eve Bunting's SMOKY NIGHT won the Caldecott Medal in 1995, and his illustrations for Gary D. Schmidt's MARTIN DE PORRES: THE ROSE IN THE DESERT won the Pura Belpré Award this year. I met David through the SCBWI Illustrator Mentorship program; he's on the SCBWI Illustration Board and has been generous in his time/efforts re: supporting the Mentees.

After talking about his technique as well as showing examples through photos, David asked us all to write questions down on pieces of paper. Then he collected the slips and spent the rest of the session answering them. We learned more about his techniques and process, agents and illustrators, and much more.

After that was the Crystal Kite Presentation. Earlier in the year, I had been delighted that my Torkidlit friend Jennifer Lanthier had won the America's Division Crystal Kite for her picture book, The Stamp Collector (illustrator: Francois Thisdale, published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside):

It was the first time I had seen the Crystal Kite award being presented up close -- I hadn't realized it came with white gloves! Loved Jennifer's acceptance speech...so inspiring.


After a tasty buffet lunch, programming again split up into Author and Illustrator tracks. Most of the illustrator attendees had already been working on an assignment; Laurent Linn had provided a manuscript that had been acquired by Simon & Schuster Children's as an exercise. For those interested, the manuscript was for WAKE UP, RUPERT!, a book that was written and illustrated by Mike Twohy and is coming out from Simon & Schuster Children's in February 2014:

Peggy Collins had set up an online mini-community where attendees had already been discussing and critiquing each other's work pre-conference in a friendly and supportive environment (also, what a great way to "meet" each other before the event!), and they presented their final illustration in Montreal.


I sat in on David's group and was so impressed by the overall calibre of the pieces. Wow. Afterward, we talked over other aspects of the craft and business of children's book illustration, including comparing experiences using Twitter vs Facebook for children's book illustration promo.


Here's a photo I took of Laurent's critique group:


Afterward, both Laurent and David browsed the work of the other group as well. After the conference, Laurent said he would look more closely at digital scans of everyone's art as well as check out their websites. What an opportunity for illustrator attendees!

Here's a photo I took of the whole group:

IMG_6682 - Version 2

After the portfolio one-on-one critiques: dinner. I was invited to join the Faculty Dinner. (WOW, MY FIRST FACULTY DINNER!!!) While I waited for the others to arrive, I hung out with Hilary Leung (NINJA COWBOY BEAR series co-creator) and Ishta Mercurio at the bar, and sampled some of Hilary's uniquely-shaped snack thingies. Despite their appearance, they were actually really good! Or maybe it was because I was really hungry. Anyway, they tasted like Cocoa Puffs.


The faculty dinner was at Modavie, and it was excellent. PLUS the place had great live music: the Dray Wood Blues Band. The drummer came over after one of their sets; he said he could tell I was enjoying their music and wanted to say hi. He was curious about our group and asked who we were, was fascinated by the fact that we were all children's book creators. Look! He posed for a picture with me:


While we were waiting for our food, some of us started sketching on the paper table covering. Check out Peggy's cool sketch of the lead singer (which she later presented to the band):


David Diaz's table sketch:


Dinner took longer than we expected, so we were late arriving for the Schmooze, originally scheduled for 9 pm. Some people (like Hilary Leung and Chris Jones) had already gone to bed. BUT we text-harassed them into coming back down, yay!


Again, I should point out one of the advantages these smaller regional conventions have over the national conventions: smaller size = easier to find opportunities to chat with faculty.


I went around at one point and just start snapping random photos with my iPhone. In the photo below, by the way, Ellie Arscott isn't being anti-social. We were all taking turns trying out some of the children's creativity apps by Hilary Leung's company, Sago Sago. Way fun! You can see a demo video on their site.


I ended up crashing earlier than the others, so I have NO IDEA how late the Schmooze went...

With Chris Jones, Hilary Leung and Kelley Fairbank.

Speaking of which, I need to crash now so will have to finish up my convention report tomorrow.

Continued in Part 3...

Laurent Linn and Jill Santopolo


2013 SCBWI-Montreal Conference Report (Part 1): crepes, Bookstore Bash readings, comfort zones...and my opening keynote (!!)

