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 Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi


Photos from my NYC trip (includes #NY15SCBWI pics)

Simon & Schuster meeting about my illustrations in SEA MONKEY AND BOB (author: Aaron Reynolds)

I had SUCH AN AMAZING TIME IN NEW YORK! Huge thanks to the SCBWI Winter Conference organizers, volunteers and faculty for a fantastic event.

Eventually, when I get more free time (hahahah), I hope to post some highlights. The next couple of weeks are going to be superbusy for me so for now, I'm sharing some of the photos I took with my iPhone during my trip. Please don't ask me to send you individual photos; I lack the time right now -- I've posted the highest res versions I have on Flickr.

Feel free to share or repost any of my photos. Photo credit would be much appreciated (or tagging me). Here are some of the photos from my adventures in NYC, including after the SCBWI conference:

On Facebook:
Part 1: SCBWI-NYC - Part 2: SCBWI-NYC (cont’d)Part 3: Curtis BrownPart 4: Random House Children’s - Part 5: Simon & Schuster Children’s 

On Flickr:
Part 1: SCBWI-NYCPart 2: SCBWI-NYC (cont’d)Part 3: Curtis BrownPart 4: Random House Children’s 
- Part 5: Simon & Schuster Children’s 


Tips for SCBWI conference newbies, second-timers, plus a CHALLENGE for the many-timers

I'm leaving tomorrow for the SCBWI Winter Conference! If you haven't yet registered, you're out of luck....the conference is sold out. However, you can follow along virtually via the #NY15SCBWI hashtag on Twitter as well as the SCBWI conference blog.

Here's my updated SCBWI Conference Advice post for first-timers (as well as a challenge for the many-timers):

If you're a conference newbie who is nervous, I encourage you to browse my SCBWI Conference Newbie comics. I created these when I was a nervous newbie as well! So many people think I'm an extrovert, but I'm actually very much an introvert and was terrified (to the point of sweating palms, pounding heart, hating the idea of having go up and introduce myself over and over) about attending my first regular SCBWI conference back in 2009.

(Edit re: above comic: I did end up meeting Jay at the conference and he was really nice! And he didn't mention his Amazon ranking EVEN ONCE! Heh.)

I've posted advice for first-timers before and will post it again at the end of this piece, but now that I've attended other SCBWI annual conferences (and had my career jumpstarted because of the 2010 SCBWI-LA Conference), here is some additional advice I have for those who have attended more than once:

Don't get offended or disheartened if people you've met before don't remember you.

This is something I've learned from both sides. As a 2nd- and 3rd-timer (and so on), I've sometimes gone up to a person or group I've met and had my confidence deflated when it becomes clear they don't remember me at ALL from the previous year. My inner reactions ranged from embarrassment, humiliation, irritation, frustration and even brief anger ("I guess I'm just NOT IMPORTANT enough for xxx to remember!! Hmph.").

Having attended many times now, I've learned the following:

- I'm terrible at remembering people unless I've had multiple conversations or interactions with the same person.

- Even then, especially if I'm tired or am in a noisy crowd (remember what I said earlier about being an introvert?) or have met many new people in a row just before, I may still forget having met someone before.

I still accidentally re-introduce myself to people whom I've met before, sometimes whom I've met EARLIER IN THE CONVENTION. I'm always horribly embarrassed when this happens. 

Make sure your name badge is easily visible.

Also, when I approach someone whom I've met before but with whom I don't have constant contact, I usually try saying something that will help remind them of our mutual context, or remind them of having met at xxx. Until I'm sure they actually do remember me, I try very hard NOT to put them on the spot (e.g. I don't say, "So, what did you think of my most recent post?" etc.).

When someone does this to me (subtly or unsubtly :-) setting the context and helping me remember), I immediately feel more at ease with them and am more likely to want to chat with them in the future.

