Three Questions For Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

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 Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi


Cautionary Comic For Writers

Originally published on Writer Unboxed:

I'm posting some of my older comics here as I catalog and tag them in prep for a print book compilation. You can find my comics for writers on Inkygirl (, Tumblr ( and Pinterest (


Will Write For Chocolate updated: Eliza's Fantasy

You can browse earlier Will Write For Chocolate strips in the archives.

You can also find the strip on Facebook and Google+.


Magic Town: Virtual World Based On Picture Books (and open to submissions)


Publishers Weekly recently reported the launch of Magic Town, a  virtual children's picture book world featuring over 70 stories (with many more to come) from major publishers like Hachette and Simon & Schuster. Developed by tech start-up Mindshapes, Magic Town is also open to submissions from children's book authors and illustrators; keep reading for info.  Andrea Meyer (formerly of Nosy Crow) was kind enough to answer a few questions for me:

Could you please tell me about the children's book publishers you're working with?

Magic Town has licensed picture books from 15 top publishers, including Simon & Schuster, Hachette and Penguin. We are adding new publishers all the time (See press release info for more details.). At launch we have 70 books, and add 10 to 15 more each month. In total, we have more than 200 books under license. We take the original art work and text from the book, and then create what we call a "Livebook." Livebooks are lightly animated and interactive. There are four modes for reading a Livebook. 

Are you working directly with any authors? If so, how?

We are working directly with some children's authors like Janey Louise Jones, who has created an original series called "Superfairies" for Magic Town, and with Ian Whybrow to create digital first versions of his "Shrinky Kids" books

Are you open to submissions from children's book writer/illustrators?

Yes, we are always looking for great content. We are thrilled to read manuscripts and review artists' portfolios:

Send one paragraph as well as your website URL to


When is the iPad app coming out? How will it differ from the original version?

The iPad app will be out this summer. The experience for kids will be the same as the website. You meet Izzy and Max when you come to the site and they show you around. You can visit Louis at the big tree to get the story of the day. Or you can click directly on one of the houses to go inside and read a book.

The Magic Town iPad app is free to download. Once you've done that, there are some books that are free. You can also buy books on a one by one basis. Or you can subscribe to get full access to the app.


For more info about Magic Town, see as well as the Magic Town Facebook Page.


Comic: Writers On Vacation

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Originally published in Writer Unboxed.

I'm posting some of my older comics here as I catalog and tag them in prep for a print book compilation. You can find my comics for writers on Inkygirl (, Tumblr ( and Pinterest (


Comic: What you SHOULDN'T do when asking for a critique...

OHI0127 CritiqueExcuses

I'm posting some of my older comics here as I catalog and tag them in prep for a print book compilation. You can find my comics for writers on Inkygirl (, Tumblr ( and Pinterest (


Comic For Book Nerds: "Can't Judge A Book…."

OHI0125 JudgeBookByGutter

I'm posting some of my older comics here as I catalog and tag them in prep for a print book compilation. You can find my comics for writers on Inkygirl (, Tumblr ( and Pinterest (


Interview: YA Author Deborah Kerbel & UNDER THE MOON

I first met Deborah Kerbel through the Toronto Middle Grade and Young Adult Author Group (a.k.a. Torkidlit) - Deborah's so fun to talk with, and I've also been enjoying her books over the years. Deborah's teen novels include Under the Moon (2012), Lure (2010), Girl on the Other Side (2009), and Mackenzie, Lost and Found (2008). Her personal essay, The Curtain, is included in the YA anthology, Dear Bully (HarperCollins, 2011) and her novels have been shortlisted for the Canadian Library Association’s YA Book of the Year Award and the Manitoba Young Reader’s Choice Award. A native of London, U.K., Deborah now lives and writes in Thornhill, Ontario.

Her website:

Tell us a little bit about your new book, UNDER THE MOON. 

Under the Moon is a YA novel about a girl who’s lost her sleep, a boy who’s lost his dreams and the twenty-six nights that change their lives. It’s about grieving, friendship, and first love. And at the heart of the story lies a question: what do we, as human beings, really need in order to survive in this world?

