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


Seeking I'M BORED "In The Wild" photos

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I'm creating a gallery of photos featuring people reading I'M BORED in fun places and situations, and I welcome submissions! Photo below is an example: I'm reading I'M BORED on the Toronto Transit system. :-)

Debbie TTC ImBored

If you're interested in submitting a photo (hey, you may win a PRIZE), read the details here.

Photo below: Shara Alexa, Children's Sales Manager at Simon & Schuster Canada:


I'M BORED is A Junior Library Guild Selection!

Last week, I was tickled to get a package from  Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers that contained a letter of congratulations from the Junior Library Guild (see bottom of post) as well as a certificate….

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... and a cool lapel pin:

Closeup JLG LapelPinsm

I had seen "A Junior Library Guild Selection" on book covers before but confess that up to now, I didn't know that much about the designation. So in addition to asking my editor and publisher (Justin Chanda at Simon & Schuster Children's), I also did some research online.

What I found: Having your book selected by the Junior Library Guild  is a BIG DEAL.

Apparently the JLG editorial team reviews thousands of new titles each year, in manuscript or prepublication stage, and end up choosing what they say is "the best of the best."  According to the Junior Library Guild website, nearly 95 percent of their selections go on to receive awards and/or favorable reviews. 

JLG's mission: to help libraries wade through the mass of books published every season and pick what’s best for their collections. You can read about different ways that schools and libraries have been using JLG to cope with staff and budget cuts, etc.

What does all this mean for an author and illustrator? Good things. It means that JLG orders a bulk quantity of your book from your publisher, then includes your book in their recommend lists…and these lists are used by schools and libraries. When I posted the announcement on my personal Facebook Wall, one friend said:

"Excellent! That means that there is a high probability that my school district will buy it for all of our elementary schools; they rely on the JLG lists for purchases!"

Yay! :-)

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In summary:

I am absolutely thrilled to have I'M BORED chosen as A Junior Library Selection, and am grateful to the JLG for the honor.

More more info about the Junior Library Guild:

Junior Library Guild website

On Twitter:

On Facebook:

Wikipedia entry on Junior Library Guild


Fun "Call me Maybe" video by Pilot bookstore, newspaper & magazine

What a great promo video for The County Bookshop and its sibling entities. You can read how the video was made here.

Thanks to Shelf Awareness for the link!


I'M BORED Music Video - 11 more days until the launch, woohoo!

I'm Bored Music Video (inspired by the new picture book from Simon & Schuster BFYR) from debsanderrol on Vimeo.

Thanks to my friend Errol Elumir for co-writing the I'M BORED song and creating the video above to help celebrate my upcoming book launch. Note that the song is only loosely based on the book. To find out what REALLY happened to the potato and the end, please buy the book! :-)

And special thanks to 7-year-old Zoe Elumir for playing the part of the girl in this homemade video!

I've posted some behind-the-scenes photos and info about the video plus lyrics/chords to the song in the I'M BORED Scrapbook.

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SCBWI-LA Takeaway #1: Don't expect everything to happen at your first conference. Experience breeds opportunity.

First morning of the conference.

Instead of trying to do a long report about the 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference, I'm going to do takeaways; it'll increase the possibility that I'll actually post them. :-)

So here's my first:

SCBWI-LA Takeaway #1: Don't expect everything to happen at your first conference. Experience breeds opportunity. 

At my first SCBWI conference (the first time I decided to start going regularly, that is), I didn't know anyone, or at least not very well. When I made the decision to go in 2009, I was WAY nervous about the possibility of going home feeling like I had wasted all that time and money. And yes, a tiny part of me couldn't help but secretly hope that HEY, maybe I'd be "discovered" and land a book contract.

While I enjoyed that conference, however, I didn't come home with a book contract. My manuscript critique had not gone well, and I couldn't help but wonder whether the editor had even read my mss; she had only made one mark on my submission, and that was to correct a typo in one of the early pages. She never referred to anything in my mss but asked me to summarize my plot on the spot, then critiqued my clumsy and unprepared verbal pitch. No wonder she wasn't impressed.