Another tip: if someone DOES remember you, never assume that they're up-to-date on all your exciting news. I've had the occasional person react badly when they realize I'm not aware of their new book ("?? But I posted it all over Facebook!") I never assume anyone reads all my posts or keeps up with all my news. People have busy lives and different priorities.

Something else I've learned: even so-called Big Name authors and illustrators can be insecure. I am faaaar from being a Big Name, but having had a bit more experience at conference-going now, I also realize how some of the Big Name types who seemed standoffish to me actually weren't.

Be gracious, be forgiving and try very hard to assume the best about a person rather than the worst.

And I apologize ahead of time if I don't remember your name or re-introduce myself. :-\

And here some tips for first-timers who feel nervous about attending for the first time, or are normally very shy or introverted and dread the idea of having to meet a lot of new people:

1. Be brave and make the first move. You'd be surprised at how many other attendees feel exactly the same way as you do. Introduce yourself to people you sit beside, stand in line with, notice standing alone.

2. TAKE BUSINESS CARDS. Yes, even if you aren't published yet. We're all going to meet a lot of people over the weekend, and taking away a business card from an encounter or introduction will help the people you meet remember you. If you're an illustrator, take postcards or make sure a sample of illustration style is on your business card.

3. Have realistic expectations. Don't expect to be "discovered" at the conference.

4. In my experience, you're much more likely to meet new people if you're alone. If you're always chatting and hanging out with the same person or people, you're not as approachable. I'm not saying that you SHOULDN'T hang out with people you like, of course! Just keep in mind that as a group, you're probably not going to meet as many new people as someone who is by themselves.

5. If you're on Twitter, write your Twitter handle on your name badge somewhere.

But most of all: TRY TO HAVE FUN. 


Try to remember what it was like when you attended your very first event, or how insecure you felt in the beginning. Then make it a personal challenge to find at least one lost-looking or nervous conference newbie who is sitting or standing alone. Introduce yourself, chat with them, find out what they're working on, perhaps (if appropriate) offer some advice.

Give good karma and it WILL come back to you.

p.s. If you see my friend Kate, do say hi! :-)


Comic: First Step Is Admitting You Have A Problem


What do Minion Peeps, THE YETI FILES: MEET THE BIGFEET, Aya Kakeda and Joyce Wan have in common?

LOOK WHAT JUST ARRIVED. Huge thanks to Teresa Kietlinski!!

So here's the story....

Three weeks ago, I saw this photo in Teresa's Instagram feed. I was all excited because I'm a big Minions fan and also am curious about Peeps (have never had one). I asked Teresa where she got them and during the ensuing conversation, it became clear that I probably would not be able to find any in Canada at that point. I was sad. Teresa took pity on me and offered to mail me some.

The package above arrived today and not only did it have Minion Peeps but also (!) a copy of Kevin Sherry's THE YET FILES: MEET THE BIGFEET (Scholastic), a YOU ARE MY CUPCAKE sticker from Joyce Wan, and a lovely postcard showing illustrations by Aya Kakeda. Do check out Aya's website; her illustrations are so gorgeous and wonderfully odd and intriguing!

I'm also a Joyce Wan fan already and am looking forward to seeing her in NYC in a couple of weeks at SCBWI-NYC! So looking forward to getting my copy of THE WHALE IN MY SWIMMING POOL, which is coming out from FSG/Macmillan this April (and is a Junior Library Guild Selection!).

And I'm excited to read THE YETI FILES: MEET THE BIGFEET by Kevin Sherry. I've seen mention of this series online and been very curious, but hadn't yet gotten around to looking for a copy to browse. The illustrations look like so much fun, and I can't wait to read this soon.

By the way, I had already eaten a Minion Peep by the time I got this far in my post. :-) Talk about a SUGAR RUSH, WOW. About to eat the second one, so I can't blame him for looking worried:


You can find out more about Teresa Kietlinski and the other literary agents at Prospect Agency on the Prospect website. Teresa reads five picture books a day (no exceptions). You should follow her (@teresakie) on Twitter as well as her blog.

