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

Entries in young writers (15)

Tuesday
Mar212017

A Compilation Of Advice For Young Writers & Illustrators From Children's Book Creators

Thanks to all the children's book writers and illustrators who have contributed advice for young writers and illustrators in their Inkygirl.com interviews over the years! I'm gradually going through my archives as well as my interviews with authors of books I've illustrated and compiling a list of advice takeaways.

If you click on the author's name beside each piece of advice, you can read the full interview.

Here is the list of advice for young writers and artists from published children's book creators.

Tuesday
Jun072016

Advice For Young Writers, Fortune Cookies and THE FIRST LAST DAY: Three Questions with Dorian Cirrone

Congrats to my friend Dorian Cirrone on the launch of THE FIRST LAST DAY (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster) today! Can't wait to read this.


Dorian Cirrone was a dance teacher, a choreographer, an assistant city editor for a daily newspaper, and a college English instructor before becoming a writer. Her middle-grade novel THE FIRST LAST DAY will be her fifth published book. She has also published short stories and poetry.

I so enjoyed meeting Dorian at a SCBWI Florida Regional Conference (a fantastic event, strongly recommended) and had fun collaborating on a food doodle with her as well as talking kidlit/YA. You can see our collab at the bottom of this pic:

Click to read more ...

Monday
Aug242015

Three Questions For Josh Funk: Advice For Young Writers, Scott Pilgrim and LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST

Josh Funk lives in New England with his wife and kids. He is the author of Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast (launches Sept 1st from Sterling) and the upcoming Dear Dragon (Viking/Penguin, 2016), Pirasaurs! (Scholastic, 2017), and more. Find out more info about Josh at his website, Twitter, Facebook.

Me, Josh (on rock) and Jess Keating at Nerd Camp. Photo: Justin Keating.

I met Josh at Nerd Camp earlier this year. Such a fun and funny guy, and so supportive of his fellow kidlit authors and illustrators!

Synopsis of LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST (written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Brendan Kearney, published by Sterling)

"The race is on … Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are the best of friends until word gets out that there’s ONLY ONE DROP OF SYRUP left. Only one of them can enjoy the sweet, sweet taste of victory. Is their friendship toast?"

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

I don’t actually have an office. I pretty much do all of my writing from a laptop while sitting in bed (as I am right now). And I often throw on a movie I’m comfortable with in the background, something I know well enough so I won’t get distracted from the writing, but maybe it’ll inspire me. And my favorite movie to throw on is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (it’s on right now). So here’s the ‘not yet worn out’ disc:

This movie has everything: humor (Michael Cera, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Schwartzman), music (songs by Beck), action (actors who played Superman, The Punisher, & Captain America on the big screen), video games (fighting, music, skating), romance (love story with a pink/blue/green-haired girl), vegans, fantastic cast (at least one Oscar nominated actress), special effects (see: action), based on a graphic novel (KaPow!), one of the best directors out there (Edgar Wright can do no wrong), and it takes place in Canada (who doesn’t love ketchup chips?). It may not be for everybody, but if I were to make a movie, this would be it. And it’s been on in the background while I’ve written many a manuscript.

Q. What advice do you have for young writers?

I’m not a teacher. But I’ll tell you why I write, and I think it applies to any human: I write to entertain myself.

So write something you find fun.

Write what you’d want to read.

Write something to make your family and friends laugh.

Write a play you and your siblings can act out at the next family reunion.

Write a song!

And if it’s a writing assignment for school, put your own twist on it. Only you can write like you. So put a little of yourself into everything you write.

Obviously there are times when writing assignments have to be taken seriously, but there’s usually a way to make writing enjoyable.