Despite the serene looking cover, this book was born out of chaos…specifically the chaos of my life. I started writing it in the spring of 2010 – at that time, my children were aged 7 and 4 and, between the daily demands of motherhood and writing, there was never enough time to give proper attention to everything. To put it bluntly, most of the time I barely had a spare moment to scratch an itch. During my busiest moments, I secretly resented having to give up so many precious hours to sleep and a strange fantasy began working it’s way through my exhausted brain: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I didn’t have to sleep at all? Imagine all the things I could accomplish?’

I actually came out and spoke about this weird little fantasy one night at a Torkidlit meeting…in fact, I think I said it to you, Debbie! And of course, uttering the words out loud immediately sparked an idea for a new book. Sure, I knew what I would do with all those extra hours in a day. But what would a teenager do if she didn’t have to sleep? How would she fill the long, dark hours of a sleepless night? I wanted to find out. That’s where the idea for Under the Moon came from.

When was UNDER THE MOON published? 

Under the Moon was published in March 2012 by Dancing Cat Books (an imprint of Cormorant Books). Barry Jowett is the publisher and editor there and he’s so wonderful to work with. He was the acquiring editor of my very first YA novel, Mackenzie, Lost and Found (which came out with Dundurn in 2009) and I was really hoping for the chance to do another book with him. I submitted this manuscript to Barry exclusively and crossed my fingers. Luckily for me, he liked it.

How much outlining do you do? What is your typical work process or work day?

 I confess, I don’t have a standard approach to writing books. Sometimes I outline meticulously, other times I fly by the seat of my pants. This book was a pantser. I started out with the premise of a sleepless girl (whose voice was already very loud and clear in my head). I didn’t really know where I was going with the story when I started writing, which was a bit scary and a bit exciting at the same time. But I kept pushing my main character forward through the plot and ultimately, the story revealed itself.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

 Read every day. Write every day. Absorb all the details, from the beautiful to the hideous, in the world around you. Be mulishly stubborn, fearless, and committed. Write stories that move you. Don’t take criticism of your writing too much to heart. Same thing with compliments – they can be equally destructive. Connect with other writers…ultimately, they’re the only ones who’ll understand the ups and downs of this crazy roller-coaster business.

What are you working on now? Anything else you'd like people to know?

 My kids are a couple years older now, so lately I’ve got more time and I’m starting to get more done (read: no more insomnia fantasies). I’m actually working on several projects at the moment, each in various stages of completion and revision: a picture book about memory; a middle-grade novel about the evil eye; and an urban fantasy YA novel with a bit of a horror edge. On top of all that, I’m also co-authoring a non-fiction book about kids and money. There’s a little something for everyone in the works.

For more info about Deborah Kerbel and her work:




Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.


Google+ Chat with my MiG writer friend, Christina Farley

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As much as I enjoy e-mail and online message boards, there's nothing like being able to hear a person's voice and seeing their face while you're chatting. So it was exciting for me to finally be able to "meet" my MiG writer friend, Christina Farley, via Google+ Chat this afternoon. SO much fun!!

Christy posts about kidlit/YA in her Chocolate For Inspiration blog -- what a great blog title. :-) Christy's one of the most productive writers I know, so i was quizzing her about how she does it, and also got some classroom presentation advice.

And she has some VERY EXCITING book news which she hopes to able to share publicly very, very soon...


Inkygirl Golden Cupcake Award: The World According To Maggie (Stiefvater)

GoldenCupcake 200wThis week, I'm awarding the Inkygirl Golden Cupcake Award to Maggie Stiefvater for her The World According To Maggie blog.

I'm a huge fan of Maggie's books, including her Wolves Of Mercy Falls series and most recently, The Scorpio Races. Wonderful stories and characters, but I especially love this writer's voice.


Just some of the things I love about Maggie's blog:

- She talks about her writing process.

- Lots of great visuals. Not just photos but also Maggie's own drawings.

- Her wry, frank personality shines through everything she posts.

I've tweeted about Maggie's great posts frequently from @inkyelbows; her blog is one of my go-to blogs when it comes to looking for tweetable quotes. 