Back to my Peeps now....


Three Questions For Rob Sanders, Children's Book Author: Advice For Young Writers, Desk Shrines & OUTER SPACE, BEDTIME RACE

Continued from Part 1 of my celebration of today's OUTER SPACE, BEDTIME RACE launch...

Happy book birthday to OUTER SPACE, BEDTIME RACE, a new picture book written by my friends Rob Sanders and Brian Won, launched today from Random House Children's!

Thanks to both Brian and Rob for answering three questions for me today. In my previous post, OUTER SPACE illustrator Brian Won answered Three Questions. Now it's Rob's turn. :-) I first encountered Rob online through his great Picture This! blog for children's book writers. I've since met Rob in person at a SCBWI-LA conference and am also illustrating his new RUBY ROSE picture book series. Super-nice guy and I love his enthusiasm for children's books.

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

Question #1: Could you please send me a photo of a random object in your office and tell me about it?

Since I’m bad at following instructions, and since one is never enough—my picture is not of one thing in my office, but my Shrine of the Weird and Wonderful.

This cubby on my desk (just above my computer) houses mementos, well wishes, inspiration, and things that just make me smile. There are religious icons given by friends, a skeleton that reminds me to stick to the basics, a vintage light bulb that reminds me that new ideas are everywhere, a Mickey Mouse magnet—since Mickey was the first iconic American character for kids (in my opinion), fortunes, a frog with a golden crown (just like you have to kiss a lot frogs to find your prince, you have to write a lot of manuscripts to find a story), a small mug of marbles from my childhood (because children are at the center of what I do as a writer), a cowboy Christmas ornament in honor of my first picture book, and more.

Nothing comes out of the Shrine, things can only be added. This little cubby has become my shrine to creativity, to writing, to hopes and dreams.

Q: What advice do you have for young writers?

1. Write. I think most of us spend a lot more time talking, blogging, social media-ing, and thinking about writing than we actually spend writing. Flip that around and you’ll find success. Writing is hard, lonely work—but it can also be fun and invigorating.

2. Explore. Try different styles, genres, and voices. Find what works for you. It’s the old throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks kind of thing. And what ends up working for you might be more than one thing. Don’t limit your writing style or your writing opportunities.

3. Read. Know what picture books are out there, which are winning awards, which are breaking new ground. Read classics to know our history. Read current books to know what kids are reading today.

4. Enlarge your circle. Stay in touch with your writing buddies, make new writing friends, meet editors and agents at conferences, friend fellow writing tribe members on Facebook. Get to know people and let them get to know you.

Q: What are you excited about these days?

I am a picture book writer through and through, but I’m really excited these days about a middle grade novel I’m working on. I am working with twenty-three fourth grade students who are critiquing my manuscript chapter-by-chapter—one chapter a day. These insightful kids are exploring character development, pointing out what’s not working in the plot, asking tough questions about motives and logic, pointing out word choices that work and ones that don’t, and spinning the plot in new directions I never imagined.

Many nights I come home from school, revise the chapter we just critiqued, and type up a new chapter. These kids are inspiring me (“I never thought that was going to happen!”), humbling me (“That doesn’t sound like what a kid would say.”), and encouraging me to keep writing (“You only brought one chapter today?”). I’m excited to write for this small group of kids, my own focus group, my own critique group in residence.


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Three Questions For Brian Won, illustrator of OUTER SPACE, BEDTIME RACE

Happy book birthday to OUTER SPACE, BEDTIME RACE, a new picture book written by Rob Sanders and Brian Won, launched today from Random House Children's. Thanks to both Brian and Rob for answering three questions for me today. You can also read Rob Sanders's answers to my Three Questions.

Brian is not only the illustrator of OUTER SPACE, BEDTIME RACE but also the author/illustrator of HOORAY FOR HAT!, which came out last year from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I met Brian through the SCBWI Illustrator Mentorship program. You can find Brian at, @bwon1 on Twitter, BrianOneADay on Tumblr, bwon1 on Instagram, and Brian Won Illustration on Facebook.


