Welcome to Inkygirl: Reading, Writing and Illustrating Children's Books (archive list here) which includes my Creating Picture Books series, Advice For Young Writers and IllustratorsWriter's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, my poetry for young readers, #BookADay, writing/publishing industry surveys, and 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day Writing Challenge. Also see my Inkygirl archives,  and comics for writers (including Keiko and Will Write For Chocolate). Also check out my Print-Ready Archives for Teachers, Librarians, Booksellers and Young Readers.

I tweet about the craft and business of writing and illustrating at @inkyelbows. If you're interested in my art or other projects, please do visit DebbieOhi.com. Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi


Happy National Grammar Day!

In honor of National Grammar Day, here's a Will Write For Chocolate strip from the archives:

And thanks to Martha Brockenbrough for founding National Grammar Day!


Part 2 of my BIG NEWS: Judy Blume, Simon & Schuster Children's, audition process info & why I can't attend SCBWI-NYC this year

UPDATE: To see sample illustrations, final covers, photo of me meeting Ms. Blume in person, see DebbieOhi.com/judyblume.

So in Part 1 of my Judy Blume news, I mentioned that I was thrilled to be illustrating the covers of the seven middle grade editions of classic Judy Blume novels that are being reissued by Simon & Schuster Children's.

Well, that's not all.

Just got word that I can make this public: I am also excited to be illustrating the covers of three Judy Blume classics that are being reissued as chapter books AND PROVIDING THE INTERIOR ILLUSTRATIONS AS WELL.

These books are Freckle Juice, The One In the Middle Is The Green Kangaroo and The Pain And The Great One. (***Edit May 12, 2014: Hardcover editions come out June 3rd, paperbacks on May 27th, 2014***)



My history as a Judy Blume fangirl:

Like many others reading this, I'm a longtime fan of Judy Blume's work. Her books reassured my younger, angsty self that I wasn't the only one having all these bizarre thoughts and feelings and impulses. I was way too insecure and introverted to ever talk frankly about many of these topics with anyone. Books like Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret comforted me, helped me gain the confidence to ask questions, to not feel so much like a freak. Reading her books, it seemed as if Judy Blume knew me.

My sister helped introduce some of Judy Blume's work to me, like Deenie. Ruth read the book just before she was diagnosed with scoliosis herself, and told me later that Deenie's experiences with wearing a Milwaukee Brace were very similar to hers. "Except I didn't have a guy fall in love with me while I wore mine. :-)"

At the SCBWI Summer conference in 2011, Judy Blume was on the faculty and I was struck by her down-to-earth good humor and easygoing manner. I was too nervous to consider approaching her during the weekend, but as I was about to head off to the airport, I came across Richard Peck and Ms. Blume in front of the hotel. On impulse, I asked if they minded if I snapped a photo and they kindly agreed:

Fast-forward two and a half years later. LOOK what Judy Blume tweeted a few days ago:


I have, of course, printed this tweet out and put it up in my office. I'm also going to print out and laminate a smaller version which I plan to carry around with me FOREVER, to remind myself that childhood dreams sometimes do come true.

How I became the illustrator of Judy Blume's revamped middle grade & chapter books:

On Dec. 19, Justin Chanda (my editor at Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers and also publisher) emailed to see if I was interested in auditioning for a book project "of great proportions" but that also had a very tight deadline. Intrigued, I said I was interested. Here is a transcript of the email exchange that followed...

---- Transcript begins ------

9:07 pm, JUSTIN:

    Did you perhaps read Judy Blume growing up?

9:08 pm, ME:


9:10 pm, JUSTIN:

    Ok good. We'll talk tomorrow morning.

9:11 pm, ME:

     Very much looking forward to chatting tomorrow

---- Transcript ends ------

What I needed to do: come up with cover illustration sketch ideas for three of the books. Justin and I brainstormed and I also had notes from brainstorming sessions that took place at S&S Children's with Namrata Tripathi. Thanks also to some of my Torkidlit friends (whom I swore to secrecy) and a few others for helping me come up with some extra sketch ideas.

I had been warned that I may not get the job, so I knew that there was a good chance I'd be working through the holiday season and still get passed over, but I couldn't say no. I mean....JUDY BLUME!!!

Shortly after I began sketches, however,  the Toronto ice storm hit and we lost power in our house. My friend, Cathy Rutland, came to the rescue and offered to let me stay at her apartment until our power came back on. Jeff (MY HERO) took a break from trying to keep our water pipes from freezing and moved my scanner, iMac, Wacom stuff and other hardware I needed over to Cathy's apartment.

Meanwhile, Justin and I were in constant touch. He and I were exchanging emails, sketches, feedback on sketches pretty much every day throughout the holidays except for Christmas Day and New Year's. [Correction: Justin reminded me that we actually did exchange email on New Year's as well. :-)]

Because the books were coming out in April and they had not yet found the right illustrator, timing was tight. I estimate I drew over 150 sketches during that time and sent Justin 50 of those. When everyone else got back after the holidays, I continued the brainstorming and sketching process with Justin, Dan Potash, Namrata Tripathi and Lauren Rille.

Side note: I've noticed some mistakenly think that I did the cover redesign. I want to emphasize that Lauren Rille did the wonderful new cover designs, not me. I just provided the illustrations.

Up to this point, I had mainly been focusing on hand-drawn sketches that I scanned into Photoshop, but Dan Potash asked if I could redraw some of their favorites into vector-line style. This wasn't my usual illustration style but I love creative challenges. :-)

Finally we came up with some cover samples that were good enough to send to Judy Blume, and then I waited to hear if she liked them or not. This is when I posted the following on Facebook:

The waiting was AGONY. I was such an airhead at home, forgetting where I put things, only half paying attention to what was going on around me. I burned meals. I also put dish soap in the rinse agent compartment of our dishwasher....there were suds everywhere! Jeff was incredibly patient. :-)

Justin called me on January 16th, 2014. I remember noticing the 212 area code and immediately thinking newyorknewyorkohpleaseohplease and then picking up the phone and JUSTIN TOLD ME THAT JUDY BLUME LOVED THE COVERS YAAAAAAAAY *AND* that they wanted me to also do the interior illustrations for the three chapter books. (!!!!)

I freaked out. I became aware I had started screaming at Justin, tried to calm down and be professional, but then started screaming again. At one point, he had to reassure me that "Yes, this is really happening." After the call, I immediately called Jeff at work and screamed at him and then I emailed my sister and my agent at Curtis Brown, Ginger Knowlton (by that point my throat was sore from all that screaming :-)).

Some of you may have seen my "Blooming" found object doodle recently:

The material came from a congratulatory bouquet of flowers from my friend Cathy, who said they were blooms for my Blume news. :-)

And this brings me to why I can't attend SCBWI-NYC this coming week:

Because the chapter books are coming out in May, the deadline is tight. Cover details are still being tweaked. And I've been madly working on the b&w interior illustrations, which need to be finished in the next couple of weeks. I'm using a much looser illustration style for the interiors; I'll post samples when I can.