Q. What are you excited about right now?

I’m really excited about graphic novels, as you might have guessed from my Scott Pilgrim obsession. But here I’m referring to those for children (and adults like me). There are so many amazing choices out there that we’ve devoured over the last few years. Lunch Lady, El Deafo, Squish, Babymouse, The Flying Beaver Brothers, Ricky Ricotta, Rutabaga the Adventure Chef, Comics Squad, Astronaut Academy, Sidekicks, Smile, Sisters, Drama, Rollergirl, Amulet, The Chronicles of Claudette, and more.

I have personally seen children learn to read (and learn to love to read) by way of the GN. The combination of art and writing makes for an amazing storytelling (and story consuming) experience. The abundance of talent developing graphic novels today is mind blowing. And I don’t see it slowing down any time soon!

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Monday
Aug102015

Three Questions For Arree Chung: Advice For Young Writers and Illustrators, Gonzo and HOW TO PEE

Arree Chung wrote and illustrated the picture book “NINJA!” and is also a founding member of Live in a Story, which offers wall decals created by children's book illustrators and designers. When he's not creating, you can find Arree riding his bike around the San Francisco Bay Area.

Where to find Arree: Website - Facebook - Twitter - Instagram.

Synopsis of How To Pee: Potty Training For Boys (written by Todd Spector, illustrated by Arree Chung, published by MacMillan):

"Out with the old and in with the new! Family physician Dr. Todd Spector presents a fresh and outrageously fun way to encourage little boys to give up their diapers. They can try it freestyle (in the backyard!), or give the potty a try with the help of a few props and plenty of imagination. Peeing in the potty is a lot more fun if you do it rocket style, cowboy style, or superhero style!"

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?


This is one of my favorite toys. Gonzo. This doll is probably older than I am! This doll is special, because Jerry Houle, my licensing mentor gifted this to me. Jerry spent years working with Jim Henson in building a licensing program for the muppets. I am a huge muppets fan and have always admired Jim for his storytelling and the art he has put in the world. Jim changed the way people looked at puppets.

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

As a creative person, the thing I love doing the most is creating something new out of thin air. It maybe a story that becomes a book, a doodle that becomes a painting or an idea that becomes a business.

Making something new can be hard but I find that there are two really hard points: starting and finishing. Here are some tips on how to make it.

GET Excited.

Start right away.

Attack it.

Do it NOW. Get it down.

Scribble. Let yourself go. There is no wrong.

Don’t listen to your inner critic. Listen to your gut instincts. Work fast and intuitively.

Get your first draft done.

Accept that it’s a process. It’s okay that it’s not perfect. You’re making building blocks and you don’t know what pieces you need yet.

Look at the work again. You’ll probably see things you want to change about it. Change it.

Keep working on it. Identify what the heart of your idea is. It should be specific and feel honest.

Now reduce.

Keep reducing until you’re left with just the essentials.

Sketches for FIX-IT MAN (Author: Susan Hood, Publisher: HarperCollins).

Q. What are you excited about right now?

So many things!

Books! I love storytelling. I have three books coming out next year.

I’m excited about so many things right now. I have three books coming out next year. NINJA! Attack of the Clan (publisher: MacMillan) which is a sequel to my first book, NINJA! I'm illustrating a book called FIX-IT MAN (author: Susan Hood, publisher: HarperCollins), which is about being helpful and inventive. It has a very fun collage style to it. My third book out next year, is HOW TO PEE: Potty Training for Girls (author: Todd Spector, publisher: MacMillan) - which is a sequel to the potty training for boys book I illustrated. I'm really excited about all of the books.

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Wednesday
Jun102015

Three Questions With Donna Gephart: Advice For Young Writers and Death By Toilet Paper

Donna Gephart is a professional nerd. She's written five novels filled with humor and heart for Penguin Random House, including How to Survive Middle School, Death by Toilet Paper and Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen. She's also written some compelling grocery lists and award-winning Post-it notes to her dogs. For free activity/reading guides, lots of fun info and a singing hamster video, visit DonnaGephart.com.  "I'm a big fan of teachers and librarians; let's connect @Dgephartwrites or via carrier pigeon -- whichever is more convenient and poops less."

