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


Comic: Font Nerd Table


Martha Rago (HarperCollins Children's) and Lauren Rille (Simon & Schuster Children's) advice for aspiring children's book illustrators

Martha Rago, Associate Creative Director at HarperCollins Children's Books

I recently posted two mini-interviews with Martha Rago and Lauren Rille over on the KidLitArtists blog.

With the SCBWI Summer Conference coming up, I asked HarperCollins Associate Creative Director Martha Rago about how SCBWI portfolio showcases help publishers HarperCollins Children's find illustrators.

Martha says that the Showcase is a great way for art directors to see a lot of work all at once when they're looking for something in particular. She also points out that the event connects many artists with agents.

Read more of what Martha Rago says about SCBWI portfolio showcases.

Lauren Rille, Associate Art Director at Simon & Schuster Children'sI asked Lauren Rille what the biggest mistake or misconception that aspiring children's book illustrators make.

Lauren said that artists new to the process tend to have the misconception that being asked to revise means that they're doing it "wrong."

You can read more about what Lauren says about the revision process here.


Noel Coward on being professional


Comic: The Font Restaurant



I'm a Sharp-Schu Trifecta guest today!

I'm delighted and honoured to be a Sharp-Schu Trifecta guest today. Please do go visit their blogs today to find out more about how I helped create the new look for Judy Blume classics like Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and Freckle Juice.

On the Mr. Schu Reads blog, K-5 teacher-librarian John Schu congratulates new book releases and then explains the Sharp-Schu Trifecta, with links to my Nerdy Book Club guest post and Colby Sharp's interview with me about the Judy Blue project. He also provides some wonderful Judy Blume videos, quotes and resources. Do read to the end of his blog post, where you'll find a great anecdote about meeting Ms. Blume for the first time.

On the Nerdy Book Club blog, I wrote a guest post with help from my Judy Blume project art director Lauren Rille. Find out why I was terror-stricken as well as ecstatic when I found out I was going to be a Judy Blume illustrator, how the new covers got created, samples of my early sketches, insights from Lauren Rille about the process, a request from Ms. Blume about cultural diversity.

On Sharpread, Colby Sharp does a 5,4,3,2,1 interview with me, which means he gave me five questions which I need to answer with 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 sentence. :-D I had a lot of fun with this.

Thanks so much to Colby Sharp and John Schu for inviting me to be part of their Trifecta today, and to Cindy Minnich for her help with my Nerdy Book Club guest post!


Comic: Writers On Vacation


Comic: Punctuation For Sale

Which would YOU buy?


Comic: Death and the Writer


Comic: Punctuation Breakup

From the Inkygirl archives.


Comic: Sometimes, You Just Have To Let Go


NAKED! Book Tour (Part 5): Northshire Books Saratoga, Division St. Elementary School and final words

 Part 1 (Prep, Angst, Anticipation) - Part 2 (Meeting Michael Ian Black, B&N event in NYC) - Part 3 (Simon & Schuster meet-and-greet) - Part 4 (Porter Square Books, James Patterson grant) - Part 5 (Northshire Books Saratoga, Division St. Elementary, final wrap-up)

I woke up on the last day of the book tour with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I looked forward to getting back home to Jeff and creative hermitmode. On the other hand, this was the LAST DAY of my FIRST BOOK TOUR. I vowed to make the most of it.

Goofing around just before the children arrived.

I checked out of the hotel and took a cab over to Northshire Bookstore Saratoga (424 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 518-682-4200 / 855-339-5990). When researching the bookstore before the tour, I discovered that the 9,000-square-foot indie bookstore had opened last summer.

Image from AllOverAlbany.comThis was the second location for the Northshire Bookstore. The first opened in Manchester, Vermont.

I was excited to see my event listed in their calendar:

I enjoyed interviewing events and community outreach coordinator Rachel Person for my NAKED! blog. Rachel told me her position means "that I'm lucky enough to handle author events for the store and to find ways to work with other local organizations throughout our area. I'm also something of a magpie reader, which means I'm always drawn to the next bright shiny object, and will read in pretty much any genre."

Rachel also said that coming to work in a bookstore every day was so energizing, that it was really a great place to be. "And, as the events coordinator for a brand new indie (our store opened less than a year ago), I feel like I'm helping to bring something to my town that hasn't been here before - a year-round lineup of strong, exciting literary programming."

I asked Rachel why picture books are important, and she answered:

"As a reader, I feel that picture books can really bring out the best in writers and artists - creating books for such a young audience requires such care and precision. Every detail has to be just right. As a mom, I've loved watching my children discover the world through picture books. They pave the way to absolutely everything."

Model train in Northshire Bookstore Saratoga children's department.

I loved all the light and space at Northshire Bookstore Saratoga; the place is gorgeous.

Not only that, but the entire second floor is devoted to books for young people!

I arrived just before the store opened up, and it was great to meet Rachel Person face-to-face after exchanging so many e-mails.

