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INKYGIRL: Daily Diversions For Writers is maintained by Debbie Ridpath Ohi offers writing-related cartoons, writing tips, highlights other writerly blogs and blog entries, and also delves into certain writer obsessions. Debbie is author of The Writer's Online Marketplace (Writer's Digest Books) and was creator of Inkspot. She is a freelance writer and illustrator living in Toronto.
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1. Comic: Tax Time For Freelancers

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2. Bookworms comic: Dinner conversation

From the archives...

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3. Advice on finding a writing or illustration mentor

I've been gradually updating my FAQ, including answering questions I'm frequently asked about getting into the business of writing and illustrating children's books. Here's the most recent update:

Q. You've talked about having a writing and/or illustration mentor. Do you have any advice about how I can find my own mentor?

Background to my own mentorship experience:

One of my first writing mentors was Lee Wardlaw, a Santa Barbara children's book writer who was kind enough to read one of my first novel manuscripts and critique it for me. Then she worked with me on the manuscript and eventually recommended me to her agent at Curtis Brown, Ginger Knowlton. Ginger became my agent.

I will always be grateful to Lee, who agreed to read my mss after hearing about me from my father-in-law, a friend of hers.

In illustration, I entered the SCBWI Illustration Portfolio Showcase in 2010 in L.A. and won a Mentorship Program Award. That was a different type of mentorship: as part of the program, I receive 15 minute sessions with each of the six Mentors that year. I also received permission from some of the Mentors to send them occasional questions and updates after the convention.

There is no formal application for the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program -- everyone who enters the Illustration Portfolio Showcase at the annual SCBWI conference in LA is considered. Here is information about the 2012 SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program.

CANSCAIP also has a Mentorship program for aspiring children's book writers and illustrators.

How to find your own mentor:

- Decide why you want a mentor. Are you looking for specific advice? Someone to recommend you to people in the industry who might help you? etc.

- Start by asking for one (possibly two) piece(s) of specific advice. That way you can see how the information is delivered, if it makes sense to you, whether your personalities are a good match, how receptive the person is to helping you. Avoid starting with a mega-long detailed e-mail that will require a lot of time and effort to answer.

- Choose a mentor you truly respect. When you approach them for advice, explain why you are asking them specifically. Flattery helps :-) but only if it's honestly given. 

- I'd advise against saying you are looking for a mentor. That implies a ton of responsibility/commitment upfront and will probably make them uncomfortable. Understand that asking someone to be your mentor is like asking someone to go steady; DON'T ask unless you already have a good relationship with that person, because it puts them in an awkward position.

- Remember that it's okay to have more than one mentor.

- Don't waste their time. Don't ask them for advice that you could have easily looked up yourself online.

- Don't assume that everything your mentor suggests is right for you. You still have to think for yourself. 

- If your mentor tends to always make you feel bad about yourself, get away from them!

- If someone's advice works for you, let them know. They will appreciate the thanks and will be more likely to want to help you in the future. 

- Don't take it personally if someone doesn't have time to help you. Good mentors are often very busy.

A few suggestions about where to meet potential mentors:

- Small writing or illustrator groups that interact regularly in person or online.

- Local writers' or illustrators' organizations that meet regularly.

- Conferences, then keep in touch afterward.

- Writing classes.

When people ask me, "Will you be my mentor?"

I've had aspiring writers and illustrators ask if I'll be their mentor. In almost every case, the question comes from someone I have just met, or have never met. Some offer to pay.

My answer: With my own career just starting to take off (my first children's book was published in 2012) and multiple book deadlines coming up over the next few years, I lack the time to be a proper mentor. I also find that the older I get, the more curmudgeonly, and I get impatient with those who ask basic questions whose answers could be easily found online. 

While I don't have time to be a formal mentor, however, I do what I can to encourage aspiring writers and illustrators, especially those whom I like. I also try to summarize things I've learned along my career path and post them online, like my Twitter Guide For Writers and Illustrators.

I no longer have one formal mentor. Instead, I learn from several, especially the people I work with. I also am learning so much from my writer and illustrator friends, and share what I can with them as well.

Don't stress if you can't find a mentor! Attend conferences and other events where you can meet others in the industry. Form meaningful relationships. Share your own experiences and what you've learned.

Related resources:

13 Tips On Finding A Mentor

44 Ways To Find A Mentor

How A Writing Mentor Can Help You - by Julie Rayl

How to Find (And Keep) A Mentor In 10 Not-So-Easy Steps

You can find the above entry in my FAQ entry: How do I find a writing or illustrator mentor?

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4. Productivity tool: Coffee shop sounds, creative productivity and Coffitivity - and a poll

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

Don't know about the rest of you, but I find my background noise preference depends heavily on what I'm working on. When I'm illustrating and am past the early sketch stages, I listen to audiobooks or have episodes of a previously-watched tv shows playing on my second monitor; the key for me is to have something interesting enough for variety but not TOO interesting to distract me from work.

For early creative stages and for writing, I used to prefer silence. These days, however,  I like to have something going on in the background, especially if my work day has been especially long. Music with English lyrics is too distracting, so I listen to Italian progrock but even that can start driving me crazy after a while.

One of my favorite background sounds for intense creative work? Coffee shop noise: murmured conversations, movement, muted clatter of cups and cutlery. I also find having people around who are DOING things stimulating, and I'm less likely to start daydreaming or slack off. I used to go to real-life coffee shops to do my writing, but this has downsides. The expense, for one thing, plus sometimes the conversations taking place around me are a tad TOO interesting.

Looks as if I'm not the only one who finds coffee shops and coffee shop sounds motivating:

How The Hum Of A Coffee Shop Can Boost Creativity - by Anahad O'Connor in The New York Times

Why Some Of Us Get More Done At Coffee Shops - by Kevin Purdy on Lifehacker

Coffitivity Plays Ambient Coffee Shop Noise To Boost Your Productivity - by Melanie Pinola on Lifehacker

For others who like coffee shop sounds in the background while they work, here's one solution:

Coffitivity: Just opening up the website page will start up the sounds of a coffee shop, and you can also get free apps for iOS, Droid and Mac desktop. I prefer the latter because I don't like having my browser open while working because it's too tempting to "just check one more website."

There are choices of other sounds as well, like a campus cafe and lunchtime lounge. Coffitivity has also invited the community to submit sounds to share, so I expect we'll get more choices soon.

How about the rest of you? Do you prefer silence? If not, what do you like to listen to while you work? I'd appreciate you taking a few minutes to answer my 1-2 multiple question poll: Do you prefer background noise while you work?

I'll post results in an upcoming Inkygirl post.

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5. Happy National Grammar Day!

In honor of National Grammar Day, here's a Will Write For Chocolate strip from the archives:

And thanks to Martha Brockenbrough for founding National Grammar Day!

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6. Part 2 of my BIG NEWS: Judy Blume, Simon & Schuster Children's, audition process info & why I can't attend SCBWI-NYC this year

So in Part 1 of my Judy Blume news, I mentioned that I was thrilled to be illustrating the covers of the seven middle editions of classic Judy Blume novels that are being reissued by Simon & Schuster Children's.

Well, that's not all.

Just got word that I can make this public: I am also excited to be illustrating the covers of three Judy Blume classics that are being reissued as chapter books AND PROVIDING THE INTERIOR ILLUSTRATIONS AS WELL.

