Three Questions For Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

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

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


Comic: Lemming Critique

OHI0049 WRI LemmingAidCritique sm

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


Judy Blume's FOREVER available in ebook format!



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

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


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

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

Richard Peck and Judy Blume


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



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

An excerpt:

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

Yaaaay! :-D

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

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

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


Comic: Shades Of Grey-Ish & The Editor

OHI0144 ShadesOfGrey ish 600


Comic: Punctuation Breakup

OHI0143 MisplacedApostropheBreakup600

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


Comic Caption Contest: Man Eating Manuscript

OHI0141 EatWords

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


Comic: Housefly Writers

OHI0140 HouseflyWriters

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


Interview with Joanne Levy, author of SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE


I met Joanne Levy through the Toronto Area Middle Grade & Young Adult Author Group (Torkidlit), and was excited to hear about her upcoming book, Small Medium At Large, published by Bloomsbury. If you're in the Hamilton area on July 14th, do check out Joanne's book launch party. (Note: there will be CUPCAKES!)

You can follow Joanne on Twitter, on Facebook and on her website:

About SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE: After she’s hit by lightning at a wedding, twelve-year-old Lilah Bloom develops a new talent: she can hear dead people. Among them, there’s her overopinionated Bubby Dora; a prissy fashion designer; and an approval-seeking clown who livens up a séance. With Bubby Dora leading the way, these and other sweetly imperfect ghosts haunt Lilah through seventh grade, and help her face her one big fear: talking to—and possibly going to the seventh-grade dance with—her crush, Andrew Finkel.

SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE comes out June 26 in Canada and July 3 in the U.S.

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

The story of what inspired SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE isn’t all that exciting—it began as a title. Normally, I get about halfway through a book before I come up with something to call it, but this title came to me fully formed one morning when I woke up. I was working on other projects at the time, so I tucked it away, but it nagged at me for about a year until I figured I’d better just sit down and write it. The title pretty much dictated what it would be about. 

Wow, it began as a title? That's great! Has this happened to you before or since? Do you keep a notebook of title ideas?

Thanks, Debbie! I actually have another really great title that popped into my head one day, but I have yet to write the book, so I’m going to keep that one under wraps for now. That said, it’s usually through writing the book that I come up with a title. I try to come up with something that’s catchy but has a lot of meaning at the same time—stuff with multiple layers/meanings are always good. But I will say that it’s nice when my subconscious does the heavy lifting for me and gives me something great to work with!

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

I do zero outlining. I usually start with about four or five plot points in my head and just sit down and start writing. I’ve tried to force myself to become an outliner (which would save me a lot of trouble down the road) but my brain just doesn’t work that way. As for my work day? Well, I do have a full-time job to work around, so much of my writing is done in big chunks on the weekend and sometimes in the evenings, if I have time after Tweeting and Facebooking. ;-)

Do you do much revision? What's your revision/editing process?

 I’ll be honest: I don’t love editing. For me, the love is in the drafting and discovery of the plot and the characters, so the editing is the really hard work. I edit a lot as I go, so generally my first completed drafts are pretty clean.

BUT, when you don’t outline, editing for content beyond the first draft is really necessary to get everything in order and layer in details.  That means several drafts. I do try to put my first drafts away for a bit (and send them off to beta readers) so I can look at them with fresh eyes after some percolate time.

Then I pull them out and start with big picture stuff, much of which will have come from beta readers. Does the story work? Any big inconsistencies or holes? Are the characters’ motivations realistic? That’s usually two or three passes, especially if I’m adding/deleting scenes.

Then I start in a little closer with the detail work—names, events, timelines – does everything line up? After that, I do a final ‘find and replace’ to get rid of my overused words like ‘that’ and ‘just’ and my many physical tics – head shaking, nodding, winking.

Joanne's office

You originally began SMALL MEDIUM as a YA. What was your reaction when your editor suggested it would work well for a younger audience? 

The first time she came to me to ask if I would consider rewriting it, (and just to be clear, this wasn’t the editor who ended up buying the book) I was flattered that she loved it so much, but I thought someone else would like it as it was, so I respectfully declined.

The second time she came back and asked, nearly a year later, after we hadn’t sold the book, I figured why not? I really had no idea what I was doing, but she suggested some reading and had faith that I could do it. She was obviously right, and although she didn’t end up being the editor who bought the book, I’m grateful for her vision.


Do you have any advice for writers who aren't sure whether their work-in-progress is MG or YA? 