Also really enjoyed meeting Marika McCoola:

Not only does Marika work as an indie bookseller, but she is also an author, illustrator and educator. Her debut graphic novel, BABA YAGA'S ASSISTANT, was acquired by Candlewick in 2013. BABA YAGA'S ASSISTANT follows the story of Masha, a teen raised on the Russian folktales her grandmother told her. When Masha finds an ad looking for Baba Yaga's Assistant, she ventures into the woods to apply. The graphic novel is edited by Deb Wayshak, illustrated by Emily Carroll, and is coming out in 2015.

Thanks to Marika and Rachel for making me feel so welcome!

Setting up for my presentation at Northshire was super-easy. I didn't need my projector because Rachel Person had an adaptor that enabled my MacBook Air to connect with their projection system. I loved their event venue!

Soon the children and their parents arrived. Because there were fewer kids than the previous day, I was able to interact with each one of them, including during the illustration workshop session.

Rachel Person was super-organized and made me feel so welcome. I had a chance to sign pre-ordered books (for the school I was visiting later that day) as well as after my Northshire visit. Look at the photo above: I was so impressed by the book display on my table! Rachel even put out copies of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction, an anthology from Stone Bridge Press that contained my illustrated story for teens, "Kodoma."

And check out the choice of signing pens, whoa:

Rachel had a great "Get Your Geek On" pin and when she saw me admiring it, she found an extra one for me!

After I finished signing, Rachel and I picked up sandwiches at a nearby market and headed to Division St. Elementary School, where I talked to three kindergarten classes.

So much fun, and I was impressed by how well-behaved the students were. And SO VERY VERY CUTE. I had them help me do the reading by shouting out "Naked!" whenever I pointed to them. Wow, kindergarteners really love yelling that word. :-D

I talked to them about how Michael had written the story and I had illustrated it. They loved the picture of Michael consulting his cat. They were also fascinated by the whole process of creating a picture book, including the cover and jacket flaps.

I showed them the choices I gave Michael, and asked them which one they thought he chose:

They were delighted by the fact that Michael chose the one in which he looked the most NAKED. :-)

And then I did a drawing demo, using (for the first time ever), a SMART Board interactive whiteboard:

Wow, was it ever fun to use! Thanks so much to Rachel Person, by the way, who was my tech support. Not only did she keep the slideshow running smoothly (we used a Windows-formatted USB stick of slideshow images) and also controlled the SMART board "erase all" when I needed it.

I had volunteers come up and do a scribble on the whiteboard, then I used the students' suggestions to create some characters, and then (again, with their help) wrote a simple story starring the creatures we had created. LOVED their enthusiasm and eagerness in our creative collaboration process.

Afterward, Rachel and I went to her house where we had tea and ate our sandwiches before the cab came to pick me up. Loved her house -- so full of books and creativity! Her husband is Steve Sheinkin, who has written short stories, screenplays, comics, a graphic novel, textbooks, history books and more. You can find out more about Steve and his work at http://www.stevesheinkin.com.

Thanks again so much to Rachel, Northshire Bookstore and Division St. Elementary School for their hospitality!

For more info, do check out the Northshire Bookstore website including upcoming events, staff picks, store blog and e-newsletter. On Twitter: @TogaNorthshire.

As I headed off to the airport in Albany to fly back home, I couldn't help but contrast how I was feeling at that moment to how I felt in the weeks before the book tour. Back then I was excited but very stressed about the public speaking, whether I was prepared enough, what to take with me in my carry-on luggage, travel details, etc.

On the way home, however, all I could think about was how wonderful it had been to share my experience with those young readers, and how utterly SINCERE they were in their reactions, their questions, their enthusiasm for the books that Michael had written and I had illustrated.

I took all that wonder and delight of those young readers and wrapped it around me like a blanket as I made my way back to Toronto; my heart was so full.



For those interested, here's a single link to all the blog posts in my 2014 NAKED! Book Tour Report


NAKED! Book Tour (Part 4): Talking to Kindergarten and First-Graders at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA (and appreciating the James Patterson indie bookstore grants)

 Part 1 (Prep, Angst, Anticipation) - Part 2 (Meeting Michael Ian Black, B&N event in NYC) - Part 3 (Simon & Schuster meet-and-greet) - Part 4 (Porter Square Books, James Patterson grant) - Part 5 (Northshire Books Saratoga, Division St. Elementary, final wrap-up)

When I woke up in Boston, this was the view out my hotel room window:

Wow, how very cool. I had been to Boston many years before, but hadn't much time to look around. Someday I WILL go back and spend more time in Boston!

Meanwhile, though, I must tell you about a wonderful indie bookstore: Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA. (25 White St. Cambridge, MA 617-491-2220).

I had enjoyed interviewing bookseller Sarah Rettger the month before. Sarah's been in bookselling since 2006 ("with a few detours"), and I loved what she said about Porter Square Books:

"We have the best customers here. Many of them are here just about every day (possibly for our cafe's fantastic pastries as much as for the books). Bear, the large stuffed animal who lives in our kids' section, has a couple dozen devoted attendants, and it's fun to see them make a beeline for him whenever they come to the store."