These books are Freckle Juice, The One In the Middle Is The Green Kangaroo and The Pain And The Great One.

My history as a Judy Blume fangirl:

Like many others reading this, I'm a longtime fan of Judy Blume's work. Her books reassured my younger, angsty self that I wasn't the only one having all these bizarre thoughts and feelings and impulses. I was way too insecure and introverted to ever talk frankly about many of these topics with anyone. Books like Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret comforted me, helped me gain the confidence to ask questions, to not feel so much like a freak. Reading her books, it seemed as if Judy Blume knew me.

My sister helped introduce some of Judy Blume's work to me, like Deenie. Ruth read the book just before she was diagnosed with scoliosis herself, and told me later that Deenie's experiences with wearing a Milwaukee Brace were very similar to hers. "Except I didn't have a guy fall in love with me while I wore mine. :-)"

At the SCBWI Summer conference in 2011, Judy Blume was on the faculty and I was struck by her down-to-earth good humor and easygoing manner. I was too nervous to consider approaching her during the weekend, but as I was about to head off to the airport, I came across Richard Peck and Ms. Blume in front of the hotel. On impulse, I asked if they minded if I snapped a photo and they kindly agreed:

Fast-forward two and a half years later. LOOK what Judy Blume tweeted a few days ago:


I have, of course, printed this tweet out and put it up in my office. I'm also going to print out and laminate a smaller version which I plan to carry around with me FOREVER, to remind myself that childhood dreams sometimes do come true.

How I became the illustrator of Judy Blume's revamped middle grade & chapter books:

On Dec. 19, Justin Chanda (my editor at Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers and also publisher) emailed to see if I was interested in auditioning for a book project "of great proportions" but that also had a very tight deadline. Intrigued, I said I was interested. Here is a transcript of the email exchange that followed...

---- Transcript begins ------

9:07 pm, JUSTIN:

    Did you perhaps read Judy Blume growing up?

9:08 pm, ME:


9:10 pm, JUSTIN:

    Ok good. We'll talk tomorrow morning.

9:11 pm, ME:

     Very much looking forward to chatting tomorrow

---- Transcript ends ------

What I needed to do: come up with cover illustration sketch ideas for three of the books. Justin and I brainstormed and I also had notes from brainstorming sessions that took place at S&S Children's with Namrata Tripathi. Thanks also to some of my Torkidlit friends (whom I swore to secrecy) and a few others for helping me come up with some extra sketch ideas.

I had been warned that I may not get the job, so I knew that there was a good chance I'd be working through the holiday season and still get passed over, but I couldn't say no. I mean....JUDY BLUME!!!

Shortly after I began sketches, however,  the Toronto ice storm hit and we lost power in our house. My friend, Cathy Rutland, came to the rescue and offered to let me stay at her apartment until our power came back on. Jeff (MY HERO) took a break from trying to keep our water pipes from freezing and moved my scanner, iMac, Wacom stuff and other hardware I needed over to Cathy's apartment.

Meanwhile, Justin and I were in constant touch. He and I were exchanging emails, sketches, feedback on sketches pretty much every day throughout the holidays except for Christmas Day and New Year's. [Correction: Justin reminded me that we actually did exchange email on New Year's as well. :-)]

Because the books were coming out in April and they had not yet found the right illustrator, timing was tight. I estimate I drew over 150 sketches during that time and sent Justin 50 of those. When everyone else got back after the holidays, I continued the brainstorming and sketching process with Justin, Dan Potash, Namrata Tripathi and Lauren Rille.

Side note: I've noticed some mistakenly think that I did the cover redesign. I want to emphasize that Lauren Rille did the wonderful new cover designs, not me. I just provided the illustrations.

Up to this point, I had mainly been focusing on hand-drawn sketches that I scanned into Photoshop, but Dan Potash asked if I could redraw some of their favorites into vector-line style. This wasn't my usual illustration style but I love creative challenges. :-)

Finally we came up with some cover samples that were good enough to send to Judy Blume, and then I waited to hear if she liked them or not. This is when I posted the following on Facebook:

The waiting was AGONY. I was such an airhead at home, forgetting where I put things, only half paying attention to what was going on around me. I burned meals. I also put dish soap in the rinse agent compartment of our dishwasher....there were suds everywhere! Jeff was incredibly patient. :-)

Justin called me on January 16th, 2014. I remember noticing the 212 area code and immediately thinking newyorknewyorkohpleaseohplease and then picking up the phone and JUSTIN TOLD ME THAT JUDY BLUME LOVED THE COVERS YAAAAAAAAY *AND* that they wanted me to also do the interior illustrations for the three chapter books. (!!!!)

I freaked out. I became aware I had started screaming at Justin, tried to calm down and be professional, but then started screaming again. At one point, he had to reassure me that "Yes, this is really happening." After the call, I immediately called Jeff at work and screamed at him and then I emailed my sister and my agent at Curtis Brown, Ginger Knowlton (by that point my throat was sore from all that screaming :-)).

Some of you may have seen my "Blooming" found object doodle recently:

The material came from a congratulatory bouquet of flowers from my friend Cathy, who said they were blooms for my Blume news. :-)

And this brings me to why I can't attend SCBWI-NYC this coming week:

Because the chapter books are coming out in May, the deadline is tight. Cover details are still being tweaked. And I've been madly working on the b&w interior illustrations, which need to be finished in the next couple of weeks. I'm using a much looser illustration style for the interiors; I'll post samples when I can.

I had to cancel my trip to NYC and the SCBWI Winter Conference and have been working through weekends and many evenings, turning down social invites. Jeff treks down to my basement office every once in a while to check on how I'm doing. He and I have been getting takeout a lot lately.

But every so often I'll force myself to press pause, sit back and appreciate the moment. I AM ILLUSTRATING BOOKS BY JUDY BLUME.


My husband has gotten used to me sending him random texts during the day consisting of just the following:

Early in the process, Lauren Rille and I were chatting about being Judy Blume fangirls, and how absolutely COOL it was we got to read and reread Judy Blume books and say it was part of work.

One thing I noticed as I was rereading her books: Judy Blume books are as relevant and inspiring now as they were years ago, dealing with universal issues and feelings while growing up. At the L.A. Times Festival Of Books, Judy Blume had advice for grown-up fans of her work who want to introduce their children to her books.

"First, invest in one with a new cover," she says. "Even if you like the old, original covers. Second, don't give it to them. Just leave the books strategically placed around the house and then occasionally say: 'Oh no, you're not reading that -- you're not ready for it yet.' " Heh.

You can find out more about Judy Blume and her work at  JudyBlume.com, including tips for aspiring writers.

Meanwhile, I'd better get back to work. THANK YOU for all the kind words, congratulatory messages and encouragement. They are so much appreciated.

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7. Will Write For Chocolate updated: "Comma Shock"

For more Will Write For Chocolate comics, please visit WillWriteForChocolate.com or my Will Write For Chocolate Facebook Page. Also see the Will Write For Chocolate archives.

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8. Comic: If Cinderella Was A Writer

Thanks to A Mighty Girl for sharing one of my older comics on their FB page; I've noticed it's already been shared around 1500 times! I also VERY MUCH appreciate A Mighty Girl including an illustration credit in the post text (thank you!), since the image being shared has my copyright info cropped out. 