I felt humiliated and embarrassed, especially since I had gone in with such (unrealistically) high expectations. I was also envious of others I chatted with, who were critiqued by published authors in the program... most had received pages of useful notes and advice from these authors, plus encouragement. Later on, I heard at least one of these turned into a book contract when the critiquing author passed the mss on to their editor. (Side note #1: Don't be disappointed if you get an author critiquing your mss instead of an editor or agent!)

SCBWI Summer Conference in LA 2012

BUT I did enjoy meeting a lot of writers and illustrators, plus was inspired by the keynotes and workshops. I was determined to come back the next year, and would be more prepared.

For the manuscript critique, for example, I wanted to be ready for the possibility that the person critiquing my mss had not had time to read it. The mss might have slipped by the wayside somehow, or the editor might have run out of time. Or maybe she really did just hate my story so much she didn't have any suggestions on how to improve it. :-)

But even in that case, I needed to be able to give my elevator pitch more coherently AND have questions ready, so that I could still get something out of the session. I could have asked more info about the publishing house, her process, opinions on publishing industry topics, and so on.

[Side note #2: I did try the mss critique again at last year's SCBWI conference LA and it went wonderfully. I learned a ton from Jen Rofé's comments at the session and on my brand new YA mss, plus she ended up nominating my mss for the Sue Alexander "Most Promising For Publication" Award! I didn't win, but am still super-inspired. :-)]

If you're an illustrator disappointed about not being "discovered" at the Portfolio Showcase, don't forget that in most cases, art directors and editors and other industry people collect cards at the Showcase for later. I've heard so many stories of artists who got work months (sometimes years) later because of someone seeing their work in a Showcase. Just because you didn't win an award doesn't mean people didn't like your work. Just participating in the Showcase is great exposure -- SO many people are going to be browsing your portfolio. 

Something else I learned since I began going regularly to these conferences: the more you go, the more you'll get out of it. You'll be familiar with a wider network of people in the industry and be able to have deeper conversations. You'll stop feeling like a "newbie trying this out" and will have a better idea of what you hope to achieve at the event.

More experienced types will start to recognize you and see that you're seriously pursuing children's book writing and/or illustration rather than just testing the waters. And if they like you and see potential, they will be more likely to take some time to offer advice or info. DON'T be one of those people who so clearly scan name badges and are only interested in talking with editors, agents and Big Name Authors.

Very, very few conference attendees get a book offer at the conference. Adjust your expectations next time, and look for the many other ways that the event has helped you and could help you in the future in terms of knowledge, inspiration, connections and friendship (the latter two are not exclusive).

SCBWI Summer Conference in LA 2012

So…if you just came back from your first conference disappointed about how it went: instead of being bitter or resentful, try to focus on the positive aspects. What did you learn? What cool people did you meet (and how can you maintain contact with them during the year, even if it's just reading and commenting on their blogs or tweets or FB posts)? What can you do differently next year? Make some notes NOW, while everything is fresh in your mind.

But most of all, remember that this was only your FIRST CONVENTION.

Lee with first-timer Cheryl Chow.
Lee Wind with first-timer Cherryl Chow.

Kudos to you for going in the first place. You've already made an important early step in pursuing what you want; most aspiring writers and illustrators never get that far, so you're already ahead of the game. 

And who knows what might happen next time?

p.s. Note to those who can't afford to go to the SCBWI convention in LA: look for similar opportunities closer to home. Join your local writers' organizations and attend meetings. Or if you can't find one, try starting your own group. Online networking is great but I've found that nothing beats chatting in person.


You can see my photos from the SCBWI Summer Conference on Flickr: Set 1 - Set 2 - Set 3

SCBWI Summer Conference in LA 2012



Photos from SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles 2012

SCBWI Summer Conference in LA 2012

Recently came back from the annual summer conference in LA held by the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators). What an amazing, inspiring event! I'll be posting some personal takeaways and photo faces from the conference, but for now, here are links to my photo sets:

SCBWI Summer Conference in LA 2012


SCBWI-LA 2012 photos - Part 1

SCBWI-LA 2012 photos - Part 2

SCBWI-LA 2012 photos - Part 3


SCBWI-LA 2012 photos - Part 1

SCBWI-LA 2012 photos - Part 2

SCBWI-LA 2012 photos - Part 3

I've started to get a lot of requests for individual photos to be mailed -- I'm uploading my photos to both FB and Flickr, so please do feel free to scoop any for personal or self-promo use. If you post any publicly, I'd appreciate a photo credit (something like "Photo: Debbie Ridpath Ohi -; or "Photo: Debbie Ridpath Ohi (, illustrator of I'M BORED" or just "via @inkyelbows" on Twitter). Thanks! 