When I asked Sarah about the importance of picture books, she replied:

"The great thing about picture books is that they're universal. A really good picture book appeals to adults just as much as it does to kids, even after hundreds of readings. 32 pages can reveal so much!"

As soon as I walked into Porter Square Books, I could tell they have a very active community. The place was packed! And LOOK, they had a copy of NAKED! smack dap on the front table, with info about the upcoming event:

While chatting with the staff at PSB, I discovered that Porter Square Books had been awarded a grant from James Patterson which covered copies of NAKED! for all the kids that came to my presentation (!). This article will give you some background on the James Patterson program, which aims to boost the health of America's indie bookstores. In a blog post earlier this year, Porter Square Books said they planned to use their allottment to support children's author visits to schools as well as be able to underwrite the costs of books for children who don't have the means to buy them.

James Patterson, who started a program to help indie bookstores. Photo: David Levonson/Getty Images.

"One of our missions has always been to play a role in promoting children's literacy in Cambridge and Somerville. We are now in a very good position to do just that. We are very grateful to Mr. Patterson."

Sarah also had some of the new Atheneum/Simon & Schuster reissues of the Judy Blume classics with my illustrations. It was the first time I had seen these in the wild, so I was VERY excited:

Also great to spot ICE DOGS on the shelf, a book by my friend Terry Lynn Johnson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt):

I had so much fun during the two sessions at PSB, first talking to kindergarteners and then first-graders. 

I arrived half an hour early before the first session, but made the mistake of not setting up my laptop and projector IMMEDIATELY (lesson learned for next time :-)). The kindergarteners arrived 20 minutes early and I found it a challenge to adjust the position of the projector and the extension cord amidst the already-sitting children. The kids were VERY adorable, though, and I really enjoyed talking with them.

Some of them, like those at the B&N event, noticed my NAKED!-themed earrings and necklace:

For the adults who have been asking, I bought these custom book earrings from Emma Dreamstar Creations on Etsy. Kids seemed to be disappointed that the pages in the little book were blank. :-)

I was so impressed by how efficient Porter Square Books uses its space. At least some of the shelves are on wheels, which makes it handy for events since these shelves have to be moved around to make room for an audience each time. 

As soon as the kindergarteners left, Sarah helped me readjust the position of the projector table, and I also made sure to stand near the screen for the next group instead of by the projector. That way, the children wouldn't be torn between looking at the screen and looking at me as I talked.

As much as I enjoyed the B&N event, I couldn't help but be drawn to the more intimate/cozier atmosphere of Porter Square Books event. Also very cool to hang out and chat with PSB booksellers Sarah, Robin Sung and Carol Stoltz. Such nice people!

Carol was excited to hear that I was going to Northshire Books Saratoga the next day. She had just been there, she told me, and it was a fantastic bookstore.  

Thanks also to some of my other friends in the area who dropped by, like Gary McGath and Ellen Kranzer. So great to see some familiar faces. :-)

Afterward, Sarah and I had lunch at Cambridge Common -- so fun! Wonderful conversation about books (of course), historical fiction, writing, crosswords, needlepoint (I suck at needlepoint, Sarah enjoys it :-)) and more. Like me, she has had short forays into other jobs before finding her home career. For Sarah, it was software testing and municipal wetlands management.

After lunch and some directions from Sarah (I am directionally challenged), I even had time for a short walk through Harvard Square before the car service came to pick me up.

THANK YOU SO MUCH, SARAH AND PORTER SQUARE BOOKS! I enjoyed my visit tremendously and hope to go back someday.

Places where you can find out more about Sarah and Porter Square Books:

On Twitter, Sarah's at @SarahRettger and Porter Square is at @PorterSqBooks.

You can find out more info about Porter Square Books at their website Portersquarebooks.com including an event calendar, book recommendations, an ebook resource, a blog and children's section.

But back to the book tour....

I had been dreading the 4-hour car ride from Boston to Saratoga Springs (I get carsick pretty easily), but Mike Boez and the cushy LTI Worldwide Limousine car made the trip much more enjoyable than I expected:

I ended up writing a letter to the service after I got home, telling them so.

I arrived at Saratoga Hilton around dinner time, and felt very spoiled when I saw my room:


I briefly considering going out and walking around to see the area but ended up cocooning in my über-comfy hotel room that evening instead, ordering in room service, then organizing and prepping for the next day.

A school in Saratoga Springs had signed on at the last minute -- thanks so much to Rachel Person (Northshire Books Saratoga) and Katy Hershberger (my publicist) for making it possible for me to add this to my itinerary! I had been disappointed that no schools had been able to have me visit, so was excited about this last-minute addition. While Katy changed my flight home to a later departure time, Rachel and I had been exchanging a flurry of emails about our plans.

After adjusting my scribbled notes re: new schedule, I crashed blissfully early.

----- To be continued....

