Debbie Ridpath Ohi writes and illustrates books for young people. She is represented by Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown Ltd.

Debbie's blog post: Why Picture Books Are Important

Coming Apr.29, 2014: NAKED!


Out in bookstores now:

I'M BORED. Written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. A New York Times Notable Children's Book and Junior Library Guild selection. Teacher's Guide (K-5) now available.



Before using my comics

Creative Commons Licence

Writer comics by Debbie Ridpath Ohi are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

More details: Comic Use Policy

Welcome to Inkygirl: A Blog For Children's/YA Book Writers And Illustrators, which includes my Writer's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, my MicroBookReviews, book reviews in comic formatwriting/publishing industry surveysWriting & Illustrating a Picture Book For Simon & Schuster BFYR post series and 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day Writing Challenge. Also see my Inkygirl archives, Category archives, and comics for writers (including 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 Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi


Cartwheel/Scholastic submissions update

Since some of you have been asking...

To Inkygirl readers who submitted their manuscripts to Cartwheel/Scholastic during the special window in July, please note that the estimated response time (for those who included SASEs, that is) is expected to be around 6 months, according to Celia Lee.

Fingers crossed for those who submitted!


I'M BORED enhanced ebook, book narration and another reason I love Twitter

One of the many reasons I love Twitter is because of the conversations and connections that can happen because of casual mention.

For example, I discovered that the narrator of the enhanced ebook version of I'M BORED was Cassandra Lee Morris while listening to an updated version of the ebook:

I decided to tweet about my Instagram video above. I always try to @mention people when possible, so did a quickie search for Cassandra. Lo and behold, I found her!

Here's an excerpt from the ensuing conversation:


If you'd like to buy a copy of the enhanced version of I'M BORED with Cassandra's hilarious reading, you can find it on iTunes.


CRANKENSTEIN trailer and Twitter crankylaunchfun with Dan Santat

I've gotten hooked on Dan Santat posts on Instagram lately, started following links, and have discovered some of the entertaining book trailers he's created. I've posted some of these below. Dan's also way entertaining on Twitter. Today, he's being cranky in honor of CRANKENSTEIN's launch:



For CRANKENSTEIN, written by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Dan Santat, just launched from Little, Brown:

For CARNIVORES, written by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat, published by Chronicle Books:

For SIDEKICKS, a great graphic novel written and illustrated by Dan, published by Arthur Levine Books:


Registration now open for SCBWI-Montreal conference (Oct. 4-6, 2013). I'm giving the opening keynote!

I had a fantastic time at the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA earlier this month and will be posting a bit about that soon, but I wanted to also announce that registration for the SCBWI Canada East Fall Conference in Montreal is now open. It's my first SCBWI faculty position, and I'm thrilled to be part of the event this year. I'll be giving the opening keynote! Nervous but also waaaay excited.

Conference promo above & conference info PDF put together by SCBWI Canada East Illustrator Coordinator Peggy Collins.

More info: SCBWI-Montreal conference brochure PDF - Registration

Here's more info some of the other faculty members and attendees:

I met David Diaz when I was chosen for the 2010 SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program; he was one of my Mentors. In addition to being on the SCBWI Illustration Board, David's been hugely supportive of the Mentorship program, generous with his time and knowledge (including opening up his home to some of the Mentees once a year for a creative retreat). David won the Caldecott Medal in 1995 for U.S. picture book illustration in Smoky Night (HMH Books For Young Readers) written by Eve Bunting. He's illustrated many other books and won other awards since. You can find more info about David and his work:

NCCIL profile for David Diaz - Wikipedia entry for David Diaz - David Diaz on Facebook

Laurent Linn is my fantabulous Art Director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Laurent was so patient with me as I navigated my very first book illustration project (I'm Bored by Michael Ian Black) and I had so much fun working with him on Naked! Just about to start work with Laurent on the very first picture book that I'm writing AND illustrating, Where Are My Books?

Laurent began his career as a puppet designer/builder in Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop (how cool is that?!?), creating characters for various productions, including the Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island films. With Henson over a decade, he worked primarily on Sesame Street, becoming the Creative Director for the Sesame Street Muppets, winning an Emmy Award. Currently, at Simon & Schuster, Laurent art directs picture books, middle-grade, and teen novels, including I, Too, Am America, by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier; Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo by John Lithgow, illus. by Leeza Hernandez; The Scarecrow’s Dance, by Jane Yolen, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline; Better Nate Than Ever, by Tim Federle; and the Rot & Ruin YA series by Jonathan Maberry. Laurent is Artistic Advisor for the annual Original Art exhibit at the Society of Illustrators in New York.

More info: On Twitter: @LaurentLinn.


Bonnie Bader is the Associate Publisher of Frederick Warne and the Editor-in-Chief of Penguin Young Readers/Early Readers, imprints of Penguin Young Readers Group. At Warne, Bonnie overseas the Peter Rabbit, Spot, and Flower Fairies publishing programs. She also oversees all of Penguin’s leveled readers, which fall under the imprint, Penguin Young Readers. In addition, she will be starting up an 8x8 picture book program, Penguin Core Concepts, which will launch in Spring 2014.

She continues to edit several bestselling series including George Brown, Class Clown and Magic Bone by Nancy Krulik, Almost Identical by Lin Oliver, and Here’s Hank by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, coming out in 2014. Bonnie is also a member of the SCBWI Board of Advisors.

Here's a great pre-SCBWI-LA interview that Jolie Stekly recently did with Bonnie.

On Twitter: @BonnieBader.