Read a lot of both and get a good ear for the voice. I wasn’t familiar with MG, (other than what I read as a kid)  until I started reading it for research, but it made a lot of sense once I got a good really good taste of it. Here’s an excellent list of differences – I particularly like #3 about the focus.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

 Read a lot. Write a lot. And prepare to toughen up your skin—this is a tough industry where heartache, rejection and bad news are pretty much guarantees. BUT if you are passionate, willing to put in the time and effort, and can stick it out, the rewards can be amazing!

What books are you reading right now?

 My tastes are very eclectic—as much as I love books for kids, I also enjoy grown up escape reads, too! I just finished an ARC of IN A FIX by Linda Grimes – a book for grownups, but filled with lots of laughs and was great fun. As for MG, I recently read THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate and loved it a lot. Up next is the YA, THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT by Jennifer E. Smith – I’ve really been looking forward to reading this one for a while and I’ve been hearing lots of great things about it.

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

I’m working on several different projects: more middle grade and a funny YA that I’m hoping will be a great follow up to SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE as my readers get a bit older. Nothing I can talk about specifically just yet, but I can tell you, all the stuff I’m working on will make you laugh! 

Where can people find you online?

I’m all over the place!



Twitter: @joannelevy

Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.


Comic: Fox Writers

OHI0045 WRI FoxWriters

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


Comic: Bad Dog

OHI0134 WordlessBadDog 500w


Comic: Writer Wish

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

OHI0048 WRI GenieWIshHarryPotter sm


I'M BORED journal updated: early sketches, pacing and advice for aspiring picture book writers


Interview: YA author Nelsa Roberto and THE BREAK

 I met Nelsa Roberto through the Toronto Middle Grade and Young Adult Author Group (a.k.a. Torkidlit). I love Nelsa -- she's so positive and funny and encouraging; I've appreciated her encouragement of my own writing.

I enjoyed Nelsa's previous book, Illegally Blonde (Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2010); I interviewed Nelsa for Inkygirl about how she wrote and sold her first book. Thanks to Nelsa for agreeing to answer some questions about her second YA novel, THE BREAK, which launched in this Spring.

Nelsa posts about the writing life, kidlit/YA & her work in her blog, Out Of The Wordwork. You can also find her on Twitter at @nelsaroberto, Pinterest and Facebook (and she's currently using a photo that I took for her Pinterest & Facebook user icon, yay :-).

Could you please tell us about your book, THE BREAK?  

THE BREAK began with a simple thought, one that came into my head as I saw my mom interacting with my kids in that completely unselfish, completely there, unconditional love she and my dad have for them. “This is the purest kind of love”, I thought. From there came the less happy thought, “What would my kids life be without their grandparents in it? What would they lose? What would my parents lose?”

Once those thoughts start happening then, if you’re a writer, you know a story line will surely follow. So Abby Lambert and her beloved, Nonna, were born.

Around the same time that I was thinking about writing a love story about a girl and her grandmother, I also decided to bring the aging theme – and all the constraints and difficulties aging creates – into sharp focus by making Nonna be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Memory - and all that means to relationships and family and the passing down of family history from grandparent to grandchild – is a fascinating thing. Without it we have no connection to each other.

How does the loss of memories affect relationships? How do family members react when this starts to happen? I knew so many people whose lives have been impacted by various forms of dementia. So many times I heard people say it was almost harder to deal with seeing their parents/grandparents/spouse etc. losing their memory than if they were dealing with a physical illness.


As for a plot summary for THE BREAK, I just had my first review in The Winnipeg Free Press and I thought they did a fabulous job of summarizing what the book is about:  

“…in The Break (Great Plains, 204 pages, $15 paperback), Roberto has written (about) … a teen who refuses to accept that her beloved grandmother is suffering from dementia. It is also a novel about guilt and the devastating effects of regret. Abby Lambert is furious with her mother, who has accepted a position with Doctors Without Borders for the very week of spring break, when Abby has planned to join a ski trip. Abby is left to look after her grandmother, whom she soon realizes may be having some severe problems. Her Nonna also wants to visit the Sunny Haven home, which Abby avoids at all costs. Abby's life becomes more complicated when she gets to know a boy whom she has always thought of as arrogant and unfriendly -- until she sees a sensitive side of him as he works with seniors at the nursing home. Abby must face unwanted truths and make important decisions. This is a realistic novel with a dash of romance that teens will find appealing.”

  How did THE BREAK get published?  

Research into Alzheimer’s was easily done as there are many websites and articles about this devastating illness. I also, unfortunately, knew friends and family who had had to deal with a loved one going through this illness.