She also comes up with the BEST post titles, like her recent:

Why I'm A Writer & Not a Fighter Pilot

in which she answers reader questions about knowing one's goals as well as keeping true to yourself and your dreams despite other people. Do go visit her blog now! You'll be delighted, inspired and moved.

Established in July/2010, the  Inkygirl Golden Cupcake Award is given to blogs  or sites I find particularly inspirational to writers, especially those that may not already be well-known. Criteria is unapologetically subjective.

If you win the award, you do NOT have to display or acknowledge the award (but feel free, if so inclined). Just bask in the ephemeral, golden glory of online blog stardom and then move on, continuing to be an inspiration to the writing community. And THANK YOU for doing what you do.

Here is a list of other winners of the Inkygirl Golden Cupcake Award.


Graphic Review: The Yo-Yo Prophet by Karen Krossing (Orca Books)


Author: Karen Krossing

Publisher: Orca Book Publishers

For ages 12+

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After reading THE YO-YO PROPHET by Karen Krossing (Orca Books), I was inspired to do my Daily Doodle with a book theme (see above).

I also got curious about yo-yos and looked up yo-yo competitions online. Wow, really impressive performances out there. Check out this mesmerizing performance at a German Yo-Yo Masters competition:

So many reasons to love THE YO-YO PROPHET: the way the main characters change throughout the book (especially the main character, Calvin, who so desperately wants to be noticed and feel special), the tension and excitement of Calvin's yo-yo performances and competitions, how Calvin reacts to and eventually finds a way to cope with bullying, how he deals with his missing father and the declining health of his grandmother. Uplifting and hopeful ending without being clichéd.

I was also intrigued by the description of the yo-yo feats! This book might even lure young people away from their computer games to give a non-digital hobby a try. 


You can find out more about Karen Krossing's THE YO-YO PROPHET on her website.

You can read a more extensive review of the book on CM Magazine's website.


On Writers and Elves: A Neil Gaiman Quote

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 This is one of my favourite Neil Gaiman quotes. Thanks to Neil for his permission to illustrate it. :-)

You can hear the original quote in this video in which he offers advice for young writers:

And if you haven't already seen the inspirational commencement speech he gave at the University of the Arts:

For more info about Neil Gaiman and his work, visit


Children's Book Tributes at Starbucks in Toronto

Maurice Sendak tribute at Starbucks in Toronto

Saw this outside a Starbucks on Yonge Street in Toronto (just south of Eglinton). Note the small text in the lower left corner: "We'll miss you, Maurice."

Just a few weeks ago, they had this sign:


One of these days I have to go in and meet the person responsible for these very cool signs. :-)


Video: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

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People who meet me at conventions sometimes think I'm an extrovert because I tend to be enthusiastic and talkative. The truth:  I consider myself an introvert.  I'm the happiest and most productive when I'm in a quiet space. I far prefer one-on-one conversation than chitchatting within a large group. I need solitude to recharge my batteries.

Thanks to children's book author Mike Jung, who posted about Susan Cain's book on his Facebook Wall. The title appealed to me so strongly that I immediately investigated Susan's website, watched the video, and bought the e-book version:

QUIET: The Power Of Introverts That Can't Stop Talking.

LOVED this Tedtalk. 

Make sure you listen to the end, where Susan talks about the irony of being an introvert, loving the writing process where she works alone, and then having to come out of her solitude to have to promote the book about introversion with public talks like the one in the video. :-D


Comic: Feline Rejection

I'm posting some of my older comics here as I catalog and tag them in prep for a print book compilation. You can find my comics for writers on Inkygirl (, Tumblr ( and Pinterest (


Comic: Apostrophe Abuse Breakup

I'm posting some of my older comics here as I catalog and tag them in prep for a print book compilation. You can find my comics for writers on Inkygirl (, Tumblr ( and Pinterest (


Comic: Clown Writer

I'm posting some of my older comics here as I catalog and tag them in prep for a print book compilation. You can find my comics for writers on Inkygirl (, Tumblr ( and Pinterest (


Comic: The Obsessed Writer

I'm posting some of my older comics here as I catalog and tag them in prep for a print book compilation. You can find my comics for writers on Inkygirl (, Tumblr ( and Pinterest (


Writing & Illustrating A Picture Book For Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers (Part 2: Brainstorming, Story Pitch, Thumbnail Assignment)

Continuing my series on working with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers on two new books...