For those looking for the original and who want to share it, I'd appreciate you sharing the image below instead of the cropped version, thanks:


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9. Judy Blume, Simon & Schuster Children's, and MY BIG NEWS (Part 1)

 February 16, 2014 edit: Also see Part 2 of my Judy Blume news!!!!

You can see the official cover reveal today in:

but S&S gave me permission to post the other middle grade covers here as well.




Huge thanks to Justin Chanda for inviting me to audition for this project. When he called me a few weeks ago to tell me I got the job, I screamed. A LOT. I'm sure I broke his eardrums.

Then I called Jeff at work and screamed at him as well.

It's been huge fun working with Lauren Rille, the art director on this project responsible for the fantastic cover design, and working with Justin Chanda and Namrata Tripathi on ideas as well. I'll be posting more details and thanks in a future blog post.

But for now...


Just WOW.



(Note about the above: I only illustrated the cover for ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET; there are no interior illustrations - I suspect this listing may change, so had to take a screenshot before it did. But still, I really do wish I could send the above listing to my younger self.) 

 February 16, 2014 edit: Also see Part 2 of my Judy Blume news!!!!

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10. Interview: Carmella Van Vleet on middle grade novels, publication, writer advice and ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER (Holiday House, launches Feb. 14, 2014)


I met Carmella Van Vleet through MiGWriters, a wonderful critique group I discovered through the SCBWI message boards. Carmella is a former kindergarten teacher and the author of numerous hands-on science and history books, including Great Ancient Egypt Projects You Can Build Yourself (Nomad Press). She loves lists, cooking shows, exclamation points, and taekwondo - but not necessarily in that order! ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER is her first novel and launches on February 14th!

I love this story and its protagonist, Eliza Bing, and can't wait until this book hits the bookstore shelves next week.

Where to find Carmella online: Website - ClassOf2k14 - MigWriters - Facebook - Twitter


Author: Carmella Van Vleet

Cover artist: Karen Donnelly

Publisher: Holiday House

Launch date: February 14th, 2014

Goodreads - Indiebound - Amazon.com

Plot synopsis for Eliza Bing Is (Not) A Big, Fat Quitter:

Eleven-year-old Eliza has had many hobbies - and most of them haven't lasted very long. After she and her friend Tony create a baking business for a class project, Eliza is certain that cake decorating is her destiny. But her parents insist that the summer "Cakes with Caroline" class is too expensive, given Eliza's history of quickly losing interest in things.

Desperate to show them that she can stick with something, she volunteers to take her brother's unwanted spot in a taekwondo class. At first, Eliza has no interest in martial arts, and taekwondo is a huge challenge for her since she has ADHD. Eliza is tempted to drop out, especially when mean girl Madison shows up in class. Eliza may have set out to prove she’s no quitter, but she discovers something else: it’s okay to change your mind about who you are.

Q. What's your writing process? or What was your writing process for ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER?

Carmella and her daughter.A. I spent ten years writing non-fiction before switching to fiction. I thought the transition would be pretty easy, but I quickly discovered that the process for writing fiction - at least for me - was much different. When I working in non-fiction, my drafts were outlined and completed on a set-in-stone schedule. And often times with the television or my three kids making noise! For fiction, I need a quiet house and plenty of room to warm up and play around. I had a rough outline for ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER but, for the most part, I was “pantser.” It was definitely a challenge to find the right voice; instead of my Teacher Voice, I had to get in touch with my Inner Middle Schooler. But once I found Eliza, she was pretty talkative. It helped, too, that much of the book was based on my daughter’s experiences with ADHD and bullying and our taekwondo training.

Carmella's office, where the magic happens!

From idea to ready-to-submit-to-agents, the book took about two years. (I’m not a fast drafter; I’ve learned to accept that. One of the most important things you have to remember is not to compare yourself to other writers.) Part of the process was working with my critique partners, the MiGs to get feedback. I also made the decision to work with freelance editor Diane Bailey. She was able to bring a fresh, critical eye to the manuscript. I’m not suggesting every writer needs to spend the money to hire a freelance editor but for me, and for that particular project, it was I needed to get my writing past “good” and into “good enough for publication” (In the interest of full disclosure, Diane and I are friends.)

Carmella signing her book contract

Q. How did ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER get published?

A. I found my agent the old fashioned way - through lots of research and rejections. I got pretty close with a couple of agents before I found Marie. She was new to agenting, so I like to joke that I was just waiting for her to show up to the party. “The Call” is actually kind of a funny story.

Carmella with her agent, Marie Lamba (The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency)I’d been sending out my book for a while and getting pretty discouraged. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this fiction stuff. You know? Around that time, my publisher contacted me about doing another non-fiction book for them. I was at a crossroads. Go back to non-fiction, which I loved and enjoyed success with, or keep pursuing my dream of writing fiction? One morning, I asked the Universe for a sign. I said, “And please make it something big since I’m dense sometimes!” Later in the day, I decided to draft a letter to my editor, turning down the non-fiction contract. I just wanted to see how it would feel. Right in the middle of typing, the phone rings. I can see from caller ID that it’s Marie and knew right away why she was calling. I thought, “Okay, Universe! I get it!” I’m sure Marie had no idea what to think when I answered the phone laughing!

Once I signed with her, I did a few more revisions and then we were ready to submit to publishers. We got positive feedback, but it was maybe eight weeks or so before an offer came. After I called my husband and parents and a close friend (all sworn to secrecy of course), my daughter went with me to buy a cake. I also treated myself to some fancy nail polish. It wasn’t until I was half way home before the irony hit me. You see, my main character gets herself into big trouble because of an incident with nail polish!

The editing process went very well despite an early bump in the road. The editor who originally made the offer, left the publishing house. (It happens sometimes.) But I was quickly adopted by another editor who loved Eliza just as much as I did and took very good care of the both of us. Julie was terrific and I agreed with almost everything she suggested, so things went quickly and smoothly.

One of the best parts of the process was when I went to New York (I was there for a SCBWI conference) and got to meet the folks at Holiday House in person. Everyone was so kind and welcoming. And I was humbled to discover that everyone in the small house was familiar with my book. Plus, I got to meet Eliza’s first reader, Assistant Editor Sally Morgridge. I wanted to give her a bear hug her or buy her a car or something, but for the record, I acted professionally. LOL.

Galleys for ELIZA BING

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

A. My best advice for middle grade writers is to do whatever you can to remember or get yourself back in touch with your kid-self. Read old journals, look at yearbooks or photos or videos. Ask your parents or siblings if they remember any stories about you. Middle schoolers are funny, thoughtful, curious and open. But at the same time, they’re under tremendous pressure to “fit in.” They’re much wiser than many people give them credit for, too. Don’t preach or teach - reach for them. And show up with honesty and a good sense of humor.

While it’s not absolutely necessary, hanging around middle schoolers is a good way to get inside their world. Listen to the way they talk, what they’re talking about (or not talking about) and how the interact with each other. This might mean volunteering to be the carpool parent or dance chaperone. If you don’t have pre-teens of your own, borrow a friends or coach or sit down at the food court at your local mall and eavesdrop.

My other piece of advice is to catch middle schoolers reading and pick their brains. For example, I train at a a taekwondo school. There are lots of kids around and whenever I see one reading a book, I make a point to ask them about it. Are they enjoying it? Is there anything they wish they could change? What made them pick up the book in the first place? The point isn’t to quiz them but to open up a conversation between readers. Because that’s what all writers should be first and foremost - good readers.