Linda Pratt, Agent, Werner and Pratt. After 20 years at the Sheldon Fogelman Agency, Linda Pratt and long-time colleague, Marcia Wernick, established the Wernick and Pratt Agency in January, 2011. The agency specializes in representing creators of children’s books. “Our philosophy is client care that focuses not just on individual books, but the long-term careers of our authors and illustrators in the ever-changing world of publishing.” Linda’s clients include LeUyen Pham, Richard Peck, Denise Brunkus, Sharon G. Flake, and Kathryn Erskine among others. She also enjoys introducing new talent. Two 2013 debuts are author/illustrator Aaron Becker’s JOURNEY (Candlewick) and middle-grade novelist Judy Hoffman’s THE ART OF FLYING (Disney-Hyperion). Linda is a member of AAR, SCBWI, and served on the planning board for the Rutgers Oneon-One Mentoring Conference for five years.

More about Linda:

On the Wernick & Pratt agency site - Agent Spotlight on Literary Rambles

Jill Santopolo is an executive editor at Philomel Books, an imprint of the Penguin Young Readers Group, where she edits everything from board books for the youngest of readers to edgy novels for teens. Her list of authors includes many award-winners and New York Times bestsellers, most notably Andrea Cremer, David Levithan, Jane Yolen, T.A. Barron, Felicia Bond, Olivier Dunrea, Lisa Graff, Alex London, Peter Abrahams, and Erin Moulton. Prior to coming to Penguin in August of 2009, Jill worked for seven years at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she once had to dress in a pig suit and hand out cupcakes to booksellers (she edited a lot of books there, too). Jill holds a B.A. in English Literature, an M.F.A. in Writing for Children, and a Certificate in Intellectual Property Law. In addition to working as an editor, Jill is also the author of the Alec Flint series (Scholastic 2008, 2009), the Sparkle Spa series (Simon & Schuster, 2014), and the Follow Your Heart series (Puffin, 2014). In her spare moments, Jill teaches fiction writing online for McDaniel College and is an M.F.A. thesis advisor at The New School. Once in a while, she sleeps.

Website: - Twitter: @JillSantopolo


And ME!

Photo: Beckett Gladney is a writer and illustrator based in Toronto, Canada. Her debut picture book, WHERE ARE MY BOOKS?, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in Spring 2015. Her illustrations appear in I’M BORED (NYTimes Notable Book) and NAKED! (comes out Summer 2014), both written by Michael Ian Black, published by Simon & Schuster BFYR. She also has upcoming book illustration projects with HarperCollins Children’s (RUBY ROSE books by Rob Sanders) and Random House Children’s (MITZI TULANE books by Lauren McLaughlin).

Plus a few other upcoming projects with Simon & Schuster BFYR she can't talk about yet. ;-)

Debbie is represented by Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd.

For more info, visit or @inkyelbows on Twitter.


In addition, there will also be a special presentation during the conference for: Jennifer Lanthier, a Canadian children’s author who recently won a Crystal Kite award for her wonderful book, The Stamp Collector (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012).

Jennifer's one of my Torkidlit friends, and I was thrilled to hear that she had won the Crystal Kite for our region. You can see the other Crystal Kite winners on the SCBWI site. Looking forward to seeing Jennifer at the event!


Interview: William Alexander on writing middle grade novel GHOULISH SONG, sequel to National Book Award winner GOBLIN SECRETS (Margaret K. McElderry Books)

Photo: Teri Fullerton

William Alexander won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature for his first novel, GOBLIN SECRETS, a fantasy tale about a boy who joins a theatrical troupe of goblins to find his missing brother. A companion novel, GHOULISH SONG, came out this year. William studied theater and folklore at Oberlin College, English at the University of Vermont, and creative writing at Clarion. He currently teaches at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. For more info visit and

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (imprint of Simon & Schuster)

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12


Q. What was your writing process for GHOULISH SONG?

I wrote my first novel, GOBLIN SECRETS, in a meandering, gradual, and entirely unplanned sort of way. It took several years and several rewrites before I realized that I should finish the story I started rather than any of the various other narrative digressions I stumbled into along the way. But I loved the whole idea of making it up as I went along, striking off into the darkness without having the slightest idea what I might find when I get there. I still do. But GHOULISH SONG had an actual deadline, so this time I needed a plan. I tried to teach myself how to use an outline, how to travel with an actual destination in mind. I ended up somewhere in between. I had the outline / travel itinerary all planned out, but I also gave myself permission to strike out sideways whenever roadside attractions caught my eye.

Am I trying to squeeze too much out of the travel metaphor? Probably. I did make my deadline, at least.

Other than my struggle to learn how to use outlines, the most important thing about my initial process was finding the right soundtrack. Zoe Keating set my mood perfectly for writing dark fairy tales.

Q. How did GHOULISH SONG get published?

My first book contract miraculously called for two books, and this was the second one. Publishing the first one took very much longer. I spent years finding an agent. 

William in his office. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)(Credit: AP)

I was absurdly lucky to end up at Barry Goldblatt Literary, mostly because Holly Black is a friend and former teacher of mine and she told me that they were looking for new authors. This is not to say that it's all about who you know! Really. Please don't go about networking with that in mind. Don't try to meet people just because they might be useful to you. This is a community, not just a series of business contacts, and networking only actually works when you are not doing it for selfish, businessy reasons. Be a part of the community.

William Alexander and editor Karen Wojtyla at the National Book Awards. Photo from SLJ.

Anyway, my agent spent another year finding a publisher, and my publisher spent many months revising their entire contract process, and after that my editor--Karen Wojtyla of Margaret K. McElderry Books--and I spent a long while completely revising the manuscript (see above re: actually finishing the story I had started). She read a far better book than the one I had written, and made me want to write that book instead. After all of that I switched agents when the agency reshuffled.

As I understand it, this process is always very, very slow. The only way to get through it without going mad is to ignore the stuff that's out of your hands and work on the next book in the meantime.

Above: William's acceptance speech for the National Book Award.