SCBWI Summer Conference in LA 2012


Tara Kressler On Libraries and Being A Librarian

Thanks so much to Tara Kressler (@taralibrara on Twitter) for being my 20,000th follower on Twitter! As a prize, I let Tara pick whichever item she wanted from my I'M BORED swag shop (proceeds to go Riley Carney's Breaking The Chain nonprofit literacy).

Tara works for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about being librarian.

Why did you decide to become a librarian? 

Becoming a librarian was one of those situations where life sort of took me there but looking back, I can see no other path for myself other than this one.  During senior year in college I was doing my thesis for Art History. The dumbest of dumb things happened: I found out how much a museum worker got paid annually and I thought, oh sh*t, time for a Plan B.  A classmate and friend of mine was working part time for the library and as I was lamenting my future to her, she suggested I get a part time job at the local public library.  

Once I got into the job, it was like why didn't I think of this in the first place?  Have you ever done something and found you were just good at it?  And it surprised you?  That's how I felt about working at the library.  I'd been there for just a short time and experienced this.  At that point, several months in, I started to study for the GRE. And that is where my fate took me.

What do you like most about being a librarian? 

My answer is going to be very narcissistic.  I love being a librarian because of the way it makes me feel.  Purely selfish reasons.  I work each day doing something different, challenging, meaningful.  

I give people the answers they are looking for.  They are grateful for my expertise, they are appreciative for my help.  This is with both customers and staff.  Staff look to me to help them grow professionally, to create a positive working experience for them and I do that willingly.  It is a nice stroke of the ego.

 I like taking care of people and providing for them.  I like the detective work of the job, finding the answer and then the big reveal.  It is all very exciting stuff.

If someone was trying to cut library funding, what argument would you give them to keep it?  

I don't really see it as an argument but rather an enlightenment.  Everyone has benefited from the library in some way, it is just a matter of having a conversation, finding out what that is and to appeal to them to want to continue that legacy.  

A library has always been an integral part of a community, had some sort of involvement in the upbringing of people and despite the materials changing, those concepts do not. 

What attracts you to a book and makes you want to read it?  

 I do two community book clubs a month and with two little kids, it doesn't give me a lot of time to read all of my guilty pleasures.  Often I try to marry the two and force my book clubs to read what interests me, like recently it was the Night Circus and In the Garden of Beasts.  

Fortunately, they are good sports about it and those are good discussable books to incorporate.  My most recent non book club selection was Game of Thrones.  I ordinarily would never pick up such a book but my staffer teased me into it, even giving me a paperback copy to lug around.  It was quite a commitment at almost 1000 pages but it hooked me and I went with it.  

So essentially, if you twist my arm and bully me enough, I will read what you tell me!  Otherwise, I keep a nice list on Goodreads of things my customers recommend or reviews in magazines or whatever comes through the Branch that has a pretty cover.  My secret guilty pleasure is cook books, but don't tell anyone....

What are some of your favourite recent reads? 

Some of favorite recent reads have been The Night Circus by Morgenstern which I listened to on audio in complete rapt attention because Jim Dale read it amazingly.  Also, Ready Player One was an audio I listened to and thank god Wil Weaton read it, otherwise I would have no idea what was going on and would have abandoned it immediately.  I love Lee Child books and was heartbroken to learn Tom Cruise would be Jack Reacher in the movie adaptation of One Shot, but enjoyed The Affair. Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers was so subtle but powerful and I threw in Habibi, an epic graphic novel for fun.  


You can follow Tara on Twitter at @taralibrara.