Next up: Northshire Books Saratoga and my visit to Division St. Elementary School!


NAKED! Book Tour (Part 3): Snooping through Laurent Linn's office, Simon & Schuster meet-and-greet with Michael Ian Black, fairy godmothers, my trip to Boston

 Part 1 (Prep, Angst, Anticipation) - Part 2 (Meeting Michael Ian Black, B&N event in NYC) - Part 3 (Simon & Schuster meet-and-greet) - Part 4 (Porter Square Books, James Patterson grant) - Part 5 (Northshire Books Saratoga, Division St. Elementary, final wrap-up)

After the B&N event, I had lunch with Ginger Knowlton (my agent at Curtis Brown Ltd) at a nearby café. So great to catch up. I was supposed to get together with Ginger back in February, but I cancelled my trip because of the Judy Blume illustration project.

When I arrived at Simon & Schuster for the meet-and-greet, there were NAKED! and I'M BORED signs and books on display in the front lobby of the 4th floor, yay!

Dani Young (Assistant Editor at S&S Children's) came out to greet me, and took me to Justin Chanda's office to dump my coat and bags. Justin was still in a meeting. It's always fun hanging out in Justin's office when he's not there; not only do I get chance to check out his book collection but I also have such interesting conversations. And Justin, if you're reading this, don't worry -- we never talk about you, really. Or snoop through your stuff.

This time, Laurent Linn (my Art Director for both NAKED! and I'M BORED) came by to chat:

And then while we were catching up, Jeff arrived. He had dropped off some of his luggage at a friend's place but had trouble finding a cab in the rain, so ended up walking all the way to S&S. But yay, he finally got meet Laurent!

Happily, we were early enough that Laurent could take Jeff on a quickie tour of the offices. I trailed along, of course. And I got Jeff to take this photo of us in the lobby:

And LOOK! I was excited to come across this display of the revamped Judy Blume books with my illustrations on the cover (designed by Lauren Rille):

And OH MY GOSH, I spotted hardcover versions of the chapter books I illustrated!!! It was the first time I had seen the final version.

Laurent showed Jeff his office. I love Laurent's office. Look, he has hanging art! Not just mine, but I also spotted art by my friends Kevin Sylvester and Eliza Wheeler:

And look! Laurent (who used to work for Sesame Street) won a Daytime Emmy award in 1994 for Outstanding Achievement In Costume Design for Sesame Street. And check out his signed Sesame Street poster:

He is also a Totoro fan, and I took this photo for my friend Errol Elumir:

But then it was time for the Meet & Greet. Check out this example of the cool Naked!-themed cups they had at the event:

Justin and Laurent talked about how much fun it was to work on NAKED!:

After Michael said a few words (including nice stuff about me *blush*), it was my turn. Because I was nervous, I had some notes written down:

I started by saying how I wish I could take a snapshot of this moment to send to my younger self and (this wasn't planned) Jeff jumped up and took this photo, heh:

Aw, so many friendly faces.

I mentioned I was nervous so had to use notes, right? Well, turns out I accidentally skipped one of the lines in my notes and FORGOT TO THANK LAURENT LINN FOR BEING SUCH AN AMAZING ART DIRECTOR ON THE PROJECT AAAAAAAAUUUGGGH. I apologized to Laurent afterward. Hopefully he will still want to do projects with me.

At the end of my mini-speech, I mentioned that earlier this year as I was posting about the Judy Blume illustration project as well as NAKED! coming out, someone asked me if I had a fairy godmother. Yes, I told them, and my fairy godmother's name was JUSTIN CHANDA! If you don't know why, I encourage you to read my Thank You To Justin Chanda and Simon & Schuster Children's as well as the story of how I became illustrator for the Judy Blume books.

So.... I presented Justin with a labelled Fairy Godmother wand and then gave him a big hug. Apparently Justin has taken the Wand to several meetings at S&S since. :-)

After the speeches, Michael and I were ready to sign some books:

Everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming, and I loved meeting so many of these behind-the-scenes S&S types who help create such fantastic books.

It was also so great to meet people in person I was mostly familiar with on Twitter, like Rachel Stark (@syntactics on Twitter):

One of the people I had been hoping to meet was Christian Trimmer, who is @MisterTrimmer on Twitter. However, it didn't sink in until later that I DID meet him, but just hadn't connected his face/first name with his Twitter id. Gah! I emailed him after the event to apologize for not recognizing him.

With Veda (digital marketing coordinator), Isa Caban (marketing assistant) and Teresa Ronquillo (marketing coordinator):

And thanks to Angela Zurlo of Simon & Schuster's Production department for this copy of the UK version of NAKED!, which comes out TODAY. According to my British friends, "pants" means "underwear" in the UK.

When we finished the signing the last of the books (thanks to those who waited in line until the end), we closed up the room and headed out:

Because Jeff had had so much trouble trying to flag a cab in the rain, we decided to take the subway to Penn station instead. Jeff wasn't coming with me for the rest of the book tour, but he wanted to help me get to the train. I'm so grateful for his help, because lugging stuff through on the NYC subway during rush hour was not fun, especially in my somewhat zombie-ish state...It had been a wonderful day, but I was dead tired. Then I thought of Michael, who was doing a literary-themed comedy event with Parker Posey later that night! 