I began writing this book as a follow up to my first novel, ILLEGALLY BLONDE (Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2010) – in fact, I began writing it while IB was still on submission. Once Great Plains bought my first book I knew I’d have to submit an option book.

Knowing Great Plains preferred contemporary realistic stories I knew the idea and themes of THE BREAK would appeal. Yet, as per my usual process, I wrote about 100 pages then stopped (that dratted murky middle again!) and I started another book that was calling to me – a YA paranormal.

My then agent looked at both partials and encouraged me to focus on THE BREAK. Good thing she did! Great Plains released it in March, 2012 and I had the launch April 20th at TYPE Books in Toronto where I did my very first public reading and didn't collapse from nerves!

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

For this book, I actually outlined the whole thing! That deserves an exclamation remark because that is not the usual process for me. Usually I outline the first half or do a back-cover kind of blurb/synopsis then jump right in to writing.

Funnily enough, I always thought that because I don’t usually outline the whole book, that was one of the reasons I get stuck in the murky middle – I haven’t plotted the rest of the book out so I need to stop and think! Yet, with THE BREAK I had plotted it all out and I still stopped in the middle.

When I look back on the outline now, I do see some plot lines that didn’t branch out in the final product so I know when I actually start the writing, regardless of whether or not it’s plotted out, the pantsing takes over and I may veer off in another direction that may or may not slow me down (usually it slows me down!)  

My typical work process is to write when and where I can. With a full time job and a busy family life, I usually write on the subway, or at home late at night. But my life the last year has been unusual since we’ve undergone a massive home reno so all my routines went out the window (along with the old windows!).

I’m hoping to get back into at least an hour’s worth of writing a night again. I’ve discovered that not writing is not making me feel good (writers understand). I’m only 20,000 words away from finishing a WIP that I started back in 2008 and shelved.

When I looked at it again last fall, the spark lit up for me and I added another 10,000 words on it relatively quickly so I’m hoping now that I’m settled in my home life (somewhat) I can finish this one and make headway on another one that I just started and start querying agents with it in the fall.

Any words of encouragement for writers who keep getting rejection letters?

Rejection letters are what you make them. If you are getting form letters congratulate yourself on having the courage to send your writing out there. That is no small thing. If you are getting personalized rejection letters it shows you are developing as a writer.

Your story, your writing, your characters - something has made an editor or agent connect enough with your words for them to write something to you. Appreciate the compliments and learn from the comments.

If you keep getting rejection letters it means you have perseverance. You cannot become published if you don't have that. 

Bravery, talent, knowledge, persistence.  What's so bad about rejection letters again?

What are you working on now?

I've completed a YA fairy-tale inspired romance that is out for critique with some writers I trust. It may need to be reworked again before I decide if it is good enough to query.

I'm also trying to finish another YA contemporary that I began several years ago. I'm hoping to get that done over the summer. The thing I've learned is that not every book you finish writing may be good enough to go out there. But every book you finish writing is a victory because you finish.  

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?  

Always write a book you feel passionate about. Don’t worry whether it’s not the ‘in’ thing that will land you a publishing contract. Worry about whether your main character is appealing. Worry about whether he/she has a goal/problem worth writing (and reading!) about for 200+ pages. Worry about if you have enough conflict.

Worry. About. The. Story. Not about whether you are going to be published or not. That worry comes soon enough after you’ve written this book you are passionate about. Until that time comes, concentrate on the writing and the story. The rest will follow.


Find out more info about Nelsa at her blog:

Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.

With YA author Nelsa Roberto


Round-Up: Kidlit/YA Writing Opportunities

I've been tweeting more calls for submissions from @inkyelbows these days. Here are some recent opportunities:

Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction seeks fiction and poetry for teens, young adults and the young at heart. Pays $200/story, $25/poem. Deadline: June 30, 2012.

YA steampunk anthology seeks submissions (via Mindy Hardwick). Deadline: Sept.1/2012.

Indie publisher Buzz Books seeks YA short stories for a new monthly Mythology High series. 3000-4500 words.

Lee & Low Books is open to children's picture book submissions for its 13th annual New Voices Award. Manuscript must be unpublished, unaccented and written by a writer of colour in the U.S.

Please note: Do NOT send submissions to me; I have nothing to do with the publications and publishers above. Please click through to the links for information about how to submit material.


Illustrated quote: It's never too late to revise

NeverTooLateToRevise flat600

You can also find my illustrated quotes on my Illustrated Quotes Pinterest board.


Will Write For Chocolate updated

Will Write For Chocolate has been updated.