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

I’m happy to announce that I recently signed a deal for my first picture book. TO THE STARS!, which I co-authored with astronaut Kathy Sullivan, will be released in 2016 from Charlesbridge Publishing. It’s about how Dr. Sullivan’s curiosity and love of science led her to become the first American women to walk in space and uses this really cool back-n-forth format.

I’ve recently finished writing a young adult novel as well. I’m hoping we can start submitting to publishers soon.

I’m also hoping to speak at writers’ conference about the rewards and challenges of writing in multiple genres and other topics. So if there’s anyone out there who needs a speaker...please contact me via my website. I’d love to hear from you!


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

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11. Interview: Holly Schindler and her MG novel, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY (Dial/Penguin)

I'm delighted to kick off the blog tour for Holly Schindler's THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, which launches from Dial on February 6th.

Holly Schindler is a critically acclaimed YA author; her debut, A BLUE SO DARK, received a starred review in Booklist, was one of Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels for Youth, and won a silver medal in ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year and a gold medal in the IPPY Awards. THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY is her first MG. She can be found working on her next book in her hometown of Springfield, MO (or devouring a plate of Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken, the world’s best writing fuel).

Where to find Holly: Website - Blog - Twitter - Facebook - Smack Dab In the Middle - YA Outside The Lines



August “Auggie” Jones lives with her Grandpa Gus, a trash hauler, in a poor part of town. So when her wealthy classmate’s father starts the House Beautification Committee, it’s homes like Auggie’s that are deemed “in violation.” Auggie is determined to prove that she is not as run-down as the outside of her house might suggest. Using the kind of items Gus usually hauls to the scrap heap, a broken toaster becomes a flower; church windows turn into a rainbow walkway; and an old car gets new life as spinning whirligigs. What starts out as a home renovation project becomes much more as Auggie and her grandpa discover a talent they never knew they had—and redefine a whole town’s perception of beauty, one recycled sculpture at a time. Auggie’s talent for creating found art will remind readers that one girl’s trash really is another girl’s treasure.

Title: The Junction Of Sunshine And Lucky

Author: Holly Schindler

Publisher: Dial (Feb. 6, 2014)

Age Range: 8-12 yrs / Grade level: 3-7

Editor: Nancy Conescu, Executive Editor for Dial Books / Penguin

Holly's agent: Deborah Warren of East/West Literary Agency


What’s your writing process / what was your writing process for THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY?

I’m really lucky—I’ve been a full-time writer since ’01. When I graduated with my master’s, my mom encouraged me to stay home, devote the entirety of my attention to my writing. It had been a lifelong dream, actually. (I was writing stories as a little girl at my bedroom desk!) In the beginning, of course, I thought it’d take a year or so to write a novel, it’d sell (I’d been lucky enough to place a few shorter pieces while in college, and was under the grand delusion that it’d be easy to sell a book), and I’d be off and running.

Oh, the naiveté. In reality, it took seven and a half years to get my first yes. That’s seven and a half years of full-time work. Seven days a week. I worked harder in my “unemployed” years than I ever had in my life.

The first book I sold was for a YA—A BLUE SO DARK. I sold it myself, to Flux, after more than 80 rejections.

THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY is my third published book—my first MG. The process was its own long journey…The book was initially drafted in ’05, and will be published February 6, 2014!

Most of my books actually start out with a scenario. A what-if. THE JUNCTION was different, in that it started with characters. The first person I saw was Gus. I swear, I saw him just as clearly as I’ve seen any person I’ve met in life. I felt like I was looking through Auggie’s eyes, straight at her Grandpa. It’s a completely different experience starting with a character and building a conflict and subplots around her. Through the whole thing, you kind of grab hold of this person and brave the world with her…You fall in love with her. When it’s all said and done, you can’t wait for the world to meet her, but you miss her, too—more than you do the characters in the books where you start with scenarios.


It was wild, actually—after seven and a half years of full-time effort, I was beginning to feel like all I had to show for my work was a skull-shaped hole in my office where I’d been knocking my head against the wall. In January of ‘09, though, I accepted the deal for my YA with Flux…Not two hours later, I got a call from an agent who was wild about an MG I’d sent her the previous fall. I signed with Deborah Warren of East / West, and she shopped THE JUNCTION while A BLUE SO DARK was in development.

I think most people assume that getting an agent means the doors in the publishing world will automatically fly open, but it took a year and a half to sell THE JUNCTION. I also revised the book multiple times, in-between rounds of submission.

…And once it sold, it also went through still more rounds of revision. That was another real surprise to me, once I started landing deals: how much global revision actually occurs after acquisition. Even after THE JUNCTION was rewritten globally a couple of times, my editor (Nancy Conescu) still felt the themes were competing. We wound up talking over the phone—having a brainstorming session, hashing it out. The book was revised once more; this time, we tackled the book in thirds (the beginning, middle, end). At the end of it, my editor and I were both thrilled with the results.

What advice do you have for aspiring middle grade writers?

DON’T GIVE UP . I know in my own pursuit of publication, I hit a really bad time, right at about four years in. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my frustration was probably tied into the fact that I had this impossible-to-ignore marker that would ring like a gong every year: I started my full-time pursuit the day after I graduated with my master’s. Each graduation season, as caps and gowns paraded across the paper and local news, I’d think—There’s one year gone. Two. Three…I think part of the reason that four years bothered me so much was that it took four years to get through high school. Four years to get my undergrad degree. But at the four year mark during my pursuit of publication, I hadn’t really gotten many “good” rejections (in which editors offered advice). It was a real make-or-break moment.

Obviously, I decided to put my rear in the chair and get back to work. And the first thing I wrote after that decision was the first draft of THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY.

…Which brings me to my second bit of advice: DON’T BE BULL-HEADED. Accept the fact that you have a ton to learn. We all do, no matter what stage we’re in—published or not.

When I first wrote THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, it was a picture book. Gus was the artist (not Auggie). In that first version, Auggie’s character didn’t even have a name. We were just looking through her eyes as she told the story of her Grampa Gus, a folk artist.

I got some positive response to the writing in the beginning, but no takers. Editors all told me that the concept of folk art was too advanced for the picture book audience. I was encouraged to turn the book into a MG novel.

It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, to reinvent a 1,000-word story as a roughly 45,000-word novel. But those editors said were right—the concept was too advanced for a picture book. So I plunged in. Even after I’d made the switch, though, I still had to find my agent, and after I got my agent, I still had to revise multiple times.

You’ve got to be willing to listen. You’ve got to be willing to put in the work. And then start over again, even when you think you’ve got the book nailed.

But here’s the beauty of it: Every single book is revised once it’s acquired. If you get the revision part down pre-acquisition, you’ll have a much easier time receiving editorial letters when your first book is in development.

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

I’m working on my next MG, of course, but I’m also happy to announce that my next YA, FERAL, is in development with HarperCollins! I’ll be making announcements regarding that novel (including a cover reveal and release date info) on my blog soon: hollyschindler.blogspot.com.