Jeff bought me this Naked granola at Penn station. :-)

At Penn Station, we had some challenge trying to figure out where I was supposed to get on the train (again, rush hour crowds didn't make this easier). Then we discovered that my train was late. :-( We said our good-byes when the train finally arrived, and Jeff wished me luck.

I ended up not getting to my hotel in Cambridge, MA until after midnight. It was pouring rain and there was only one cab waiting, and that got taken by the person just ahead of me. I debated about calling one (how long would it take?) but I wouldn't be able to see it arriving so would have to stand out in the rain with my luggage anyway. After five minutes, though, a cab came along YAY.

I was soooo braindead at that point; I am so not a night person, and it had been a crazy (crazy WONDERFUL) day. Happily, though, my Royal Sonesta Boston room was super-comfy:

As tired as I was, I needed to reorganize my stuff so that I'd be ready for the next day's presentation. By the time I felt prepped, I had less than six hours until I had to get up again.

The bed was soooo comfortable that I fell asleep almost immediately.

Next up: Talking to kindergarten and grade one classes at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA!


NAKED! Book Tour (Part 2): Finally meeting Michael Ian Black in person, NAKED! at Barnes & Noble, talking with young readers

 Part 1 (Prep, Angst, Anticipation) - Part 2 (Meeting Michael Ian Black, B&N event in NYC) - Part 3 (Simon & Schuster meet-and-greet) - Part 4 (Porter Square Books, James Patterson grant) - Part 5 (Northshire Books Saratoga, Division St. Elementary, final wrap-up)

Jeff and I had breakfast on Wednesday morning in the hotel restaurant. If I wasn't so distracted about the upcoming event B&N that day, I'm sure I would have appreciated the restaurant decor much more. VERY shiny:

Restaurant at Dream Hotel New YorkWe checked out and then waited in the hotel lobby until we were told that our ride (a Music Express van) had arrived. And then as the driver was loading our luggage, MICHAEL IAN BLACK GOT IN THE CAR. After giving him a big hug, I immediately forced Jeff to take this photo on my iPhone:

Then I noticed Michael's cool socks, and asked if I could take a photo of those. Without hesitation, Michael said "sure."

I can't remember what we chatted about during the ride to B&N, but I'm sure I was babbling. To Michael's credit, he didn't freak out or roll his eyes or run screaming from the van. Instead he was such a sweetie, nodding and occasionally inserting a comment when I paused in my babble to take a breath, and eventually I calmed down and we started having a normal conversation. 

And then we were at B&N! 

Katy Hershberger (our Simon & Schuster Children's publicist) was waiting for us, and we were introduced to Jennifer Stark, the Community Relations Manager. While Jeff took my laptop and projector to test the setup, Michael and I began signing books.

The students coming to see us had a chance to pre-order books from B&N, and we could sign/personalize each one ahead of time (the little post-it notes you see above have the names of the children) so that they didn't have to wait in line.

If I was going to do a book tour on my own in the future, I would definitely try to arrange this if there was a large group. It's not so much an issue for smaller groups plus I would have loved to chat with each child, but for bigger numbers it's much more efficient for everyone, plus ensures that each child who wants a signed book will get one.

Jennifer (the B&N Community Relations Manager) was smart. She didn't put ALL the books in front of us at once but one small pile a time, so that we didn't feel overwhelmed. Each time we finished signing a batch, more appeared. When the pre-ordered books had all been signed, we signed stock.

Then the kids started arriving. I think there were several classes from different schools at each presentation. Or maybe each presentation was for a specific school? I'll have to check with Katy.

One of the classes was late, though, and the waiting children were getting restless. I forgot that I was supposed to be nervous and got up on stage, started drawing a bizarre creature with the help of the kids:

As soon as I started interacting with the children and drawing, my nervousness dropped away and I began having fun. Their enthusiasm was infectious. Wings or arms, I asked. WINGS! they yelled.

I soon realized, of course, that I needed to ask for a show of hands instead of just having them yell things out -- the latter got way too loud and chaotic. Finally the last class arrived, and Michael did a reading of NAKED! while I controlled the pace of the slides showing the illustrations. The kids LOOOOOVED both the title and story, YAY! And I so enjoyed watching Michael read the story aloud.

Then some of them starting calling out "Read I'M BORED!"

Michael and I hadn't planned that, but I happened to have my copy of the book with me (which I asked Michael to sign) so he read aloud from that (see above). Again, I was thrilled to see him read this story out loud for the first time. He had such a great rapport with the audience; you can tell he has kids of his own. :-)

Another personal highlight: seeing some of the kids MOUTH THE WORDS along with Michael as he read I'M BORED. They had it memorized! Awwwww...

