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, Writer's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, my poetry for young readers, #BookADay, writing/publishing industry surveys, and 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day Writing Challenge. Also see my Inkygirl archives,  and comics for writers (including Keiko and Will Write For Chocolate).

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

Tuesday
Jan132015

Three Questions for Kevin Sylvester: indie bookseller podcast, advice for young writers & illustrators, and outer space

Kevin Sylvester is not only a talented children's book writer/illustrator and broadcaster, but he's also one of the nicest kidlit people you could hope to meet. His Neil Flambé books for Grades 3-7 are incredibly fun; you can find out more about these and Kevin's other books on his website. In addition to Neil Flambé and the Bard's Banquet (Book #5 of the Flambé series) coming out today, Kevin's Baseballogy: Supercool Facts You Never Knew just came out from Annick.

If you're in the Toronto area this Sat. Jan. 17, 2015, you can meet Kevin at Chapters Markham at 2 pm. Details on Facebook.

1. Could you please take a photo of a random object in your office and tell us about it?

How about this?

It was on my desk when I got the email, so I just picked it up and took the photo.

It's a microphone I use to record the Great Kids, Great Reads podcast. I bought it a couple of years ago and I can take it on the road with my iPad to interview independent booksellers. I've done "on the road" versions in Ann Arbor, New York, all over Ontario and in Phoenix. The podcast is my chance to talk to indie booksellers about their picks for the best books for kids. (It's available on iTunes)

I love independent bookstores a lot. The sellers there read everything, and tapping into their expertise makes me smarter too.

2. What advice do you have for young writers and illustrators?

The best advice is to very carefully examine your favourite artists and actually see how they do what they do.

Do they use simple sentences? Or complex? Do they mix it up? Do they end each chapter with an open question, hooking you in? Do they draw digitally with lots of details? Is line more important than colour? Find out what they do, and how they do it, and then copy them.

 

 

Don't plagiarize or steal, but mimic. I read a lot of Artemis Fowl when I was writing the first Neil Flambé and I can see echoes of Eoin Colfer's humour and descriptive sentences in my book. I think my own voice has emerged in the later books in the series (and my new series MiNRS, which launches this fall) but I stood "on the shoulders of giants" to get there. Bob Dylan sounded a LOT like Woody Guthrie on his first few albums, and the Beatles lifted songs straight from Chuck Berry, but that gave them the experience to go beyond.

3. What are you excited about these days?

Space. I grew up with a poster of the universe over my bed and I would stare at it for hours, meditating on the fragile improbability of our existence. 2001 is far and away my favourite movie. I've always wanted to set a book in space, and that book comes out in fall 2015 (MiNRS#1, Simon & Schuster).

But what's amazing (and unintentional on my part) is that we are in a golden age of space exploration right now. The Hubble telescope continues to unlock secrets of star formation, the european space agency landed a satellite on a rock, and NASA is discovering earth-like planets all over the place. Chris Hadfield also stirred up the popular imagination with his time in the space station. So, wow.

You can find out more about Kevin at his website, blog, Twitter and Facebook.

And here's me being all fangirlworshippy at the Inspire! Toronto Book Fair, in the Simon & Schuster Canada booth:

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Wednesday
Jan072015

Writers: Don't be ceremonious about your writing. When time's available, WRITE.

Some great advice from Cory Doctorow in his "Writing In The Age Of Distraction" piece for Locus Online: Don't be ceremonious.

"Forget advice about finding the right atmosphere to coax your muse into the room. Forget candles, music, silence, a good chair, a cigarette, or putting the kids to sleep. It's nice to have all your physical needs met before you write, but if you convince yourself that you can only write in a perfect world, you compound the problem of finding 20 free minutes with the problem of finding the right environment at the same time. When the time is available, just put fingers to keyboard and write. You can put up with noise/silence/kids/discomfort/hunger for 20 minutes."

Read Cory's full article on LocusMag.com.

Wednesday
Jan072015

Comic: The Frog Prince/Editor, updated

Tuesday
Jan062015

Comic: Harry Potter Fan

Monday
Jan052015

Congrats to others on The Bulletin Of The Centre For Children's Books 2014 Blue Ribbon list!