…If you’re interested in getting in on blog tours, or if you’re a teacher or librarian and are interested in Skype visits, be sure to contact me at writehollyschindler (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Where to find out more about Holly and her work:

Twitter: @holly_schindler

Facebook: facebook.com/hollyschindlerauthor

Author site: hollyschindler.com

Author blog: hollyschindler.blogspot.com

Holly is also the administrator of two group author blogs: Smack Dab in the Middle (smack-dab-in-the-middle.blogspot.com) for MG authors, and YA Outside the Lines ( yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com) for YA authors.


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

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12. Comic: Time Vampires, Freelance Life and Finding Focus

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13. Productivity tip: Use AwayFind to stop checking email so often

I mentioned earlier that I'd be sharing any tips and tools I've been using to help me focus. One of the biggest discoveries I made last year is a service called AwayFind.

I used to check email obsessively throughout the day. At first it was because I didn't want to miss anything important that came in, but then I realized that even if I wasn't expecting anything super-urgent, I'd STILL regularly (as in at least a few times an hour, sometimes more often) check my email, no matter what else I was doing.

It was only after I started timing myself, seeing how long I could work before I checked email, that I had to admit I had a real problem. The action of frequent email-checking was so automatic that it happened without conscious effort, making it impossible for me to sustain focus for more than a very short time. Gah.

The brilliance of Awayfind: You can set up a list of email addresses and get alerts when mail arrives from any of them. You can even customize these alerts, to avoid getting alerted for groupmails, etc. I added agent's address, for example, as well as other important work-related contacts.

There are different pricing plans, but you can try out the Personal and Pro for 30 days for free. I ended up opting for the Pro account.

End result? I no longer feel compelled to check email so often, giving me more distraction-free time to focus.

You can check out Awayfind yourself: http://www.awayfind.com

(and no, I'm not getting any affiliate fee for this recommendation)

Do you have another productivity tool to recommend? Feel free to post below!


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14. How To Create and Write A Book In (Yes I said IN) Minecraft, plus Minecraft and literacy

Visiting Gaming Edus, a Minecraft server for educators and students; thanks to children's book author & educator Liam O'Donnell for the invite. Everyone's been super-helpful, and one of the students even built me a small stone home complete with helpful signs! You can find out more about GamingEdus here: http://www.gamingedus.org

When I was visiting with my nephews on Christmas Day, they introduced me to Minecraft. I had been aware of the game before, of course, but wasn't that impressed with the blocky graphics. Plus I had assumed it was mainly a hunt-and-shoot type of game, which didn't appeal to me that much.

But my mom-in-law had given my sis-in-law a copy of The Minecraft Guide For Parents, and while idly flipping through some of the pages, I realized that maybe there was more to the game than I had previously thought. Since then, I've also discovered that more schools are starting to bring Minecraft into the classroom (see my list of resources at the end of this post).


So far, I'm finding Minecraft more appealing than Second Life. Although the graphics are chunky, the benefit is that everything's super-fast, with no complex rendering needed. The blocky graphics have a charm of their own, and building things with them remind me of the childhood fun I used to have with Lego. (Side note: I have no idea if Lego tried to buy Minecraft but if they didn't, they should have.)

In addition to giving me another way of connecting with my nephews, it's also (depending on the server) a much more family-friendly environment than Second Life. I've already run into some parents who play Minecraft online WITH their kids.

Over the holidays, I was also invited to check out the GamingEdus Minecraft server by children's book author and educator Liam O'Donnell. With support of the EDGE Lab at Ryerson University, the GamingEdus project was founded as a way to introduce other educators to the learning potential of videogames, through the Minecraft, with a focus on equity, diversity, inclusion and student-led, inquiry-based learning.

To parents and educators who are skeptical about the potential benefits of Minecraft: I strongly encourage you to check out Liam's posts about how he uses Minecraft in the classroom, especially for students who need reading and writing support.

But back to making books...

There are many different aspects of Minecraft, including player-vs-player interactions, but the part that appeals to me the most is crafting: seeking out resources and putting them together to create other items. You can grow and harvest plants, hunt, mine for minerals, raise sheep for wool, create dyes to color that wool as well as glass. You can even create paintings, though currently any created painting becomes one of 26 canvases by artist Kristoffer Zetterstrand. Hopefully someday the Minecraft people will will let us create our own.

But look above! I recently discovered that not only can players create books, but they can write in these books and then give them to others. (An aside: you can't take items with you from one world into another, so you'd need to create the book in the same world in which you plan to use it.)

Before reading further, you should also be warned that the only way to create books in Minecraft is to kill some virtual creatures. And if you're an author reading this just to figure out a way of promoting your book to the Minecraft crowd, you may as well skip the rest of this post. 

[Edit January 13, 2014: Liam O'Donnell has pointed out that you can skip the crafting part and go straight into the writing part if you play in Creative Mode.]

For those of you who have kids who play Minecraft or who enjoy playing Minecraft yourself, keep reading...

I'm still in the midst of creating my own writeable book in Minecraft. Why am I doing it? Because I love Minecraft AND I love books, and cannot resist the challenge. In theory, a written book created in Minecraft can contain up to 50 pages, with up to 256 characters per page. You can paste text but currently can't edit/select text. You can read the tech overview on the Minecraft Gamepedia, but here's a basic overview:

You can get feathers by killing chickens:

You get ink sacs by killing Squid:

But you also need a Book, which is created with Paper and Leather:

You can get leather from killing cows or horses (I KNOW I KNOW! I did warn you), and paper from sugar cane:

You can also use paper for making maps as well. Anyway, here's my sugar cane crop:


The wooden blocks cover an underground irrigation system I set up, since sugar cane will only grow beside water.


Yes, it's a long and involved process to create a book in Minecraft. But for me, at least, it's part of the gameplay and I'm enjoying it thoroughly. I'm also hugely curious about redstone dust, which can be used to create power circuits and operate mechanism components. One of my nephews tells me that it's possible to make a simple computer in Minecraft. Lots of potential for creative fun in the future and whoa, so many potential creative learning experiences for young people.


Related Resources:

Messy Learning With Minecraft - by children's book author and educator, Liam O'Donnell 

GamingEdus - Includes Minecraft Resources For Educators and Five Ways Minecraft Can Boost Student Writing Skills


Minecraft.net - Official site

Book: The Minecraft Guide For Parents by Cori Dusmann (PeachPit Press, Dec/2013). The Indiebound entry doesn't seem to have much info, unfortunately, but there's more on the Amazon.com book page. I bought the Kindle version. Includes basics of how to install, set up and play the game.

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15. Happy New Year's! Plus thoughts on New Year's Resolutions, time management and finding focus

 Above: Quickie sketch experiment -- First I did the ink drawing by hand using a Pentel Pocket Pen Brush on sketchbook paper. Then I scanned it, imported into Photoshop, and digitally colored the drawing.

Happy New Year's, all! Apologies for the hiatus. Between the Toronto ice storm (we were one of the households that lost power) and work (auditioning for a veryveryvery cool book-related project; please cross your fingers for me!), I didn't have time to do much blogging.

For 2014, I've decided not to post any specific resolutions except for one: Strive for focus

Those of you who have been following my various blogs over the years already know that I have a wide variety of creative interests. Some come and go while others have remained constant. My challenge: there are WAY too many things I want to do and learn to do well, but not enough time. Plus I tend to be prone to the "ooo shiny" reaction when I come across cool and inspiring things. Which, um, is often.