After the readings, Michael talked about how he wrote the book and I talked about how I illustrated it. With Michael's help, I had put together a slidehow with some fun photos and sketches. Here's an example of one of the slides I created, for when Michael was talking about waiting to hear whether his editor (Justin Chanda) at Simon & Schuster Children's liked his revisions or not:

And here's a photo of Michael asking his cat for advice during one particularly challenging revision period:

Photo: Ruthie Black

Not surprisingly, a bunch of the questions in the Q&A focused on Michael's cat. :-) Michael took each question seriously, and I loved how he answered the kids. I was also touched by how he'd direct some of the questions my way (not the cat questions, though), to make sure the children got to hear the perspective of the book's illustrator.

Before I go on, I'd like to reiterate how NICE Michael was. Those who expect that Michael is always like his public comedy routine persona may be disappointed but I found Michael to be an incredibly sweet, low-key, self-effacing and generous individual. And you can never quite tell what he's going to say next. :-)

Photo: Ruthie Black

As Marcie Collen pointed out in her article on ChildrensBookAcademy.com, Michael Ian Black knows how to connect with young readers. "Bottom line," says Marcie, "Black didn’t just take his established comedy set and smack it down in a 32 page format and call it a day.  No. He uses his talents to create some really fun, silly and engaging books that are suited to a kid’s sensibilities." Also see my Nerdy Book Club guest post about so-called "celebrity books." And speaking of Marcie, it was so great to see her at the B&N event!

Plus Michael's a wonderful writer. Not just of picture books, but nonfiction as well. His YOU'RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT is a deeply personal memoir, and (at the risk of sounding clichéd) made me both laugh out loud as well as weep. The voice is wonderful, and I can't wait for Michael to write YA. I told him this but then quickly backtracked because I don't want him to write YA instead of picture books. :-)

But I digress. 

I asked Michael to pose with I'M BORED. I was supposed to be looking bored as well, but I couldn't stop smiling!

Between presentations to school children, Michael and I did more book signing but also had a chance to chat with Katy Hershberger, Barry Goldblatt (Michael's literary agent, see above) and Jeff. Or I should clarify: I didn't need to chat with Jeff, but it was so great that Jeff had a chance to meet Michael as well as Katy and Barry.

Thanks again to Jeff for being our tech support for the slideshow segment! For those curious, I used a Keynote presentation on my MacBook Air with an Epson PowerLite 1761W. For future presentations, I'm considering also taking my travel Wacom Intuos Artpad so I can show kids how I draw on my computer, and they can watch via the projector on a screen. Or maybe I do what my friend Kevin Sylvester does and draw on my iPad. I must do some experimenting, I think.

So pleased that Ginger Knowlton dropped by! Ginger's my agent from Curtis Brown, and she's amazing

Anyway, our B&N presentations went really well. My terror level dropped hugely after the first few minutes, when I realized everything was going to be okay. Michael and I were having fun, and the kids could tell. Our second presentation went even better than the first because we had a better idea of what the other was going to say/do.

I know I've said it before, but I have to say again that it was MUCH more fun that I had expected. And I so enjoyed finally meeting Michael.

This post is already way too long, so I'd better stop. Next post, I'll talk about the Simon & Schuster Children's meet and greet and my trip to Boston.



Revision is an essential (and fun) part of the process, says Simon & Schuster art director Lauren Rille

In KidLitArtists.com today, I interviewed Lauren Rille, who was my art director on the Judy Blume project.

I asked her what common misconception aspiring or new children's book illustrators tend to make. Her answer applies as much to writers as well as illustrators, I think: That some people misinterpret a revision request as an indication that they're doing something WRONG.

Do read Lauren's full reply on the KidLitArtists blog for more details.


NAKED! Book Tour (Part 1): Prep, Angst and Anticipation

 Part 1 (Prep, Angst, Anticipation) - Part 2 (Meeting Michael Ian Black, B&N event in NYC) - Part 3 (Simon & Schuster meet-and-greet) - Part 4 (Porter Square Books, James Patterson grant) - Part 5 (Northshire Books Saratoga, Division St. Elementary, final wrap-up)

Thanks to the kind stranger who took this picture for me at the Toronto airport.
I confess I had mixed feelings when Simon & Schuster Children's told me I was going on a book tour. Excitement because oh my gosh, MY FIRST BOOK TOUR.

But also terror because holy cow, MY FIRST BOOK TOUR. 


But most of all, I so appreciated the fact that my publisher believed in me and the book enough to send me out on their dime. I know how rare that is these days, especially for a relative newbie like myself.

Thanks to my sister, Kevin Sylvester, David Diaz and other experienced presenters whom I consulted for advice before the trip. Your words of wisdom and encouragement helped boost my confidence levels.

NAKED! in Central Park. Again, grateful to the stranger who didn't run screaming when I asked them to take my photo. :-)

In this Book Tour report, in addition to giving the highlights, I'll also do my best to tell you anything useful I've learned plus things I would have done differently if I could do it again.