I had to cancel my trip to NYC and the SCBWI Winter Conference and have been working through weekends and many evenings, turning down social invites. Jeff treks down to my basement office every once in a while to check on how I'm doing. He and I have been getting takeout a lot lately.

But every so often I'll force myself to press pause, sit back and appreciate the moment. I AM ILLUSTRATING BOOKS BY JUDY BLUME.


My husband has gotten used to me sending him random texts during the day consisting of just the following:

Early in the process, Lauren Rille and I were chatting about being Judy Blume fangirls, and how absolutely COOL it was we got to read and reread Judy Blume books and say it was part of work.

One thing I noticed as I was rereading her books: Judy Blume books are as relevant and inspiring now as they were years ago, dealing with universal issues and feelings while growing up. At the L.A. Times Festival Of Books, Judy Blume had advice for grown-up fans of her work who want to introduce their children to her books.

"First, invest in one with a new cover," she says. "Even if you like the old, original covers. Second, don't give it to them. Just leave the books strategically placed around the house and then occasionally say: 'Oh no, you're not reading that -- you're not ready for it yet.' " Heh.

You can find out more about Judy Blume and her work at  JudyBlume.com, including tips for aspiring writers.

Meanwhile, I'd better get back to work. THANK YOU for all the kind words, congratulatory messages and encouragement. They are so much appreciated.


Will Write For Chocolate updated: "Comma Shock"

For more Will Write For Chocolate comics, please visit WillWriteForChocolate.com or my Will Write For Chocolate Facebook Page. Also see the Will Write For Chocolate archives.


Comic: If Cinderella Was A Writer

Thanks to A Mighty Girl for sharing one of my older comics on their FB page; I've noticed it's already been shared around 1500 times! I also VERY MUCH appreciate A Mighty Girl including an illustration credit in the post text (thank you!), since the image being shared has my copyright info cropped out. 

For those looking for the original and who want to share it, I'd appreciate you sharing the image below instead of the cropped version, thanks:



Judy Blume, Simon & Schuster Children's, and MY BIG NEWS (Part 1)

 February 16, 2014 edit: Also see Part 2 of my Judy Blume news!!!!

You can see the official cover reveal today in:

but S&S gave me permission to post the other middle grade covers here as well.




Huge thanks to Justin Chanda for inviting me to audition for this project. When he called me a few weeks ago to tell me I got the job, I screamed. A LOT. I'm sure I broke his eardrums.

Then I called Jeff at work and screamed at him as well.

It's been huge fun working with Lauren Rille, the art director on this project responsible for the fantastic cover design, and working with Justin Chanda and Namrata Tripathi on ideas as well. I'll be posting more details and thanks in a future blog post.

But for now...


Just WOW.



(Note about the above: I only illustrated the cover for ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET; there are no interior illustrations - I suspect this listing may change, so had to take a screenshot before it did. But still, I really do wish I could send the above listing to my younger self.) 

 February 16, 2014 edit: Also see Part 2 of my Judy Blume news!!!!


Interview: Carmella Van Vleet on middle grade novels, publication, writer advice and ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER (Holiday House, launches Feb. 14, 2014)


I met Carmella Van Vleet through MiGWriters, a wonderful critique group I discovered through the SCBWI message boards. Carmella is a former kindergarten teacher and the author of numerous hands-on science and history books, including Great Ancient Egypt Projects You Can Build Yourself (Nomad Press). She loves lists, cooking shows, exclamation points, and taekwondo - but not necessarily in that order! ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER is her first novel and launches on February 14th!

I love this story and its protagonist, Eliza Bing, and can't wait until this book hits the bookstore shelves next week.

Where to find Carmella online: Website - ClassOf2k14 - MigWriters - Facebook - Twitter


Author: Carmella Van Vleet

Cover artist: Karen Donnelly

Publisher: Holiday House

Launch date: February 14th, 2014

Goodreads - Indiebound - Amazon.com

Plot synopsis for Eliza Bing Is (Not) A Big, Fat Quitter:

Eleven-year-old Eliza has had many hobbies - and most of them haven't lasted very long. After she and her friend Tony create a baking business for a class project, Eliza is certain that cake decorating is her destiny. But her parents insist that the summer "Cakes with Caroline" class is too expensive, given Eliza's history of quickly losing interest in things.

Desperate to show them that she can stick with something, she volunteers to take her brother's unwanted spot in a taekwondo class. At first, Eliza has no interest in martial arts, and taekwondo is a huge challenge for her since she has ADHD. Eliza is tempted to drop out, especially when mean girl Madison shows up in class. Eliza may have set out to prove she’s no quitter, but she discovers something else: it’s okay to change your mind about who you are.

Q. What's your writing process? or What was your writing process for ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER?

Carmella and her daughter.A. I spent ten years writing non-fiction before switching to fiction. I thought the transition would be pretty easy, but I quickly discovered that the process for writing fiction - at least for me - was much different. When I working in non-fiction, my drafts were outlined and completed on a set-in-stone schedule. And often times with the television or my three kids making noise! For fiction, I need a quiet house and plenty of room to warm up and play around. I had a rough outline for ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER but, for the most part, I was “pantser.” It was definitely a challenge to find the right voice; instead of my Teacher Voice, I had to get in touch with my Inner Middle Schooler. But once I found Eliza, she was pretty talkative. It helped, too, that much of the book was based on my daughter’s experiences with ADHD and bullying and our taekwondo training.

Carmella's office, where the magic happens!

From idea to ready-to-submit-to-agents, the book took about two years. (I’m not a fast drafter; I’ve learned to accept that. One of the most important things you have to remember is not to compare yourself to other writers.) Part of the process was working with my critique partners, the MiGs to get feedback. I also made the decision to work with freelance editor Diane Bailey. She was able to bring a fresh, critical eye to the manuscript. I’m not suggesting every writer needs to spend the money to hire a freelance editor but for me, and for that particular project, it was I needed to get my writing past “good” and into “good enough for publication” (In the interest of full disclosure, Diane and I are friends.)

Carmella signing her book contract

Q. How did ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER get published?

A. I found my agent the old fashioned way - through lots of research and rejections. I got pretty close with a couple of agents before I found Marie. She was new to agenting, so I like to joke that I was just waiting for her to show up to the party. “The Call” is actually kind of a funny story.

Carmella with her agent, Marie Lamba (The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency)I’d been sending out my book for a while and getting pretty discouraged. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this fiction stuff. You know? Around that time, my publisher contacted me about doing another non-fiction book for them. I was at a crossroads. Go back to non-fiction, which I loved and enjoyed success with, or keep pursuing my dream of writing fiction? One morning, I asked the Universe for a sign. I said, “And please make it something big since I’m dense sometimes!” Later in the day, I decided to draft a letter to my editor, turning down the non-fiction contract. I just wanted to see how it would feel. Right in the middle of typing, the phone rings. I can see from caller ID that it’s Marie and knew right away why she was calling. I thought, “Okay, Universe! I get it!” I’m sure Marie had no idea what to think when I answered the phone laughing!