I first met Donna when she wrote for me at Inklings, my email newsletter for writers back in the early days of the Web. As I prepped her Three Questions interview, I looked back through some of my old archives and found a "Writing Funny For Money" piece she did for me back in 1998(!).

Synopsis of DEATH BY TOILET PAPER:

When the good toilet paper is replaced by cheap, scratchy stuff, Benjamin Epstein realizes his hard-working mom is in deep financial trouble. Ben will do anything (entering contests, selling candy bars, etc.) to help his mom pay the rent and keep a promise he made to his late father. (Toilet and toilet paper trivia head each chapter.) Nominated for Pennsylvania, Maine and Rhode Island state reading lists and winner of the Sydney Taylor Honor Award.

1. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

My friend's daughter creates sculptures of each of my book's characters. Hammy the Hamster from How to Survive Middle School w/his microphone to the right. And Vanessa Rothrock from As If Being 12-3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President on the left. You might notice Vanessa has no pants (nor legs).

They melted on the cookie sheet in my friend's oven because her daughter ran out of clay and used a cheap substitute for the legs. We now refer to her as Vanessa Meltypants.

Our one dog keeps me company every day while I write, while the other dog guards the front window by barking at dangers, such as the UPS delivery person, babies being pushed in strollers and the bunny who sometimes hangs out on our lawn. (Our window blinds will never be the same.)

 

2. What advice do you have for young writers?

There's some advice on my site from industry professionals and resources for young (and young at heart) writers: 

Everyone says: "Write what you know." But I think if you write only what you know, it would be boring. Write what you'd like to know. I purposely create ideas for my novels that require me to research and learn new things. Did you know there are 516,000 bacteria in every square inch of armpit? Your brain weighs about three pounds? And the first stall in a public bathroom is the least used and therefore the cleanest? (You're welcome for that last one.)

Write the emotional truth of what you know. Do you know what it's like to feel lonely, scared, left out, overjoyed? Write about those feelings!

You may not believe this, but the bliss in writing is in the actual writing -- in losing oneself completely in the process of creating something that didn't exist before -- not in the outside rewards one might get from being published, winning an award, etc. Although those things are nice, too. Let everything else go and write with great joy . . . and a pen. A pen definitely helps.

3. What are you excited about right now?

I'm excited to have a wonderful year of school visits, Skype visits and book festivals behind me and a long, lovely summer ahead to daydream, fill up on books and play outside with friends, family and our dogs.

And write.

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Friday
Apr242015

Three Questions With Jane Yolen: Advice For Young Writers, Books, Tea and YOU NEST HERE WITH ME

For Part 1 of my YOU NEST HERE WITH ME series, please see Three Questions With Heidi Stemple.

Photo: Jason Stemple.

I was thrilled to meet Jane Yolen at a recent SCBWI conference, and even more excited when Jane read my f&g of Where Are My Books? and liked it (see photo at the very end of this interview). Jane Yolen is the renowned author of many children's books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil's Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Her books, poems and stories have won many awards, including the Caldecott Medal.

You can find Jane at her website, JaneYolen.com, on Facebook and on Twitter. She and her daughter Heidi Stemple run a Picture Book Boot Camp (next one is Sept. 10-13, 2015), which is a Master Class in her home:

Her newest book is YOU NEST HERE WITH ME, a picture book co-written with Heidi Stemple (see Heidi's Three Questions interview in Inkygirl.com earlier today) and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, published by Boyds Mill Press in March 2015.

Synopsis of YOU NEST HERE WITH ME:

This lyrical bedtime book is an ode to baby birds everywhere and to sleepy children, home safe in their own beds. As a mother describes how different species of birds nest, secure and cozy with their mama birds, she tucks her own child into bed with the soothing refrain, “you nest here with me”—easing her little one and readers alike to slumber. Perfect for a young audience, this poetic text begs to be read aloud, and is accompanied by Melissa Sweet’s incredibly warm and original art.