"Aaaaaand they’re off . . . to bed! Aliens from every planet rocket through their out-of-this-world bedtime routines—they sink into steamy crater bubble baths and shimmy into deep-sleep suits, just like you (almost)! Brian Won’s glowing graphic art pops off the page, and Rob Sanders’s goofy rhymes will have kids racing to snuggle under the covers and blast off to dreamland." For more about the book, please see the publisher book page.

Thanks to Brian for answering my Three Questions today!

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

This is one of those projects my kid brought home from pre-school. The colors are all over the place but I think its a masterpiece.

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

My advice for young illustrators and writers is to check out stacks of children's books from your local library. Old books, new books… read them all and study the pacing. There is a heartbeat and rhythm that great books share despite when they were created.

Q. What are you excited about these days?

I'm excited (and deathly afraid) of putting on my writing cap. I have nuggets of ideas for picture book stories I want to tackle. Fingers crossed.

Debbie's book birthday celebration for OUTER SPACE, BEDTIME RACE continues in Rob Sanders's Three Questions post.

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


One of my favorite Neil Gaiman quotes about writing


Three Questions for Children's Book Author, Samantha Berger: SNOOZEFEST, advice for young writers and mystery fruit

I love children's book author Samantha Berger's enthusiasm and creativity. Have you seen her #ePUNymousPortraitSeries? In addition to writing wonderful picture books like CRANKENSTEIN (illustrated by Dan Santat) and A CRANKENSTEIN VALENTINE (sequel). Samantha has written cartoons and promos for Nickelodeon, comic books and commercials, movie trailers, theme songs, poetry, magazine articles. Not only that, but she's also a voiceover artist!

Samantha's newest picture book is SNOOZEFEST, a hilarious and endearing bedtime story written by Samantha and illustrated by Kristyna Litten, just out from Dial Books For Young Readers. It's perfect for anyone who loves sloths, music festivals and/or the joy of SLEEPING. If you're on FB, check out her hilarious #Snoozefest Countdown pics.

You can find Samantha at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Q: Could you please take a photo of a random object in her office and tell us about it?

 Yes indeed I can. I took a picture of this lovely grapefruit, that grew right in the back yard! I am working in a California office for a few weeks, and the owner of the house where I'm staying gave it to me. The idea of fruit growing on trees has always been MAAAAGICAL to me, and I may have missed my calling as a migrant worker. And I really want to eat this one, but I have one reservation.

The yard where it grew contains five dogs, using that tree as a bathroom. This grapefruit reminds me to ask the important question: Am I such a germ phobe I won't eat this grapefruit? Or is that grapefruit some kind of dog poo/citrus hybrid. A "pisstrus" fruit, if you will. Stay tuned.

Q: What advice do you have for young writers?

*I would say, if you wanna write, WRITE. WRITE ALL THE TIME, EVERY DAY. WRITE like a passionate discipline, like something you HAVE to do. No excuses. Write.

*Blather, blurt, and blab. Just keep writing. Do not write and edit at the same time. Write, write, write, then go back and read/edit, at a completely different time.

*Make your decisions, all of them, for a REASON. Make no choices arbitrarily. From dedication to author photo, every choice must be made with intent. That is what separates great writing from mediocre. Be prepared to defend every single word.

*Find your best way (pantomime wall building, pretending to erase, meditation) to block out any negators and nay-sayers. There will always be critics, opinions you don't agree with, and close minded haters. Don't engage, always ignore, keep being you, move on.

*Always find time to PLAY and HAVE FUN when you write. Pretend you're not writing for an audience, a paycheck, a critic, a career, a review, an award, an assignment, or whatever, just WRITING FOR THE SAKE OF WRITING, and go create. For the joy of it!