Once I signed with her, I did a few more revisions and then we were ready to submit to publishers. We got positive feedback, but it was maybe eight weeks or so before an offer came. After I called my husband and parents and a close friend (all sworn to secrecy of course), my daughter went with me to buy a cake. I also treated myself to some fancy nail polish. It wasn’t until I was half way home before the irony hit me. You see, my main character gets herself into big trouble because of an incident with nail polish!

The editing process went very well despite an early bump in the road. The editor who originally made the offer, left the publishing house. (It happens sometimes.) But I was quickly adopted by another editor who loved Eliza just as much as I did and took very good care of the both of us. Julie was terrific and I agreed with almost everything she suggested, so things went quickly and smoothly.

One of the best parts of the process was when I went to New York (I was there for a SCBWI conference) and got to meet the folks at Holiday House in person. Everyone was so kind and welcoming. And I was humbled to discover that everyone in the small house was familiar with my book. Plus, I got to meet Eliza’s first reader, Assistant Editor Sally Morgridge. I wanted to give her a bear hug her or buy her a car or something, but for the record, I acted professionally. LOL.

Galleys for ELIZA BING

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring middle grade writers?

A. My best advice for middle grade writers is to do whatever you can to remember or get yourself back in touch with your kid-self. Read old journals, look at yearbooks or photos or videos. Ask your parents or siblings if they remember any stories about you. Middle schoolers are funny, thoughtful, curious and open. But at the same time, they’re under tremendous pressure to “fit in.” They’re much wiser than many people give them credit for, too. Don’t preach or teach - reach for them. And show up with honesty and a good sense of humor.

While it’s not absolutely necessary, hanging around middle schoolers is a good way to get inside their world. Listen to the way they talk, what they’re talking about (or not talking about) and how the interact with each other. This might mean volunteering to be the carpool parent or dance chaperone. If you don’t have pre-teens of your own, borrow a friends or coach or sit down at the food court at your local mall and eavesdrop.

My other piece of advice is to catch middle schoolers reading and pick their brains. For example, I train at a a taekwondo school. There are lots of kids around and whenever I see one reading a book, I make a point to ask them about it. Are they enjoying it? Is there anything they wish they could change? What made them pick up the book in the first place? The point isn’t to quiz them but to open up a conversation between readers. Because that’s what all writers should be first and foremost - good readers.

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

I’m happy to announce that I recently signed a deal for my first picture book. TO THE STARS!, which I co-authored with astronaut Kathy Sullivan, will be released in 2016 from Charlesbridge Publishing. It’s about how Dr. Sullivan’s curiosity and love of science led her to become the first American women to walk in space and uses this really cool back-n-forth format.

I’ve recently finished writing a young adult novel as well. I’m hoping we can start submitting to publishers soon.

I’m also hoping to speak at writers’ conference about the rewards and challenges of writing in multiple genres and other topics. So if there’s anyone out there who needs a speaker...please contact me via my website. I’d love to hear from you!


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Interview: Holly Schindler and her MG novel, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY (Dial/Penguin)

I'm delighted to kick off the blog tour for Holly Schindler's THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, which launches from Dial on February 6th.

Holly Schindler is a critically acclaimed YA author; her debut, A BLUE SO DARK, received a starred review in Booklist, was one of Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels for Youth, and won a silver medal in ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year and a gold medal in the IPPY Awards. THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY is her first MG. She can be found working on her next book in her hometown of Springfield, MO (or devouring a plate of Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken, the world’s best writing fuel).

Where to find Holly: Website - Blog - Twitter - Facebook - Smack Dab In the Middle - YA Outside The Lines



August “Auggie” Jones lives with her Grandpa Gus, a trash hauler, in a poor part of town. So when her wealthy classmate’s father starts the House Beautification Committee, it’s homes like Auggie’s that are deemed “in violation.” Auggie is determined to prove that she is not as run-down as the outside of her house might suggest. Using the kind of items Gus usually hauls to the scrap heap, a broken toaster becomes a flower; church windows turn into a rainbow walkway; and an old car gets new life as spinning whirligigs. What starts out as a home renovation project becomes much more as Auggie and her grandpa discover a talent they never knew they had—and redefine a whole town’s perception of beauty, one recycled sculpture at a time. Auggie’s talent for creating found art will remind readers that one girl’s trash really is another girl’s treasure.

Title: The Junction Of Sunshine And Lucky

Author: Holly Schindler

Publisher: Dial (Feb. 6, 2014)

Age Range: 8-12 yrs / Grade level: 3-7

Editor: Nancy Conescu, Executive Editor for Dial Books / Penguin

Holly's agent: Deborah Warren of East/West Literary Agency


What’s your writing process / what was your writing process for THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY?

I’m really lucky—I’ve been a full-time writer since ’01. When I graduated with my master’s, my mom encouraged me to stay home, devote the entirety of my attention to my writing. It had been a lifelong dream, actually. (I was writing stories as a little girl at my bedroom desk!) In the beginning, of course, I thought it’d take a year or so to write a novel, it’d sell (I’d been lucky enough to place a few shorter pieces while in college, and was under the grand delusion that it’d be easy to sell a book), and I’d be off and running.

Oh, the naiveté. In reality, it took seven and a half years to get my first yes. That’s seven and a half years of full-time work. Seven days a week. I worked harder in my “unemployed” years than I ever had in my life.

The first book I sold was for a YA—A BLUE SO DARK. I sold it myself, to Flux, after more than 80 rejections.

THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY is my third published book—my first MG. The process was its own long journey…The book was initially drafted in ’05, and will be published February 6, 2014!

Most of my books actually start out with a scenario. A what-if. THE JUNCTION was different, in that it started with characters. The first person I saw was Gus. I swear, I saw him just as clearly as I’ve seen any person I’ve met in life. I felt like I was looking through Auggie’s eyes, straight at her Grandpa. It’s a completely different experience starting with a character and building a conflict and subplots around her. Through the whole thing, you kind of grab hold of this person and brave the world with her…You fall in love with her. When it’s all said and done, you can’t wait for the world to meet her, but you miss her, too—more than you do the characters in the books where you start with scenarios.


It was wild, actually—after seven and a half years of full-time effort, I was beginning to feel like all I had to show for my work was a skull-shaped hole in my office where I’d been knocking my head against the wall. In January of ‘09, though, I accepted the deal for my YA with Flux…Not two hours later, I got a call from an agent who was wild about an MG I’d sent her the previous fall. I signed with Deborah Warren of East / West, and she shopped THE JUNCTION while A BLUE SO DARK was in development.

