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

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


2010 SCBWI-LA Takeaways: Jon Scieszka

I've always appreciated those who post "takeaways" after they attend conventions: nuggets of wisdom that they took away from the event. Everyone's takeaways are different because everyone has different levels of experience and goals.

I'm going to be sharing mine over the next little while, as well as linking to any others that I can find. If you have takeaways or convention reports of your own to add, feel free to post in the comments section!

Jon Scieszka: Tales Of A Picture Book Writer: Do's, Don'ts, Maybes

- Look up the top 100 books listed by School Library Journal and read them.

- Don't do what someone else does. Do what YOU connect with.

- Read bad books, which can be educational.

- Read children's trade publications and kidlit blogs.

- Most picture book manuscripts by new writers can be improved by cutting length by half.

- Don't try to follow the market.

- Read everything in your field that you possible can: library, bookstore.

- Learn and read in prep but once you start to actually WRITE, then forget about trying to follow every rule and industry blog, and just focus on WRITING.

- In retrospect, Jon is glad that his early submissions got rejected.

Other reports on this event:

SCBWI Conference Blog


2010 SCBWI Illustrator Mentorship Award Winners!

Many thanks to the SCBWI for the Illustrator Mentorship Awards; the six of us learned SO MUCH at our mentorship sessions on the weekend. We also had fun hanging out with each other, exchanging tips and advice, and we plan to keep in touch after we all go home.

In fact, we've decided to launch a joint online project soon...stay tuned!

In the photo above:

Debbie Ridpath Ohi (me!)
Ashley Mims
Andrea Offermann
Eliza Wheeler
Kimberly Gee
John Deininger

And many thanks to our mentors:

Cecilia Yung, Art Director and VP at Penguin Young Readers;

Pat Cummings, Illustrator, Writer, and Instructor at Parsons;

Priscilla Burris, National Illustrator Coordinator;

David Diaz, Award Winning Illustrator;

Bridget Strevens-Marzo, International Illustrator Liason; and

Rubin Pfeffer, Agent at East/West Literary Agency.


A Brief (And Somewhat Stunned) Post From The SCBWI Conference In L.A.

Illustration Friday: Robot

The image above was one of the pieces in my portfolio, and was displayed on the screen at the Golden Kites Luncheon, when the award winners were announced.


[August 21, 2010 update: WOW, Simon & Schuster wants me to illustrate a book! Author: writer/actor/comedian Michael Ian Black. Tentative release date: Spring, 2012.]

I'm writing this from a hotel room in the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in L.A., where I'm attending the SCBWI Summer Conference. It's been a FANTASTIC conference. I dare anyone to come to this event and not leave super-inspired, armed with new knowledge about the craft and business of writing and illustrating. I've been taking all my notes on my iPad.

This was also the first time I attended this conference where I attended some illustrator tracks in addition to writing tracks. My California illustrator friend, Beckett Gladney, convinced me to sign up for the Portfolio Showcase at the last minute. I was highly resistant, telling her my work wasn't good enough yet, that I wouldn't have the time to polish the pieces I wanted to include.

But (as good friends do), she pushed hard enough that I finally thought heck, I might as well. I'm always encouraging people to step outside of their comfort zones and push their own personal envelopes, so I should listen to my own advice. My mega-talented author/illustrator sister, Ruth Ohi, also encouraged me to enter, offering me portfolio and art tips.

When I almost pulled out because of lack of time, Beckett helped me by going into my Flickr set of illustrations online, picked out the pieces she thought would showcase my strengths, and printed them out for me. She also sewed a gorgeous handmade cover for my portfolio that attracted a lot of positive comments (to you artists out there: Beckett sells custom-made portfolio covers in her Etsy shop).

Photo by Beckett Gladney.

At the hotel, we spread all the pieces on the floor of our hotel room, and she helped me put my portfolio together. I was surprised by her choice of pieces -- they weren't the images I would have chosen. But I trusted her instincts, and I'm glad I did. Because...


Not only did I place in the top three (an Honor award) overall, but I was also selected by a second set of judges as one of the six Mentorship Award illustrators. The Mentorship Award is given to illustrators participating in the annual Portfolio Showcase "whose publishable work shows great promise and potential." Yesterday morning, I had individual critique sessions with six members of the SCBWI Board Illustrator Committee  as well as publishing industry pro, Rubin Pfeffer.