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

Read widely and wildly. Never condescend. Kids are accustomed to moving through a world that they do not understand, encountering unfamiliar ideas and vocabulary along the way. This is already a daily experience for them. Only as adults do we fool ourselves into thinking that we already understand the world. Only as adults do we get grumpy about stumbling over words and ideas that we don't already know. Kids are more flexible. They have to be. Trust them to be.

I write for kids because I've never needed books more than I did at eleven. Eleven is a strange, vulnerable, precarious time. You're not yet an adolescent, but you can see it coming, and you're scared, and you should be. Middle Grade readers need to gather resources, examples, possibilities, stories, new masks to try on, new colors to dye their hair, anything and everything that will help them through the transformations of adolescence. The books we read at eleven help us decide who we want to become.

We should take that seriously--but not too seriously. This still needs to be fun. Don't forget to have fun. Middle Grade readers also need pressure valves, escapism, escape.

Above: "A very brief reading in my living room, recorded on my phone."

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

I'm currently finishing up AMBASSADOR, my first science fiction novel. A boy named Gabriel Sandro Fuentes becomes the ambassador of our planet. Meanwhile his parents are getting deported from the country.

I say "finishing" with great optimisim. Hopefully the book will be done soon...

Where to find out more info about William Alexander and his books:

Goblin Secrets website - Twitter: @williealex -

Related articles:

School Library Journal article about debut author William Alexander winning the National Book Award

Salon article about William Alexander

National Book Foundation page about William Alexander winning the NBA


Advice for children's book writers: Read widely and wildly. Never condescend. - @williealex (Tweet this)

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


My interview on Simply Messing About: How was born, my writing/illustration career, time management and more

SimplyMessingAbout header5

Thanks to Renee Kurilla for interviewing me on Simply Messing About, a wonderful blog about creating children's books.

Topics covered include:

- How I ended up selling my website for writers and moving to Philadelphia for six months (away from my husband!)

- How got started

- Time management

- Why I encourage aspiring children's book writers and illustrators to attend SCBWI conventions

- Introverts and networking

- How to get out of a creative rut

- How to maintain a positive attitude

Read the full interview on Simply Messing About.


Interview: Claire M. Caterer on writing middle grade, getting published and THE KEY AND THE FLAME (Margaret K. McElderry / Simon & Schuster)

Claire M. Caterer was born in the Motor City and raised in the suburbs of Kansas City with a large assortment of cats, dogs, birds, hamsters, mice, and other creatures. Her childhood was spent reading about and inventing fantastical worlds. Today she is a full-time writer of books for all ages. She lives and writes in the Kansas City area, where she shares her home with one husband, one daughter, two dogs, and a host of imaginary friends. The Key & the Flame is her first novel.

Claire's editor at Margaret K. McElderry is Ruta Rimas, and her agent is Tracey Adams of Adams Literary.

You can find more about Claire at her website, on Facebook and on Twitter.


Written by: Claire M. Caterer

Age range: 8 and up

Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books (Imprint of Simon & Schuster)


Eleven-year-old Holly Shepard wants nothing more than to seek adventure outside of her humdrum American life. She gets her chance at last when her family travels to England and Holly receives an unusual gift: an iron key that unlocks a passage to the dangerous kingdom of Anglielle, where magic is outlawed and those who practice magic are hunted. When her friend Everett and brother Ben are captured by Anglielle’s ruthless king, Holly must rescue them. But that means finding—and using—the magic within herself and learning which magical allies she can trust. The Key & the Flame is the first in a brand-new fantasy adventure series for ages 8 and up.

Some notes from Claire's pre-writing notebook.

Q. What was your writing process for THE KEY & THE FLAME?

I used to start with an idea and just see where it took me, but I've discovered that doesn't work very well with an intricate plot. I'd spend too much time rambling and not getting to the story. Also, if I want to weave in subplots, play with time, etc., I have to plan some things out in advance unless I want to have a big spaghetti-like mess on my plate that takes ages to fix.

These days, I usually start with a core idea. But before I start writing any actual words, I doodle. No, not cool cartoony pictures--I don't have that kind of talent--but lots of lists, big capital letters, stars, question marks. For THE KEY & THE FLAME, I had the image of a girl using a tree either to enter a parallel world or to slip into the past. Because trees can be so old--a tree might stand in one place for 200 years—they make the perfect time portal.

Some of Ruta's edits.

Longhand scribbling is very freeing for me. I fill pages and pages of a notebook with different ideas. Then, as the story starts to crystallize, I go back and highlight those items that resonate most. I might jot down a few broad plot points, like, "Tornado sweeps girl to magical land, girl incurs witch’s wrath, needs to find a way home." (That's THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, by the way, not my book.)

Once I know where the story is going and how it will end, I start writing. I usually don’t have all the twists and turns of the plot worked out, but I have the big points in mind. Every few chapters, I’ll chart out how the next few will go. That way I’m never stuck staring at that blank screen.

Q. How did THE KEY & THE FLAME get published?

I took a traditional--which is to say, long--route to publication. I had started writing a novel for adults—my seventh such attempt—and just couldn't get my heart into it. I knew it would be a pretty depressing book, and I was depressed writing it! I put it away and decided to write something for fun--something I'd really love to read and would've loved to read as a kid. The result was THE KEY & THE FLAME. And I knew it was clicking as I was writing it. I couldn't believe I hadn't been writing this kind of stuff all along.

"My messy office, where Sawyer the dog always snoozes behind my desk chair. In this pic, he's snuggling a friend."

Once I’d written and revised the manuscript (many times!), I took a systematic approach to contacting agents. I started by going to and narrowing my search by genre (fantasy) and age group (middle grade). Then I went through every name and researched each agent separately.

When I queried a particular agent, I noted exactly why I was considering her--she'd mentioned at a conference that she loved classic fantasy; she’d told a blogger that C.S. Lewis was her favorite writer. Putting that much detail into a query takes time. Each one took about an hour to research and write.

Books and files in Claire's office.

Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary was my top agent pick, but he was inundated with queries and was closed to submissions. So I moved down my list, gathering a big stack of rejections. Some were very nice, as in, "Not this one, but I like your writing, try me again." Some didn't respond at all, which is just what happens. I tried not to take it personally.

After I did another major revision and received about 20 rejections, Chris Richman was finally open to queries again. When I contacted him, he responded the same day with enthusiasm, and we became a team. He was a great agent for THE KEY & THE FLAME. He had me do still more revisions, which took several months, and finally he started subbing out the book in August 2011. By October, we had an offer from Margaret K. McElderry Books, a legendary imprint at Simon & Schuster. After dreaming of publication since childhood, and seriously writing and submitting for about 25 years, I honestly could not believe it was really happening. When Chris called to tell me, I kept saying, “No way—no way!” until he got a little annoyed with me.

Sadly, Chris decided to leave the agenting business this year, and I started my agent search over again. But I’m thrilled to have found Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. She’s marvelous!

More of Ruta's edits. "See the cute little dinosaur head she drew above? Aww..."

I’ve really enjoyed the editorial process. It’s so exciting to talk about my book with someone else who seems to think the characters are real people. My editor at McElderry is Ruta Rimas, and she’s marvelous. I look forward to getting her questions and seeing her scribbles on the pages. Sometimes she even makes little doodles.

Inspiration quotes on Claire's bulletin board.

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

I always say I have six pieces of advice: Read, read, read. Write, write, write.

You positively, absolutely have to be a reader to be a writer. If you want to write for middle grade, read as much of it as you can, both the classics and the current stuff. Analyze it: Why do the old standbys have such staying power? Kids still read LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. Why? And what’s new and exciting for this age group right now?

That said, don't ever read with the idea that you’ll hop on the next hot trend. By the time you have your zombies-in-middle-school novel written, submitted, accepted, edited, and printed, zombies will be long gone and no one will care. Tell the story you want to tell, that you burn to tell.

Which brings me to the writing: You need to do it. A lot. And just as is true of reading, it pays to write lots of different kinds of things. Your muscles stay supple, and the writing doesn't get stale. Sometimes, write for fun, just as an artist doodles for fun. Try your hand at short-short stories and post them on your blog. There's a really fun site that started up early this year, Cabinet of Curiosities, wherein each of the writers submits a creepy story each week. It's fantastic!

The famous science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury recommended writing a story a week for a year. Not everyone has to practice that rigorously, but think about it: If you tried that, how could you NOT improve?

Claire's research bookshelf.

For writing middle grade, it also helps to be around kids. For years, I volunteered at my daughter's school library once a week. I overheard conversations, watched the kids interact, and as a bonus, got to see what they were interested in reading. If you haven't any kids of your own, see if you can get involved with your local school, church, or library. Go to other authors' events or children's book fairs.

Finally, you have to be able to think and feel like a kid—not how you think kids SHOULD feel, but how they DO feel. What's important to them? What do they dream about? If you have any old school papers or journals of your own, pull them out. Look at old photo albums and try to reach back to your 11-year-old self. Try writing about a day in your kid life as if it's the present. (Warning: This can be an emotional experience.) If you can't access your own kid feelings, you probably should write for adults.

Some notes from Claire's pre-writing notebook.

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

Right now my editor and I are working on polishing up the manuscript for the second book in The Key & the Flame series, which is slated to come out in summer 2014. I'm also starting work on the third book as well as kicking around some ideas for standalone novels. I don’t have firm dates yet, but I hope to visit many schools and book festivals this fall. I love finding and connecting with readers!

You can find more about Claire at her website, on Facebook and onTwitter.


THE KEY AND THE FLAME's @ClaireCaterer shares edit notes, how she got her agent, more: (Tweet this)

You positively, absolutely have to be a reader to be a writer. - @ClaireCaterer on writing MG: (Tweet this)

THE KEY AND THE FLAME's @ClaireCaterer on how she got published, advice for MG writers, more: (Tweet this)

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


New Canadian stamps feature picture book character created by children's book author/illustrator, Marie-Louise Gay


Thanks to my sister Ruth for the heads-up: 

Stella, the star of Marie-Louise Gay's picture books and a television series based on her stories, is being featured in a series of stamps issued by Canada Post.

I must get some!


Simon & Schuster Children's books affected by the B&N/S&S dispute


I've been gradually updating a list of children's and YA books being affected by the dispute between Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble. For more info and to find out how you can help, please see If you're a Simon & Schuster Children's author or illustrator affected by the dispute, feel free to fill out my survey.


My sister's book: KENTA AND THE BIG WAVE (Annick Press) available on Netgalley for review

Can you see that tiny soccer ball in the middle of the wave?

RuthOhiHeadshotAs some of you already know, my sister Ruth Ohi (photo to the left) is an experienced children's book writer and illustrator who has been encouraging and supporting me over the years.

She has TWO new picture books coming out this year:

KENTA AND THE BIG WAVE, which comes out from Annick Press in a couple of weeks, and FOX AND SQUIRREL, which launches from Scholastic Canada this September. Kenta is now available on NetGalley for reviewers.

I'll be interviewing Ruth later this year but right now I'd like to rave about KENTA AND THE BIG WAVE:


I was fascinated when Ruth told me about a real-life event that (along with other similar reports) helped to inspire the story: Apparently after a soccer ball washed shore in Alaska after the Japan tsunami in 2011, Japanese teen Misaki Murakami came forward as the owner of the ball. More than 3,000 homes were destroyed in Misaki's home city of Rikuzentakata. You can see blog updates by the NOAA technician who found the soccer ball, including info from the teen once they got in touch. 

Click for bigger image

I had the chance to see one of the advance copies of KENTA AND THE BIG WAVE and loved it. Such an uplifting, inspiring story! And the gentle illustration style that Ruth used for this book is perfectly suited to the content.