I think most people assume that getting an agent means the doors in the publishing world will automatically fly open, but it took a year and a half to sell THE JUNCTION. I also revised the book multiple times, in-between rounds of submission.

…And once it sold, it also went through still more rounds of revision. That was another real surprise to me, once I started landing deals: how much global revision actually occurs after acquisition. Even after THE JUNCTION was rewritten globally a couple of times, my editor (Nancy Conescu) still felt the themes were competing. We wound up talking over the phone—having a brainstorming session, hashing it out. The book was revised once more; this time, we tackled the book in thirds (the beginning, middle, end). At the end of it, my editor and I were both thrilled with the results.

What advice do you have for aspiring middle grade writers?

DON’T GIVE UP . I know in my own pursuit of publication, I hit a really bad time, right at about four years in. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my frustration was probably tied into the fact that I had this impossible-to-ignore marker that would ring like a gong every year: I started my full-time pursuit the day after I graduated with my master’s. Each graduation season, as caps and gowns paraded across the paper and local news, I’d think—There’s one year gone. Two. Three…I think part of the reason that four years bothered me so much was that it took four years to get through high school. Four years to get my undergrad degree. But at the four year mark during my pursuit of publication, I hadn’t really gotten many “good” rejections (in which editors offered advice). It was a real make-or-break moment.

Obviously, I decided to put my rear in the chair and get back to work. And the first thing I wrote after that decision was the first draft of THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY.

…Which brings me to my second bit of advice: DON’T BE BULL-HEADED. Accept the fact that you have a ton to learn. We all do, no matter what stage we’re in—published or not.

When I first wrote THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, it was a picture book. Gus was the artist (not Auggie). In that first version, Auggie’s character didn’t even have a name. We were just looking through her eyes as she told the story of her Grampa Gus, a folk artist.

I got some positive response to the writing in the beginning, but no takers. Editors all told me that the concept of folk art was too advanced for the picture book audience. I was encouraged to turn the book into a MG novel.

It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, to reinvent a 1,000-word story as a roughly 45,000-word novel. But those editors said were right—the concept was too advanced for a picture book. So I plunged in. Even after I’d made the switch, though, I still had to find my agent, and after I got my agent, I still had to revise multiple times.

You’ve got to be willing to listen. You’ve got to be willing to put in the work. And then start over again, even when you think you’ve got the book nailed.

But here’s the beauty of it: Every single book is revised once it’s acquired. If you get the revision part down pre-acquisition, you’ll have a much easier time receiving editorial letters when your first book is in development.

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

I’m working on my next MG, of course, but I’m also happy to announce that my next YA, FERAL, is in development with HarperCollins! I’ll be making announcements regarding that novel (including a cover reveal and release date info) on my blog soon: hollyschindler.blogspot.com.

…If you’re interested in getting in on blog tours, or if you’re a teacher or librarian and are interested in Skype visits, be sure to contact me at writehollyschindler (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Where to find out more about Holly and her work:

Twitter: @holly_schindler

Facebook: facebook.com/hollyschindlerauthor

Author site: hollyschindler.com

Author blog: hollyschindler.blogspot.com

Holly is also the administrator of two group author blogs: Smack Dab in the Middle (smack-dab-in-the-middle.blogspot.com) for MG authors, and YA Outside the Lines ( yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com) for YA authors.


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Comic: Time Vampires, Freelance Life and Finding Focus


Productivity tip: Use AwayFind to stop checking email so often

I mentioned earlier that I'd be sharing any tips and tools I've been using to help me focus. One of the biggest discoveries I made last year is a service called AwayFind.

I used to check email obsessively throughout the day. At first it was because I didn't want to miss anything important that came in, but then I realized that even if I wasn't expecting anything super-urgent, I'd STILL regularly (as in at least a few times an hour, sometimes more often) check my email, no matter what else I was doing.

It was only after I started timing myself, seeing how long I could work before I checked email, that I had to admit I had a real problem. The action of frequent email-checking was so automatic that it happened without conscious effort, making it impossible for me to sustain focus for more than a very short time. Gah.

The brilliance of Awayfind: You can set up a list of email addresses and get alerts when mail arrives from any of them. You can even customize these alerts, to avoid getting alerted for groupmails, etc. I added agent's address, for example, as well as other important work-related contacts.

There are different pricing plans, but you can try out the Personal and Pro for 30 days for free. I ended up opting for the Pro account.

End result? I no longer feel compelled to check email so often, giving me more distraction-free time to focus.

You can check out Awayfind yourself: http://www.awayfind.com

(and no, I'm not getting any affiliate fee for this recommendation)

Do you have another productivity tool to recommend? Feel free to post below!



How To Create and Write A Book In (Yes I said IN) Minecraft, plus Minecraft and literacy

Visiting Gaming Edus, a Minecraft server for educators and students; thanks to children's book author & educator Liam O'Donnell for the invite. Everyone's been super-helpful, and one of the students even built me a small stone home complete with helpful signs! You can find out more about GamingEdus here: http://www.gamingedus.org

When I was visiting with my nephews on Christmas Day, they introduced me to Minecraft. I had been aware of the game before, of course, but wasn't that impressed with the blocky graphics. Plus I had assumed it was mainly a hunt-and-shoot type of game, which didn't appeal to me that much.

But my mom-in-law had given my sis-in-law a copy of The Minecraft Guide For Parents, and while idly flipping through some of the pages, I realized that maybe there was more to the game than I had previously thought. Since then, I've also discovered that more schools are starting to bring Minecraft into the classroom (see my list of resources at the end of this post).


So far, I'm finding Minecraft more appealing than Second Life. Although the graphics are chunky, the benefit is that everything's super-fast, with no complex rendering needed. The blocky graphics have a charm of their own, and building things with them remind me of the childhood fun I used to have with Lego. (Side note: I have no idea if Lego tried to buy Minecraft but if they didn't, they should have.)

In addition to giving me another way of connecting with my nephews, it's also (depending on the server) a much more family-friendly environment than Second Life. I've already run into some parents who play Minecraft online WITH their kids.

Over the holidays, I was also invited to check out the GamingEdus Minecraft server by children's book author and educator Liam O'Donnell. With support of the EDGE Lab at Ryerson University, the GamingEdus project was founded as a way to introduce other educators to the learning potential of videogames, through the Minecraft, with a focus on equity, diversity, inclusion and student-led, inquiry-based learning.

To parents and educators who are skeptical about the potential benefits of Minecraft: I strongly encourage you to check out Liam's posts about how he uses Minecraft in the classroom, especially for students who need reading and writing support.

But back to making books...

