A quickie note to let you all know that I'll be in NYC for work meetings as well as the SCBWI Winter Conference until Tuesday, February 5th, though I may be doing some livetweeting from my @DebbieOhi account.
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 Illustrators, Writer'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
I met Susan Laidlaw through the MiG Writer Critique Group and was excited to hear about the publication of her upcoming book, AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE, which comes out from Tundra on February 12th, 2013. I'm so looking forwarding to meeting Susan in person for the first time when all the MiGs get together at the SCBWI Winter Conference next week!
Set in Pakistan, AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE is the story of a teen girl living with her mother and siblings in a diplomatic compound. As if getting used to another new country and set of customs and friends isn't enough, she must cope with an increasingly tense political situation that becomes dangerous with alarming speed. Her life and those of her sister and brother depend on her resourcefulness and the unexpected help of an enigmatic Muslim classmate.
Q. What is your writing process?
In terms of scheduling my writing, I’m a very early riser and I’m always most creative first thing in the morning. Ideas percolate throughout the night. I often wake up in the night thinking about my stories, but I only rarely get up to write down my thoughts. Usually, I wait till morning.
I don’t set out a specific number of hours to write but I do try to write every morning and keep going until I feel I’m no longer being productive. Sometimes that’s only 3-4 hours but sometimes I’ll keep going all day. If I’m having a really good writing day, dishes are piled in the sink and we’re having tuna sandwiches for dinner.
I do a basic outline and a basic character sketch of my main characters. I find it helpful to have an idea where I’m going, even if I diverge, which I often do. I like to really think about all my characters’ backstories and motivations. Even if they aren’t central to the plot, I need to understand who they are to bring them to life.
Getting comfortable with the character’s way of looking at the world is also important. I’ve worked as an adolescent counselor for most of my career, so looking at life from a teen perspective is actually very natural to me but when I was writing AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE, I made a point of immersing myself in books with similarly aged main characters. I particularly liked reading books whose main characters were angry or a little snarky, as Emma, my main character, is both.
For about a year now, I’ve been working on my second novel. I wrote it, sold it, and now I’m in revisions with my wonderful editor, Sue Tate, from Tundra Books. This time I’ve been reading a lot of Young Adult novels with male protagonists, since the main character of my second novel is a 17-year-old boy. I particularly like novels with a bit of humor, since that’s an element of my writing, but I’ll really read anything from the young adult male perspective.
If I find a book that is particularly inspiring, I’ll keep it close at hand and re-read sections of it when I feel stalled on my own writing. If I’m really blocked I may take multiple writing breaks to just curl up and read. That’s one of the things I love about being a writer, you can fritter away hours doing your favourite activity and still call it work.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is one book that I re-read many times while writing my second novel. I’m also a massive, nerdy, John Green fan. I truly hope I never meet him because I know I’ll make a total fool of myself.
Q. If you could give your younger self advice about the craft or business of writing, what would you tell her?
Over twenty years ago I wrote my first book. I sent it off to one publisher. It was turned down but the editor wrote me a very nice handwritten note saying the book wasn’t a good fit for her publishing house but she’d like to see more of my work. I was devastated and didn’t try sending out my work again until just a few years ago. I realize now that that personal note was actually quite an endorsement and I shouldn’t have given up for twenty years.
So I guess my advice to anyone who enjoys writing is, don’t give up. You’re going to suffer rejection along the way. Look at it as part of the process and just keep sending your work out there.
One second piece of advice and it’s equally important is find a good writer’s support group. Being part of MiG Writers has been hugely beneficial to me and it’s not even for the critiquing so much as all the other things, sharing information, encouraging each other, celebrating each other successes, interviewing each other – Thanks for this, by the way.
Writing is by definition something you do by yourself. It’s a reflective, contemplative, process, as is it should be, but publishing is the opposite. It’s all about getting your name out there, getting people to notice you. This isn’t necessarily something that comes naturally to most writers – it certainly doesn’t to me - but having writing friends can make it a lot less intimidating.
Q. Any upcoming projects or events you'd like to mention?
I'm very excited about my second book, which I'm currently revising. It's set in Utila, a tiny island off the coast of Honduras, where my husband and I have a cottage. I've always used Utila as a place to write because there are no distractions, but it's also an ideal location for a mystery. More than half the island is completely deserted, just jungle and mangrove swamp. It's also a bit of a lawless place, particularly in recent months, though Utilans are working hard to keep the problems under control.