POSTS SO FAR: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

(Summary: After I finished illustrations for I'M BORED, Simon & Schuster BFYR offered me two blank contracts. This series is about my own experience working with S&S BFYR on my two new books; if you're interested in the process for I'M BORED, please see How I'M BORED Was Created: A Guide For Young Readers. Neither of these series are meant to The Definitive Guide of how a picture book is created. Your own publishing experience may differ, depending on your situation and people involved. Thanks for following along! -- Debbie)

And here is what has happened so far:

I brainstormed picture book ideas.

I've been compiling picture book ideas for a while now, inspired by Paula Yoo's NaPiBoWriWee, Tara Lazar's PiBoIdMo and #KidLitArt's Picture Book Dummy Challenge. I've turned some of these into picture book manuscripts.

What I discovered: it's easy to come up with ideas for picture books. The challenge: to come up with picture book ideas that are different from anything else already out there.

This is one of the common misconceptions held by newbie picture book writers, I find: that their story is unique. I still consider myself a newbie picture book writer, by the way, so I speak from experience.

Child nervous about their first day at school but then finds out another child feels the same / makes new friends / discovers it's not so bad after all? Done.

Child has trouble making new friends because they are too shy / insecure / mean / stubborn / family just moved? Done.

Child loses a beloved object / pet / toy and is totally distraught but then formulates plan / enlists help / searches everywhere? Done.

Child having a horrible day where nothing goes right but then takes action & everything turns out ok? Done.

Child resents the fact that he is always overlooked / ignored and decides to do something about it? Done.

Child hates doing something that parents always want her to do so finds a way around it but then discovers why it was a good idea? Done.

Child resents older or younger sibling so decides to run away / get rid of sibling somehow but starts missing the sibling despite himself and reunites? Done.

Child...well, you get the idea.

The bottom line: It's very tough to come up with a story that is totally unique.

But still:

I tried to figure out how to make my story stand out in the marketplace.

At this point, I can already imagine some of you shaking your fingers at me and saying, "Just focus on making a good story. Worry about the marketing/publishing part later."

However, I'm already assuming that having a good story is an essential. My end goal, however, is to not only get the book published but to have the book sell well. If the story is too much like others already out there, a publisher is less likely to want to take a risk on it. And if the book doesn't sell well, then the publisher is less likely to offer me more contracts.

So yes, there needs to be a good story BUT  I also want to help an editor convince their sales team that the book should be published.

An aside: I've already gone through this several times with my novels for young people, in which various editors liked my story enough to take to the next step, but then the projects were nixed by sales/marketing. It's one reason I spent way more time in the plotting/outlining process for my current YA mss before starting to actually write it (and it got nominated for an SCBWI Sue Alexander "Most Promising For Publication Award"! It didn't win...but still! Now I just need to finish it).

So yes, I was discouraged. But then I thought, hold on. Surely I can't be the only one despairing about finding a unique story idea. And there are new picture books coming out all the time! 

And that brings to me to another essential part of my "newbie picture book writer/illustrator" self-education:

I read many, many picture books.

Since the career-changing events of 2010, I've been immersing myself in the world of picture books. I have no children and hadn't really read many picture books since my nephews and nieces grew past that stage.

Once Simon & Schuster BFYR offered me my first picture book illustration contract, that all changed. I started going to the library and local bookstores every week to read as many picture books as I could. I read everything I could get my hands on -- old and new.

I looked at both the text and the illustrations, and how they enhanced each other. I didn't always like the picture books I read, but tried to analyze exactly WHY I didn't like them. And when I really enjoyed a picture book, then I'd reread it and ask myself similar questions: WHY did I like it?

I needed to figure out a unique spin for my stories.

 I looked especially closely at new releases. Obviously these publishers had faith in these books, so what was it about the stories that made the publishers willing to invest money into these projects? The answer: a unique spin. In almost every case, the basic story was enhanced with a framework made unique in either the setting, characters, voice, format or other aspect.