Before the book tour began, my publicist at S&S (Katy Hershberger) reached out to bookstores in the selected areas. When those came on board, she began approaching schools in those areas as well. The idea, I believe, was that the bookstores and schools could work with each other. 

Sadly, we didn't get any schools to sign on at first. Major reasons: It was spring break for many of the schools in the selected areas, and standardized testing week for others. Minor reason: the title ("NAKED!") was making some of the schools nervous. I so wish these latter schools could have seen copies of our book so they'd know they had nothing to fear. 

It's one of the reasons I hired Marcie Colleen to do a Teacher's Guide for NAKED! (and she did a fantastic job). I knew from the beginning that the title of the book would be both a blessing and a curse -- while kids seem to universally love the title, it makes some conservative parents a wee bit skittish, at least until they actually read the book and see how innocent and fun it truly is.

Free Teacher's Guide to NAKED! PDF.

When the bookstores were confirmed, I set up a NAKED! Book Tour Page as well as interviewing indie booksellers Sarah Rettger of Porter Square Books (Cambridge, MA) and Rachel Person of Northshire Bookstore Saratoga (Saratoga Springs). I was in direct contact with the indies, which was fun; we talked about what I'd be doing and the children that would come to my bookstore presentations. My publicist was in contact with Barnes & Noble.

With Katy Hershberger, my Simon & Schuster Children's publicist.I decided to arrive in NYC on the Monday so I'd have a full day to acclimate and do last-minute prep before the first event, and stayed with some friends. They took me to a fantastic restaurant called Hospoda, yummmm. I will spare you all the food photos I took. :-)

During this extra day, which also happened to be the official LAUNCH DAY for NAKED!, I checked out the Barnes & Noble venue ahead of time:

 B&N at 86th and Lexingston in NYCand was thrilled to see the book on the shelf:

 and an Events sign in the children's section as well as on the main floor behind the cash registers:

Another reason I was sooooooo excited about the B&N event -- I'd get to meet Michael Ian Black! Michael and I had already talked on the phone about what we planned to do in our presentation and had also emailed in the past, but we had never met in person before.

One of the photos that Michael sent me for our presentation. Photo: Ruthie Black.

What if I went into über-fangirl mode and started babbling about how much I loved his book YOU'RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT or his tv series STELLA or THE STATE? What if he decided, after meeting me, that he NEVER WANTED TO WORK WITH ME AGAIN? After I all, I had just discovered that he could draw:

One of the photos that Michael sent me for our slideshow.I was distracted from all my angststress, however, when I checked into the hotel that Simon & Schuster Children's (or rather Katy Hershberger) had arranged for me, because there was a fishtank in the lobby of Dream New York:

and a tortured pastry:

I have no idea, seriously.

a moon in front of the elevators:

and my room had a glowing blue desk!

But best of all, JEFF had taken time off work to fly to NYC so he attend our event at B&N YAAAAAAAY:

YAY, JEFF IS HERE!I have to say that having Jeff around for the first bit of the book tour made a HUGE DIFFERENCE in my confidence level for the B&N event, and that good karma stayed with me the rest of the trip. THANK YOU, JEFF.

Hotel restaurant where we had dinner.

We had dinner together at a friend's place before crashing early.

The next day -- THE NEXT DAY -- I'd be doing a presentation for kids at BARNES & NOBLE. In NEW YORK CITY. With MICHAEL IAN BLACK. (!!!!)

Really wish I could have put that moment in a time capsule and sent it back to myself in the lean years when I was just getting rejection letters.

Continued in Part 2: Finally meeting Michael Ian Black, NAKED! at Barnes & Noble, talking with young readers.

Framed picture hanging in our hotel room. Very, um, SPARKLY.


Comic: Tax Time For Freelancers


Bookworms comic: Dinner conversation

From the archives...


Advice on finding a writing or illustration mentor

I've been gradually updating my FAQ, including answering questions I'm frequently asked about getting into the business of writing and illustrating children's books. Here's the most recent update:

Q. You've talked about having a writing and/or illustration mentor. Do you have any advice about how I can find my own mentor?

Background to my own mentorship experience:

One of my first writing mentors was Lee Wardlaw, a Santa Barbara children's book writer who was kind enough to read one of my first novel manuscripts and critique it for me. Then she worked with me on the manuscript and eventually recommended me to her agent at Curtis Brown, Ginger Knowlton. Ginger became my agent.

I will always be grateful to Lee, who agreed to read my mss after hearing about me from my father-in-law, a friend of hers.

In illustration, I entered the SCBWI Illustration Portfolio Showcase in 2010 in L.A. and won a Mentorship Program Award. That was a different type of mentorship: as part of the program, I receive 15 minute sessions with each of the six Mentors that year. I also received permission from some of the Mentors to send them occasional questions and updates after the convention.

There is no formal application for the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program -- everyone who enters the Illustration Portfolio Showcase at the annual SCBWI conference in LA is considered. Here is information about the 2012 SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program.

CANSCAIP also has a Mentorship program for aspiring children's book writers and illustrators.