In my second novel, the main character's sister goes to Utila to study whale sharks. Utila's also one of the best places in the world to actually snorkel with whale sharks. I've done it myself. Anyway, Luke's sister goes to Utila to work at the whale shark research center - which does actually exist - but one night she disappears without a trace. The authorities think she must have drowned but they can't produce a body and Luke doesn't believe it, so he sets out to Utila to find her.
If everything goes according to schedule, that novel will be out in 2014. I just need to finish these revisions by March!
You can find out more about Susan Laidlaw and her work at:
On Twitter: @SusanLaidlaw1
Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.
Interview: Joyce Grant on GABBY, Picture Book Writing & Editing Process, and Advice For Aspiring Writers
Joyce Grant is the Toronto-based author of GABBY, a new picture book from Fitzhenry & Whiteside, illustrated by Jan Dolby. GABBY is Joyce's first picture book. If you're in Toronto, you're invited to come to the Jan. 27th book launch - see GABBY launch info.
In addition to writing picture books, Joyce is a freelance journalist and editor. She is also co-founder of the website Teaching Kids News, which offers free daily kid-friendly news, and is a passionate advocate of children’s literacy through her blog Getting Kids Reading. On Twitter, she's @JGCanada.
About the book: “Gabby” is the story of quirky, likeable Gabby who discovers that her alphabet book has a magical quality. Its letters can be used to create anything she likes! When Gabby puts the letters together to create a cat and its natural enemy, she has to think fast!
You can read a fun interview by Joyce with Gabby here.
Q. How did GABBY get published?
About four years ago, I went to a CANSCAIP meeting and one of the speakers had some great advice. She told aspiring authors to visit conferences like the Ontario Library Association (OLA) and Reading For The Love Of It. All the publishers are there, and their books are on display. So you can see exactly which publisher might be a good fit for you—and you can meet people and network.
I took that advice seriously. I went to the next OLA conference and checked out every booth. I looked for a publisher whose books appealed to me and seemed to fit with Gabby. It was helpful that I’m also a children’s literacy blogger; publishers want to talk to book bloggers because of course they help publicize their products.
At the Fitzhenry & Whiteside booth, I introduced myself and got chatting with a publisher. It turned out that both our family trees go back to a town in Scotland called Forres. Forres is where Duncan’s castle in Macbeth is set; it’s got some history, some magic. Anyway, that connection sparked a wonderful conversation and I asked her if she would read my manuscript for Gabby. She passed it along to an editor at Fitzhenry—and three weeks later I got the good news!
I was incredibly lucky, because—although I’ve been a freelance journalist my entire career—it was my first creative manuscript submission. I’ll always be very grateful to the editors at Fitzhenry & Whiteside for taking a chance on me.
Q. What's your writing process? or What was your writing process for GABBY?
I only wish I had a proper writing process! I have about a dozen different writing projects on the go, every day. Freelance journalists—we wear a lot of different hats. Every day I do a news article for TeachingKidsNews.com. Every month I produce a newsletter called Administrative Assistants’ Update for Thomson-Reuters. And clients send me documents to edit, so every week I’ll get five or six of those; and then there are other odd deadlines, like marketing projects.
Here’s me: I wake up and grab my phone to check Twitter. Seven a.m., I’m looking at Twitter. I’m a huge news junkie. Then I’ll read the Globe and listen to the CBC. So I find out that a country in Europe is going broke, or there’s a demonstration downtown. So right away I want to write about it for TeachingKidsNews.com. I try to tackle all of my journalism and marketing writing first; after that I can do the work that is more creative.
When I write creatively, I have to have a bubble around me. I have to sort of become the character. I look around the room in her eyes, and I see the things she would see. So I find that I usually need a fairly large block of undisturbed time alone if I’m going to write creatively.
I edit my creative writing a lot. A lot. I’ll go over a sentence 15, 20 or 100 times until each word is exactly the word I want. A picture book is like a 350-word poem to me. There aren’t many words, so each word has to work hard.