Once I realized this, I went over my list of picture book stories and started working on expanding some of them into full manuscripts with the whole "unique spin" aspect in mind.

But still, I wasn't completely happy with any of them yet. 

I realized that I needed to get my head into "pitch" mode.

When I last visited Simon & Schuster BFYR in NYC to talk about I'M BORED promotion, Justin asked me if I had any picture book stories to show him. I hesitated, saying that I had written about 25 picture book manuscripts but wasn't yet happy with any of them.

Justin interrupted my babbling excuses and suggested that I needed to change my mindset. Having worked with S&S BFYR on I'm Bored, I already had my foot in the door. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers was my publisher. He was my editor. So how about I pick out 4-5 of what I considered my best stories and send them to him, even if I didn't think they were perfect yet?

Whoa. Really?!?

Ok, I admit I was pretty clueless. I had figured that even though I had illustrated a book for S&S BFYR, that I was still starting from scratch when it came to submitting my own stories. And that if they said no, that was it.

I was wrong.

Anyway, I promised Justin I'd send something very soon. Of course I was STILL paranoid about sending stories that I considered early drafts, so I enlisted the help of my MiG Writers critique group for some feedback and suggestions for tweaks.

Then...I took a deep breath and send my stories to Justin.

He picked one he thought had the most potential. I'm very happy he picked the idea that he did; of all the stories I sent him, this is going to be the most fun to draw!

We had a phone meeting about my story, with editorial assistant Dani Young sitting in. It was a TRULY EXCELLENT phone meeting. I was all "omigod, you're absolutely RIGHT" and "YES! I love that!!" and Justin was all "it's all right there in your story" (I just hadn't seen it).

What Justin was able to do, which I hadn't, was to identify the essence of my picture book as well as see the potential of what it could be. AND he was able to communicate that to me.

By the end of the phone call, I was incredibly inspired and eager to get started.

THE NEXT STEP: I need to show my story visually, in thumbnails.

 Justin asked me to forget about working on the text but just to focus on figuring out how to tell my story visually in very rough thumbnail sketches -- knowing that will help determine my text. I'm not going to worry about character sketches or detailed illustrations yet.

To do this, I've created a template which fits on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. In case any of you would like to use it for your own picture book planning, I've provided a print-ready PDF version (click thumbnail below):


There seem to be many different templates for book dummies out there, but I wanted to make sure I was using one that Justin approved since I'll be printing out quite a few copies for me to scribble on. Justin said the endpapers are separate for a 32-page book, so I'm not going to worry about those for now.

I've filled up nearly a dozen of these sheets with my scribbled thumbnails already. Working out a story this way is GREAT for exposing bad pacing and other storytelling problems; I've already discovered that the mss I sent Justin just doesn't work. I'm working non-digitally for these sketches using just a pile of printed sheets, a mechanical pencil and a big eraser. The eraser is getting a LOT of use. :-)

Even if you don't draw but are just writing a picture book story, I still recommend you try this method. Just use stick figures or a scribbled phrase (e.g. "Sam throws marmite at Emma" etc.).

Other resources you might find helpful:

Bob Staake's Picture Book Templates (though reader Michael Johnson had issues with that template and proposed a revision)

Tara Lazaar's Picture Book Layout Dummy

Sarah McIntyre's Book Dummy

How To Mock Up A Picture Book, by Darcy Pattison

FAQ: Making A Picture Book Dummy, by Tina Burke

How To Make A Storyboard, by Uri Shulevitz

If you know any other resources that could help picture book writer/illustrators in the early creation stages, feel free to post below!

There is no set schedule to this blog post series. I'll only post in the series if I have something useful or interesting to say. To make it easier to follow this particular thread, I'll tag related posts with "pbcreation."


Writing & Illustrating A Picture Book For Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers (Part 1: Intro)

I'm pleased to announce the launch of a new series of blog posts:

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POSTS SO FAR: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

As some of you may already know, I'm writing and illustrating my very first picture book for Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers: I'm going to call this Picture Book X until I have an official title. I'm going to be blogging about the process of creating Picture Book X, from start to finish, in Inkygirl. An aside: if you're curious about my blog posts about the creation of I'M BORED, new picture book by Michael Ian Black that I was asked to illustrate, I recommend you follow my I'M BORED Scrapbook. That blog also details how I started working with Simon & Schuster BFYR.