Comic: Revision Angst


Thanks to Writers Write Creative Blog for making this particular comic so popular on Facebook right now. :-)

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 with Helaine Becker, author of How To Survive Absolutely Anything

Helaine Becker is one of the most enthusiastic and productive writers I know. I met Helaine through Torkidlit: the Toronto Area Middle Grade and YA Author Group. She has written over 50 books, including the best-selling picture book, A Porcupine in a Pine Tree, the Looney Bay All-Stars series; popular non-fiction, including Magic Up Your Sleeve, Secret Agent Y.O.U. and The Quiz Book for Girls; and young adult novels including Trouble in the Hills and How to Survive Absolutely Anything.

Q: Could you please tell me a little bit about your book? What inspired you to write it? What it's about?

Author and friend Marsha Skrypuch inspired me to write the book. We were having lunch one day and we were discussing how, when you write illustrated books for children, your royalties are divided with the illustrator. Fair enough. But Marsha said, “Gee, Helaine, if you wrote a YA novel, you might make more money since you won’t have an illustrator….”

As a hardworking writer, the idea of making more money appealed to me, so I thought I’d give it a try! I had a story idea niggling at the back of my brain, so I wrote it up. And Voila! How to Survive Absolutely Anything was born.

I somehow don’t think I’m going to wind up making that much more money on it than some of my picture books (A Porcupine in a Pine Tree hit #1 on the National bestseller list last year). Nevertheless, I enjoyed writing it, learned a lot about the craft of writing from doing it, and have enjoyed the whole process immensely.

Q: What was your research/writing process? How did the book get published? 

This book did not require any major research, but most of my other books – I do a lot of nonfic – have a lot of research involved in them. For Trouble in the Hills, a YA adventure that I wrote after How to Survive….. (but it was published first), I had to research what a dead body that had been lying in an alpine cave for a year would look like. That was delightfully gruesome.

I also had to research drug growing in BC, human trafficking in BC, and mountain biking – to get all the info I needed I had to dig into newspaper stories, but also interview forensics pathology experts and cyclists in Grand Forks BC.

I’m working on another YA novel right now that involves fireworks. To research that project, I signed up for “Fireworks School” – a training course for pyrotechnicians. I’m now certified – as well as certifiable. ;)

How did Survive get published? After I wrote it, I stuffed it my drawer and tried my hand at a second, more ambitious novel. Both of these novels then went through the “kidcrit” process – the online critique group through Compuserve. Funnily enough, people seemed to like the second book better, so I tried to sell that one first, with no luck.

Now, looking back at it, I can see the flaws in it, so maybe one day that will get a rewrite. Anyhow, after a trip to Grand Forks BC for an author tour, I conceived the plot for Trouble in the Hills.

I wrote up a synopsis and some sample chapters and pitched it Christie Harkin at Fitzhenry and Whiteside. She liked it and offered to buy it. In conversation I told her I also had a “girls” manuscript, and she asked to see it.

Surprise surprise, she liked that too, and bought both of the books in a two-book deal. Trouble came out in Autumn 2011; How To Survive came out in June 2012. We’re talking about a sequel to Trouble in the Hills now – we’ll have to see what happens!

I didn’t have an agent to sell these books. In fact, although I ‘ve had an agent at several points in my career, I’ve always sold my own work directly. I don’t think anyone can really represent you better than you can yourself if you have sales skills.

I’ve published more than 50 books, trade and educational, in Canada and the US, without an agent. I think it’s a lot harder to do this, though, in the US trade market than it is in Canada or in the educational field. So I am now talking with my dream agent to rep my work in the US. We’ll see how that goes but my fingers are crossed that we’ll work something out and I can continue to grow my career with her.

Q: You said you learned a lot about the craft of writing while working on How To Survive Absolutely Anything. Could you give an example?

I had often heard people talking about how too many varied dialogue attributions (remarked, demanded, cried, interrupted, etc. instead of a simple “said”) and attributions modified by adverbs weaken your text. I didn’t really see it, until I was revising this book. Then I finally understood! Rather than saying, “Close the door,’ she scolded angrily,” it would be stronger writing to put “Shut that damn door already!”