A quote from a review on Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails:

"I would fully recommend this book for any child (or adult!). It tells the story of the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan, and how a boy lost his ball in it and how a boy in America found it and mailed it back to him. There's very little text, but more isn't needed. Kenta and The Big Wave successfully conveyed that bad things do happen in life, but that people can get over them. The bad things could be small, like losing your ball, or big, like losing your home in a disaster (Kenta lost both), but in the end everything turned out okay. An important message for kids to see."


Here's a brief synopsis, from the Annick Press website:


The tsunami has swept everything away--including Kenta's most prized possession.

When tragedy strikes Kenta's small village in Japan, he does all he can to hang on to the things that matter to him most. But amidst the chaos of an emergency evacuation brought on by the tsunami, Kenta and his family must quickly leave their home.

Climbing to safer ground, Kenta watches as his prized soccer ball gets swept away by the waves, never to be seen again... that is, until it washes up on a beach on the other side of the world, into the hands of a child who takes it upon himself to return the ball to its rightful owner.

Ruth Ohi's art transports the reader to Japan, capturing the tragic aftermath of environmental catastrophe, while offering a reassuring message of hope. With an afterword that defines tsunamis for young readers.


You can find out more info here:

My sister's website:



MicroBookTweet: KAT, INCORRIGIBLE by Stephanie Burgis



Written by Stephanie Burgis

Published by Atheneum Books For Young Readers, 2012

Grades 5-9

ISBN 9781416994480

See my interview with Stephanie Burgis about her creative process, childhood wonder and her KAT trilogy.


Interview with YA author Chelsea Pitcher, author of THE S-WORD (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster)

Chelsea Pitcher is a native of Portland, OR where she received her BA in English Literature. Fascinated by all things literary, she began gobbling up stories as soon as she could read, and especially enjoys delving into the darker places to see if she can draw out some light. The S-Word is her first novel.

Chelsea's Website - Facebook - Twitter - Blog

Her agent: Sandy Lu (L. Perkins Agency)

Her editor at Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster: Adam Wilson

Title of her book: THE S-WORD 

Published by Gallery Books (Imprint of Simon & Schuster) | 320 pages | ISBN 9781451695168 | May 2013

Synopsis of THE S-WORD (also see an excerpt):

First it was SLUT scribbled all over Lizzie Hart’s locker. But one week after Lizzie kills herself, SUICIDE SLUT replaces it—in Lizzie's looping scrawl.

Lizzie’s reputation is destroyed when she's caught in bed with her best friend’s boyfriend on prom night.

With the whole school turned against her, and Angie not speaking to her, Lizzie takes her own life. But someone isn’t letting her go quietly. As graffiti and photocopies of Lizzie’s diary plaster the school, Angie begins a relentless investigation into who, exactly, made Lizzie feel she didn’t deserve to keep living. And while she claims she simply wants to punish Lizzie’s tormentors, Angie's own anguish over abandoning her best friend will drive her deep into the dark, twisted side of Verity High—and she might not be able to pull herself back out.

Buy The S-Word on Powell's - Amazon - Indiebound

Q. What was your writing process for THE S-WORD?

I actually wrote the first draft of THE S-WORD in a month! Sounds crazy, right? But I was attempting NaNoWriMo for the first time, and there’s only one rule: write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. So all the plotting, planning, and editing-as-I-go had to be thrown out of the window, in order to reach my goal. I couldn’t do anything but sit down and write.

And write I did. I got up early in the morning. I went to bed late at night. I wrote like a crazed, typing fiend and, in the end, I completed my goal one day shy of the deadline. It was a wonderful experience, and a great exercise in discipline. I highly recommend it.

Q. How did THE S-WORD get published?

Once I’d edited and polished that initial draft over a series of months, I started working on my query letter. When I was happy with it, I submitted it to Evil Editor, which is an amazing query critique site. After my query had been sufficiently torn to shreds (er, critiqued), I rewrote it, and started querying agents. Four months (and a handful of rejections) later, I received an offer of representation!

From there, my agent and I worked on the manuscript together to make it as strong as possible. Then she put together a submission list and started reaching out to editors. Six months (and again, quite a few rejections) later, I received a call from my agent. I was at work when the call came in, and had to step into another room to take it. I waited with bated breath as my agent told me an editor was interested in the book. About a week (and several phone calls) later, I had a book deal with Simon and Schuster!

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring YA writers?

I have SO MUCH advice for aspiring YA writers! I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the most important points:

1. Read, read, read! I know this is obvious, but it never hurts to say it again. Also, I want to point out that, while reading YA is imperative for successfully writing YA, definitely don’t limit yourself to one section of the bookstore. Read anything and everything you want, including YA.

2. Write whatever you want (or: Don’t write for trends.) A lot of people feel like they have to follow whatever the Next Big Trend is, and this is a mistake for several reasons. First of all, if you’re writing to please an audience, rather than yourself, you can’t be having as much fun. And writing should be fun, even if it’s also work. Second of all, writing for trends isn’t a good idea time-wise, because what’s hot today won’t necessarily be hot in a year and a half, when your book comes out. So write what you want, and write what you love, no matter how common or unusual it is.

3. Let people critique your work (and I don’t just mean your mom).Find people online (I recommend Critters and the Absolute Write Beta Readers Forum to give you their honest opinion of your work. And then? Compile the data, pay attention to patterns (like, if three out of four readers think your hero falls flat, pay attention. If one out of five readers thinks you need to add a dragon, maybe don’t take their word for it). And, at the end of the day, trust your gut.

If someone’s advice feels wrong, and takes the story in a direction that compromises your vision, it’s okay to ignore it. Just don’t ignore all advice, because critique partners are there to help you succeed.

Chelsea says she doesn't have an official workspace. "I just take my laptop and work wherever."