*Own your truth, speak your truth, and become brave enough to write about the things that terrify you the most to talk about.

*Don't dumb down words or ideas. Respect language. It's incredible.

*All writers, whether it's your first manuscript ever, or you're Judy "Prolifika" Blume, go through a perpetual pendulum swing, between excitedly exclaiming I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS CAME OUT OF MY BRAIN and a depressed disappointed "i can't believe this came out of my brain." There are days where we all feel like untalented hacks. All of us. And it's really important to remember this. If you didn't, you probably wouldn't be a writer. So cut yourself a break, go do something that makes you happy, such as a hot tub, a hot sake, or hot stones.

Photo credit: Leo MoretonQ: What are you excited about these days?

I'm excited for these spectacular Pacific Ocean sunsets every single night! I'm excited to read Kay Yeh's book THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE! I'm excited to be writing on two new preschool animated originals. I'm excited for karaoke, wigs and sunglasses, glitter-toes, oysters, using the word "smidge" more, and sea-frolicking with my dog Polly Pocket.

I'm excited my book Snoozefest came out this week, and that it has an anthem performed by Chubb Rock, and for the Pajama Party Snoozefest Boozefest I intend on throwing to celebrate. I'm excited about a new 2 book co-author deal with the amazing Martha Brockenbrough and the legendary Arthur Levine. I'm excited to see/conference with/laugh with/write with/ and dance with all my beloved book people and SCBWI-ers again, and for all the incredible books everyone has coming out right now (including YOU, Debbie! Cannot wait for WHERE ARE MY BOOKS!).

Thanks so much for asking me these questions 3 on inkygirl.

Book birthday doodle I did in celebration of the Snoozefest launch


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Comic: Another Advantage Of Print Books

I do most of my reading on my iPad and my Kindle; it's easier for traveling, especially since I always have multiple books on the go and angst too much about which one to take with me.

However, I still strongly prefer print when it comes to picture books.


Comic: Font Nerds

And yes, I'm a font nerd. And here's my favorite Comic Sans song ever:


Another reason you should always make backups


Uncle Montague's Tales Of Terror, plus advice for writers and illustrators


Just finished reading Uncle Montague's Tales Of Terror by Chris Priestley, with wonderfully creepy illustrations by David Roberts. I've always been a fan of scary stories ever since I was little and I used to write a lot of scary, sinister short stories in grade school. My eighth grade teacher attended my I'M BORED book launch, which was a total (and wonderful) surprise, and apparently he was telling my husband about how many of the stories I wrote back then were very dark.

I don't read as much horror now but I do still love indulging in creating creepydark illustrations sometimes, just for the fun of it.

Speaking of illustrations, here's a fun interview on The Independent's children's book blog with illustrator David Roberts. Interesting that David says he doesn't think much about the age group when he's working on book illustrations. He says his work is more a response to the story. His tip for aspiring illustrators: "Don't be afraid of that vast expanse of white paper (or I guess these days you could say computer screen). Sometimes your mistakes can be good and you can always start again if you don’t like it."

Chris Priestly advises young writers to have at least a rough outline of their story. "Give yourself a decent start and plan where you are going. You don’t have to stick to it – but it will make your life easier and it will mean that you will be less likely to give up."

More info about Uncle Montague's Tales Of Terror on the Bloomsbury website


For more: please see the archives of my #BookADay posts, which began when I participated in Donalyn Miller's #bookaday challenge.


Tip for aspiring writers: There is no magic shortcut. In the end, you need to do the work.


Three Questions For Kat Yeh: Twinkie Pie, Advice for Young Writers and what to do when you get Stuck

I devoured Kat Yeh's debut middle grade novel, The Truth About Twinkie Pie (comes out from Little Brown later this month), in two sessions. I got so hungry from reading the fabulous-sounding recipes sprinkled through the book that I had to take a break to eat something. Before I stopped, however, I had already teared up as well as laughed out loud at least once. Couldn't wait to keep reading! 