Once I saw how adapting my dialogue in that way would get rid of lots of unnecessary words and make the whole text tighter, I went through the whole manuscript again, making changes. This was, unfortunately for my poor editor, the day before the book was supposed to go to press! But we both agree – it was worth it. The book is better now than it would have been.

Q. I've heard such great things about your school presentations! What one piece of advice would you give a new author who is just starting to give presentations?

Ask another writer if you can go and observe their presentations before you do your own. That way you can learn the ins and outs – how to check in with the school office, how to present your invoice, how to organize your space, etc.

Observe how the author handles interruptions, how they handle questions and answers, etc. It’s much easier when you’ve seen someone else do it first rather than going in completely cold. Also remember that kids are very forgiving audiences so don’t fret too much. It will turn out ok, and if it doesn’t people will still enjoy a good laugh!

Helaine's dog Ella is always present while H. works, adding editorial commentary.Q: How much outlining do you do? What is your typical work process or work day?

Some of my books have been completely outlined. Others, like How to Survive, were more organic. I prefer to work with an outline. My typical work day starts late (after ten) and very slowly. I’m not a morning person, which is one reason why I’m a writer – I’ve been fired from every job I’ve ever had, mostly for being late! (If work started at noon….)

I like to warm up by checking and writing emails, then gradually work my way into the frame of mind to start writing REAL stuff. That being said, I’m extremely disciplined.

I write pretty much every day between 10-4, and if I’m on a deadline, between 10 and whatever. I work in my kitchen and can tune out everything around me as I work, much to the annoyance of my family. They want me stop typing and start making dinner. They, however, know where the fridge and stove are too, so I ignore them.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

I know most people tell you you should read a lot and get writing partners etc. But I think every single writer should take some basic business and sales courses. As a writer, you are really the sole proprietor of a business.

You need to know how to run your business and sell your product if you want to have a hope in hell of making a living and/or not getting stomped by unscrupulous parties.

I spend at least 50% of my work time preparing pitches and putting prospective projects “in the pipeline” – that’s a basic sales technique that guarantees you never wake up one morning with no contracts and no work and a mortgage you can’t pay.

I’m going to be teaching a session at Canscaip’s Fall writing conference, Packaging Your Imagination, on this topic. If you are in the Toronto area and have no idea what “qualifying the customer” or “profit centre” mean, this seminar is for you.

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

What am I working on now? A zillion things, as usual. I have four – yes four! – books coming out this fall, 2 quiz books and two picture books, both of which have final edits on the go.

I’ve just finished my first draft of a new nonfic for Kids Can Press, coming out in 2013. I’m on the fourth draft of a YA horror, and working on the first draft of a funny middle grade novel.

Going back and forth between those two books as well as a verse picture book I’m polishing for Scholastic Canada really makes my head spin! I also put manuscripts away for a while to mature (this really means I didn’t have luck selling them the first time out!).

I pick those up when I have time and look at revising them. I’ve got three of those in the “on deck” circle right now.

I NEVER consider any project dead – they are all just resting. I’ve recently gotten an offer on a project that has been in my drawer since 1999. The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea (Kids Can Press, 2012) was based on a pitch I wrote up in 1998. And my quiz book series with Scholastic Canada grew out of another ancient proposal that I’m sure most people would have considered compost. I just looked it up – it had originally been dinged in 2002. But when the opportunity arose, I rewrote the pitch and gave it to Scholastic, and now, well, it’s four-books and more, I hope to come!

So my advice would be to everyone to hang on to all your old stuff and periodically go through it to see what still has potential. Often good projects are rejected because the timing or fit is bad.

When the times change, and personnel changes, you may find the perfect fit for that old raggedy project, restitched into a new suit.

Q: Where can people find you online?

Here are all my online deets:

follow me at


Did you enjoy this interview? Check out other Inkygirl interviews.


Comic: Punctuation For Sale


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 (


My Toasted Cheese interview on NOT being bored: my unusual career path, time management, working with Simon & Schuster and more


Thanks to Erin Bellavia for interviewing me for Toasted Cheese, a writing community and literary journal. I had lots of fun answering these questions. :-)


Interview with Jocelyn Shipley about HOW TO TEND A GRAVE

I met Jocelyn Shipley through Torkidlit: The Toronto Area Middle Grade and Young Adult Group and loved her YA novel, HOW TO TEND A GRAVE (Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2012).