There are many different aspects of Minecraft, including player-vs-player interactions, but the part that appeals to me the most is crafting: seeking out resources and putting them together to create other items. You can grow and harvest plants, hunt, mine for minerals, raise sheep for wool, create dyes to color that wool as well as glass. You can even create paintings, though currently any created painting becomes one of 26 canvases by artist Kristoffer Zetterstrand. Hopefully someday the Minecraft people will will let us create our own.

But look above! I recently discovered that not only can players create books, but they can write in these books and then give them to others. (An aside: you can't take items with you from one world into another, so you'd need to create the book in the same world in which you plan to use it.)

Before reading further, you should also be warned that the only way to create books in Minecraft is to kill some virtual creatures. And if you're an author reading this just to figure out a way of promoting your book to the Minecraft crowd, you may as well skip the rest of this post. 

[Edit January 13, 2014: Liam O'Donnell has pointed out that you can skip the crafting part and go straight into the writing part if you play in Creative Mode.]

For those of you who have kids who play Minecraft or who enjoy playing Minecraft yourself, keep reading...

I'm still in the midst of creating my own writeable book in Minecraft. Why am I doing it? Because I love Minecraft AND I love books, and cannot resist the challenge. In theory, a written book created in Minecraft can contain up to 50 pages, with up to 256 characters per page. You can paste text but currently can't edit/select text. You can read the tech overview on the Minecraft Gamepedia, but here's a basic overview:

You can get feathers by killing chickens:

You get ink sacs by killing Squid:

But you also need a Book, which is created with Paper and Leather:

You can get leather from killing cows or horses (I KNOW I KNOW! I did warn you), and paper from sugar cane:

You can also use paper for making maps as well. Anyway, here's my sugar cane crop:


The wooden blocks cover an underground irrigation system I set up, since sugar cane will only grow beside water.


Yes, it's a long and involved process to create a book in Minecraft. But for me, at least, it's part of the gameplay and I'm enjoying it thoroughly. I'm also hugely curious about redstone dust, which can be used to create power circuits and operate mechanism components. One of my nephews tells me that it's possible to make a simple computer in Minecraft. Lots of potential for creative fun in the future and whoa, so many potential creative learning experiences for young people.


Related Resources:

Messy Learning With Minecraft - by children's book author and educator, Liam O'Donnell 

GamingEdus - Includes Minecraft Resources For Educators and Five Ways Minecraft Can Boost Student Writing Skills


Minecraft.net - Official site

Book: The Minecraft Guide For Parents by Cori Dusmann (PeachPit Press, Dec/2013). The Indiebound entry doesn't seem to have much info, unfortunately, but there's more on the Amazon.com book page. I bought the Kindle version. Includes basics of how to install, set up and play the game.


Happy New Year's! Plus thoughts on New Year's Resolutions, time management and finding focus

 Above: Quickie sketch experiment -- First I did the ink drawing by hand using a Pentel Pocket Pen Brush on sketchbook paper. Then I scanned it, imported into Photoshop, and digitally colored the drawing.

Happy New Year's, all! Apologies for the hiatus. Between the Toronto ice storm (we were one of the households that lost power) and work (auditioning for a veryveryvery cool book-related project; please cross your fingers for me!), I didn't have time to do much blogging.

For 2014, I've decided not to post any specific resolutions except for one: Strive for focus

Those of you who have been following my various blogs over the years already know that I have a wide variety of creative interests. Some come and go while others have remained constant. My challenge: there are WAY too many things I want to do and learn to do well, but not enough time. Plus I tend to be prone to the "ooo shiny" reaction when I come across cool and inspiring things. Which, um, is often.

This year, I have a pretty intense work schedule in terms of book writing and illustration work. I'm very excited about it all and want to find ways to be more productive. Don't get me wrong: I strongly believe in the importance of CREATIVE PLAYTIME, but I also think that I have way too many creative playtime interests at present. 

This year, rather than try to do them all and just feel frustrated and scattered, I'm going to deliberately cut back on my usual "going to find time to do more xxxx this year" goals as well as cutting back on related Physical Stuff.


SEWING STUFF - Back in 2008, I decided to learn how to use a sewing machine and a serger (I won the latter in a raffle and had no idea what it was at first), learn how to sew my own clothes, make all kinds of cool sewing thingies, blah di blah blah. Years later, I am having to admit to myself that I simply Don't Have Time. So I just gave away my serger, dressmaking form, and am also giving away most of my sewing notions, extra fabric, and throwing out all the partly-finished projects I abandoned a while back. Keeping my one simple sewing machine, though. :-)

CRAFT STUFF - I am a craft supplies addict, I admit it, and am inexorably drawn to the sales at local craft shops. I have accumulated jewelry-making notions, beads, glues, rubber stamps, inks, different types of paint, scrapbook stuff, glitter etc. etc. over the years. To make more room for my sketchbooks, drawing materials, mini photo studio (a Christmas gift from Jeff, for my found art doodles), higher-end printer, watercolors and other materials more directly related to my current work, I am also giving away boxes of other craft stuff.

I did a huge office purge over the holidays, and am pretty happy with the result so far.

Next step: Reduce my online clutter and distractions to improve focus and productivity. I've already found some great tools and tips, and will be sharing this over the coming year, in case it helps anyone else. 

Anyone else have a New Year's Resolution they'd like to share? Or tip on focusing?



Found Object Doodles (a.k.a. Sometimes It's Ok To Play With Your Food Before Eating It) plus a print-ready template for young people

***For those asking whether I'm doing a found object book, please see About My Food Art, Found Object Book Update and Other Found Object Artists.

"A Portrait In Ink And Parsley": click image to see responses when I posted this Found Art doodle on Twitter.

(Edit: Thanks so much to Chicago Tribune website ChicagoNow.com and Tessa Wegert for highlighting this blog post in their Dec.27th, 2013 article)

As some of my Instagram followers may have noticed recently, I've been posting more Found Object Doodles...especially Food Doodles. This all began at a Lost Weekend With David Diaz, when I was intrigued by David's habit of drawing on found objects (such as promo postcards that came by snailmail).

David Diaz shows Alice Ratteree and other Lost Weekend attendees samples of his work

Earlier this year, I realized that I had been neglecting my daily doodle habit...which was having a negative impact on my other work. So I took advantage of a sale at DeSerres and bought a bunch of art supplies:

I purposely avoided getting the more expensive watercolor paints and sketchbooks so I wouldn't feel as inhibited when it came to artplay and experimentation. I did buy a ton of refills for my Pentel Brush Pen, however, because the latter has become my go-to sketching pen. For those interested in trying out this pen, the cheapest price I've found online is on Amazon.con so far, especially the refills. Price on Amazon.ca is much higher, so if you don't live in the U.S., I'd advise checking out sales at your local art shop first.

Anyway, I started doing a lot of sketching on found objects, like my husband's 2010 Royal Astronomical Society Of Canada Observer's Handbook (I intercepted its journey to the recycling bin):


and shamelessly vandalized my inflight magazine on the way to a board gaming convention last month:

(and yes, I left it in the seat pocket.)