Twinkie Pie is my favorite kind of book: a wonderful voice, characters I care about and an unexpected but thoroughly satisfying ending.

I've marked all the recipes in my copy of Kat's book that I want to try

I'm also a big fan of food books and food movies. While reading E. Nesbit's books, I lusted after an English Tea years before I really knew what it was. I always felt ripped off when a story text said "they had supper" but didn't give any details. The Truth About Twinkie Pie deftly weaves together the themes of food, family and friendship in an irresistable story about two sisters trying to make it on their own. You can find out more about the book on the Hachette/Little, Brown website.

An aside: I wasn't kidding when I said that the recipes throughout the book sound fantastic. I am SO going to try making No-Peek Chicken, Maybe Even Better Soup, Madder'n Heck Smashed Potatoes, Special-Occasion Fancy Sandwiches, Pull-Aparts, Easier-Than-Pie Pudding, Impossible Pie, Tangled-Up Pie, Heartbreak On Toast, Pick Me Up, Cherries In The Snow, and of course...Twinkie Pie!

I'm not the only one who loved Kat Yeh's The Truth About Twinkie Pie. Here are just a couple of review excerpts:

"Filled with enough characters and plot for two novels, Yeh’s nimbly voiced, combination fish-out-of-water, personal transformation and emotional family tale is also stuffed with charm." - Kirkus Reviews

" her first novel, picture book author Yeh (The Magic Brush) skillfully builds toward a breathless, emotional conclusion." - Publishers Weekly

If you're in NYC, you can help Kat celebrate the launch of The Truth About Twinkie Pie on Sunday, January 25th from 1-3 pm at Books Of Wonder. Wish I could go!

Kat has kindly agreed to answer three questions for me.

Q. How did you come up with those wonderful recipes?

The recipes! That was one of my favorite parts of this process and so much fun! Some of them are just classic recipes that have been around forever (like Banana Pudding) that I tried to give a fun little twist. Some I made up. And some, my friend, Elise Coster, who is a chef, helped me to figure out. There was an awful lot of taste testing going on in my house for a while there. I'm not complaining :-)

Q. What advice do you have for young writers?

Last year, I started a correspondence with a young writer who reached out to me. It's been pretty amazing to hear how passionate she is about writing and creating and to read the questions that she has for me.

Our letters are rather lengthy so I will share only a little excerpt with you:

Dear Kat Yeh,

My name is _______. I’m fourteen years old and also a writer. So far I’ve written two childrens books (although that was in second and third grade), a novel, a play, and I’m currently working on my second novel. I do mostly realistic fiction writing.

My dream is to one day be a published author. I realize that, being only fourteen, that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, but I was wondering how you actually go about getting something published.

I was also wondering if you ever go back to read something you wrote a while ago, or even a couple days before, and just don’t know what you were thinking when you wrote it. That happens to me a lot and I wanted to know if that happens to other people too.

Kat's Response:

Hi _______

…YES! I often look back at what I've written and wonder WHAT WAS I THINKING?!! This is good.

This means that you are allowing yourself to write without editing yourself. You are allowing yourself free reign to put down whatever it is at the moment that is feeling right and true. THIS is how great writing happens. Here's a secret that most writers know: Writing is Rewriting.

Rarely do we get things perfect the first time. The real art is in the work. Write something. Set it aside. Set it aside long enough that you can see it with new eyes. Read it. Think. Think about why you wrote what you did and what you were feeling and hoping. Edit. Make it better. Set it aside again. Repeat. :)

IF you have friends who also write, think about starting a group in your school where you read each other's work and talk about it. Find a teacher who is willing and interested in reading extra stories outside of class. Yes, you are young, but you already know what you love - this is wonderful!


Another thing that I often hear young writers talk about is how they get Stuck. And just do not know what to write.

So I tell them what I do. I write anyway.

I write about how Stuck I am.