Born and raised in London, Canada, Jocelyn graduated from York University and has attended The Humber School for Writers. She is co-editor of Cleavage: Breakaway Fiction for Real Girls, and her books for teens include Seraphina’s Circle, Cross My Heart and Getting a Life. Her work has been translated into Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and German for Stabenfeldt’s tween book club GIRL:IT. Her award-winning stories have appeared in anthologies, newspapers and magazines. She lives in Toronto and on Vancouver Island.

Q: Could you tell us a little bit about your new novel, How To Tend A Grave?

Hi Debbie, and thanks so much for interviewing me on your blog. I'm thrilled to tell you about my new book. How to Tend a Grave is contemporary fiction for readers 14 & up. It was published in April 2012 by Great Plains Teen Fiction.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

“When Liam’s mom is killed, he thinks life can’t get any worse. He’s wrong. He’s forced to live with a grandfather he’s never known, in a small town where kids called Youth and Crime lead the local gang. They’re posers, but they mean trouble, and their favourite hangout is the cemetery where Liam’s mom is buried. But the cemetery is also where Liam meets Harmony, a gorgeous but unusual girl who records the names of all the babies buried there long ago. Besides their grief, both Liam and Harmony have secrets. The very different stories of these two fifteen-year- olds interweave brilliantly throughout this fast-paced, engaging and unforgettable novel about family, love and healing.”

I started writing this book in 2005, when I was living in Kingston, Ontario, and read in the local paper about teens vandalizing a historic cemetery. I wondered what would make a kid do something like that, and began to create a male character lost and angry enough to desecrate a cemetery.

At first the book was just Liam’s story. But it didn’t have enough depth, and I put the manuscript aside to work on other things. When I went back to it a year or so later, I decided that what it needed was a female character for Liam to fall in love with. I hadn’t planned to write a book with two main characters, in two different voices, but somehow that’s how things developed.

Q: How did the book get published?

My other books were all published by a small literary/feminist publisher, but this book didn’t fit their list, so I had to look elsewhere.

Since I don’t have an agent, I sent out query letters with a synopsis and sample chapters and had requests for the full ms from four Canadian and one American publisher. Two of these were interested but went out of business before offering a contract, one pretty much hated it, and two sent what I call “glowing rejections”.

Those letters started out raving about the book, then ended by saying sorry, just not right for us. All five editors did offer great feedback though, and I used their comments and suggestions in yet another revision.

Then I heard about Great Plains Publications, and contacted their teen fiction editor, Anita Daher. She was interested, so I sent her the full ms by email, and two weeks later she phoned. It was a writer’s dream call – she loved the book, so did the publisher, and they were ready to offer a contract.


Q: What's your typical process when working on a novel?

I know I’m very lucky to be able to write full-time, and I try to make the most of that. My work day starts with coffee and a quick check of email and social media. Then I try to write for a couple hours. After that I go for a walk, run, swim or bike ride, and consider this an extension of my writing time.

I let my characters tell me what they’d really say and do and I try to figure out plot details and listen for new ideas. After lunch I usually write a bit more, then look after the business side of being a writer – answering email, reading newsletters, blog posts etc, then looking at FB and Twitter again.

A stack of seven drafts of How to Tend a Grave in Jocelyn's Toronto workspace.

Of course lots of days everything happens in a different order, and some days I seem to get nothing much done at all. But I strongly believe in the power of the unconscious – somewhere in my mind I am always working on my stories.

I usually have about three ms on the go at a time, in different stages of development, from first draft to final revisions, so I always have something to work on. I haven’t outlined much in the past, but plan to do more of that with new projects.

I find first drafts the hardest, so an outline would probably help with that. I’m happiest rewriting – I like the feeling of having something to work with. On a really good day I might get about five hours of writing done. But it’s usually way less.

I don’t worry about reaching a certain word count – that doesn’t work for me. I could spend an hour on a paragraph – probably even on a sentence.