4. Research, research, research! (Because writing the book is only half the battle!) Once you’ve got your story written, critiqued and revised, it’s time to look for an agent. But where, oh where, will your agent be?

That’s when the internet comes in handy: you can search for agents on Agent Query, cross reference that information with the agent’s actual website (to make sure the submission guidelines are up to date), keep track of who you’ve queried on Query Tracker, and even get a feel for an agent’s personality on places like Twitter (just no stalking, okay?)

If you follow these four simple rules, you will be well on your way to becoming a YA author. And, if it doesn’t work out with one book, you can always lather, rinse, and repeat ☺

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

Right now I’m working on a YA conspiracy thriller, which is a first for me. I really enjoy challenging myself, attempting to write genres I haven’t tackled before. It’s what I did with THE S-WORD (it was my first contemporary!), and that worked out wonderfully.

In terms of upcoming events, I have really exciting news! I’m going to be at Comic Con, on the “What’s Hot in YA Fiction” panel. If you’re going to the convention, definitely come by and check it out. It’s happening Sunday, July 21st at 11 a.m., and I’ll be in the company of some amazing authors!

 Chelsea's Website - Facebook - Twitter - Blog

Some other interviews with Chelsea Pitcher about The S-Word online: OneFourKidlit, The Social Potato, Girls On YA Books, Just Jennifer, Paper Riot, Scattered Pages, Forget About TV: Grab A Book, Rondo Of A Possible World, A.L.Davroe.


YA author @Chelsea_Pitcher used @NaNoWriMo to write 1st draft of THE S-WORD in a month: (Tweet this)

Tips on how to find an agent from YA author @Chelsea_Pitcher (THE S-WORD @GalleryBooks) (Tweet this)

Aspiring writers: Write for yourself, not for trends. @Chelsea_Pitcher (THE S-WORD @GalleryBooks) (Tweet this)

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


First meeting re: MITZI TULANE, PRESCHOOL DETECTIVE (and a note about wonderful art directors)

I just had my first phone meeting with Maria Modugno and Cathy Goldsmith about illustrating author Lauren McLaughlin's MITZI TULANE, PRESCHOOL DETECTIVE. The first MITZI title comes out from Random House Children's Books in 2016.

Only just found out that Cathy will be my art director, and I'm especially thrilled because she used to work with Dr. Seuss (!!!).

More about Cathy, from an SCBWI conference bio:


Cathy L. Goldsmith is Vice President and Associate Publisher at Random House Books for Young Readers. She has been with the company for over 34 years and currently supervises the art department of the Random House and Golden Books imprints. Cathy was Dr. Seuss's art director for the last ten years of his life, during which time she worked with him on Hunches in Bunches, The Butter Battle Books, You’re Old Only Once, and Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Cathy has also overseen the creation of the highly successful Step into Reading and Stepping Stones series. Over the years, she has worked extensively with Stan and Jan Berenstain (The Berenstain Bears), Denise Brunkus (Junie B. Jones), Sal Murdocca (Magic Tree House), Jennifer L Holm and Matt Holm (Babymouse and Squish), Marc Brown (Arthur), and many others.


I feel incredibly lucky to be working with such wonderful art directors these days. At Simon & Schuster Children's, the fantabulous Laurent Linn has been guiding me through I'M BORED and NAKED!, two hilarious picture books written by Michael Ian Black:

And I'm so looking forward to working with the amazing Margo Rago at HarperCollins Children's Books on the RUBY ROSE books, written by Rob Sanders:

Photo from ArtBeats site.

So many great projects in the pipeline over the next couple of years! Can't wait. :-)


Mini-interview: Simon & Schuster Children's publisher and editor Justin Chanda advice for aspiring picture book writers

Photo: Sonya Sones.Justin Chanda is my amazing editor at Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.

 I will always be grateful to Justin for being the first editor to believe in me and my work enough to offer a book contract (see this post for Justin's explanation of why he chose me to illustrate I'M BORED). Justin is also publisher of three flagship children's imprints at Simon & Schuster Children's: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, S&S Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, where he is responsible for the publication of 150 - 200 Trade titles per year ranging from picture books to young adult.

Q. In your experience as a children's book editor, what do you find is the biggest mistake that aspiring picture book writers tend to make?

The one that I see most often, and it covers a multitude of sins, is they do not take the time to really hone their project. Writers have so many ideas they want to work on one, move on to the next, flood an editor with a bunch of projects… Thing is, picture books take time. There is craft, there is fine tuning, there is CUTTING OF TEXT. All of this takes time. A book needs to be read aloud. It needs to be tweaked and made sure that every word is there for a reason — a good reason. Rushing to get through, or assuming that short = easy or quick is a recipe for disaster.

That and thinking rhyming solves everything are the biggest mistakes.

Q. What upcoming book releases are you especially excited about?

As an editor: there is this hilarious book NAKED! coming out that I think you might have heard of.

As a publisher, Oh, my there are SO MANY things coming out this year that I am dying over. But I have to say that Brian Floca's LOCOMOTIVE is a freakin' masterpiece.

You can find Justin on Twitter and on Facebook.


Common mistake by new picture bk writers: assuming short is easy/quick. More @jpchanda @SimonKIDS: (Tweet this)

Aspiring picture bk writers: Rhyming does NOT solve everything. More @jpchanda @SimonKIDS: (Tweet this)


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Interview with MG author Stephanie Burgis: creative process, childhood wonder and STOLEN MAGIC (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster Children's)

Stephanie Burgis was born in Michigan, but now lives in Wales with her husband, fellow writer Patrick Samphire, and their children. Before becoming a fulltime writer, she studied music history as a Fulbright Scholar in Vienna, Austria and worked as a website editor for a British opera company. Her first novel, Kat, Incorrigible, won the Waverton Good Read Children's Award in 2011 (under its UK title, A Most Improper Magick) for Best Début Children's Novel by a British writer. It was followed by Renegade Magic and Stolen Magic. Cover art for the UK books was created by Anne-Yvonne Gilbert (first two books) and Will Steele (third book), while Annette Marnat did the U.S. covers.