Pin I designed for this year's conference, crafted by Alma Fullerton.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

I just got back from the SCBWI Canada East conference in Montreal. Huge thanks to Lizann Flatt, Alma FullertonPeggy Collins, Michelle Jodoin and Rachel Eugster for creating such a wonderful event! I've posted my photos on Flickr and on Facebook.

Peggy Collins, Alma Fullerton, Jennifer Lanthier (Crystal Kite recipient) and Lizann Flatt

This was my first time attending a SCBWI regional conference, which was much smaller than the national conferences in LA and NYC. To those of you who find the national events somewhat overwhelming, I strongly encourage you to attend regional events like this one. The size made for a less intimidating atmosphere, with more opportunities to meet industry professionals in a quieter setting.

Hanging out by the koi pond on Saturday night. This casual gathering (open to all attendees) included Laurent Linn (Simon & Schuster), Linda Pratt (Wernick & Pratt), Bonnie Bader (Penguin) and Jill Santopolo (Penguin).

After I arrived on the Friday, I met up with some of the organizers and faculty at Creperie Chez Suzette in Old Montreal:

Linda Pratt (Wernick & Pratt agency), Jill Santopolo (Philomel/Penguin), Alma Fullerton, Bonnie Bader (Grosset & Dunlap, Price Stern Sloan/Penguin), Lizann Flatt

I helped them finish a decadent caramel-ly crepe (yummmm).  My room was ready when I got back to the hotel, yay! I checked in, unpacked, and then headed downstairs to see who was around.

Top row, L to R: Lizann Flatt, Kelley Fairbank, Niall Eccles, Ellie Arscott, Caroline, Jasmine, Alma Fullerton. Bottom row, L to R: Alice Yen Yong, Robin Walton, me, Laurent Linn.

Some of us met in the lobby and introduced ourselves before having a fine dinner at a Chinese restaurant (Laurent Linn and I split a Magical Dancing Shrimp dish...ok, I can't recall the exact name) and then heading off to the Bookstore Book Bash.

SCBWI-Montreal conference attendees were invited (along with the public) to a book reading by SCBWI authors/illustrators at Babar-En-Ville, a children's bookstore in Montreal. I met Maya Byers, owner/buyer at the store, as well her son. Maya was already familiar with my sister and her books!


So enjoyed hearing readings from so many different types of children's and YA books, including authors Rachel Eugster, Jennifer Lanthier, Caroline Pignat, Urve Tamberg, Peggy CollinsJill Santopolo (who is also an editor at Penguin), Alma Fullerton and Lizann Flatt.

Also great to meet Carol-Ann Hoyte in person at last...


as well as other familiar names/faces.

I felt a bit of pressure reading I'M BORED in front of my art director for the first time! But Laurent said I did fine:


Thanks to all who came out to the Bookstore Bash! It was a great way to start off the weekend.

The next morning, I woke up extra early to test out my tech set-up before my opening keynote. I wanted to make sure my slides worked with the projector ... and they did (*whew*). I had a brief brain spasm at one point during setup and forgot how to assign Keynote presentation to a different monitor, so woke up Jeff with a phonecall to ask him something he had already explained the day before. I do have a patient husband. :-)

Registration table, manned by Ellie Arscott & Peggy Collins.

After the welcome and opening announcements, it was my turn! As some of you may know, I was nervous about my opening keynote. I've always avoided public speaking, mainly because I used to have a bad stammering problem when I was younger (it was a struggle even saying "hello" on the phone). Although I'm fine these days, it still crops up occasionally and especially when I get stressed or tired.

I started to say yes to public speaking invites, though, because I figure it's good for me and my career. I try to step out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, to do things that terrify me every once in a while, because it keeps me from getting too complacent.

Giving my opening keynote at SCBWI-Montreal! Photo credit: Urve Tamberg.

My sister, who is super-experienced at speaking in front of both grown-ups and young people, gave me some tips, and so did some of my Torkidlit friends. My husband helped me finetune my talk as well as providing tech support.