My coffee shop doodle while reading Jocelyn's book

Q: Any advice about rejection?

Try to remember that publishing is a business, and even though rejection of your book can feel personal, it's really not. Agents and editors receive hundreds of queries and manuscripts every week – they can’t possibly accept them all, even if they love them. That's just the reality of the marketplace, and doesn't mean that you're not a good writer or your book isn't publishable. So never give up. Like, never.

Even writers who've published many books still get rejected. And what they do is, they keep going. When my work isn't accepted, I allow myself 24 hours of feeling hurt and upset, then it's on to my 3 Rs of rejection: Rise above. Rewrite. Resubmit.

A page of title ideas and a page of editor Anita Daher's emailed notes.

Q: Do you have any other advice for aspiring writers?

Read, read, read. I'm always surprised when people say they want to write, but never bother to read anything.

Read the kind of books you'd like to write. Write, write, write. Just begin, and then continue. A book is written word by word. Join a few together and you've got a sentence, then a paragraph, then a chapter. That's it.

The real secret of writing is simply writing.

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite: My first drafts aren't pretty. They're not perfect. And they're never publishable. Yours probably won't be either. So put your work away for awhile, then go back and revise. Then revise again.

Q: What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished a tween novel and am revising my first historical YA novel. After that I plan to work on a YA romantic thriller.

Q: Where can readers find you online?  

My website and blog:




Comic: Scrabble Addict

This comic was actually created several years ago, but I revamped the copyright info to include my website. It was inspired by my Scrabble addict friend, John Chew.


A Thank You Letter To The SCBWI

Back in May, I wrote a thank you letter to the Society Of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. Stephen Mooser wrote back the following:

Hi Debbie—Wow and Congratulations—we keep a file and a posting of SCBWI Success Stories, and not only is yours one of the best, but it may also be the most entertaining of all time---you have made our day and we are so happy for your well deserved success—looking forward to seeing you again soon—all best wishes from all of us here at the office, Steve

 As I was doing some prep for the SCBWI conference in LA next week, I realized that posting my thank you letter publicly might be of interest to some of you out there…especially those who have never been to an SCBWI event:

May 19, 2012


I’m writing to thank you all. Since I started attending your conventions regularly in 2009, so many opportunities have come my way.

I first heard about your organization and events from Santa Barbara area author named Lee Wardlaw, who was my writing mentor. Lee also introduced me to her agent at Curtis Brown, Ginger Knowlton, and Ginger eventually became my agent.

I was nervous when I decided to register for the Summer Conference in LA in 2009. I had attended many years before, but Lee had been there to introduce me around. This time I'd be going alone. What if no one talked to me? 


When I got to the conference, I was surprised and delighted to find out that my fears were unfounded. Everyone was friendly, and I met kindred spirits everywhere: sitting beside me while we were waiting for a workshop or keynote to begin, at the many social events throughout the weekend, even in line for the women's restroom. Especially in line for the women's restroom.



And the BNA's were friendly and talked with me. Yes, even Jay Asher

(You can see other comics I did leading up to the event here: )

I learned so much at that event and came away incredibly inspired plus during the year, I kept in touch with many of the people I had met.

Fast forward to the 2010 Summer Conference.

After I was rejected for the manuscript critique (it was my fault; I had misread the rules),  my illustrator friend Beckett Gladney suggested that I enter the SCBWI Illustration Portfolio Showcase instead. I thought she was crazy because (1) I had no art training and (2) I had no portfolio. Beckett went through sketches and doodles I had been posting on Flickr, and helped me put together my very first portfolio.



Not only did I win one of two runners-up in the overall Showcase, but I was also chosen for the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program. In addition to one-on-one sessions with six industry experts during the convention, I also met a wonderful group of illustrators who have since become friends. 

We encourage and commiserate by e-mail, launched a SCBWI Mentees blog for children's book illustrators called , and joined forces with Mentees from other years. Late last year, some of us got together for an inspiring, informative and calorie-laden Lost Weekend at the home of Caldecott-winning artist and SCBWI Illustration Board member, David Diaz.