In terms of ideas, I have learned that they can come at any time and there has to be a way of capturing them because as much as you think you won’t forget—you will. This year (!) I finally figured out that I need to have one, beautiful notebook. Just one. That’s where I jot my ideas, it’s where I take notes during interviews, it’s where I sketch and it’s where I write. So if my publisher asks me to change something in a manuscript, those notes are in that one book. And when I run out of room in that book, I buy a new one—it’s an indulgence. It’s always lovely, suede or leather—the kind of book that just begs you to write in it. And I prefer pages that are a beige or a cream colour. I use a blue Sonix Gel pen, which is a Staples brand. It’s my current favourite because the ink flows really fast. I have a favourite pencil, too—the Blackwing, which has a very soft, velvety lead. It’s so beautiful I even wrote about it (in my blog, Getting Kids Reading).
I have a great editor. Trust between an editor and a writer is extremely important. Once a writer and an editor have trust, the good work will just flow. You trust that the editor will bring out the best in your writing. And the editor trusts you to submit excellent, well-thought-out work and not get your back up when she tries to help you make it better. I’ve trusted my editor, Christie, at Fitzhenry since day one—since she listened to me describe Gabby and then hired the perfect illustrator to render her just the way I envisioned. As soon as I saw Jan Dolby’s sketches, I thought not only do I have a great illustrator to work with, but boy do I have a great editor. Because Christie was able to “get” exactly what I was trying to do—and then translate that to everyone else who worked on the book.
How do we work together?
I used to watch the CBC show Being Erica. It was about two women who own a small publishing house. After I got my contract for Gabby, I called my editors and said, “Can I take you out for coffee so we can chat about the book?” I wanted to have one of those cool, writer-publisher meetings like Erica did. You know, everyone dressed in black, sipping on lattes in a cafe, discussing “the book.” And that’s exactly what we did. And you know what? It was just as great as I thought it would be! So now every time I go to my publisher’s I try to convince them to have the meeting at Starbucks.
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring picture book writers?
Don’t give up!
It’s kind of funny, because the very day I got the phone call from Fitzhenry with the good news, I had gone to a meeting with my writers’ group and told them I’d decided to quit writing children’s books. To quit!
I belong to a group of six children’s writers who get together regularly to critique each other’s work and discuss stories and plots. Well, for whatever reason that day I was frustrated with my work—and I told the group I was quitting! Yep, that’s it! Hadn’t heard from the publisher—obviously she hated my manuscript—and I should just stick to journalism. Done.
That evening, I got home and the phone rang. It was my publisher calling to tell me they were going to publish Gabby. Unbelievable! Looking back, of course, it’s hilarious that I thought three weeks was such a long time for a publisher to get back to me on a manuscript. But that’s the innocence of ignorance, I suppose. Now I know that the average wait time is more like six months. I guess I was used to journalism deadlines, which are based more on the day or even the hour.
Build a community for your book.
Many years ago, I went to a Writer’s Union symposium—this was before everyone was on Facebook and Twitter—and I got some advice I’ve never forgotten. They stressed, “you have to build your reading community long before your book comes out.”
It’s so true. Gabby has a strong literacy component; for a long time (many years before I started writing for children) I’ve been a children’s literacy advocate. I used to be involved in the Trent Valley Literacy Association in Peterborough, and I blog about children’s literacy.
In Gabby, the main character can actually touch and manipulate the letters in her book to form words. That’s one of the foundations of my literacy theory—that one great way to get kids reading is to give them cut-out letters or Scrabble tiles so they can actually feel them and work with them.
So in marketing Gabby, I want to reach out to parents who are homeschooling, and teachers and other literacy advocates. There’s a huge community there, that’s always looking for good resources. I’m hoping they’ll use Gabby in that way.
Push past your fear of technology.
Of course, the best way these days to build your reader-community is through social marketing like Facebook and Twitter.
If you’re on Facebook, great. So now create a Facebook page for your work. Or an author website, or a blog. If you don’t know how, then starting talking to people and start reading. Or, just do it—often the program will walk you through the process as you go.
When I started my kid-friendly news website, teachingkidsnews.com, I didn’t know much about creating a website. I’ve written for quite a few, but had never actually created one. A friend suggested I check out lynda.com; I took their online course on Wordpress. Lynda.com lets you learn in 10-minute bites; it’s great. I learned nearly everything I know about websites from them. Also, I keep learning from other people and asking questions.
Social media are new—for everyone.