Totally thrilled that NAKED! is a 2014 BCCB Blue Ribbon winner! Congrats to the others on the BCCB's Blue Ribbon list, including others in the picture book category (shown above). Here are BCCB's Blue Ribbon picture book picks of the year:

Black, Michael Ian. Naked!; illus. by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Simon. 4-7 yrs (July/August)

Campbell, Scott. Hug Machine; written and illus. by Scott Campbell. Atheneum. 4-7 yrs (September)

Dolan, Elys. Weasels; written and illus. by Elys Dolan. Candlewick. Gr. 1-4 (February)

Dubuc, Marianne. The Lion and the Bird; written and illus. by Marianne Dubuc; tr. from the French by Claudia Z. Bedrick. Enchanted Lion. 5-7 yrs (July/August)

Frazee, Marla. The Farmer and the Clown; written and illus. by Marla Frazee. Beach Lane/Simon. 4-6 yrs (November)

Haughton, Chris. Shh! We Have a Plan; written and illus. by Chris Haughton. Candlewick. 4-7 yrs (November)

Nolan, Dennis. Hunters of the Great Forest; written and illus. by Dennis Nolan. Porter/Roaring Brook. 4-7 yrs (December)

Ruth, Greg. Coming Home; written and illus. by Greg Ruth. Feiwel. 4-7 yrs (January 2015)

Shea, Bob. Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads; illus. by Lane Smith. Roaring Brook. 5-8 yrs (December)

Tan, Shaun. Rules of Summer; written and illus. by Shaun Tan. Levine/Scholastic. Gr. 3-5 (July/August)

I posted about the BCCB on my NAKED! blog, but for those who missed it:

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (BCCB) is one of the leading children's book review journals for school and public libraries. You can see the full list of the other 2014 BCCB Blue Ribbon winners on the BCCB website.

"Blue Ribbons are chosen annually by the Bulletin staff and represent what we believe to be the best of the previous year's literature for youth." You can see the Blue Ribbon Archive for other lists from 1990 through to the present. You can also download a PDF version of the list.

You can browse BCCB Blue Ribbon book covers from past years in theLibraryThing Book Awards archives.

Curious about how books are reviewed at The Bulletin Of The Center For Children's Books? Check out the video above, which shows a book's journey through the CCB and how it becomes part of the  CCB's research collection.

The Bulletin Of The Center For Children's Books is devoted entirely to the review of current books for young people. It provides concise summaries and critical evaluations to help its readers find the books they need. Each review gives info about the book's content, reading level, strengths and weaknesses, quality of format and suggestions for curricular use.

From the website of The Center For Children's Books: "The Center for Children’s Books (CCB) at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) is a crossroads for critical inquiry, professional training, and educational outreach related to youth-focused resources, literature and librarianship. The Center’s mission is to facilitate the creation and dissemination of exemplary and progressive research and scholarship related to all aspects of children’s and young adult literature; media and resources for young (age 0-18) audiences; and youth services librarianship.

In partnership with The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books—an authoritative analytic review journal—the Center aims to inspire and inform adults who connect young people with resources in person, in print, and online. The Center sponsors activities and hosts interdisciplinary research projects involving both theory and practice. In its dual role as research collection and educational community, the Center has national impact on the future of reading and readers."

I encourage you to check out The Bulletin's website, a rich resource of children's book recommendations and information, and The Center For Children's Books.

And again, THANK YOU so much to The Bulletin of The Center For Children's Books for the Blue Ribbon honor!

Sunday
Jan042015

In the end, it comes down to having a good story. No amount of promo/networking can substitute.

A reminder: before you worry too much about a promo/marketing plan for your yet-to-be-published book, make sure your book is as polished as you can possibly make it. No matter what the format, how gorgeous the cover, how well-promoted....you need to have a good story and strong characters.

Take the time to hone your craft.

Saturday
Jan032015

Insecurity, distractions and FINDING FOCUS again while writing

Title: "Looking For Thyme"

Having trouble finding the time to write during the day because of interruptions or other distractions? Or fighting the urge to go look stuff up on Google during your writing sessions?

(hand waving weakly here)

This year I'm going back to writing first thing in the morning to learn how to focus again. I have no problem focusing when I'm illustrating, or doing nonfiction or blog writing. When I'm doing fiction writing, however, I find myself constantly distracted.

Part of this, I'm suspecting, is insecurity. My theory: my subconscious is yelling "if you finish this new book, you're just going to get rejected again! I'm not going to let you finish!" 