 (Photo from Lost Weekend with David Diaz in Nov/2011)



Back to the 2010 Summer Conference:

ImBoredFrontCover 250

One of the SCBWI Portfolio Showcase judges that year was Justin Chanda, publisher at Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, and he offered me a contract to illustrate Michael Ian Black's new picture book, I'M BORED. !!!

Working with Justin and art director Laurent Linn was amazing. Don't tell anyone, but I couldn't believe that someone was actually paying me to do something that was SO MUCH FUN. I'm blogging about the process at , and I can't wait until the book comes out this September.

But wait, THAT'S NOT ALL....

  Earlier this year, Simon & Schuster BFYR offered me TWO BLANK CONTRACTS (!!!). One is for the next picture book I illustrate for them, still to be determined. The other contract is for a picture book that I will WRITE and very first own picture book. I just recently had my first phone meeting about my story with Justin Chanda, who will be my editor on the project.

None of this would have happened had it not been for the SCBWI. 

6 I’m grateful to Lee Wardlaw (who is on the faculty for this year’s Summer Conference, yay!) for first telling me about the SCBWI.

And I’m especially grateful to the SCBWI Illustration Mentors who have given me advice and encouraged me: Priscilla Burris, David Diaz, Bridget Strevens-Marzo, Cecilia Yung, Pat Cummings and Rubin Pfeffer.

If I could send a message to my younger self, I would tell her the following...


As children’s book author Nancy Parish says: Writing may be a solitary endeavor, but trying to get published doesn’t have to be.

To everyone behind the scenes at SCBWI:



Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Twitter: @inkyelbows (my blog for those who write & illustrate for young people)


Comic: Lemming Critique

OHI0049 WRI LemmingAidCritique sm

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 (


Judy Blume's FOREVER available in ebook format!



Happy to hear that Judy Blume's FOREVER is finally available in digital format. I remember reading this book as a teenager for the first time, riddled with guilt (I had a religious upbringing) but totally fascinated, whispering about it with my friends in school.

It was the first book I'd ever read that dealt so frankly with the physical changes and feelings of teenaged years. I was lucky enough to hear Judy speak at the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA last year - what a down-to-earth, productive and generous woman!


Readers may discuss and share memories about Forever (or any Judy Blume book) using the Twitter hashtag #JudyBlumeForever. If you include the phrase "@Judy Blume's Forever is finally available as an eBook" on your Facebook page, it will automatically post to Judy Blume's fan page as well. The Forever home page includes links to purchase the e-book edition, and a link to repin your favorite Blume book covers on Pinterest.

I ran into Judy Blume and Richard Peck outside the conference hotel, and they kindly posed for a photo:

Richard Peck and Judy Blume


I'M BORED got a starred review in Publishers Weekly!



Thanks to my publisher/editor Justin Chanda and art director Laurent Linn for alerting me to the fact that Publisher's Weekly gave I'M BORED a starred review in their July 9th issue, woohoo!

An excerpt:

"It looks to be the ultimate ennui smackdown: a bored-out-of-her-gourd kid vs. an equally jaded potato... Debut illustrator Ohi’s minimalist, scraggly digital drawings are anything but boring, and speak volumes about irritation, desperation, and disdain."

Yaaaay! :-D

For those who aren't familiar with my book...

I'M BORED is a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by yours truly, coming out on Sept.4th from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. You can read about how the book was created plus see sketches and sample spreads in the I'm Bored Scrapbook. Parents, teachers and librarians may also want to check out the Super Secret I'M BORED Bonus Page.

You can also find I'M BORED on Facebook, Google+ and the Simon & Schuster website, and buy I'M BORED swag on Zazzle. All swag proceeds will go to  Breaking The Chain, a nonprofit literacy cause founded by Riley Carney. Breaking The Chain which works to put new books in high-risk, high-need elementary and middle schools.


Comic: Shades Of Grey-Ish & The Editor

OHI0144 ShadesOfGrey ish 600


Comic: Punctuation Breakup

OHI0143 MisplacedApostropheBreakup600

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 Caption Contest: Man Eating Manuscript

OHI0141 EatWords

Doing some housecleaning of my archived images and came across this one. Caption suggestions, anyone?