Because my book is still in its early stages, I won't be talking about its content at all -- not even its title, which has yet to be finalized.

Instead, I'm going to be talking about the process with a perspective that I hope will help aspiring picture book writer/illustrators. I also figure this blog post series may be of interest to those curious about what it's like to work with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.

I'll be posting about the process, what I'm learning, what happens at various steps and what they mean, the people I interact with at S&S and what they do. I'll be sharing some of the templates I create for myself to help with workflow, plus give you a peek of what goes on inside Simon & Schuster BFYR later on in the process, after I've handed in my finals.

Keep in mind that this is going to be based on just one particular project and from one perspective (mine). Your book project may have been -- or could be -- very different, depending on the circumstances and the people involved.

My editor, Justin Chanda, has given me the go-ahead to blog about the process (thanks, Justin!). I worked with Justin on I'M BORED illustration discussions, but this will be the first time I've worked with him on story text. 

I haven't yet been assigned an art director; the project is still in its very early stages.

There is no set schedule to this blog post series. I'll only post in the series if I have something useful or interesting to say. To make it easier to follow this particular thread, I'll tag related posts with "pbcreation." Whenever possible, I'll also be including related resources to help you find additional info on the topic, and will also be encouraging you all to share your own experiences.

I hope you'll join me! :-)


Header photo credits: My photo - Beckett Gladney, Justin's photo - Sonya Sones




Interview with Holly Thompson, editor of TOMO: Friendship Through Fiction (Stone Bridge Press) plus a giveaway

As I've mentioned earlier, I'm very excited to have my first YA short story included in Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction, a new teen anthology edited by Holly Thompson and published by Stone Bridge Press. Part of the sales proceeds will go to help teens affected by the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Post a comment below for a chance to win a copy of the book!


Holly Thompson was raised in New England and is a longtime resident of Japan. She is the author of the YA verse novel Orchard (Delacorte/Random House), which received the APALA 2012 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and is a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection; the picture book The Wakame Gatherers (Shen’s Books); and the novel Ash (Stone Bridge Press). She recently edited Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction (Stone Bridge Press). She teaches creative and academic writing at Yokohama City University and serves as Regional Advisor for the Tokyo chapter of the Society of Children’s Book and Writers. Visit her website at and her blog at

How did you come to live in Japan?

My husband had been an exchange student in Japan and was eager to return when we met. I was a biology major at the time, and Japan wasn’t on my agenda, but we compromised and I taught biology in Massachusetts for a couple years then we moved to Japan. That was in the 80s--we stayed for three years and during that time, I began writing seriously.

Then, so that I could attend NYU’s creative writing program, we moved to New York and ended up staying there until 1998 when we moved back to Japan. We thought we’d stay for another three years or so, but here it is 2012, and we’re still here, our children have basically been raised here, and it is definitely home for us . . . though New England and New York are also home.

Please tell us about how Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction was born.

March 11, 2011 brought the triple catastrophe of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear plant disaster to Japan. For me, having lived for many years in the coastal town of Kamakura, the brute force of the tsunami and the destruction it wreaked on towns was terrifying. I happened to be in the U.S. for readings and a conference that day, and watching from afar, while my family was in Japan, was agonizing.

Those days immediately afterward, I was in a deep fog, and in the middle of that fog author Greg Fishbone contacted me to ask what we could do and to share his ideas about a Kidlit for Japan auction. Greg woke me out of my stupor, astounded me with his energy and determination, and I knew that I, too, needed to act.

The first thing I did when I returned to Japan was sign up to volunteer with tsunami cleanup in Tohoku with the NGO Peaceboat. And the next thing I did was to put together my ideas for a benefit anthology of Japan-related YA fiction. My agent reacted with understanding and encouragement, and soon Stone Bridge Press had agreed to take on the project.

What kind of response have you received so far? 