And I keep going. I go on and on about the Stuckness and how Stuckish it really is and that it's as Stuck as a Stuck door or — or a painted window — you know the kind that has, like, 10 coats of paint on it so that the edges are all painted over and you can't open it. Not even with all your muscles and might! …not even if you HAD to get out because you were hiding in that over-painted bathroom and needed to sneak out the window only you didn't realize that it was stuck and now you can hear the footsteps coming closer and closer as you look at that stuck window one last time before the door knob turns and the door begins to creak open and -

well, you get the idea. You never know where one idea will lead you if you let yourself just WRITE whatever comes to mind. (I'll let the young writers finish that story for me!). What it comes down to is if you're stuck, write about being stuck. If you're bored, write about that. If you feel frustrated, write about that. And go on and on until it turns into something. You can always rewrite. But only if you write to begin with.

Q. What are you excited about or working on now?

I recently finished edits for my next picture book, THE FRIEND SHIP, which comes out next year with Disney Hyperion. AND I'm working on my next novel for Little, Brown which I am crazy excited about and nervous about and so, so hoping that I do it justice!


Find out more about Kat Yeh on Facebook and Twitter.

Kat Yeh grew up reading, doodling, and scribbling in Westtown, Pennsylvania. She worked for many years in advertising and sports marketing — while writing for herself in the wee hours of the night. She currently lives on Long Island where she can see water everyday and explore all the bay and harbor beaches with her family. She is the author of children’s books YOU’RE LOVABLE TO ME, Random House Books for Young Readers (2009), THE MAGIC BRUSH: A STORY OF LOVE, FAMILY, AND CHINESE CHARACTERS, Walker Books for Young Readers (2011), and THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (launching next week!), and THE FRIEND SHIP, Disney-Hyperion (coming 2016)!

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


Productivity Tip: Learn how to say no

Those of you who have no trouble saying no can just skip the rest of this post.

Some of you, however, may be like me. I like making people happy and don't like disappointing them. I also dislike conflict. I like helping people. So when people ask me for things, I used to usually say yes....even when I knew I'd probably regret it later.

I'm gradually learning how to say no.

While it's true that saying yes to one "just have a quick favor to ask, would appreciate just a few minutes of your time" is no problem, saying yes to a LOT of these favors accumulates. And in my experience, "just a few minutes" inevitably turns into hours or sometimes days.

What's hardest: saying no to projects that DO sound like a lot of fun and/or worthy and that I really, really want to do. There are many of these. One of my challenges (and I suspect some of you feel similarly): I want to do EVERYTHING. There are so many good causes, so many people I want to help, so many projects I'd love to be a part of.

By saying no more often, however, I'm able to focus and enjoy the projects I say "yes" to more fully AND have more flexibility about when I do take on a new project. 

Good luck!



Productivity Tip: Create a safe mental space in which you feel safe to create.

Whether I'm working on my own writing (including the 250, 500 and 1000 Words/Day Challenge) or an illustration project, I find I'm able to better focus and be more productive if I can create a mental space in which I feel safe enough to do my best work.

Perhaps safe isn't the right word. I like Shaun Tan's "bubble of delusion" idea, which I first heard in his talk at an SCBWI Winter Conference a couple of years ago.

Sean's advice: Set up a safe space in which you feel positive about yourself and your work, and in which you know that you WILL do great work. Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people. Try to avoid negativity as much as possible. Sean says he steers clear of reading reviews of his work, for example.

Part of the way I do this is trying very hard to STAY OFFLINE when I'm doing creative work. Even dropping in on Twitter or FB for a few minutes can end up being an energy-sucking black hole, often making me question whether I'm doing enough (especially in terms of promotion, networking, working on my craft, etc.) or doing it -whatever "it" is- the Right Way.

What do YOU do to create your own Bubble Of Happy Delusion?



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:

For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.


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


Comic: The Frog Prince/Editor, updated


Comic: Harry Potter Fan