Mentor List (added later because some people were asking):

Cecilia Yung, Art Director and VP at Penguin Young Readers;

Pat Cummings, Illustrator, Writer, and Instructor at Parsons;

Priscilla Burris, National Illustrator Coordinator;

David Diaz, Award Winning Illustrator;

Bridget Strevens-Marzo, International Illustrator Liason; and

Rubin Pfeffer, Agent at East/West Literary Agency.

I was completely stunned, considering the level of craftsmanship I saw in the portfolios display in the showcase.

I'll post more info when I get back from L.A., but I had to post the news here because you've all been so supportive of my cartoons and doodles. THANK YOU! Special HUGE thanks to my friend Beckett and sister Ruth for encouraging me to do this.

After talking with the Mentors yesterday morning, I'm SOOOO excited about new possibilities in my creative work that I hadn't considered before.

Part of me is still wondering if I'm going to be waking up at some point.

Ok, so this post wasn't so brief after all. And AUGH, I can't believe it's already the last day of the conference!

Must log off now...



Wordcount Challenge Check-In: 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day


Haven't heard of the Inkygirl Wordcount Challenge? The goal of this challenge is to help provide goal-oriented inspiration, with flexibility to avoid giving up in frustration. Please click on any of the buttons above for more info.

I'm going to the SCBWI Conference in L.A., so likely won't be posting an update until after I get back in early August.

So how did you all do this past week? Good luck with your writing, all!


Will Write For Chocolate has been updated

Click inage above to see the new strip.


Countdown to the SCBWI Convention

I lack the time to do a SCBWI countdown comic for this year, but here are the comics I did for last year's conference:

Hope to see meet some of you at the conference!



Comic up at Writer Unboxed

I have a new comic up at Writer Unboxed. Title: Writers On Vacation.


How NOT To Approach An Editor At A Writers' Conference

Above video is from Lee Wind's YouTube channel. The editor? Arthur Levine of Arthur Levine Books. The author? Paula Yoo. :-D

Speaking of writers' conferences, I'm off to L.A. soon for the SCBWI Summer Conference! SO looking forward to this. This year, I'll be rooming with my friend Beckett Gladney. Beckett's a wonderful illustrator and crafty Esty-ite.

Yay, only two weeks to go!


The Old Spice Guy Praises Libraries and Books (VIDEO)


Writer's Guide To Twitter updated

Believe it or not, I think I've finally moved over most of the old site. Most recently revamped: The Writer's Guide To Twitter. I'll be gradually adding to this FAQ, so if you think of any questions you'd like me to answer or research, please let me know!


Blog highlight: Rachelle Gardner's Rants & Ramblings

If you're not already following Rachelle Gardner's blog, you should go add her site to your RSS feed RIGHT NOW.

Not only is her blog a great glimpse into how a literary agent operates, but Rachelle's site is packed with fantastic advice for writers.


Golden Marmot Winner: SlushPile Hell

Hopefully, reading through SlushPile Hell will help new writers avoid making the same mistakes as the ones made in queries to this crusty lit agent. You can also find SlushPile Hell on Twitter at @SlushPileHell.

I'm resurrecting my Golden Marmot Awards because I keep coming across sites and tweets that, while they may be a tad too cynical or crusty for my Golden Cupcake Award, still make me laugh.

Sadly, I wasn't able to import the previous winners when I moved to Squarespace, so am starting from scratch again. If you'd like to nominate a tweet for the Golden Marmot Award, feel free to RT the tweet in question with the #marmotaward hashtag.


Revision checklist: before you submit your mss

James Scott Bell has posted an excellent checklist to keep in mind as you revise, before you submit your manuscript. The list is based on a sidebar in the May/June issue of Writer's Digest from YA editor, Anica Morse Rissi.


Wordcount Challenge Check-In: 250, 500, 1000 wds/day


Haven't heard of the Inkygirl Wordcount Challenge? The goal of this challenge is to help provide goal-oriented inspiration, with flexibility to avoid giving up in frustration. Please click on any of the buttons above for more info.