To find out more, or to read the first three chapters of each of her books, please visit her website.

Synopsis of Stephanie's Kat series:

*Magic, romance and adventure in Jane Austen's Regency England!* Twelve-year-old Kat Stephenson may be the despair of her social-climbing Step-Mama, but she was born to be a magical Guardian and protector of Society--if she can ever find true acceptance in the secret Order that expelled her own mother.

She’s ready to turn the hidebound Order of the Guardians inside-out, whether the older members like it or not. And in a society where magic is the greatest scandal of all, Kat is determined to use all her powers to help her three older siblings--saintly Elissa, practicing-witch Angeline, and hopelessly foolish Charles--find their own true loves, even if she has to turn highwayman, battle wild magic, and confront real ghosts along the way!

Covers for U.S. edition, which was published by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster Children's. Cover art by Annette Marnat.

Q. What was your writing process for the Kat trilogy? Did it change by the time you wrote the third in the series, STOLEN MAGIC?

When I wrote my first Kat book, Kat, Incorrigible, I had a really wonderful, luxurious and relaxed writing process. Every morning, I would brew a perfect cup of Earl Grey tea, drop a few squares of dark chocolate onto a plate, and spend at least ten or twenty minutes re-reading the collected letters of Jane Austen. Mmm. I love Austen's letters! They're funny and scathing and they give an amazing view into Regency society - especially what the women were up to every day! They were just perfect for putting me in that Regency-era headspace for my writing sessions. Austen's sharp, acerbic and very adult voice was totally different from the voice of my twelve-year-old Kat, but by the end of each of those reading sessions, I always felt wonderfully re-absorbed into the Regency world, and absolutely ready to write in a "period" voice. I handwrote many scenes before typing them into the computer, and I even kept a figurine of Jane Austen sitting on my desk during my writing sessions!

Stephanie's Kat notebook

But then...well, then I had my first child and - surprise, surprise! - life changed. A lot! Suddenly, I didn't have all day to work on my book, on and off. I couldn't just write until my energy wore out. (I have M.E./CFS, so this is a real issue for me.) Instead, I baby's nap times! In his first year of life, I couldn't even set my baby down as he napped - I had to type (skipping the first handwriting step) while he lay sleeping on my lap, never moving my arms too much in case I woke him up.

But I also had deadlines - real, scary publishing deadlines that could not be missed. Suddenly, I had to get a WHOLE LOT more efficient with my writing time! I kept the dark chocolate as my writing fuel - no way could I ever give that up! - but alas, I had to abandon my lovely pre-writing routine of letter-reading! I no longer had time to sloooowly sink into the mood of my novel. I had to dive in and use every minute I had!

Since then, of course, he's gotten older, life has changed again, and by the time he was two, we were hiring part-time childcare for him, which meant that I suddenly had (amazing! decadent!) two-hour writing sessions instead of scattered 45-minute sessions to help me finish Book 3, Stolen Magic. But by then, I'd actually figured out that I didn't need the letter-reading or the handwriting anymore. Instead, I'd devised new ways of clicking quickly into the mood of my book.

From Stephanie: "Early in the process, I sat down to make a collage to help myself figure out what was going on: what really mattered in the book, how people's stories and character arcs interacted with each other, and so on. Here's the collage that I made that day."

First of all, I got *really* serious about putting together musical playlists for each book, so that I could turn on that particular music and immediately clue in my subconscious: this is writing time! Get to work! The process felt pretty Pavlovian...and it honestly helped a LOT. I also made visual collages for each book, which I could prop in front of my desk (or nursing chair) to give me another strong visual cue to get me in the mood of my book.

(Since then, of course, Pinterest has been invented - woooot! I am addicted! - and my Pinterest inspiration boards there have replaced the paper-and cardboard collages I used to make. Nowadays, whenever I'm working on my new WIP, I have its Pinterest inspiration board open as my desktop wallpaper. But while I was writing the Kat books, my visual collaging process was still all about cardboard, magazines, and glue.)


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

One of the things I love most about writing MG fiction - especially MG fantasy - is the audience. MG readers are still so open to a sense of wonder, undisguised by any cynicism. Every time I visit a school, I get so charged up by my interactions with the kids there - their openness and their unhidden excitement. As an MG fantasy writer, I try to put myself back into that emotional place, too, tapping into that core sense of freshness and wonder.

MG readers are old enough to follow complex, twisting plots and to understand big concepts, but they're also young enough to be excited by all the things they haven't discovered yet. As an MG writer, my personal feeling is that it's my job to write for these kids with emotional honesty, hope and respect - and never to the social rules I learned as a teenager and an adult ("Don't get too excited in public! Don't show your emotions too openly! Keep some cynicism as a protective shell!") get in the way of writing with real enthusiasm and wonder.

ARCs for the UK version of KAT, INCORRIGIBLE

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

Since writing Stolen Magic, the final book in my trilogy, I've actually drafted two new books! They're each very different from each other...and they're both going out on submission to editors this year! I honestly have no idea which one will be my next published book. Please wish them both luck! The one common ground they share is that they're both MG fantasy adventures with strong, smart heroines and deeply important relationships between girls. One of them is set in 1930s America, with ghosts and gangsters; the other is a funny, contemporary family novel set in a magical house-between-worlds. I really hope to be able to share them both with readers in the next few years!

Where to find more info about Stephanie Burgis and her work:

Stephanie's website - Twitter - Pinterest


MG author @stephanieburgis (STOLEN MAGIC @SimonKIDS) wrote while baby slept in her lap. More: (Tweet this)

MG author @stephanieburgis on writing process, childhood wonder and STOLEN MAGIC @SimonKIDS: (Tweet this)


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Cover art for the UK books was created by Anne-Yvonne Gilbert (first two books) and Will Steele (third book)





By Benjamin Alire Saenz

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

Also see my other MicroBookReviews.