How to find your own mentor:

- Decide why you want a mentor. Are you looking for specific advice? Someone to recommend you to people in the industry who might help you? etc.

- Start by asking for one (possibly two) piece(s) of specific advice. That way you can see how the information is delivered, if it makes sense to you, whether your personalities are a good match, how receptive the person is to helping you. Avoid starting with a mega-long detailed e-mail that will require a lot of time and effort to answer.

- Choose a mentor you truly respect. When you approach them for advice, explain why you are asking them specifically. Flattery helps :-) but only if it's honestly given. 

- I'd advise against saying you are looking for a mentor. That implies a ton of responsibility/commitment upfront and will probably make them uncomfortable. Understand that asking someone to be your mentor is like asking someone to go steady; DON'T ask unless you already have a good relationship with that person, because it puts them in an awkward position.

- Remember that it's okay to have more than one mentor.

- Don't waste their time. Don't ask them for advice that you could have easily looked up yourself online.

- Don't assume that everything your mentor suggests is right for you. You still have to think for yourself. 

- If your mentor tends to always make you feel bad about yourself, get away from them!

- If someone's advice works for you, let them know. They will appreciate the thanks and will be more likely to want to help you in the future. 

- Don't take it personally if someone doesn't have time to help you. Good mentors are often very busy.

A few suggestions about where to meet potential mentors:

- Small writing or illustrator groups that interact regularly in person or online.

- Local writers' or illustrators' organizations that meet regularly.

- Conferences, then keep in touch afterward.

- Writing classes.

When people ask me, "Will you be my mentor?"

I've had aspiring writers and illustrators ask if I'll be their mentor. In almost every case, the question comes from someone I have just met, or have never met. Some offer to pay.

My answer: With my own career just starting to take off (my first children's book was published in 2012) and multiple book deadlines coming up over the next few years, I lack the time to be a proper mentor. I also find that the older I get, the more curmudgeonly, and I get impatient with those who ask basic questions whose answers could be easily found online. 

While I don't have time to be a formal mentor, however, I do what I can to encourage aspiring writers and illustrators, especially those whom I like. I also try to summarize things I've learned along my career path and post them online, like my Twitter Guide For Writers and Illustrators.

I no longer have one formal mentor. Instead, I learn from several, especially the people I work with. I also am learning so much from my writer and illustrator friends, and share what I can with them as well.

Don't stress if you can't find a mentor! Attend conferences and other events where you can meet others in the industry. Form meaningful relationships. Share your own experiences and what you've learned.

Related resources:

13 Tips On Finding A Mentor

44 Ways To Find A Mentor

How A Writing Mentor Can Help You - by Julie Rayl

How to Find (And Keep) A Mentor In 10 Not-So-Easy Steps

You can find the above entry in my FAQ entry: How do I find a writing or illustrator mentor?


Productivity tool: Coffee shop sounds, creative productivity and Coffitivity - and a poll

Survey: Do you like background noise while you're working?

Don't know about the rest of you, but I find my background noise preference depends heavily on what I'm working on. When I'm illustrating and am past the early sketch stages, I listen to audiobooks or have episodes of a previously-watched tv shows playing on my second monitor; the key for me is to have something interesting enough for variety but not TOO interesting to distract me from work.

For early creative stages and for writing, I used to prefer silence. These days, however,  I like to have something going on in the background, especially if my work day has been especially long. Music with English lyrics is too distracting, so I listen to Italian progrock but even that can start driving me crazy after a while.

One of my favorite background sounds for intense creative work? Coffee shop noise: murmured conversations, movement, muted clatter of cups and cutlery. I also find having people around who are DOING things stimulating, and I'm less likely to start daydreaming or slack off. I used to go to real-life coffee shops to do my writing, but this has downsides. The expense, for one thing, plus sometimes the conversations taking place around me are a tad TOO interesting.

Looks as if I'm not the only one who finds coffee shops and coffee shop sounds motivating:

How The Hum Of A Coffee Shop Can Boost Creativity - by Anahad O'Connor in The New York Times

Why Some Of Us Get More Done At Coffee Shops - by Kevin Purdy on Lifehacker

Coffitivity Plays Ambient Coffee Shop Noise To Boost Your Productivity - by Melanie Pinola on Lifehacker

For others who like coffee shop sounds in the background while they work, here's one solution:

Coffitivity: Just opening up the website page will start up the sounds of a coffee shop, and you can also get free apps for iOS, Droid and Mac desktop. I prefer the latter because I don't like having my browser open while working because it's too tempting to "just check one more website."

There are choices of other sounds as well, like a campus cafe and lunchtime lounge. Coffitivity has also invited the community to submit sounds to share, so I expect we'll get more choices soon.

How about the rest of you? Do you prefer silence? If not, what do you like to listen to while you work? I'd appreciate you taking a few minutes to answer my 1-2 multiple question poll: Do you prefer background noise while you work?

I'll post results in an upcoming Inkygirl post.