And guess what? Not only did my talk go well (according to later feedback), but after the initial few moments of sheer terror, I actually (*gasp) started HAVING FUN. I talked about my career path, what I've learned along the way, advice I wish I could give my younger self, and some tips on how to get the most out of the conference.

Here was an example of what NOT to do:

Above: one of the slide sequences I created for my keynote. J = Jill Santopolo and B = Bonnie Bader, the two editors on the SCBWI-Montreal faculty. :-)

Continued in Part 2


I'm illustrating SEA-MONKEY AND BOB by Aaron Reynolds for Simon & Schuster BFYR!

I am delighted to announce that I'm illustrating SEA-MONKEY AND BOB, a new picture book by Aaron Reynolds (author of CREEPY CARROTS and the recently released CARNIVORES), scheduled for publication in Fall 2015.

Veryvery excited about this project for so many reasons, including:

1. I love Aaron's work! Check out his website for more info about his many wonderful book projects.

2. I've been soooo wanting to illustrate an underwater creature story.

3. I've had quite a history with Sea-Monkeys, and once had Sea-Monkeys named Lettuce and Abdul The Destroyer. 

I'm so looking forward to working on this book. :-)



Work deadline organization: My new book deadline custom cork board 

2013 09 DebProjectBoard

With multiple book projects coming up, I've been looking for a way of listing upcoming deadlines in such a way that I could visually scan everything at a glance from where I sit at my desk. I do have digital tools like CulturedCode's Things and Evernote to help me with day-to-day task organization and looking up project details, but I really wanted a way I could easily see an overview. (Note: I'd love to hear about YOUR project organization system! Please post in the comments section)

Reason I like to get an overall picture in one glance: If I find myself in a quiet period (waiting for feedback, for example), I can be working ahead on another project. Before committing to other events or projects (whether personal or work-related), I can quickly scan my board and check feasibility. I also like being able to look across my office while I'm working and remind myself of the overall picture any time I want.

I spent a lot of time researching Gantt chart solutions, but found all of them either too expensive or too complicated. I knew that if it wasn't super-easy to use, I would end up abandoning the software after the "oo, this is so slick and cool" honeymoon period.

In the end, I opted for an old-fashioned physical solution.

The challenge: my basement office has very, very little free wall space. I started out with a paper chart that I taped onto one side of a supporting pillar. This system was ok, but the paper kept tearing and shifting, so my husband volunteered to cut and install a custom cork board for me (he's a programmer/techtype but also loves building physical stuff as well).

I created a template in Photoshop for each deadline listings, using different colours for different types of project deadlines:

Light blue = manuscript deadline

Yellow = sketch deadlines

Red = final art deadline

Green = publication of the final book

Some issues I still have to work out:

- I'm finding that the deadlines listed in the book contracts get changed around. So do I list the contract deadlines or the modified deadlines? Or both? I'm opting for the latter, but I'd still like to be aware of the contract deadlines as well.

- Right now I'm working with three publishers. What happens when/if I start working with more? I'll probably end up shrinking the size of my listing template. Or maybe find a different place in my office for another cork board? 

Advantage of having a physical project deadlines board:

In addition to other reasons listed above, it's super-easy to move listings around. I can also make quickie temporary changes by adding a small handwritten note that I can "formalize" later on in my Photoshop template.

Disadvantage of having a physical project deadlines board:

I can only use it in my office. The only way I can see it from my mobile devices is to take a photo, make that photo accessible, and then zoom in the see details.


While not perfect, this solution works pretty well for me right now.


p.s. If I could tell my younger self that I'd eventually need a system to help me keep all my book projects organized, I wouldn't have believed me. 

p.p.s. I've blurred out a few of the projects because I'm not allowed to announce them publicly yet. Hopefully soon, though!



Quickie Poll Results: Strange Things That People Use As Bookmarks

Earlier in the weekend, I asked what you used as bookmarks in the last print book that you read. 42% said that you just used a regular bookmark. 9% said you fold back the corner of a page (GAH!!!). 6% said you didn't use any bookmark. The rest used irregular bookmarks (see comments below). I also asked people to list the most unusual item they've ever used as a bookmark.