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

Photo: Heidi Stemple.

Like most writers, I have an enormous research library in my home and when I am working on a particular project, those books get scattered around my writing room.

As I am currently working on two very different manuscripts--one set in the Holocaust (the first section in the Lodz Ghetto) and the other a graphic novel trilogy set in 1930s Edinburgh, I chose to pick out a book from each of those piles to feature in the photograph. At the top is a day-by-day catalog of what happened during the ghetto years in Lodz, and in the second materials about Scotland through the ages. Fiction has to take the real and massage it into a story that nay (or may not) have actually happened. We recreate (hi)story and bring our readers along.

Photo: Heidi Stemple.

From Jane, about the photo above: "I can't seem to write without a cup of tea (British decaf with demarara sugar and a splash of Lactaid milk.) I keep making cuppas coming all day long."

Q. What advice do you have for young writers?

Read, read, read.

Write something every day.

Never take no for an answer.

Don't believe your reviews--either good or bad.

Heart on the page.

Know that books are not just written, but rewritten.

(Above: Listen as Jane reads and critiques her very first poem)

 

Q. What are you excited about right now?


Two of my old books recently splashed out big: HOW DO DINOSAURS GET WELL SOON (Scholastic) won the Colorado One Book Award, and BAD GIRLS (Charlesbridge)--written with daughter Heidi Stemple--won the Magnolia Award, Mississippi's Children's Book Award for the middle grades. Plus the latest book Heidi and I just published--YOU NEST HERE WITH ME (Boyds Mills) with amazing illustrations by Melissa Sweet--has recently had a tremendous start and after only a month is getting a second printing.

But honestly, I am always most excited about the manuscript I am working on now. That's where my heart is, where my soul is. That is where my tomorrow is.

 

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Friday
Apr242015

Three Questions with Heidi Stemple: Advice For Young Readers, Owls and YOU NEST HERE WITH ME

For Part 2 of the YOU NEST HERE WITH ME series, please see Three Questions With Jane Yolen.


Heidi Stemple didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. In fact, after she graduated from college, she became a probation officer in Florida. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she gave in and joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published twenty books and numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children.

I had a chance to hang out with Heidi at the SCBWI Summer Conference last year. She's smart, she's funny and she's so supportive of others in the industry. Then partway through a group conversation, I also discovered that her mom is Jane Yolen (!!). 

Heidi and Jane run a Picture Book Boot Camp (next one is Sept. 10-13, 2015), which is a Master Class in Jane's home:

Where to find out more about Heidi:

Heidi's website - Twitter - Heidi's Author Page on FacebookFacebook page about the yearly owl count

Synopsis of You Nest Here With Me (Boyds Mill Press, 2015):

This rhyming bedtime book is part lullaby and part introductory field guide for the smallest ornithologists. But, at its heart, it reminds baby birds and children alike that home is wherever you are safely tucked in with your family. If you look in the back of You Nest Here With Me , you'll see that part of the dedication is to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If you want to know more about birds--including listening to owl calls, visit them at: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1478.

Heidi's office. (The cat is named Romeo)

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

I love birds. All birds. But, especially owls.

"Think I'm kidding about the owls? I even have owl nesting dolls."

I have about a hundred owls in my house. Actually, I’ve never counted them, but there are a lot.

Heidi's living room. "See the owl in the rafters? His name is Wilbur and he watches out over the house." My mother, author Jane Yolen, wrote a book you might know called Owl Moon. It’s about a little girl who goes out owling with her dad. What you may not know is that the little girl is me and Pa is my father, David Stemple, who was a great owler. He was the one who taught me to call owls and now, once a year, I lead a team of owlers for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. On our best year (so far) we called down 67 owls from midnight to 7am.