People have been enjoying the contributor interviews on the Tomo Blog, and reviewers that have received  Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction have praised its depth and breadth. It is a full anthology with 36 stories, including 10 in translation. And we enjoyed March launch events in Tokyo, Boston and New York—see the events page on the Tomo Blog.

Tomo contributors with the Boston Children's Museum Teen Ambassadors

Any specifics about how the funds will be used?

Funds raised through the sales of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction will go toward NPOs or NGOs that are active in supporting teens in the earthquake and tsunami affected areas. To start with, proceeds from the sales of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction will be donated to the Japan-based NPO Hope for Tomorrow which is active in providing educational funding, mentoring and foreign language support to teens in the hardest hit areas. 

Was this the first time you've edited a fiction anthology?

I’ve edited university poetry and fiction anthologies, but this was my first time editing an anthology of fiction that would reach a wide audience. It was also my first time editing works in translation, and the process taught me so much.

Compiling and editing Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction was an enormous undertaking, particularly given the time constraints—we wanted the anthology to launch in time for the one-year anniversary of the earthquake. But I know that I will be a stronger writer and better editor of my own writing thanks to this experience. And I loved plunging deep into the work of other writers and playing a role in shaping and polishing the stories.

Tokyo launch: Back row, L to R: John Paul Catton, Juliet Winters Carpenter, Deborah Iwabuchi, Margi Napper, Louise George Kittaka, Ann Slater, Charles De Wolf, Trevor Kew, Hart Larrabee Front Row, L to R: Arie Nashiya, Yuko Katakawa, Holly Thompson, Sako Ikegami, Fumio Takano, Leza Lowitz, Mariko Nagai

Do you have any advice for authors considering editing a short story anthology for the first time?

Understand from the get-go that it will consume much more of your time than you can possibly anticipate! Have an angle that will make your anthology completely different from any anthology already on the market. Get writers on board and share your proposal with others for feedback before you approach an agent or editor. Plan as much as possible before you even start.

What was it like, working on TOMO? (any challenges? anecdotes to share?

The biggest challenge, as I’ve said, was the time constraint. Everything was rushed, from soliciting work, to making final selections, arranging for translators, editing, compiling the glossary and bios, copyediting and proofreading. It was an intense marathon project, but the authors and translators who contributed were wonderful to work with, and Stone Bridge Press has poured time, funds, energy and enthusiasm into this book. I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity.  

When I sent "Kodama" to you, I half-expected a rejection because of the unusual format. What convinced you to include it in your anthology?

I love the fun journal format of “Kodama.” When I set out to do Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction, I knew from the start that I wanted the book to be open to various forms of fiction—prose, verse and graphic narrative. Many YA editors and publishers have fortunately been very open to and encouraging of innovation, and I think we will continue to see more and more uniquely expressive YA fiction forms.

Please tell us about your YA novel, Orchards, which received the APALA 2012 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.

Orchards (Delacorte/Random House, 2011) is a novel in verse told in the voice of Kana, a bicultural Japanese and Jewish-American girl who is sent to spend the summer with relatives in Japan after the suicide of a classmate.

Kana addresses her former classmate, Ruth, as she struggles to make sense of what happened while adjusting to life in a Japanese farm village and coping with issues of her bicultural identity. While Orchards deals with tough topics such as bullying, depression and suicide, it is the story of a girl discovering compassion and the need to take positive action. 

What are your current and upcoming projects? And where can people find out more about you?

I am now busy doing the final revisions for my next YA verse novel The Language Inside (Delacorte/Random House 2013), about a non-Japanese girl raised in Japan who has suddenly moved to the U.S. due to her mother’s illness. The book deals with communication on many levels, inner and outer identity, and, of course, language. My website is and my blog where I write about life in Japan, travels in Asia and whatever catches my interest. 

Anything else you'd like to say?

Thank you for sharing your story “Kodama” with Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction. I look forward to seeing the full-length work this leads to...hint, hint! And thank you for your enthusiasm for Tomo. The Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction anthology is all about helping teens in Tohoku by connecting readers to Japan. I hope that readers of this blog will enjoy all that Tomo has to offer and find their connection to Japan.


For more info about Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction, including interviews with all the contributors, see the blog at:

Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.