I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years, but when it comes to social media, I’m a neophyte. And that’s because for me—and everyone else—it’s new. We are in the midst of a technology revolution. There are no ancient practitioners of social media. New technology is coming out every day—new hardware, new software, new websites; we’re all learning together.
Get a good proofreader.
It’s not okay to have typos, grammatical errors and inconsistencies in our work. I’ve heard wonderful manuscripts read aloud and they sounded amazing—but when I looked at them on the page, they looked completely different to me. Horrible. I’m an editor (textbooks, journalism) and because I’ve been doing it for so long, typos just leap off the page—I know that’s what it’s like for other editors, too.
It’s the same with inconsistencies. Editors use a manual, like the Chicago Manual of Style or CP Style that defines how they format dates, for instance. Is it January 15th 2013? Or is it Jan. 15, 2013? I wouldn’t expect an author to catch something like that, but for editors it will stick out like a sore thumb.
That’s why, if editing isn’t your forte, you should hire a good proofreader. At least someone who will give you that final polish, looking for typos and inconsistencies. It’s important. I get my work proofread by someone else whenever I can—it’s almost impossible to proofread your own work.
Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?
I’m so excited to make the big announcement here: we’re doing a second Gabby book!
Jan Dolby is the illustrator and Fitzhenry & Whiteside will be publishing it. It’s scheduled to come out in the Fall of 2013. In the second book, Gabby will be taking a bit more control over her letters—she’ll be using them more deliberately, to create her own scenarios. It’s going to be really fun.
I have a few other creative projects on the go as well. I have a novel for adults that I’ve been working on for more than 17 years. I’m not kidding. And I do intend to have it published. I’ve workshopped it twice through the Humber School for Writers and I’ve been told that it’s publishable. The problem is, I just can’t seem to wrap it up! I need to wrap it up. I’ve given myself a deadline of next year. So there’s that.
I’m also working on a middle-grade book of short stories for boys. I have that query in to a publisher and I think it’s got some legs. We’ll have to see if they agree. I hope so; I’ve been working on some of the stories and I’m having fun with it, so we’ll see.
I’m exploring another YA book—non-fiction—as well. They like the idea but it’s one of those enormous projects that might fit into a publisher’s book list or it might not. So far, it looks promising. Again—we’ll see.
Of course, I have TeachingKidsNews.com (TKN), which is a huge commitment for me. We publish one kid-friendly news article every weekday. It’s a labour of love; my TKN partners are amazing. I also do a media lit workshop every week, where I talk to kids about the news. I’d like to do more of those. I’ll be speaking at Reading For The Love Of It this year; we’re doing four seminars. That’s on Thurs., Feb. 21 and Fri., Feb. 22, 2013.
I’ll be doing a book signing for Gabby at the Ontario Library Association Superconference this year, at the Fitzhenry & Whiteside booth on Thurs., Jan. 31 at 2:00 p.m.
And of course, Gabby launched on Jan.15! The launch party will be on Jan. 27 1pm at the Intergalactic Travel Authority Café in Toronto (Bloor St., just west of Dufferin) and I would love it if everyone would come down! After all, children’s book writers, editors and illustrators—we’re a village.
I’m on the Internet at:
www.joycegrantauthor.com (author website)
www.teachingkidsnews.com (daily, kid-friendly news with teaching questions)
www.gkreading.com (children’s literacy blog)
Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.
I posted about working on NAKED! over on Pixel Shavings today:
Working on sketches for NAKED! today. Each time I finish a sketch, I reward myself with a chapter of CODE NAME VERITY.— Debbie Ridpath Ohi (@inkyelbows) January 18, 2013
Click on my "microbooktweet" tag to browse some of my other micro-length book reviews and tweets.
I've been starting to post micro book reviews & comments about kidlit/YA books on Twitter from time to time, and will include them here on Inkygirl when I like a book. I'll tag these with "microbooktweet" to make it easier for people to find similar posts.
I enjoyed working on I'M BORED so much that I was secretly hoping that I'd get to illustrate another of Michael's stories...and my wish was granted! Entertainment Weekly posted the news this morning.
I am so very, very pleased to announce that my next picture book illustration project is going to be NAKED!, written by Michael Ian Black, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. I LOVE the story and am already having a ton of fun doing sketches for the book.