These (pictured above) are probably my favorite owls—they make up a bookend that my dad had in his office. Now they sit on the bookshelf right next to my desk and remind me of him.

Q. What advice do you have for young writers?

When you live in a family of writers (my mother and both my brothers work in children’s books) you know that inspiration comes from everywhere. You never know when and from where an idea for a story will pop up. Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open at all times for those ideas. And, write them down because ideas are slippery little buggers.

Prep for the Owl Count

 Every writer has all sorts of notes jotted all over the place with ideas for stories or poems or essays or speeches. I even have the beginning of a story on my iphone—you can’t really understand it because I dictated it with voice-to-text and it got most of the words wrong. But, it’s good enough for me to figure it out later when I am ready to write that story.

Q. What are you excited about right now?

I am always excited about my newest book and the book (or usually books) I am working on. So, besides the projects I am writing and researching right now (which involve pirates, the civil war, the Christmas Bird Count, cookies, the moon, monsters, and soup—yes soup) I am probably MOST excited about my brand new book You Nest Here With Me (co-authored by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Melissa Sweet). This is a book that took 12 years to get published. We sold it twice—to the same editor at 2 different publishing companies—and then waited 3 years for the illustrations. I am glad we were patient because we are so happy with the way it turned out.

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Thursday
Mar262015

Three Questions With Christopher Cheng: Advice for young writers, office chops and PYTHON

Christopher Cheng is an award-winning Australian author of more than 40 children's books and is a co-chair of the International Advisory Board for the SCBWI. I met Chris through the SCBWI, and I love his enthusiasm and positive energy. Pictured above: Chris with a python (!) as well as his narrative non-fiction picture book, PYTHON. Python was written by Chris, illustrated by Mark Jackson, and was published by Candlewick; it was shortlisted in the 2013 Children's Book Council Of The Year awards.

You can find more info about Chris at his website, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube.

Synopsis of PYTHON:

Python stirs and slithers out from her shelter, smelling the air with her forked tongue. It’s time to molt her dull scales and reveal the glistening snake underneath. Gliding along a tree, she stops and watches very, very closely as a bird drops onto a branch — and escapes the razor-sharp teeth just in time. But Python is hungry, so she slides on to stalk new prey. Combining informative facts, expressive illustrations, and a lyrical, mesmerizing narrative, here is a book to captivate anyone fascinated by this iconic creature.

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

A photo of SOMETHING in my office - was that SOMETHING or ONEthing or ANYthing? Well, because I am never good at following instructions (can you write the manuscript to 35000 words - sure … and then I submit a 55000 word manuscript that was published), I just have to send you two.

First, my CHOP!

This is me (as you can tell from the side … but there is also actually my Chinese name on the base that I use to ‘chop’ my books when I am signing them at home.

If I am travelling, I have a mini version of this - it's my travelling chop! and then here is the photo of the creatures bordering my desk … I lurve having these:

 

Q. What advice do you have for young writers?

Five letters, sounds like LIGHT …. WRITE!

Do it every day.

Do it for fun -

WRITE anything that comes in to your head;
WRITE what you heard your big sister say on the telephone last night when she thought she was speaking in secret;
WRITE what you wish to do;
WRITE what you want to do;
WRITE what your IMAGINATION tells you to write.
just WRITE.

And when you write, edit what you write … don’t make it a ramble (unless it is supposed to be). Sometimes later (it might be after your initial thoughts, it might be after a day or so - on the day you set aside as the reviewing day) go back and rewrite your work. Write about what makes you happy. Write about what makes you sad. Write about … what you are too afraid to write about!

And when you write, giggle and laugh and cry and moan and weep and slobber … get into the skin of your character. BE your character. Ask the questions what would (your character) do?

And ENJOY what you are doing.

Q What are you excited about right now?

Joining the throng of folk that Debbie is interviewing.
Life … I love hanging out with others of my kind - children’s book people.
Reading new books by my friends - like Samantha Berger, and Debbie Ridpath Ohi, and Isabel Roxas and … and SCBWI - we are a beautiful tribe.