Glad to see that I'm not the only one who has used my Kindle to mark my place in a print book. I do have a large collection of bookmarks, but more often I just grab whatever nearby object's handy to use to mark my place.

Here's a list of items that some of you said you've used as bookmarks in the past:

"Reading glasses (bonus: you also know where your reading glasses are). @amgamble"

"My wife used the dustjacket flap, which may be grounds for divorce. - @RonCharles"

"Candy wrapper. @ConnieBDowell"

"Another book, probably. Maybe that's not all that unusual. @jenhoward"

"My Kindle? True story. Or my reading glasses. I have also used clothing items. @janflora"

"A botched square from my string quilt project @krwhimsy"

"A Burger King straw, still in the wrapper. It was all I had on hand at the time. Still, CoffeeandKiwis on Twitter."

"Leaf I pulled off of a tree @MomDude56"

"An old photograph I found in a used book: three fierce-looking men standing in front of a Model T Ford."

"Another book! @rfarrenbarber"

"Leaf or twig while on the dock at the cottage @SuzanneDelRizzo"

"A sock @CMLasswell"

"Probably a hair tie - it was an emergency and the first thing that came to hand."

"(clean) tissue"

"A knitting pattern chart! Though I don't suppose that's actually 'unusual' when it's marking your place in a knitting book... @Knitronomicon"

"A pokemon card! @katefall"

"Anything that comes to hand: sticky notes, stick flags, tissues, napkins, old train tickets, receipts, photos, old Metrocards, paper money (usually just a one-dollar bill). I have plenty of real, purpose-built bookmarks, but they are never where I need them."

"I make my own by tearing reply cards into narrow strips."

"Reading in the car at kid's soccer practice, used the tow truck operator's business card that he left after last repair."

"I often use bits of paper my kids have doodled on. They make me smile. @jenhoward"

"I like to use old hotel key-cards (or similar - used gift cards, etc.). They're good and sturdy! (@JBD1)"

"Yes, I marked them all, which seems ridiculous, but I do them all and I did most of them to the recent book. I have tons of bookmarks, but I often fall asleep reading, so the book falls shut or I just grab a piece of paper in a hurry. And I have a book laying upside down and open beside me now. Note: I don't think I cornered the book I just finished, but had to check it out of residual guilt because that was a habit my mom always reprimanded me for as a child ("A tree died for that book!"). I did fold a bottom corner (of the laying open book--so bad!) to mark a quote I need to find later (guiltguiltguilt). @janflora"

"I used a letter from my girlfriend. It's still in my copy of No Plot? No Problem!. I'm CoffeeandKiwis on Twitter."

"Airplane boarding pass @MomDude56"

"I used one of my own promotional postcards..."

"One of those post-it sticky arrows."

"I usually use those "subscribe" postcards that fall out of magazines like the New Yorker. @annerallen"

"(My irregular bookmark was my chiropractor's business card). @dragonwrites"

"I made mini bookmarks from Moo mini cards to accompany promo materials. I always keep a few for myself ??@SuzanneDelRizzo"

"Don't fold the corner!! I used a glossy promotional card that was given to me by an author. @CMLasswell"

"Discarded backing paper from a sticker."

"I like The Last Line bookmarks that slip over a few pages - they stay in place and there's nothing sticking out to get caught and dislodged. Unfortunately, I don't think they're made any more... @Knitronomicon"

"Bookmark from the (indie!) bookstore where I purchased the book. @wisekaren"



Also see the list of other Inkygirl survey results.


Interview with Moira Allen, author and founder of Writing-World.com

 Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline.

Those of you who have been following my projects from the very beginning will be familiar with Inkspot, one of the very first websites for writers. Moira initially began writing articles for my site and newsletter but I liked her work so much that I eventually recruited her for a senior editorial role. We worked together for years but didn't actually meet in person until after Inkspot was shut down (see Inkspot Epilogue).

I was delighted when Moira launched Writing-World.com, which is now a comprehensive compilation of more than 650 excellent articles for freelance writers of all interests and every level of expertise, including resources for children's writers. The site also offers a free e-mail newsletter that includes publishing industry news, articles and contest info.