So how did you all do this past week?


Torkidlit Tweetup: July 8th, 2010

[Update: Since the news appeared yesterday in Publisher's Marketplace, I figure I can announce it here -- Congrats to Megan Crewe, who just signed for a THREE-book deal with Disney-Hyperion! Yay, Megan!]

Megan Crewe, at the tweetupWent downtown yesterday for the monthly tweetup of the Toronto Middle Grade and Young Adult Writer Group. As usual, I had a ton of fun as well as learning a lot about the publishing industry.

Last night, I recall feeling a bit tired and glancing at my watch, thinking it was around 9 pm... and being shocked to find out it was 10:30.

Derek Molata, Ian Keeling, Rob Weston

This may seem like nothing to you, but I'm so not a night person and am usually in bed by that time.

Adrienne Kress and I wield our vegetables.

The mix of attendees changes every time because of everyone's schedules. This time around, I met Derek Molata for the first time. Derek's a YA/adult science fiction and fantasy writer and (like most of the Torkidlit types) is on Twitter.

Really nice guy and wow, interesting publishing industry stories to tell (!).

Cheryl Rainfield, Jo Swartz & Megan Crewe talking with Adrienne Kress.

I feel very lucky to be part of such a great group. Everyone is so supportive and encouraging of each other. Thank you, Claudia!

Helaine Becker, Claudia Osmond, Andrew TolsonBev Katz Rosenbaum & Claudia Osmond

Here are some of the other attendees at last night's gathering:

Helaine Becker | Helaine's blog | Twitter

Megan Crewe | Megan's blog | Twitter

Adrienne Kress | Adrienne's blog | Twitter

Lesley Livingston | Lesley's blog | Twitter

Claudia Osmond | Claudia's blog | Twitter

Helaine Becker Cheryl Rainfield | Cheryl's blog | Twitter

Bev Katz Rosenbaum | Twitter

Rob Weston | Rob's blog | Twitter

Ian Keeling

Maureen McGowan | Maureen's blog | Twitter

Andrew Tolson | Twitter

Lesley Livingston & Maureen McGowan

Cheryl Rainfield

Lots of recent great news for several of the members, including some ESPECIALLY GREAT news about one member that can't be announced publicly yet.

Just a few examples...

Ian Keeling has a story in the August issue of Realms of Fantasy.

Megan Crewe's GIVE UP THE GHOST has been nominated for the Sunburst Award For Excellence in Canadian Speculative Fiction.

Cheryl Rainfield had a great time in ALA, and has had a ton of great feedback about her newly launched SCARS. Librarians say that teens love the book. Plus not only has SCARS been nominated for ALA/YALSA's QuickPicks and Stonewall awards, but also for ALA's Rainbow List.

Lesley LivingstonLesley Livingston's WONDROUS STRANGE has been shortlisted for the Sunburst Award For Excellence in Canadian Speculative Fiction, nominated for the first annual Teen Read Awards as Best Canadian Read, and won (!) the Young Adult Canadian Book Award. There was some other good news, too, but I forget it...maybe another Torkidlit person could help me out here.

To find out more about Torkidlit, please visit the Torkidlit website. You can see more photos from last night's event in my Flickr set.

Claudia Osmond and me


Interview with Claudia Osmond, author of SMUDGE'S MARK


I met the fabulous Claudia Osmond through Twitter (where she's @claudiaosmond), when she organized the very first in-person tweetup of Torkidlit. Hugely supportive of the local writers' community, Claudia interviews writers and talks about writing on her blog, Where the (not-so) Wild Things Are. Her first book, Smudge's Mark, came out from Simply Read Books earlier this year.

How long have you been writing?

Thanks to spending much of my early years with Dr. Seuss, I've always had an obsession with letters and words (and thus, writing materials) and have been writing for as long as I can remember.

But way-back-when it was purely for my own entertainment; mostly in the form of poems, journal entries, skits, and just random thoughts and phrases that I either read somewhere or just made up myself.

I didn't start writing in earnest until about ten years ago, and, well, even then it was more for the fun of it than anything, just because I love doing it.  

When/how did you make your first sale?