Then I was having brunch with my husband and a friend, and there was a point in the conversation where they were talking about something very specific that didn't involve me...so I started doodling. Keep in mind that Jeff and most of our closer friends are used to me doodling at random times, so this wasn't quite as rude as it may seem. :-)

Anyway, I hadn't brought my sketchbook with me but had a couple of blank index cards, so I decided to incorporate my used mint tea bag into a doodle:

My Tea Doodle, created at Bestellen in Toronto.

On whim, I decided to post this to Instagram and Facebook, and was surprised at all the positive response. My author friend, Vikki VanSikkle, suggested on Instagram that I do a "tea doodle series." I didn't think that I'd want to restrict myself to tea but WAS intrigued by the idea of doing more Found Object doodles.

I love the idea of quickie doodles created with ink and found objects that are destroyed (or eaten :-)) afterward. Doing these will help me keep from being too "precious" about my art, I think. Plus they're FUN TO DO.

Recently, for example, Vikki challenged me to do one of my Found Art doodles while AT the Torkidlit holiday party:

And here's what I came up with:

I also created 7-Layer Dip Tyrannosaurus Rex, Meat Head Santa and Nice Puppy Snowman (using a real puppy)!.

Here's a photo that my YA author friend, Derek Silver, tweeted from the party:

And all this helps remind me of something I've learned since the whole I'm Bored adventure began and my career took off: that while the whole "being an anti-social introverted artist/writer who works away in isolation, creating stuff" idea may be fine for some, I have grown SO MUCH in my creative efforts as a result of meeting other children's book writers and illustrators in person and online.

YES, you have to make sure you don't let socializing and networking (networking is NOT a bad word, in contrast to what some people think! I could rant for an entire book on that topic) time take over your life, that you keep your focus on your creative work. BUT in my experience, the interactions I have with other children's book writers and illustrators online and offline has greatly helped me not only in my career, but also as a creative individual.

Another lesson I've learned: That there is potential art EVERYWHERE. You just need to look. I'm hoping that my doodles encourage some people to look at the world a little differently, to not take so much for granted. I also think that Found Object Doodles are a great way to inspire creativity in young people. I've created a print-ready PDF for those interested:

Click image for print-ready PDF

One last comment about Found Object Doodles: There are soooo many wonderful artists out there who work with found objects, and I encourage you to check out their work. Here are just a few:

Check out CintaScotch's creative ink and found object doodles on Instagram. Artist's real name: Javier Pérez.

Children's book illustrator Lori Nichols sometimes posts her found object doodles on Instagram as well. Her Instagram feed seems to be down right now, but you can see samples of her found object art on Seven Impossible Things.

Hanoch Pivan creates faces out of found objects.

I'm also in the midst of compiling a list of children's book illustrators who have published books using found object art. So far, I have Alma Fullerton, Suzanne Del Rizzo, Barbara Reid, Denise Fleming, Marthe Jocelyn, Lindsay Ward. I'll create a separate post on Inkygirl in the New Year; feel free to comment below if you know of any children's book illustrators I should add to this list.

Meanwhile, I'll be continuing to gradually add my Found Object doodles to:

My Food Doodles and other Found Object art on Flickr

My Found Object doodle portfolio section (selection)


Tumblr (selection)

Pinterest (selection)



My WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? obsession, solving a mystery AND the new picture book from Simon & Schuster BFYR

Back in September, I posted about being obsessed with the WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? music video, and was trying to identify the children's picture book featured in the video:

Thanks to all who tried to help me. Cathy Ballou Mealey, for example, asked her friend Norwegian children's book writer and illustrator, Svein Nyhus. Apparently Svein said he didn't recognize the book but thought it might be a fake cover. At this point, I suspect Svein knew more than he was letting on. :-) Keep reading...

Anne C. Holm cleared up the mystery, saying that the fake book cover art was created by Norwegian artist Julie Ebbing, who was studying art at a university in Oslo.

But then....

A couple months later came the news: Ylvis signed a deal with Simon & Schuster Children's! Norwegian brothers Bård and Vegard Ylvisåker had already asked Svein Nyhus to be the illustrator. And the book was going to be designed by Laurent Linn, MY ART DIRECTOR AT S&S (!!!).

Svein Nyhus is a Norwegian children's book writer and illustrator who has written and illustrated several of his own children's books as well as illustrating Why Kings and Queens Don't Wear Crowns, a picture book written by Princess Märtha Louise of Norway.

Here's the cover as it appeared in Norway, plus a photo of Svein:

Images from The Local.The artist blogged insider info about one of the illustrations in the Norwegian version:

For details, see Svein Nyhus's blog.See Svein's blog post about how he worked in a minimalistic joke into the Norwegian version above. Even if you don't understand Norwegian, I encourage you to scroll to the bottom of Svein's picture book entry page for sample illustrations and a peek into his process.

The WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? picture book was edited by Christian Trimmer, Senior Editor at Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, and the art director was Laurent Linn. Here's a photo that Laurent tweeted, when the sample books came in:

I *love* the art.

"We are very excited about this book," said Vegard Ylvisaker in a news release. "It is much more than just a spin-off from the video. We actually started the process with the illustrator before we even uploaded the video to YouTube. As we were working with the song it just felt like it had the potential of becoming an interesting book as well, mostly because all of a sudden we found ourselves wondering what does the fox really say?"

The Ylvis guys recently did a book signing in Toronto at Chapters-Indigo but AAAAAUUUGGGGHHHH I had to miss it. My friends Kathleen and Walter lined up to get their copy signed:

Ok, I think it's time to listen to the WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? video again:

Related resources:

USA Today article on the new WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? picture book


Poll Results: Kids' Books For Adults?

After reading a New York Times article about adult-themed children's book parodies for adults, I asked you all how you felt about kids' books for adults. Thanks to all who participated. Most of you are neutral to iffy about them. One person says that children's book parodies make a fair amount of money for the bookstore where he or she works.

Like any book, there are good ones and bad ones. "I think it's a great way to reconnect with the books you loved (or perhaps hated) as a child. The best parodies carry and underlying mature-themed message or commentary on the world, post-childhood innocence," one respondent said.

More details and comments:

Nearly 32% of you weren't crazy about adult-themed children's book parodies. 26% didn't mind, 13% didn't care, 11% of you love them, 8% hatehateHATE them.

Some of your comments:

"I'm not crazy about them personally, but they make a fair amount of money for the bookstore I work at."

"The punning of the titles always makes me laugh and admire the wit of the person who dreamt them up, but for me the humour is more in the fact of them than the contents of the books. I enjoy seeing them at till points and on tables in humour sections of bookshops but wouldn't go as far as to actually buy one unless it was very cheap or as e.g. a Secret Santa gift."