2012 06wwfc lettinggo v2 600

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

You can also follow WWFC on FacebookPinterest and Google+


And the Golden Marmot Award goes to: Liana Brooks

Screen Shot 2012 06 08 at 4 11 20 PM

This week's incredibly prestigious Golden Marmot award goes to sf author and marine biologist Liana Brooks for her tweet above. You can find out more about Liana at her website: and follow her tweets at @LianaBrooks.


Comic: When You Know Your Short Story's Too Long

OHI0131 CritiqueWorkshopLongStory

Originally published in Writer Unboxed.

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


R.I.P. Ray Bradbury

Update: My friend Errol Elumir (of Debs and Errol) has just posted a video covering my "Homecoming" song! I love it!!

See info below for the background, lyrics/chords for this song]


RayBradbury autograph sm

Above: page from my childhood autograph collection.

Just found out that Ray Bradbury died this morning at the age of 91. :-(

R Is For Rocket

I always loved reading, but it wasn't until I read Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine that I became aware of style in writing. I'm generally a fast reader, but with Ray Bradbury's books I slowed way down so I could savour the language. His books helped me appreciate the importance of word choice, and also got me hooked on science fiction.

I wrote a song called "Homecoming"  that was based on one of my favourite Ray Bradbury short stories, "The Rocket Man" (included in his R Is For Rocket short story collection). You can hear my group, Urban Tapestry, performing Homecoming in our live performance CD. I'm playing the rhythm/underlying picking guitar part on this track, Allison Durno plays lead guitar bits and Jodi Krangle sings lead. Allison and I sing some backup during the chorus. I've included the lyrics/chords at the bottom of this post.

Even before I experienced family loss myself, I was deeply moved by this story and others by Bradbury. His writing affected me in so many ways, and was a major factor in my own desire to be a writer. I owe this man so much and had hoped to meet him in person someday.

For more info about Ray Bradbury, see



Words & music by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Based on "The Rocket Man", a short story by Ray Bradbury from his R Is For Rocket anthology.

Performed by Urban Tapestry (included on our live performance CD, Sushi and High Tea)

Also hear a cover of this song by Andrea Dale.

C(add 9)       D/F#          G/B           A7sus
===========    ===========   ===========   ===========
| | | | | |    | | | | | |   | | | | | |   | | | | | |
-----------    -----------   -----------   -----------
| | x | | |    x | | x | |   | x | | | |   | | x | | |
-----------    -----------   -----------   -----------
| x | | x |    | | | | x |   | | | | x |   | | | | x |
-----------    -----------   -----------   -----------
| | | | | |    | | | | | |   | | | | | |   | | | | | |
-----------    -----------   -----------   -----------

Intro:  D   Cadd9  G/B  A7sus

     D/F#                       Cadd9
My mother looks into the sky, I think she hears him coming
D/F#                         Cadd9
but the stars are blinding her so she cannot see
G/B                                    A7sus
"Help me keep him home this time," she says to me.
               D    Cadd9  G/B  A7sus
"He's coming home."

My father walks into the house, we laugh in his embrace
The scent of fire and stardust cling to his hands and face
Already we are wondering how long
he'll stay this time.

CHORUS (strummed):
D          Cadd9           G/B        A7sus A7
I hear the stars, they are calling tonight
C                 G/B
Listen, can't you hear them?
D          Cadd9           G/B        A7sus A7
I hear the stars, they are calling tonight
Calling me home
            D   Cadd9 G/B   A7sus
Calling me home.

He takes us to the carnival and swimming in the ocean
We picnic in the mountains, our faces to the sun
Each moment is a gift I take with me
A memory.

My father sits beside me, his laughter ringing true
"What's it like in space?" I ask as I always do
His eyes grow distant and he smiles, but mom...
she looks away.

Em           A          Cadd9
Before my father leaves, he takes me aside
    D        Cadd9        G/B               A
He says, "The next I come back, I won't be leaving
D         Cadd9          G/B              A
Tell your mother that I love you both and I am
        D    Cadd9  G/B  A7sus
coming home."


In the fading sunset, the message comes next day
His ship fell into the sun, a blaze of gold and gray
I try to tell Mom but she turns away...
             D    Cadd9  G/B  A7sus  D Cadd9  G/B  A7sus
and goes inside.

My mother looks into the sky, I think she hears him coming
but the stars are blinding her so she cannot see
The winds are cold, I hear them whisper to me
"He's coming home."

CHORUS (twice)

Cautionary Comic For Writers

Originally published on Writer Unboxed:

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