My first sale came in February of 2006. I'd started writing that book in 1999, completely in secret. And actually very literally and appropriately in a closet. Because publication had never crossed my mind, I just took my time with it, enjoying my writing process for what it was. Ahh, no pressure at all.

As the book was nearing completion, in a moment of, oh I don't know, a brain lapse, I told a friend of mine that I was writing a book. Well, then the pressure was on! She immediately said I must try to get it published. I balked at the idea for quite some time; after all, whose friend wouldn't tell them their book is great and encourage them to try to get it published? Friends are always so biased.But this friend of mine wouldn't let up and she eventually wore me down.

And, really, the more I thought about it myself, the more the idea of having a published book sounded appealing. So I spent a good year researching publishers, reading every book on getting published I could get my hands on, and then drafting and sending out query packages.

Out of the twenty-five or so packages I sent out, I got five favorable responses; two of which came after I'd already signed my contract with my current publisher.


Wow, you started writing your book in a CLOSET? You wouldn't happen to have any photos I could include with the interview, would you? :-)

Ha! You know, I actually took pics of my closet before we moved from that house, but I didn't have a digital camera at the time and took them with a roll of film. I hadn't been able to find it, but just the other day while I was cleaning stuff out for our current move, I found a roll of film! It might be the one. I'll have to get it developed and if my closet is on it, I'll scan and send your way. ---- yay!

I'm glad your friend wore you down and encouraged you to try to get it published! Also sounds as if you did a ton of research before sending it out. You mentioned you read a bunch of books about publishing...any you'd like to recommend to Inkygirl readers?

So the books I read over and over, pretty much memorizing every detail so as not to miss a thing are:

1. Getting your Book Published for Dummies. Sarah Parsons Zackheim and Adian Zachkheim, Wiley Publishing Inc.

2. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing. Harold Underdown, Penguin Group USA Inc.

3. The Everything Guide to Writing Children's Books. Lesley Bolton, Adams Media Corporation. (chapters 10-20 are on publishing - what to do before, during, and after)

Heh! The titles pretty much describe how I felt about the whole thing at the time! :) A couple other books about writing I've felt to be particularly helpful both now and before pub:

On Writing, Stephen King

The Plot Thickens, Noah Lukeman

You mentioned that you received more favourable responses -after- you already signed the contract with your current publisher. If you could go back in time to when you were first sending out queries, is there anything you'd do differently?

This is a tough one to answer. I'm thrilled with my book and had I not gone down the route I chose I wouldn't have the exact finished product I have now. Nor would I have had the opportunity to work with the two editors that I learned so much from. However, I did learn from that experience.

First of all, I'd spend more time querying AGENTS, not publishers. Having an agent would be so beneficial on so many levels. Those of you who have a fabulous agent can probably attest to the geniusness of your agent 1,000 times over. I know. I've read all about them on Twitter! :)

Secondly, if I had the choice to do it over the way I DID it, I'd query my top five publishers first and wait to hear back from them before moving on to my next five.

What inspired you to start the Torkidlit group?

Why did I start the torkidlit group? Do you want the selfish or selfless motivations? Because there are a bit of both. The selfish motivations being: I wanted a group that I could be a part of that a) was fun, b) was full of like-minded people, c) was a place where I knew I didn't have to explain or apologize for my obsession with, frustrations about, and absolute sense of fulfillment I get from writing.

I wanted to be part of a group where conversation about writing flowed naturally and was expressed by and understood by everyone. I also wanted a totally unstructured, informal social group where I could just hang out and be with awesome people. Luckily for me, all of my selfish motivations have paid off!

The selfless motivation for starting torkidlit (notice there’s only ONE of these?) is really double-sided: I wanted to help promote and empower Toronto area kidlit writers as a whole. I figured the promotion piece would be relatively easy. I knew that once the group started up, word would fly throughout the twitterverse and eventually make its way across the blogosphere.

Toronto is an awesome, amazing city that is home to countless equally awesome and amazing talent. And we all know the online community is great at promoting awesomeness. But it was the empowerment piece that had me a little nervous. I mean, really. I want to empower a group of authors, many of whom are far more accomplished than I am. That doesn’t even make sense. But I have always had a passion for art and artists and one of my greatest dreams is to have a hand in bringing local artists together.