Moira is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts Mostly-Victorian.com, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.

Q. Could you please tell Inkygirl readers more about Writing-World.com?

I’ve been thinking about this question for several days, and realized that it’s not possible to talk about Writing-World.com without talking about Inkspot. I’d love to say that I had this fantastic “vision” for Writing-World.com, but the reality is that this site began as a continuation of YOUR vision.

I don’t know if I ever told you exactly how it came about.  But if you recall, toward the end of 2000, we knew that big changes were coming to Inkspot via its new owners.  We assumed that the changes would take the form of laying off staff, and I assumed that my days with Inkspot were numbered.  I’d loved working with Inkspot and being a part of building what was then surely the world’s largest and most popular site for writers.  So I was wondering what I would do next.

When I talked this over with my husband, he asked, “Who’s Number Two?”  I thought about that, and thought that, at the time, there really wasn’t a site for writers that I would have considered a “close second” to Inkspot.  There were a number of smaller, less ambitious sites, but Inkspot was certainly many lengths ahead of the rest of the field.  And I thought, with the knowledge and connections I’d gained through Inkspot, I could quite probably come up with a site that would BE, at the least, Number Two for writers.

So as that year drew to a close I set about devising and designing Writing-World.com.  I wanted it to be far more than just “Moira Allen’s many tips for writers” (my very first writing site was, in fact, “Tips for Writers”).  I figured I would need advertisers, and I’d need to pay for articles, just as Inkspot did. I’m a firm believer that “you get what you pay for.”  So many writing sites at that time couldn’t afford to actually pay for material, so they relied upon what they could get for free, and frankly, it showed.

I had my plans ready by February 2001 – but we never imagined that, instead of just laying off staff, Inkspot would end up being shut down forever!  So here I was, gearing up to be the “Number Two” writing site on the Web, and the Number One writing site suddenly was wiped of the electronic map!  You, Debbie, gave Writing-World.com a huge boost by directing Inkspot’s bewildered traffic in my direction, and I was able to pump up the content of the site far more quickly than I’d ever expected by being able to take on a lot of the articles that had previously been posted on Inkspot.

We planned to give the site time to break even – and were amazed that it turned profitable in its very first year.  This has made it possible to go on as I began: By paying quality writers to produce quality material for the site. 

If there’s a driving vision for the site, it’s the idea of being a place that has something to offer EVERY writer.  I didn’t want to be a site just for beginners, though we do have a huge “getting started” section for both nonfiction and fiction writers.  Nor did I want to be a site just for more experienced writers.  It can be dangerous to try to be “all things to all people,” so I envisioned the site as being a place where a writer could enter at just about any level of expertise, and then find tips and tools to advance further in their chosen direction.  If you’ve never sold an article before, you can come in through the “getting started” section and learn what you need to know to launch your freelancing career.  If you’ve been writing for awhile, you can pick up fresh tips in the “freelancing” section to help you expand into new markets and try things that you might not otherwise have thought of. 

One of the things I’ve always considered terribly important for writers is to understand that writing isn’t just about creativity.  If you’re hoping to get paid for your writing, then it’s vital to understand the writing BUSINESS.  So I’ve worked hard to develop a strong section on issues of business, finance, tax planning, and rights and contracts issues. 

Writing-World.com began as a “webzine,” and I think that continues to set us apart today in a world where, it seems, the new generation of web-surfers assumes that everything online is a “blog.”  I like blogs, but there are many different ways to present information.  A webzine format, to my mind, gives greater freedom for visitors to navigate amongst a variety of topics, moving easily not only from one page to the next, but also being able to easily find one’s way back to a particular section or menu.  It’s also easier in this format to focus upon providing in-depth information rather than “nuggets” – we’re more interested in providing great articles than getting “feedback” and “comments.”

I have to admit, though, that I never imagined the site would grow as it has.  Today, if my webstats are to be believed, we’re getting almost two million visitors every year.  Even if half of those are robots, that’s an amazing figure. 