This year, I have a pretty intense work schedule in terms of book writing and illustration work. I'm very excited about it all and want to find ways to be more productive. Don't get me wrong: I strongly believe in the importance of CREATIVE PLAYTIME, but I also think that I have way too many creative playtime interests at present. 

This year, rather than try to do them all and just feel frustrated and scattered, I'm going to deliberately cut back on my usual "going to find time to do more xxxx this year" goals as well as cutting back on related Physical Stuff.


SEWING STUFF - Back in 2008, I decided to learn how to use a sewing machine and a serger (I won the latter in a raffle and had no idea what it was at first), learn how to sew my own clothes, make all kinds of cool sewing thingies, blah di blah blah. Years later, I am having to admit to myself that I simply Don't Have Time. So I just gave away my serger, dressmaking form, and am also giving away most of my sewing notions, extra fabric, and throwing out all the partly-finished projects I abandoned a while back. Keeping my one simple sewing machine, though. :-)

CRAFT STUFF - I am a craft supplies addict, I admit it, and am inexorably drawn to the sales at local craft shops. I have accumulated jewelry-making notions, beads, glues, rubber stamps, inks, different types of paint, scrapbook stuff, glitter etc. etc. over the years. To make more room for my sketchbooks, drawing materials, mini photo studio (a Christmas gift from Jeff, for my found art doodles), higher-end printer, watercolors and other materials more directly related to my current work, I am also giving away boxes of other craft stuff.

I did a huge office purge over the holidays, and am pretty happy with the result so far.

Next step: Reduce my online clutter and distractions to improve focus and productivity. I've already found some great tools and tips, and will be sharing this over the coming year, in case it helps anyone else. 

Anyone else have a New Year's Resolution they'd like to share? Or tip on focusing?


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16. Interview: Lisa Dalrymple and Suzanne Del Rizzo on the making of SKINK ON THE BRINK (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)


Author: Lisa Dalrymple - Illustrator: Suzanne Del Rizzo

Publisher: Fitzhenry & Whiteside -  June 2013

I first heard about Skink On The Brink at a CANSCAIP meeting. Not only was the title intriguing, but I love the inspiring publication success story (details below). Lisa and Suzanne are popular children's book presenters; their activity session at Toronto's Word On The Street this past weekend drew over 100 young people! Lisa and Suzanne were kind enough to be interviewed for Inkygirl, and both give a TON of valuable info and insights into their process.

Lisa Dalrymple loves to travel and has lived in such countries as South Korea, Thailand and Scotland. She now lives with her husband and their three children in Fergus, Ontario. Her story, Skink on the Brink, won The Writers’ Union of Canada’s Writing for Children Competition in 2011 and is now a picture book illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo. Lisa is also the author of If It’s No Trouble… A Big Polar Bear and its sequel, Bubbly Troubly Polar Bear, coming in October 2013.

Where to find Lisa online: Website - Facebook

Suzanne Del Rizzo loves the squish of plasticine between her fingers. Her illustrations appear in Skink on the Brink (Fitzhenry & Whiteside Spring 2013), written by Lisa Dalrymple. Her cover illustrations appear in the YA novel The Ehrich Wiesz Chronicles: Demon Gate ( Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Fall 2013) written by Marty Chan. She lives in Oakville Ontario with her husband and four children.

Where to find Suzanne online: Website - Twitter - Facebook (personal) - Facebook (professional)


Stewie is a very special skink — he has a beautiful blue tail which gives him a superpower against his enemies. Stewie loves singing his songs and rhymes as he dashes around his home. But as he grows up his beautiful blue tail starts to turn grey — he can't call himself Stewie the Blue anymore! And without his rhymes, his home by the pond doesn't feel as special either. A new Tell-Me-More Storybook about self-esteem, change, and growing up. Includes non-fiction back matter with bonus information and activities.

See the Fitzhenry & Whiteside SKINK ON THE BRINK page for supplemental materials created by Lisa and Suzanne, including coloring pages, activity pages, word searches, and more.

For lots of photos of Suzanne's amazing plasticine-illustration process, read further down in the interview.

A few of Suzanne's plasticine carving tools. Read further for lots of photos of how she created the amazing illustrations in SKINK.

Q. What was your publication process for SKINK ON THE BRINK?


I actually can’t remember when I first started researching and writing the manuscript, but I think it was sometime around 2008. (It usually takes a couple of years for me to develop and craft a picture book story until it is finally submission ready.) During this time, I was also working on other books and I was trying to learn the ropes of the publishing industry by getting out, meeting other writers and professionals, and attending trade shows, festivals, etc.

Christie Harkin, editor at Fitzhenry & Whiteside. Photo from Cynsations interview.In September 2010, I went to Word on the Street in Toronto. I remember that it was first thing in the morning that I saw Christie Harkin, the kids’ books editor at Fitzhenry & Whiteside, getting their booth ready for the day. I knew I wanted to talk to Christie, to find out what she was looking for in a manuscript and to establish a personal connection. However, first I had to walk around for a while to try to summon up the nerve. When I finally did, it was the end of the day and Christie was packing up her supplies to go home! She told me that she was developing a line of “Tell Me More” storybooks. In these books, while the story is, of course, the most important element, there’s also an additional educational component that can be more fully explored in the non-fiction back matter. We both agreed that Skink on the Brink might be a good fit for this line and that I should send it to her.

Suzanne and Lisa do a signing with Michael Martchenko & Loris Lesynski at Toronto's Word On The Street

There was a long period where I heard nothing, but I was getting used to no response if an editor really wasn’t interested. By the time February 2011 rolled around, I had completely given up. I went with a group of friends to the OLA Superconference in February and some of them stopped by the Fitzhenry & Whiteside booth to say ‘hi’ to Christie. When she noticed my nametag, she said, “Hey! You’re the skink lady!” I’d never been so excited to think that she remembered me and my manuscript. We had a “pre-editorial” discussion right there and I went home to create yet another draft of the book I’d now been working on for three years.

When April 2011 rolled around and neither of the books I had under consideration with two separate houses had yet acquired that elusive “yes,” I submitted them both to the Writing for Children competition hosted by The Writers’ Union of Canada. This competition receives between 600-800 entries each year and I submitted every year so, of course, I had no real expectation that I would win.

But then there was a day, the same day that I heard from Tuckamore Press that they were ready to send me a contract for my book If It’s No Trouble… A Big Polar Bear, when the phone rang and Nancy MacLeod informed me that Skink on the Brink had won the competition – and that I was sworn to secrecy for almost a week! By this point, Christie and I had a friendly relationship and I think it may have been my post on Facebook, “This is one of the most exciting days of my life,” that prompted her to get in on the excitement and send me my first official book contract!

Suzanne adding detail to one of her illustration elements. Wow.

In October 2011, we signed the contract and Christie let me know that they were considering Suzanne Del Rizzo to illustrate the book. She sent me a few samples of Suzanne’s work. Of course, I was thrilled! Suzanne’s plasticine artwork is beyond anything I would have imagined for Stewie and his story and I was so excited to see it finally start coming to life.

In January 2012, Christie and I got started on the ‘first round’ of edits, which actually became the ‘never-ending round’ of edits as we kept passing the manuscript back and forth, trying to get some of the rough spots ‘just right’ so that Suzanne could get started.