"I find them sort of pointless. Good for a "heh" in the bookstore, but are you really going to treasure them for years? - @electricland"

"If they're done well enough, they can be fun, but too often I'd be horrified if my kids found and read them - and since they look like kids' books, if they found them they would probably read them. Some could be hurtful. Many just confusing."

"I am entertained but I think the authors need to take more care than they do with their parodies. Mum bought me Goodnight iPad and it doesn't do a good job with the scansion. I think this is a legacy of being Phil's partner - if you're going to Filk something, DO IT RIGHT! I printed out a copy of the additional text someone has written for The Very Hungry Caterpillar with the intention of reading it in a filk circle, and I'd probably buy it if it came out as a book."

"True parodies for adults are great - if shelved in the right section. But I HATE finding them in with the other picture books. And the ones that then go the other way, and try to adapt the parody for adults into something suitable for kids? I've never seen one that worked. - @IshtaWrites"

"I think they perpetuate the belief that a children's book is somehow less of a 'real' book because it's for a child."

"I think it's a fad so far, kicking out clever novelty items, similar to novelty records. It might continue on for a while in the same way Weird Al Yankovic keeps spitting out CDs, but I don't see it becoming a market segment. I think within this small sub-genre there is room for works that are not satirical and snarky, but more thought provoking. It could be a way to make a point regarding some social issue for example, but that market will also only support a very limited number of titles."

"I think it's a great way to reconnect with the books you loved (or perhaps hated) as a child. The best parodies carry and underlying mature-themed message or commentary on the world, post-childhood innocence. I just read The Taking Tree yesterday and loved it."

"Yeah, why not? I guess I've got a chuckle out of one or two of them. I try not to get angry at people who are having fun wrong. @aiabx"

"Would you include Go the Bleep to Sleep in this category? It was a fun one-time-read, but I didn't feel it was worth producing as a book and having on the shelf. Feel the same way about Sense and Sensibility and Zombies, though. A joke taken much too far. Cheapens and deadens a text I love. - Aino Anto"

"Wrote 3! Picture books for adults so simple (but layered) that even a child could understand. Works at many levels."

"I think they can be clever, but more often than not, they're gimmicky and annoying. I have never purchased one."


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


Looking for holiday gift ideas? Here's a list of children's book illustrators on Etsy

(Last updated: December 10, 2013)

I have an Etsy shop but haven't had anything posted for sale in ages (I might start selling prints and some handmade oddities in 2014, though). While doing some holiday shopping on Etsy recently, I became curious about other children's book illustrators who had shops.

I've posted a list below, but I know I'm missing many names. If YOU know of a children's book illustrator with an Etsy shop, please do post the URL of their Etsy shop in the comments section, thanks!

Sheralyn Barnes: original oil paintings, giclee prints

Kate Barsotti: pencil & sheep needle felting

Sophie Blackall: mainly prints

Calef Brown: drawings, paintings, originals from children's book illustrations.

Susan Taylor Brown: cards, prints, original art.

Matthew Cordell: original art, including studies and outtakes from his children's book projects.

Christopher Denise: original illustrations created for Redwall & other children's books, no prints

Chrissy Fanslau: Don't Touch The Baby & Wash Your Hands signs

Christina Forshay: prints

Beckett Gladney: prints, original art, sketchbook & portfolio covers, journals, earrings, more.

Stephanie Graegin: prints

Heather Hitchman: prints, custom illustrations. Focus: fantasy, ethereal, animal, Victorian-themed art.

Jannie Ho: original illustrations (currently empty)

Renée Kurilla: prints

Sally Mavor: note cards, posters, prints, autographed books.

Hazel Mitchell: prints and original art.

Scott Nash: prints, stickers, books.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi: prints and art oddities (currently empty)

Cindy Pon: YA author who also is an artist (I didn't know this!). Prints, paintings.

Matte Stephens: prints.

Diana Sudyka: prints.

Moira Swiatowski: original ink drawings.

Susan Swan: handcrafted jewelry.

Renee Treml: (temporarily closed until later this month when I checked)

Laura Zarrin: prints, original art.

Special thanks to Kate Barsotti and Emily for the heads-up about many of the shops above.


Comic: Snowman Writer

From the archives. :-)


Sat.Dec.7th, 2013 is Take Your Child To A Bookstore Day

Click image above for print-ready PDF; feel free to use to help spread the word. Prints fine in b&w, too.

Founded by suspense writer Jenny Milchman, Take Your Child To A Bookstore Day is about "instilling a love of bookstores in children so that they will value and support this most precious of resources as they go on to enter and create communities of their own."

Already a number of bookstores from the U.S., Canada, England, Australia and Germany have joined the project; you can see the map on the TYCTAB website.

Visit the Take Your Child To A Bookstore Day site for pins, banners and posters.

You can find banners and posters on their website, and you're free to download/print a poster I've created to help promote Take Your Child To A Bookstore Day.

Where to find out more info:

Take Your Child To A Bookstore Day website

Kudos to the TYCTABD Board Of Directors for running the event: Jenny Milchman, Beth Miller, Todd G. Monahan, and Paul Maguire.



Happy American Thanksgiving!

To my American friends out there: Happy Thanksgiving!

If you're doing NaNoWriMo this year, don't forget to check out my friend Errol Elumir's NaNoToons.


I'M BORED into its third printing, yay!


Jeff and I got back from BoardGameGeek last night. After being away for a week, we had a pile of snailmail to go through. Mine was Very Nice Snailmail and included:

(1) Check from Penguin Books for the use of one of my writing comics. I love checks. :-)

(2) Note from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers that I'M BORED has gone into a third printing, WAHOO!!! Considering that the book just came out late last year, I'm pretty happy.

For those who haven't been following my work up to now, I'M BORED is a picture book written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by yours truly. More info on the Simon & Schuster website plus I have tons of bonus material, activities, print-ready goodies available on the I'M BORED Bonus Page including some Thanksgiving-themed greeting cards and activity sheets.

(3) Advance signing check (did I mention I love checks? :-)) for SEA-MONKEY AND BOB, a picture book written by Aaron Reynolds, to be illustrated by MEEEEE, coming out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in Fall 2015. I just recently created a Facebook page for SEA-MONKEY AND BOB, by the way, and would soooo appreciate any Likes. :-)



Interview with Molly Idle about writing and illustrating TEA REX (Viking/Penguin) plus advice for aspiring children's book writers & illustrators 

I first met Molly Idle at the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference, when she won the overall portfolio competition and I remember being so impressed by her art. Molly worked for DreamWorks Feature Animation Studios for five years before leaving to devote all her time to children's book illustration. Molly's FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO recently made the semi-finals in the Goodreads Best Picture Book Of 2013!

Her recent picture books include TEA REX (Viking Press) and FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO (Chronicle Books); you can see covers and samples from all of Molly's book projects on her site. This interview focuses on TEA REX.