Plus I get to work with Justin Chanda (editor) and Laurent Linn (art director) again!
NAKED launches in the Summer 2014.
If you're on Facebook, I'd appreciate you Liking our new NAKED Facebook Page...thanks. :-)
Inkygirl.com was included in the Writer's Yearbook 2013 list of Top 101 Websites For Writers! Apparently 4,350 nominations for sites were sent in, and the Writer's Digest editorial team sifted through them to choose the final list. Thanks to all who nominated me and to Writer's Digest for choosing Inkygirl!
I am soooo tempted to follow the detailed instructions on Rookie ("It's A Book! It's A Bag") and turn a copy of I'M BORED into a book bag. But I am trying very hard to stick to my goal of cutting down the number of extra projects so I can make more time to read and create books.
But. I. Am. So. Very. Tempted.
If you're a crafty type and want to be tempted to, feel free to check out the instructions on Rookie, or one of the following resources:
Book Purse Tutorial - Hungry Panda Clothing
How To Make A Book Purse - WikiHow
How To Make A Purse From Old Books - Squidoo
Or get a book purse custom-made:
plus many others. Just search for "book purse" and look for creators who do custom orders.
[Update: You can download Ame Dyckman's "Breathing book molecules helps you write" quote poster from my For The Love Of Reading page.]
Ame Dyckman is one of the sunniest and most enthusiastic online personalities I've ever come across. I love her positive posts, how she encourages and helps promote others in the industry. I really hope to meet her in person someday!
I recently bought a copy of her BOY + BOT picture book, published by Knopf Books For Young Readers last year and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. This funny, tender story focuses on a friendship between a boy and his robot.
Q. What’s your writing process?
At home, I sit in my Writing Spot, on the floor in the TV room between the couch and the toe-eating table.
When I get a funny thought, I jot it down. Some of these become story ideas. Some become Tweets. (Twitter is a terrific brain playground for PB writers!) Some of my thoughts are too goofy to become anything! But they make me laugh.
If my Funny Thoughts tank is empty, I think up random questions and Google the answers. (Recently: “How do you brush an alligator’s teeth?” and “Where can I buy gauntlets?”) This often leads to story ideas, too.
When I’m stumped for the morning, I jump in the shower. When I’m super-stumped, I ride on a train. (Once, I was SUPER super-stumped and thought I’d have to shower on a train, but I got an idea on the way to the station. Which was good because I don’t think our trains have showers.)
I go to the library a lot. Breathing book molecules helps you write. It’s a fact.
When I have a story percolating, I’m possessed and temporarily useless for most other tasks. I forget to shut off the sprinklers. I lock myself out of the house. I burn most meals.
Luckily, my family is very understanding. (And our local pizzeria delivers.)
I jot on anything handy. (The cats run when I’m holding a pen.) I do my actual writing on my laptop, and my editing on paper. I keep pages to edit in my pocket.
Usually, I remember to take my pages out of my pocket before I do the laundry.
Writing picture books is a crazy-fun-messy process, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring picture book writers?
If you want to write picture books, read every picture book you can. Then re-read them. Order pizza for dinner so you can read longer.
Read picture books aloud to children. If no children are handy, read to dogs. (I love cats too, but most cats prefer dystopian YA.)
If no children or dogs are handy, read picture books to anyone not operating heavy machinery at the time.
Learn what you love in a picture book. Learn what others love. Write for all of you.
Most importantly, celebrate every writing success, no matter how small. Each finished draft deserves ice cream!
Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?
I’m looking forward to the release of my next picture book, TEA PARTY RULES (Viking; Fall, 2013), illustrated by the fabulous K.G. Campbell (LESTER’S DREADFUL SWEATERS and the forthcoming THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES OF FLORA AND ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo). TEA PARTY RULES is a funny eventual friendship/compromise story between a rule-obsessed little girl and a tea party-crashing bear cub who really wants cookies.
Here's where you can find out more about Ame Dyckman and her projects:
Her website: AmeDyckman.com
On Twitter: @AmeDyckman
Celebrate every writing success, no matter how small. Each finished draft deserves ice cream! - @AmeDyckman http://bit.ly/VLC7bC (Tweet this)
Breathing book molecules helps you write. It is a fact. - @AmeDyckman (BOY and BOT) http://bit.ly/VLC7bC (Tweet this)
Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.