New comic up on Writer Unboxed


I post a comic for writers on Writer Unboxed the first Saturday of every month. Just posted a new one this morning: "Finding Focus."


Julie Falatko shares why she and her children love picture books (and includes I'M BORED, yay!)

Julie shares why she and her children love picture books from Candlewick Press on Vimeo.

Thanks so much to Julie Falatko (@JulieFalatko on Twitter) for this wonderful video. Love how she pulls out I'M BORED at the end and starts reading it! See her original post on

I'm especially honoured, considering the company.

Thanks, Julie! And thanks to Samantha Berger for the heads-up. :-)


On Twitter: #YABooksWithALetterMissing

If you're trying to get work done today, I strongly advise AGAINST checking out the #YABooksWithALetterMissing hashtag

Just a sampling:



Interview: Tim Federle on Writing, Editorial Process and BETTER NATE THAN EVER

I recently read (and loved) Tim Federle's BETTER NATE THAN EVER, which came out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers earlier this year. Here's my MicroBookTweet, in case you missed it. I especially recommend it for those who have been teased for being different and could use encouragement for pursuing their own Big Dreams.

Tim grew up in San Francisco and Pittsburgh before moving to New York to dance on Broadway. His debut novel, BETTER NATE THAN EVER -- described as "Judy Blume as seen through a Stephen Sondheim lens" by Huffington Post -- was named a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice and an Amazon Best Book of the Month. TEQUILA MOCKINGBIRD: COCKTAILS WITH A LITERARY TWIST, Tim's novelty recipe guide, was called "pun-tastic" by Epicurious and "a joy" by the London Evening Standard.


Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he’d settle for seeing a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune? With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There’s an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom.

Where to find more about Tim Federle: Website - Twitter

Q. What's your writing process? What was your writing process for BETTER NATE THAN EVER?

Usually title comes first and then the characters follow. Plot is last. Writing a book is like going on a cross-country road trip, and so I've gotta know upfront who's riding shotgun. And for BETTER NATE THAN EVER, once I settled on E.T.: The Musical as Nate's central goal, it gave me the burst of giddy energy to write the first draft in a month. (I didn't eat much. Or shower.)

Q. Do you outline first, or plunge right in?

My outline for BETTER NATE THAN EVER was really, really simple. Like, literally: (1) boy gets on bus to (2) go to an audition for a big musical in New York but (3) things go awry and (4) he should eat a lot of donuts along the way, just because. But for the sequel, I did more up-front planning. My secret plotting weapon is the late great Blake Snyder's "beat-sheet," developed for screenplays and found in his SAVE THE CAT book.

Q. How did BETTER NATE THAN EVER get published?

Tim's agent, Brenda Bowen (Greenburger Associates)With a great deal of luck. I'd done all the reading you can do about how to get an agent (, Nathan Bransford's genius blog, etc.), but my agent actually found me, right before I was about to query the universe. I'm represented by Brenda Bowen, who read some of my earliest writing, which had been slipped to her by a mutual friend. Brenda reached out to me to say: "You could write for kids, and you should." I trusted her. She's a former editor, and gave me some terrific notes on the first draft of BETTER NATE THAN EVER ("His grandparents cannot be eaten by lions, Tim," was my favorite), and then off it went into the world.

David Gale at Simon & Schuster was the perfect editor for this project. He gets realistic fiction, he gets diversity, he got me. And, more importantly, Nate.

Tim Federle, lower right, with other members of the cast of "Babes in Arms" in East Haddam, Conn., in 2002. (NY Times)

Q. What was the editorial process like?

David Gale is a remarkably trusting editor. For BETTER NATE THAN EVER, he asked a few key questions and prodded gently at one overarching theme--that Nate relied too heavily on his best friend, Libby, in the first draft--but otherwise, David let my voice be my voice. Before his long tenure as an editor, David was a children's books reviewer; he really knows how to help an author tell the story he meant to tell. And in terms of timeframe, it was…quick. Like, really quick. I began the first draft of BETTER NATE THAN EVER on March 1st, 2011, and less than four months later, we had an incredibly lucky sale. (Though it took me approximately 30 years to acquire all the Broadway references in the book…)

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring tween writers?

Aspiring tween writers: Get out of your comfort zone.

When I was your age (he said, waving a pipe), allllll I wanted to do and all I was ever going to be was a Broadway dancer. And then I moved to New York and I got to do that for a long time, and when it came time to follow my second calling, which was writing, I felt intimidated by people who'd had far broader life experiences.

Do you hate public speaking? Push yourself to do it. Do you struggle with foreign languages? Do you think history class is a bore? I did too, on both counts, and it's limited my writing at times. Try to find your own way in to things that feel too dense to access.

And my number one piece of writing advice: don't edit as you go. That's what worked for me, at least, because typing The End -- even if your first draft kinda sucks -- is very liberating.

Also: get through English class but know that the real world just wants a good story, and isn't as worried about brilliantly placed semi-colons and properly argued theses. Those are important for your toolbox, but don't get bogged down or overwhelmed with "the rules" of writing. There are no rules. Only the ones that help you tell the story that only you can tell.

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

FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, NATE!, the sequel to BETTER NATE THAN EVER, is in bookstores this coming January (2014). And Running Press recently published my literary cocktail guide, called TEQUILA MOCKINGBIRD (think: Are You There God? It's Me, Margarita), that is decidedly NOT for kids.

Where to find more about Tim Federle: Website - Twitter


Advice for young writers via @TimFederle (BETTER NATE THAN EVER) --- (Tweet this)

Interview w/former Broadway dancer @TimFederle about writing BETTER NATE THAN EVER @SimonKids: (Tweet this)


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

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