To my subconscious: I'M NOT GOING TO LET YOU TAKE CONTROL ANYMORE.

Julia Cameron suggests doing three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. I tried this some years back and while it worked for a bit, I just found the process of writing by hand too laborious; I'm so used to typing on the computer keyboard. I'm also aiming for a specific wordcount rather than number of pages. However, I love the basic idea so am adapting it for my own situation.

I'm trying to do some writing first thing in the morning, before anything else. I also gave this a shot early last year but got too easily distracted. Trying it again this year but instead of fighting the distractions and worries that crowd into my head as I'm writing, I'm EMBRACING IT. If I start getting the impulse to "just take a second" to go check something online, I put that into my stream-of-consciousness writing session instead ("Right now I'm fighting the urge to go look up xxxxx...").

Sounds silly, I know, but it seems to satisfy the part of my brain that needs to do something about the thought RIGHT THEN AND THERE, so I can keep on writing about other things.

I'm also counting this as part of my Daily Words goal, which is currently 500 words/day. This morning I wrote 433 words but later today I'm going to do another writing session specifically for my own writing projects. I also find Ommwriter and Coffitivity help me focus. I've tried apps like Freedom, which turn off Internet access on my desktop computer, but I find it's way too easy to hack them. :-\

Much better, I think, to try to change my habits rather than try to hide the shiny toy.

My hope: that the habit of writing first thing in the morning starts feeling more natural to me than my OoShinyToyMustGoogleIt and "just spend a few minutes checking social media" urges.

And if the morning stream-of-consciousness exercise feels like it's becoming a regular habit, I'll stop counting those words as being part of my Daily Words goal and just count my project writing. I'll keep doing my morning warm-up, though.

If any of you are having the same issues as I am, I encourage you to try stream-of-consciousness writing, first thing in the morning. Let yourself write ANYTHING: poetry, fiction snippets, personalstuff, whatever pops into your head....just keep writing and DON'T leave whatever app you're using to "just look something up" or check email.

Good luck!  I'll check in later in a month or two to let you know how I've been doing as well.

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The Challenge: 250, 500 or 1000 words/day. Also see my 250, 500 or 1000 words/day Facebook page.

 

Thursday
Jan012015

Short on writing time? Try the 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day Challenge

Looking for a daily writing challenge with flexibility? Short on writing time for a particular project? Or are you motivated to write but have an unpredictable schedule? I started the 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day Challenge for those who want to work on a particular writing project but are finding it hard to find the time because of (1) a day job, (2) parental duties, (3) bill-paying freelance work, or (insert YOUR reason here).

If you have no trouble writing thousands of words a day, then I encourage to skip the rest of this post. :-) To those people: if you must post a comment, I'd appreciate you posting encouragement or advice rather than "I don't need this challenge because *I* write 5,000+ words a day." Thanks. :-)

BASIC IDEA:

1. Pick a goal: 250, 500 or 1000 words a day.

2. Aim to write that many words a day. It's up to you whether or not to make your goal public or not. Feel free to use one of the badges I've provided. Also feel free to follow/comment on the Facebook page.

3. If life gets in the way, then put the Challenge on hold. Try not to do this more than a few times a year if at all possible. DON'T try to "catch up" when you get back.

To others like me, who have other work or activities that usually have to get first priority, I encourage you to check out how to participate in my 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day Challenge. You can also follow my 250, 500 or 1000 Words A Day Facebook Page for motivating tips, advice and to exchange encouragement with fellow writers taking the challenge.

Good luck!

Wednesday
Dec312014

Comic: New Year's Resolution Block

Tuesday
Dec302014

Comic: Alphabet Soup

Just one reason you should always keep a notebook handy -- you never know when inspiration will strike!

Monday
Dec292014

Comic: Fortune Cookie Query

Wednesday
Dec242014

A comic for the holiday season (thanks to Pamela Ross for her caption!)

Thanks to Pamela Ross for letting me turning her caption into a comic.

Wednesday
Dec242014

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

In Inkygirl recently, I talked about how I'm sometimes more productive when I have sounds from a coffee shop playing in the background. Do you usually like to have background noise while you're working? If so, what type?

One-third of you prefer silence but the rest like some kind of background noise. Of the latter, 70% prefer ambient noise and 45% prefer music without lyrics.