The wonderful thing about the Internet is that it offers a chance to “pay it forward” in such a profound way.  If a writer comes to us and comes away with information or inspiration that leads that writer to great things – to getting that novel published, to building a career in his or her dream field, to winning an award, to changing the world – that makes it all worthwhile, even if I never even hear about it. I tend to think writers have a greater capacity to change the world than almost anyone else – and I like to think that Writing-World.com is a part of that world-changing.

What are you working on now?

Sometimes I feel like I’m working on so many things at once that I’m not even sure what I’m doing on a particular day!  Somehow my career moved from “writing articles for magazines” to “managing a whole bunch of websites.”  I actually got a call, once, from GoDaddy.com – granted, they wanted to upsell me something, but the guy on the phone was a little curious as to my list of domain names, because they didn’t seem to have anything in common! 

For example, I own Writing-World.com, Pet-Loss.net (the Pet Loss Support Page), TimeTravel-Britain.com, and Mostly-Victorian.com.  I have a couple of domains that relate to my photography, and I also bought up a couple that, down the road, I thought I would be able to use with my novel-in-progress.  (One relates to ghosts and one relates to castles.)  Plus I manage a website for my sister, who is a stained glass artist, and for my husband, who is an Operations Research expert – so I can see why this poor guy at GoDaddy wasn’t seeing any obvious “pattern” in my domain names!  (I have 13 domains at present!)

Right now, my big project is developing a line of Victorian-themed clip art.  I fell in love with Victorian engravings and line art while we lived in England for about 15 months.  Over there it’s easy to find inexpensive Victorian magazines in lovely old bookshops, so I amassed quite a collection of magazines like The Girl’s Own Paper, The Strand, Chatterbox, and more. 

I’m working on converting the text of many of those publications to digital format and archiving them on my Mostly-Victorian.com website (stay tuned – I’m nearly ready to redesign and relaunch that site with a HUGE pile of Victoriana).  But I realized that what really appealed to me in these magazines was the art.  Don’t ask me why – but I also find that a lot of my “passions” go all the way back to childhood. 

When I was a kid, my dad was a graphic artist, and sometimes he’d take me to the art supply store with him.  He’d let me pick up a few things, and what drove me absolutely wild was the peel-and-stick sheets of Victorian page decorations and fancy Victorian fonts.  (You have to remember the days BEFORE computers and desktop publishing, when, if you wanted a fancy heading font, you got a sheet with the font printed on transparent sticky plastic, and you cut out your letters with an Exacto knife and oh-so-carefully pasted them onto blueline layout paper.)  So this is not a “new” thing – I guess it was just a rediscovered passion!

But as a result of buying up every tattered, ragged Victorian magazine I could afford in those LOVELY antiquarian bookshops, I ended up with a huge collection of art, and now I’m working on developing that into a line of clip art collections.  I’ve started collecting “ephemera” too – Victorian scrapbooks, trade cards, greeting cards, and such.  In my household I am known as The Mad Scanner.

Don’t ask me when this is actually going to come to fruition; I was hoping this spring, but now am having to put that date back a bit and hope for, maybe, early fall.  There’s a LOT to be done. 

In the writing realm, I’m working on getting back in the saddle and working on “the second first draft” of my romance novel. (This is the one where I’ve bought up domain names pertaining to castles and ghosts, enough said!)  Facing the second draft has been intimidating; now, however, I’m thinking of it as a “second first draft” because it still means fixing a great many plot holes.  With the issue of needing to be “perfect” removed, I think there’s a lot better chance that it’s going to happen!

Ironically we came up with this particular plot while living in England.  We’d gone to Chichester for a holiday, and ended up stuck in our self-catering flat with the flu.  It was pouring rain outside, most things hadn’t opened up for the tourist season yet, my husband was finally coming off his fever and mine was just beginning.  I started thinking about a plot line that involved an American woman VISITING England, figuring, hey, that’s certainly in the “write about what you know!” ballpark!  So she’s staying at this castle, and…  Well, that’s all I’m going to say.  Except it probably rains a lot.

(We did, by the way, eventually get back to Chichester, in time to see their absolutely fabulous flower show in the cathedral, so all’s well that ended well, AND it was sunny on that visit!)