And then the real fun began. I was so excited that Suzanne would consult with me about the illustrations. Her artwork was fabulous and she wanted to check in with me from a research perspective. We both wanted to make sure that we were using our combined knowledge to make sure that the book was as biologically accurate as possible.

Once the artwork was done, in January 2013, I received the ‘final round’ of edits from Christie and the book went to the printer. Then, in May, Suzanne and I were able to drop by the Fitzhenry & Whiteside office to finally hold the finished book in our hands!


Q. What was your writing/illustration process for SKINK ON THE BRINK?


I wish I could say I have a process that indicated some sort of routine but, working from home for the past few years with small kids around, any routine has been pretty hard to establish. I’m hoping this will improve when my youngest daughter starts school fulltime this year because I know how important it is to have that dedicated writing time. 98% of writing is pure hard work – just keeping that butt in your chair and working, preferably with few to no interruptions! Sure, there’s that other 2% of writing that’s genius inspiration, where the brilliant ideas come to you (usually in the shower) and you hop out, words already flying from your fingertips. That kind of writing can be done almost anytime, anywhere (although I would recommend getting out of the shower first.) But the other 98% is very difficult to do when there are so many demanding distractions of family life and when we all know how tempting it is to give in to distraction in the first place.

At the same time, my kids make huge contribution to my writing process. Getting their input and ideas, as I’m crafting a story is an invaluable part of the process for me. I can’t tell you how many years we’ve spent out in the wilderness on family camping trips, pretending to be skinks and shouting things like “I’m Stewie the Blue” over the pond – and how informative and inspiring it is to see how kids engage with your story when it’s still all coming together in your mind.


My process for this book began with lots of research. I must admit, I’d never heard of a skink before reading Lisa’s manuscript, so I had some homework to do before I even put pencil to paper. I researched all I could online and from books, and took photos at my cottage (which falls within the geographical region of the Common Five-Lined Skink’s habitat) to create a massive photo reference file:

Lisa also provided me with some great shots she had taken while at The Pinery Park where she had seen a Common Five-Lined skink up close. Stewie the skink would be undergoing both physical growth and coloration changes throughout the story, and because this was also a Tell-Me-More story book with accompanying cross-curricular back matter; I wanted to ensure I was maintaining as much biological accuracy as possible.

I envisioned having lots of secondary animals and vegetation to make Stewie’s habitat rich and authentic, so I also needed to familiarize myself with the various animals and plant life that co-exist in his habitat. I then created some sample art for Christie to show at the sales meeting, and after landing the contract, I began thumbnail sketches.

Christie encouraged Lisa and I to get in touch and bounce ideas around. It isn’t always standard for authors and illustrators to discuss a project, but in this case, I think it really helped us achieve something special with this book, it was a fantastic collaboration. It even led to some hilarious “oops” moments...like the time when I made a minor flub and put a moose in one illustration... moose don’t extend quite this far south- oops. Luckily Lisa caught it and it was easily changed to a white-tailed deer. If you look closely on my full- sized sketch:

...you can see the moose, yet in the final plasticine illustration it has been changed to a white-tailed deer:

Once thumbnail sketches were approved I worked up full-sized tight pencil sketches:

Because I work in plasticine, I prefer to create very detailed, tight pencil drawings to show my editor, and ideally make changes at this phase of the project. Each plasticine illustration can take from 20-40+ hours to create, depending on its size and complexity, so it’s much easier to erase a few pencil strokes at this point then to peel off/redo the plasticine final art.

My illustrations are essentially low relief sculptures created in plasticine(modelling clay) and pressed onto illustration board. The final plasticine art is then professionally photographed:

Before I started any final art I premixed the colours, after some initial colour studies, to create a colour chart:

I hang this next to my sketch for quick reference. Then I made up large amounts of my colours so I’d be able to maintain consistency throughout the illustrations. This type of chart comes in handy if I run out of a colour and need to make more. To begin each illustration, I’d smear on plasticine in a thin layer to create the background, then gradually build up and add on, then move onto foreground objects as I go:


(From Debbie: click here for a close-up look at some of the detail in the final illustration)

One of my favorite parts of any illustration is adding the final textures and details to really bring life to the piece. I use a variety of clay sculpting tools but often times I end up using my good ol’ favorites-a large safety pin, toothbrush, toothpick and my fingers. Sometimes I even make my own tools. For Stewie the skink, I made a selection of polymer clay tools that make impressions of reptile scales:

then I used an acrylic gloss to make him glisten.

For intricate parts, I sometimes worked on top of a Ziploc bag that I’d place directly over top of my sketch:

(Note from Debbie: Click here to see details in a bigger version of the woodpecker)

Then I could check to ensure that my sculpted objects were the correct size- plasticine has a tendency to spread and flatten as you work with it, which can be frustrating. So I kept a bowl beside me for my “rejects”...and believe me there were plenty. Faces are especially tricky to get just right. But that’s the great thing about plasticine- it never hardens, so you can just peel off the offensive bits and smoosh ‘em, and start afresh. My kids like to raid the reject bowl (as they call it) and put these bits to use in their own creations.

Having a little kiddo sitting next to me on the floor, working on their own plasticine is one of the best perks about having my art studio in my home. Kids are also the best source of inspiration.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring children's book writers and illustrators?

Lisa: There is so much important advice out there given by far more experienced writers than me – but you’re not going to hear any of it if you’re sitting in your house staring at a cursor on a screen...

Suzanne: ...or working away in your art studio. And I’m even more “green”, LOL but I am always happy to share what I have found helpful on my pursuit to publication.

Lisa: Get out there and meet other writers and creators. The camaraderie and support of a network of peers is invaluable – for information sharing, providing a shoulder to cry on (or a glass to clink with), for forming critique groups and for gaining access to all that wonderful advice.

Suzanne: Yes, you said it Lisa! We creative types tend to be an introverted lot, but it’s so important to put yourself out there and meet others, connect, share ideas and soak up advice from more seasoned author/illustrators. I have found this community of author/illustrators, both online and in person, to be extremely supportive and encouraging

Lisa: In Canada, some good places to start are organizations for children’s writers such as CANSCAIP and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC). Internationally, look into the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Any festivals, trade shows or signings in your area that have anything to do with books can also be useful places to connect with other writers or industry professionals.

Suzanne and Lisa with their editor Christie Harkin (in red shirt) and friends Jan Dolby & Joyce Grant at Toronto's Word On The Street

Suzanne: The thought of attending a large conference might be utterly terrifying if you are just starting out, so start small. Check out the monthly CANSCAIP meetings, or go to Word on The Street and mingle at your pace, or hop online and get to know the Twitter and Facebook community of illustrators and kidlit writers. I must admit to having a bad case of “imposter syndrome” when I first made the career switch from working in a science research lab, after all I didn’t have an art degree. Could I make a go of it as children’s book illustrator? I decided to be brave and just go for it. The self doubt still creeps up on me some days. But I had to start somewhere. Those first small steps, attending meetings and making initial connections paved the way to bigger conferences and helped me gain my footing as an illustrator.