These days, my favourite ambient noise tool is Coffivity. I've also recently signed up for Spotify, and use playlists like Indie Folk For Focus, Superior Study Playlist, Music For Concentration and Brain Food.

Next poll question: Are you giving any physical books this holiday season? (yes/no)

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Curious about my other publishing industry surveys? Feel free to browse current and past Inkygirl Surveys online.

Saturday
Dec202014

Snowman Comic Caption Winner: David Lubar

 

Thanks to everyone who entered my Snowman Comic Caption Contest! So many great entries and quite a few of them would have fit perfectly...SO hard to choose.

Congrats to David Lubar, whose caption I chose for the final comic. David wins a copy of either I'M BORED or NAKED! (his choice), signed by me, inscribed and mailed to anyone/anywhere he'd like, plus a Random hand-drawn/painted doodle by yours truly.

Runners-up, each of whom gets a Random hand-drawn/painted doodle:

"Darn screen is frozen." - Cindy Williams Schrauben 

"Frosty enjoyed nothing more than correcting people's grammar on the internet." - Ezra Denney

"I don't snow whether to use my pen name, Robert Frost, or my real name. I wonder if readers will carrot all." - Dee Leone

"Call me Icemael" - Kathy Holzapfel

"That's me as a snowball." - Pamela Ross (and stay tuned for more about Pamela's caption :-))

To David, Cindy, Ezra, Dee, Kathy & Pamela: please send me a FB message or Twitter DM with your contact info? Please start your msg with "COMIC PRIZE" to make sure I see it (I tend to get a lot of Kickstarter, auto-mailings & other requests).

You can read other caption suggestions on Twitter and Facebook. Here are just a few of my other favourites (apologies if I left out duplicate credits; there were a bunch of similar themes :-)):

"Oh, this is heating up! I'd better finish before I melt." - Sandra Gulland

"Google search: 'smart gloves'" - Lori Nichols

"It was a dark and snowy night..." - Jo Karaplis and Susan Pace-Koch

"Dear Bill Nye, what can I do to help stop global warming?" - Sue Jeffers

"Honey, I'll be done surfing the net soon, then you can have your head back." - Jim McMahon

"This ending will make their hearts melt!" - Kelly Bingham

"Throwback Thursday: Yes that was me once upon a time. I was just a flake." - Lindsay Brennan

"My writing today is abominable." - Henry Herz

"Missed Connections: Lost my old silk hat. Although life does surprisingly go on, you are missed. Thumpity thump thump just isn't the same without you." - Marcie Colleen

"Frosty's family was unable to cope with his winternet addiction." - Dan Hoffman

Friday
Dec192014

Comic: Christmas dream

Another comic from the archives. 'Tis the season, after all...

Wednesday
Dec172014

#BookADay: ALONG A LONG ROAD by Frank Viva (Little, Brown Books For Young Readers)

#bookaday: ALONG A LONG ROAD by fellow Canadian Frank Viva (Little, Brown). Love the simple palette and gorgeous retro-style art as well as the glossy yellow road (you can't help but want to touch the pages) that runs throughout.

More about Frank Viva on his website and you can also find him on Twitter at @VIVAandCO.

More info about ALONG A LONG ROAD on the Little, Brown Books for Young Readers website.

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Find out more about Donalyn Miller's Book-A-Day Challenge on the Nerdy Book Club site, and you can read archives of my #BookADay posts.

Monday
Dec152014

Comic Caption Challenge (there will be PRIZES)

Any caption ideas for this comic? You can post your answer below, on Twitter (please tag with #inkycaption hashtag) or on FB.

There will be PRIZES.

Monday
Dec152014

Holiday Kidlit: DASHING THROUGH THE SNOW by Helaine Becker & Werner Zimmerman (Scholastic Canada)

Looking for some Canadian holiday kidlit cheer? Try DASHING THROUGH THE SNOW: A CANADIAN JINGLE BELLS, a new book written by my friend Helaine Becker, illustrated by Werner Zimmermann, companion to their #1 national bestseller, A PORCUPINE IN A PINE TREE. More info about DASHING on the Scholastic Canada site.

More about Helaine: http://www.helainebecker.com/

More about Werner: http://wernerzimmermann.ca/

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Also see my other #BookADay posts.

Friday
Dec122014

Comic: He's Checking It Twice...Just Not Yet

Friday
Dec122014

Comic: Snowman Gift