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Saturday
Mar142015

Three Questions For Jodi Moore: Advice for young writers and illustrators, soul-nourishing notes and WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAI

Jodi Moore is author of WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN (illustrator: Howard McWilliam, published by Flashlight Press), the upcoming sequel WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN (launching Sept/2015) and GOOD NEWS NELSON (illustrated by Brendan Flannelly-King, published by Story Pie Press). The proud mother of two grown sons, she lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and an ever-changing bunch of characters in her head. You can find out more about Jodi and her work at WriterJodiMoore.com, her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

I love Jodi's cheer and enthusiasm in person as well as online, and she's always been so supportive of her fellow children's/YA book writers. Thanks to Jodi for answering my Three Questions today!

Trailer for WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN:

Synopsis of WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN:

If you build a perfect castle, a dragon will move in, followed by... a baby?! Hilarity ensues as the trio bonds, until the baby charms the dragon away. Is there room in the castle for three? Decide for yourself WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN, sequel to the award-winning WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN.

THREE QUESTIONS FOR JODI MOORE:

1. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

Okay, truth? My office looks like something out of the Hoarders reality show. It’s piled high with books, papers, printed-out manuscripts, pictures of my kids, stuffed animals and other assorted knick-knacks, plaques with motivational quotes, a chocolate bar (or three)…and, oh, yeah – somewhere amidst all of my “inspiration”, there’s a desk with a computer on it.

Each thing inspires, grounds or nourishes me in some way. Picking one has proven to be an impossible task…so with your kind permission, may I offer a few?

You see, while it’s hard for me to choose that “something”, choosing the “someone”s is not. I would be nowhere without the support and encouragement of my family. And while I always broaden that to include my extended family, creative friends, crit partners, booksellers, teachers, librarians, readers and the entire kidlit community, I would never have had the courage or belief in myself to take that first step in pursuing my dream had it not been for my husband and two sons.

I thought about sharing their pictures – or gifts they’ve purchased to help motivate me – but I realized nothing touches my heart more than what comes from theirs:

These notes from my husband are the first things I read every morning. Knowing he believes in me helps me to believe in myself. Larry not only loves and supports me, he “gets” me. (Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out, Lady & the Tramp was the first movie he took me to. Thirty-five years later, we still refer to each other as such.) The witch? A little token from him as well. When I was a child, the Wicked Witch of the West scared the heck out of me. I was fortunate to play the role in community theatre years ago, allowing me to conquer those fears. Now the witch and I are buds.

The middle picture is a painting our son Steven created when he was about eight years old. I once read a book where the author alleged that if you ask a very young child to describe heaven and the “all-mighty” spirit (whichever religion or belief system you choose), they can and will. Their memories are still fresh, she proposed, although sadly fade with time. Even as a toddler, “Stevie” was always introspective and deep – seemingly an “old soul”. This picture has always given me chills, offering reassurance that we are never alone; that there is some superior being, holding our hands and guiding us as we face, and embark upon, our dreams.

Finally, how heart-squishy and soul-nourishing is a love note from your child? This message from our other son, Alex, sits on my bookshelf where I can look at it every day.

And this is only a small sample of the support they provide. Just take a look at my books, my trailer, my website, my school visit materials and you’ll see their names written all over them.

They will “all weese” have my love!

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

Read everything you can. Go to museums. Concerts. Shows. Explore nature. Keep a journal. Then play. Dabble. Draw. Paint. Write.

While it’s imperative to learn and refine your craft, it’s just as important to find your own unique voice; to celebrate and share your own vision and heart.

Challenge yourself.

Celebrate and enjoy the process.

Create honestly and bravely.

Don’t listen to the “no”-it-alls. Only you can tell your own story. And the world needs to hear it.