Beyond that I am always trying to keep up with Writing-World.com – it’s amazing how challenging it is to come up with an editorial every two weeks.  At the moment I can’t imagine how folks manage a regular blog (though I’m starting to lean in that direction). 

Another “really want to do that” project on my list is another personal memoir.  I did one a few years ago on my childhood experiences in our Mendocino County farmhouse, in the back of the back of beyond, and that was just loads of fun.  My mother was an avid photographer, so she left mounds of photos that I was able to use and write about.  We also went traveling every summer, spending at least a month, and often longer, in Idaho, where my mother was born and raised.  Those trips were something – this was, initially, in the days before recreational vehicles, and in any case we scorned anything but a tent.  So we’d load up an entire month’s worth of supplies in, on, and around our station wagon and set forth on about a 1200-mile drive to get from California to Idaho, and then we’d camp I the most remote, out of the way, amenity-free places they could find.  (By amenity-free, I mean that the places they picked made campsites with privies look positively luxurious.)  Eventually, these trips were down to us “girls” – my mother, my sister, and me – and two large dogs.  There are loads of stories that I want to tell, and, again, thankfully, I have loads of photos to illustrate them with (including my very first fish…). 

And then, let’s see, I’m about to help my sister develop a stained glass pattern book and try to get her launched in publishing and selling pattern books.  My husband is considering rewriting, or writing a second edition of, his very technical book, so I’ll undoubtedly be a part of that.  And I’ve also just taken up weaving; I’m still waiting for my loom to arrive, but I’m going through weaving magazines and books and thinking, “Ooh, I want to do that; Ooh, I’ve got to try that pattern; Ooh, I love those colors…” So somehow (and I’ve been bad about this) I need to make sure I make time for crafts and just having FUN.

Q. What on piece of advice do you have for aspiring writers?

[Note from Debbie: Moira ended up writing a longer post in answer to this question which she ended up posting in her Writing World newsletter. Thanks to Moira for putting so much thought into her reply!]

Not for Beginners Only...

Recently my friend Debbie Ridpath Ohi asked if I would do an interview for her. After we'd wrapped it up she sent me a final question: "What one piece of advice do you have for aspiring freelance writers?"

It has taken me months to come up with an answer. The trick, of course, is that word "ONE." I have loads of advice; I have an entire website full of advice. But... ONE piece? And, preferably, one piece that does not simply repeat what beginners have heard a thousand times before? ("Learn your craft; always strive to improve; understand the trade!")

So I thought I'd turn the question around, and ask whether there is a specific challenge facing new writers today that was not an issue back in the semi-dark ages when I got started. And it seems to me that there is: Social Media.

Most articles on the topic of "writers" and "social media" extol the benefits writers can reap from exploiting this new realm of communication. But for beginning writers, I believe social media offers a downside. It has the potential to reinforce a view that afflicts many beginners (and many not-so-beginners): The view that writing is "all about ME."

When we start out as writers, quite often, we are terribly full of ourselves. Often, we are embarking upon a journey of self-exploration. We are bursting with thoughts, ideas, memories, and experiences that we consider dazzling and enthralling simply because they are ours. Either we imagine that our ideas are so unique and amazing that the world will be stunned by their brilliance, or we suppose that we have such a grasp of the plight of "everyman" that the world cannot help but see itself reflected in our prose. Consequently, it is very easy for our writing to become full of, well, US.

In those ancient days when writers hunched over typewriters and made carbon copies, this wasn't much of a problem. One sent one's brilliant, me-focused poem, story or article to an editor, held one's breath for roughly six weeks, and got the inevitable form rejection. Successful writers were those who eventually figured out that something wasn't working, took a look around at what WAS getting published, and adapted accordingly. And while this system was certainly a bit rough on beginners, it worked -- because in those bad old days, the only writing that one could find as an "example" to guide one's path was writing that was good enough to be PAID FOR. Whether you turned to books, magazines, or newspapers, the only "published media" you could find was work that readers considered good enough to PAY to read -- and that editors, consequently, considered good enough to pay to acquire.