That makes total sense to me: bringing like-minded people together. I think it's such a rare and beautiful thing, in our highly competitive society, when people can come together in community to encourage and celebrate each other. A strong sense of solidarity is created through being in community. And that’s what brings empowerment.

What is your writing process?

Ha! I’ve often wondered that myself. I was just showing my husband my notebook this morning and it’s a very clear illustration of how my brain is... um... organized.

There are very definite sections in this notebook, but they’re all written in different colours, none of them are chronological, there are huge gaps of blank paper between most, and some sections are even written upside down. Each one does have a header, though, so at least I know which section is for what.

So, using that as an illustration, there you have my writing process: not at all linear. I tend to isolate sections, or chapters, knowing fairly clearly what the focus is. I work within each as a complete yet pliable thought. In the end I find myself with a ton of puzzle pieces, each piece being relatively shaped but still needing to be snapped into place.

Now, to this revelation of madness, some of my critics may say, “Aha! I knew she wasn’t a plotter!” But on the other hand I’ve been assured by my editor that my process is the strength of my writing. So, that's the answer I'm going with! You know, it’s really easy for me to get discouraged while I’m writing, especially when

I start listening to the voices inside my head that say I don’t “do it the right way.” I always have doubts. I always wish I could be a plotter, to have the ability to think of my stories from beginning to end. I imagine that would save me a lot of grief. But you know, I’ve come to learn that the way I write IS the right way. For me. And to try to do it any other way would mean that I wouldn’t be true to my writer-self and my story wouldn't be told the way it needs to be. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.

In your notebook, do the sections correspond to different plot sections? Background info?

The sections correspond to everything - plot, background, dialogue, quotes that I like. I'll even find a note or two that don't relate to anything at all or a map showing the location of our new house!

re: writing process. So you do your planning on paper, not on your computer?

If the planning gets too complex then I have to sort it out on paper. If it's just simple and flows fairly easily then I can just do it right in the document. Although most times even the simplest of ideas becomes complex in my mind and then I've got to transfer to paper anyway. I have a really hard time keeping things simple and linear. You know those brainstorming webs that go off in twenty different directions? That's how I think all the time. And that's why I'm so thankful that my editor is so amazing at her job.

What are your current/upcoming projects?

Currently, and most pressingly, I am finishing up the sequel to SMUDGE’S MARK. The working title is Gil's Tattoo and there is no definite date yet for release. I think they're aiming for sometime in fall, 2011.

 I am also in the revising stage of an adult short story for the forthcoming Chinese Whisperings Yin Book Anthology and working on another fantasy, but this time the MC is an 11-year-old girl. I’ve got a couple other projects in the incubation stage, one of them being the story of a young girl caught up in the sex-trade in Kolkata, India.

To find out more about Claudia, visit the following links:

Smudge's Mark

Q&A with Claudia Osmond

Where the (not-so)Wild Things Are (Claudia's blog)

Twitter: @claudiaosmond


Blog highlight: Between Fact & Fiction, by Natalie Whipple

Natalie is a YA writer, and her blog is packed with great inspiration and tips for writers. Love the emphasis on positive thinking, and her sense of humour runs through all.

Natalie is holding a contest right now, challenging writers to make her laugh in 150 words or less. Rewards include critiques as well as drawings; see the rules in this entry.

Visit her blog at:



Win a 10 page critique from my writers' group!

I'm pleased to announce that my critique group, MiG Writers, is offering a 10-page critique as part of our celebration of our new digs at Blogspot. You can find the rules here (please enter over on the MiG Writers site, not in Inkygirl, thanks).


Wordcount Challenge Check-in: 250, 500, 1000 Words A Day


Haven't heard of the Inkygirl Wordcount Challenge? The goal of this challenge is to help provide goal-oriented inspiration, with flexibility to avoid giving up in frustration. Please click on any of the buttons above for more info.

Every Monday, I'll post a Wordcount Challenge Check-in to see how you're all doing with your challenges. You don't have to post, of course, but I find that encouraging and receiving encouragement from others is inspiring to me as a writer.

So how did you all do this past week?


New comic on Writer Unboxed

I've posted a new comic over on Writer Unboxed, for those interested.