3. What are you excited about right now?

At this moment? Why, being featured on Inkygirl’s blog, of course! Seriously, thank you so much for hosting me. I am honored and grateful to be here. *Tigger dances*

I’m also tremendously excited – and thankful! – to be a part of the kidlit community, to do what I love to do and to hopefully inspire and nourish young minds with my words.

I’m ecstatic to be welcoming my newest baby WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN (the sequel to WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN) to the world and am intensely grateful to my fantastic editor at Flashlight Press, Shari Dash Greenspan, and my brilliant illustrator Howard McWilliam, for once again breathing life into my dragon and my dream. *pinches self*

Finally, I could not be more excited to be moving forward, and growing, as an author and an artist…walking toward that sun, with so much love and support but a fingertip’s touch away, as I continue on this amazing journey.

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Tuesday
Mar032015

Advice For Young Writers/Illustrators, WISH and SPECIAL DELIVERY: Three Questions With Matthew Cordell

Matthew Cordell is the illustrator of over 25 books for children including picture books, novels, and works of poetry. Several of which he has also written, including New York Times Notable picture book, HELLO! HELLO!. Matthew lives in a suburb of Chicago with his wife, author Julie Halpern, and their two children. Visit him online at matthewcordell.com. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Matthew's two newest books are SPECIAL DELIVERY, written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Matthew (Roaring Brook Press), and WISH, written and illustrated by Matthew (Disney-Hyperion).

SPECIAL DELIVERY synopsis: Sadie is determined to deliver an elephant to her Great-Aunt Josephine, who lives completely alone and can really use the company. With the help of some interesting characters, she tries mailing the elephant, flying it over, hopping a train, and even an alligator boat ride. This eccentric and hilarious story will surprise and entertain from beginning to end.

WISH synopsis: As an elephant couple embark on a life together, thoughts of children are far away-at first. But as the desire for a child grows, so do unexpected challenges. And it's only after thwarted plans and bitter disappointment that their deepest wish miraculously comes true.

Q: Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell me the story behind it?

This is a corkboard that hangs in an awkward spot on the wall--kind of hard to reach--between my computer desk and my drawing table. At one point or another over the years, I've tacked up bits of stuff I was working on at the time, images by favorite artists to inspire, and personal photos. Most of the things on the board are ridiculously out of date (I should really put up some photos of my two beautiful children!), but I am rather proud of myself for having the motivation to hang the thing on the wall in the first place.

Q: What advice do you have for young writers and/or illustrators?

I'm not sure how original this is, but I think it's good advice and I wish I had followed it much earlier in my career. Which is this: figure out what makes you unique, interesting, weird, and you. Think about the things that sculpted you in your life, past and present that made you the individual that you are today--your interests, passions, personality quirks, etc. And use this as much as you can in your writing, art, etc. Do not be afraid to let this stuff come out. It's what makes you you and not look like and read like other books that are already in print. It's incredibly hard not to be overly influenced by authors and illustrators from all times (and you will be influenced, and you should embrace that) but you can use that and manipulate it to your advantage too.

Q: What are you excited about right now?

My wife (YA author, Julie Halpern) loves to plan family vacations. I love taking her planned family vacations because she does exhaustive research, plans things out full tilt, and does such an incredible job to insure we get the most of out these trips. We are taking our kids (our daughter's 6 and the boy's 20 months) to Disneyworld this coming fall. Julie updates us everyday on all the stuff we can do together there, how we'll make things work with a toddler, scoring the best deals on stuff, etc. Really looking forward to it. I love books and I love art intensely. But time away with the family is what I really enjoy the most in life.

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Tuesday
Jan272015

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.

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Sunday
Jan252015

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

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

Monday
Jan192015

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

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

Friday
Jan162015

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

"...in 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!

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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!

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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.

Tuesday
Jan132015

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

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

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

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

How about this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

3. What are you excited about these days?

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

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

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

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

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.