TEA REX by Molly Idle

Published by Viking Juvenile/Penguin / For ages 3-8

Where to find Molly: Website - Blog -  Facebook - Twitter

Molly's studio space.

Q: What was your publication process? Also: If you have an agent, how did you get your agent?

"My prized rubber chicken."Having lighted upon the idea for a tea party with a T-Rex, I proceeded to make a lot of truly terrible starts for manuscripts in my head, and on paper, before I hit upon the right way to tell the story.

All my early attempts, talked too much. I would set up a joke, tell the joke, and then explain the joke I just told... It was the picture book equivalent of someone winking and nudging you in the ribs after telling you a joke... "Get it? Get it?" These drafts all seemed to say. It just wasn’t working... So, I decided to set aside writing for a bit and just start sketching the story out to see if I could make it work visually.

"Taped to my desk: The first tiny sketch I did for TEA REX (and a bit of fortune cookie wisdom that reminds me to keep my nose to the grindstone...)"

I had three sketches finished when, as a result of winning the SCBWI portfolio competition, I had the chance to meet with Denise Cronin at Viking Children's Books. Denise looked through my portfolio, and then asked if I had anything else to show her. I pulled out the three TEA REX sketches, and pitched the story. She said she would love to see the dummy when it was finished and asked if I had an agent.

George and Ted. Image ©2013 Molly Idle.

The conversation went like this...

Denise: Do you have an agent?

Me: No.

Denise: Do you want an agent?

Me: Yes!

Denise: Well, I can't imagine you'd have any trouble finding one.

Me: You'd be surprised...

I proceeded to prattle on about the research I’d done looking into various agencies and the collection of polite rejection letters I'd accumulated.

"My first sketch of George (Cordelia’s little brother)." Image ©2013 Molly Idle.

Denise waved her hand as if shooing away a gnat, and said, "You've been talking to all the wrong people. I know a half dozen agents who would be a good fit for you and are looking for new clients." And by the time I got home from our meeting, there was an email in my inbox from Denise with a list of al their names. Is she an angel or what?!

I looked over the list and decided to contact Lori Nowicki, at Painted Words.

When I told Lori that Denise had expressed interest in TEA REX, she asked if I would send her the manuscript that afternoon. The manuscript, if you’ll recall, that I had yet to write.

So, I immediately sat down at the computer, and hammered out a step by step- outline of what happens at a tea party. No jokes, no asides, it was a "Just the facts ma'am" outline that I intended to use as a springboard. But, as I read over this straight-faced outline, while looking at my sketches, I finally saw how the text and pictures could work together as a comedy duo… like Laurel and Hardy! The text set up the joke, and the illustration delivered the punch line. The finished draft took about two hours to polish up (well, two hours, plus two years of drafting terrible versions)... and I sent it off.

Lori read it, signed me on, and we agreed that as Denise was the one who brought us all together- Viking should be the first house we submitted the book to. And that's how we came to strike a deal with the fabulous folks at Viking Children's Books.

Q: What was your writing/illustration process for TEA REX? How did it differ from that of FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO?

It took a long time for me to find the right voice for REX, but almost no time at all for FLORA… I think that’s because I am so much more at ease when I’m at my drawing board than I am at the keyboard of my computer.

When I submitted TEA REX to Lori, she asked, as Denise had asked, if I had anything else to show her. All I had was a single sketch of a flamingo and little girl imitating his stance. I said I was thinking of working up a wordless picture book about the development of a friendship- told through dance... I was calling it: FLAMINGO DANCING. She encouraged me to dummy it up, and once I had, it found a home with the amazing team at Chronicle Books and became FLORA and the FLAMINGO.

Both books were scheduled for publication in spring 2013, so I worked on them simultaneously. Though the books differed in storytelling style and subject matter, both comedy and dance require a great sense of rhythm and timing. So, much of the revision work that occurred after the creation of the initial dummies, involved finding the right pacing.

I started by revising REX, then, once I sent those sketches off for comments, I started working on revising FLORA. By the time I sent off Flora sketches, I’d have notes back on REX, and back and forth and back and forth...

"In early drafts of TEA REX, Ted lost his head... completely." Image ©2013 Molly Idle.

Each book went through four rounds of revisions before I started in on final art. That may sound like a lot, and I’ll tell you there were times when I felt like it was a lot too... Working up the finished sketches is the most time consuming, the most challenging and most important part of of the bookmaking process for me. It’s the time in which I figure everything out.

"But in subsequent drafts, Rex and Ted get along much more nicely..." Image ©2013 Molly Idle.

Because I work in traditionally, with colored pencils, I absolutely HAVE to know what each illustration is going to look like before I start. I can’t paint over an area it if I decide to change something later, as I could if I worked in acrylics or oils... I can’t add or delete a layer in Photoshop, as I could if I worked digitally. I chose to impose these limits on myself and my work because I enjoy working the way I do. There is just something about colored pencils... I enjoy their color, their consistency, the level of concentration using them requires...

In short, my choice of medium is dictated by the way I like to work.

I feel that enjoying the creative process- no matter the medium- is as important as the finished art.

"Rex and the rest of the gang, enjoying the great outdoors..." Image ©2013 Molly Idle.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring children's book writer/illustrators?

Learn to increase your pain tolerance.

I know this sounds weird- especially given what I’ve just said about enjoying the creative process- but stick with me for a minute...

Studies on the nature of creativity have shown that people who consistently come up with more inventive and creative ideas are not necessarily innately gifted, nor are they necessarily more intelligent than other people. They are however capable of tolerating a certain level of mental discomfort.

It works something like this:

When our brains are presented with a problem- any problem- we feel slightly anxious. When we solve a problem, our brains release endorphins that make us feel good. So, we have a problem to solve, we often run with the first answer we come up with because it feels good (literally) to find a solution!

But people who are willing to see that first solution, and then set it aside- delaying that endorphin high- while they continue to search for another answer, and another, and another… until they have compared all possible solutions and then chose the best option- and run with it- consistently come up with much more interesting, creative solutions.

John Cleese, (of Monty Python fame), talks about this research, and much more on the nature of creativity, in this lecture which I totally recommend watching.

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

There is a lot going on in my studio right now- much of it is hidden behind a big black curtain with a sign that says- “Top Secret- NO Peeking!” Which is really really hard for me... because I am so dang excited about the projects I have coming out!! I want to stop random strangers on the street and say- OMG I am working on the coolest thing EVER- let me tell you about it...

Luckily, there are some things I CAN share, that I am equally over the moon about!

CAMP REX, is coming out in April 2014! I had so much fun getting to spend more time with these characters- so much so, that I am working on the third book in the Rex series as I type... well not AS I’m typing THIS... but, you know what I mean.

And, I just wrapped up artwork for FLORA and the PENGUIN- coming out next winter. I’m really excited about the new way readers will be able interact with the characters using the flaps in the book!



For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.