Naturally, this led to plenty of grumbling amongst new and not-so-new writers who WEREN'T getting paid -- or published. Editors and publishers were widely accused of being hostile gatekeepers, turning away wondrous works by the score in their crass pursuit of "marketable" material. If only there were another way to get one's work to the world, why, then, surely the world would beat a path to one's door...

Fast forward to the world in which that dream has become a reality -- and the situation it creates for writers today. The "me-focused" affliction still haunts us, but when we look around at what is "out there," what do we see? We see a world of "ME." Now, granted, there is much that is admirable in the world of social media. But for every well written and informative blog, there are a thousand that have nothing worthwhile to say, and that say it at great length. For every inspirational Facebook page, there are thousands of people posting what they had for breakfast. For every meaningful tweet... Well, you get the idea.

For a new writer who is exploring self-expression, it has become far too easy to assume that the emphasis is on the word "self." After all, if so many people are sharing what they had for breakfast, surely this must mean that somewhere, there's an audience that cares what YOU had for breakfast, so why not tell them?

Now, let me be clear: I am not saying that new writers do NOT have brilliant ideas to share. In fact, a great many DO. The problem lies in determining how to separate one's brilliant ideas from one's sense of being the person who comes up with those ideas. It lies in determining the balance between sharing one's self and sharing what lies WITHIN one's self. How do you get what is within you out into the world, while simultaneously getting yourself out of what is within you?

If that sounded convoluted, allow me one more old-fashioned example. Many years ago, some family friends (call them Mr. and Mrs. W.) returned from a trip to Europe. This was before home computers, the Internet, or Facebook -- so to share such experiences, people invited other people to their homes, turned out the lights, and gave SLIDE SHOWS. (This was legal. You could actually do this to someone without being locked up on charges of cruelty and abuse.)

So Mr. W. got behind the slide projector, and we settled in our chairs to watch slide after slide of the famous sights of Europe. And every slide, whether of a castle or a cathedral or a village street, had one thing in common: It also included Mrs. W. Every single one.

This is the problem with me-focused writing. A writer wants to share something memorable, meaningful, beautiful, inspiring, or simply useful -- but, inspired by the me-focus of social media, also wants to share that "this is me sharing it with you." Instead of looking at the beautiful thing you want to show me, I end up looking at YOU showing me the beautiful thing.

So if there is ONE piece of advice I would offer new writers, it is this: Get out of the way. Forget about followers and friends and "likes" and re-tweets. What is inside you is bigger than "you." The more you cause your readers' attention to focus on YOU, the more you risk distracting them from the important and wonderful things you actually have to say.

Instead, look at the media that surrounds you from an old-fashioned perspective. Ask yourself if you would pay to read a particular blog, or Facebook page, or tweet. If the answer is no, then don't use it as an inspiration for the type of writing that you would like to get paid for.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not suggesting that you avoid social media, either as a writer or a reader. But it is not the model to turn to if you want to learn how to write publishable (i.e., "saleable") material. If you yearn to craft stories, poetry, novels or nonfiction, and get paid for the privilege, learn that craft from those works that you'd be willing to pay for the privilege of reading. Social media gives you a wonderful way to talk to your audience -- but great writing is what gives you a chance to build one.

-- Moira Allen, Writing-World.com editor


Where to find out more about Moira Allen:


5 Steps To Self-Publishing Success

Interview with non-fiction author, Moira Allen - by Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz

20 Questions Answered By Moira Allen Of Writing-World.com - WOW! Women On Writing 2007


Quickie Poll Results: Ending Peekers and Emoticon Parentheses

Daily Doodle: Granny Reads A Book

Last weekend, I asked on Twitter how many people sometimes peeked at the ending while they were reading a book. 67% of you said YES. Shame on you cheaters! (Ok, I secretly admit that I've done it once. BUT ONLY ONCE.)

Another quickie survey question I asked a while back was about the use of emoticons and parentheses. My question: "If you were going to add a prenthesis to an emoticon at the end of a sentence, which would you use?

The choices:

A) Squirrels are evil and taking over my backyard (and the world :)

B) Squirrels are evil and taking over my backyard (and the word :))

A whopping 93% of you chose (B).

I'm with the majority, if you're curious.

Thanks to all who participated!


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