Joining a critique group is invaluable. We often work in a bubble, isolated, “in the zone” creating, be it painting, sculpting or typing away the hours on our tread-desk. We tend to be our toughest critics which can often lead to self-doubt or worse still the dreaded “analysis paralysis”. Crit groups will not only help you grow as an artist, by pushing you in a direction you may never have considered on your own, but they also give valuable, honest criticism of your work and provide a safe environment to share new ideas, ask those silly questions, and learn about the industry. I belong to a few crit groups, one of illustrators, and another of authors and author/illustrators. Authors and illustrators look at manuscripts (and artwork) from a different perspective, and it can be very helpful to get both types of input, especially if you are interested in writing and illustrating, as I am.

Lisa: A critique group is really important. Even if your writing is already awesome, there is so much to be learned from seeing other perspectives on your work. Engaging with other people’s stories when offering a critique has taught me to see my own work with a more critical eye and helped me to develop further focus and direction in my own writing.

Suzanne: Like I mentioned above, get online and make connections. Joining Twitter, and Facebook is one place to start. Every Thursday at 9pm EST there is a Tweet Chat of kidlit creators, just follow #kidlitart, and check it out. They are a welcoming and fun bunch. Zero2illo is another fantastic resource I found extremely helpful when I was starting up my illustration career. It has many great resources, from setting up your portfolio website to designing a business plan. I also belong to their zero2illo confidential, a crit group of sorts but so much more.

Lisa: If anyone reading this has any further questions, or would like direction to an online critique group for serious children’s writers, they can feel free to contact me through my website. (www.lisadalrymple.com)

Suzanne: Yes, please contact me through my website (suzannedelrizzo.com) if you have any further questions.

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


Suzanne and I have decided to dub the past few months “the Summer of the Plasticine Road Show.” We’ve been taking Skink on the Brink and Suzanne’s fun and interactive plasticine workshops to events all over southern Ontario. For the fall, it looks like the Plasticine Road Show lives on! We were recently at Toronto's Word On The Street; I will be at the Family Resource Centre in Peterborough on September 28th, followed by a signing at Peterborough Chapters; we will be taking part in the Creemore Arts Festival on October 5th.

As for what I’m working on now, my third book, Bubbly Troubly Polar Bear, is due out with Tuckamore Books in October 2013.

I’m also very excited about a picture book with a multicultural theme that I’m working on, in which a young Canadian girl travels around the world with her archeologist parents. Through attending school in Thailand, Peru, Jamaica, Scotland and South Korea, she participates in both the differences and the similarities of daily life. I’m hoping to have her experiences to show, through an eight-year-old's eyes, that, while there are many diverse cultures, there can be a common understanding in the sharing of music, food or something as universal as a game of Hide & Seek.


As for me, I just finished a project for a YA novel cover for The Ehrich Wiesz Chronicles: Demon Gate (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, Fall 2013) by Marty Chan. I created the front and back of a steampunk medallion/Infinity Coil in polymer clay and watch components. I also have another Tell-Me-More storybook project in the works with Fitzhenry and Whiteside. I’m working up some of my manuscripts into picture book dummies for submission as well.

Q. How did your book launch go? And how has reception to SKINK ON THE BRINK been so far?

Complete with plasticine activities and a skinktastic chocolate cake:

the official launch of Skink on the Brink was at Story Planet in Toronto, but this summer has actually been a series of exciting launch events. We held a second launch at Roxanne’s Reflections, in my current hometown of Fergus and it was every bit as much fun as the first! Then our favourite event this summer was definitely introducing Skink on the Brink to the Pinery Provincial Park at their annual Savannah Festival.

The Pinery is one of the few places in Canada where the Common Five-lined Skink can be found and it’s the area that inspired the character of Stewie and his story. There was something really special about reading Skink on the Brink right in Stewie’s natural habitat and then working with the kids on their terrific plasticine creations on the very veranda where he’s known to hang out and bask.

The kids at all of our events have been tons of fun to work with and incredibly excited – especially those who managed to catch a glimpse of a real Five-lined Skink in the wild, and Suzanne and I now both have households full of plasticine critters! But the best part is definitely hearing the kids’ enthusiasm for conservation efforts and for protecting skinks and their habitat.


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

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17. See MY INTERVIEW in the 2014 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, yay! (and what I wish I could tell my younger self)

Debbie CWIM2014

The 2014 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market is now on book shelves, and includes AN INTERVIEW WITH ME!! I'm pretty thrilled. 

I've been buying this annual guide for many years, not just for the great info about children's book publishers and other markets, but also because of the excellent interviews and advice for pros in the industry….so actually being mentioned IN this guide is kind of exciting for me.

I'm also SO flattered to be included in the blurb description about the book, especially considering the other names mentioned. An excerpt:

"Interviews with some of today's hottest authors and illustrators, including author R.L. Stine (the Goosebumps series), author Marie Lu (Legend), author Beth Revis (Across the Universe), and illustrator Debbie Ridpath (I'm Bored, written by Michael Ian Black)."

How cool is that?!?

Wish I could send that paragraph back to my younger self to help take the edge off all those rejection letters.

Anyway, thanks so much to Ricki Schultz for interviewing me and to Chuck Sambuchino for editorial guidance.

More info about the book on the Writer's Digest website.

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18. A comic in honor of Talk Like A Pirate Day....

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19. Here's what a fox says...but more importantly, what's that children's book in the video?

I've been hearing the song in the above video in my head ever since my husband told me about it. The music video by Norwegian duo Ylvis went viral a few days ago. I love the wonky humor and tongue-in-cheek emo. 

Popular Science followed up with a "What Sound Does A Fox Really Make" post that could be enlightening for kids (and grown-ups!) wondering what sounds a fox DOES make. :-)

But what *I* want to know: what's that children's book featured in the video? Here's a screenshot:

A blurrier close-up of the front cover:

Here's the back cover, though doesn't it look as if part of the cover beneath the man's hand  has been torn?

If anyone can identify the children's book in this video, I'd appreciate it if you'd post in the comments.


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20. Quickie Survey Results: Have You Seen Young People Reading Ebooks?

I recently did a quickie poll on Twitter asking the following:

Q. Have you seen a young person reading a book on a digital device in the past year? (where a "young person" is teenager or younger)?

Approximately half of the respondents said yes:


Some of the comments:

"Have seen students read on phones, iPads and ereaders." - @stein_valerie

"As a teacher, I regularly us ebooks to engage reluctant readers - YA and Middle Grade. Adding a layer of technology like a tablet or ereader can give kids who don't see themselves as readers a reason to at least try to read. From there, it's up to the story to engage them and keep them reading until the end."

"My 7 year old asked for an e-reader for Christmas. An e-reader mind you, not an app or internet enabled tablet. She loves the 'magic' of getting new books instantly without leaving home. No down time between Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie, priceless."

"Yes, on books, tablets, computers and phones- not really kindled though that might be my area." - @mz_christie

"My 5 year old likes reading ebooks with dad when he is away on business, over Skype. They each have a copy of the book on an iPad and can turn pages together. But the kids don't read on their own on ebook devices (too expensive to allow unfettered access!)"

"Yes, if my own kids count and they are using my device (with books I downloaded for them.) They never ask if they can read on my Nook. I've never seen a child in the wild reading on a digital device. Playing games...yes. Reading, no."

"Hard to tell on the subway WHAT a child is doing on an iPad, but it seems to always be games. I still see kids with pbooks, though!"

"Handy for teens reading public domain works for school." - @bhalpin

Please note that results would probably differ for a general public survey. My Twitter followers are almost all readers themselves, including teachers and librarians.


You can also see other current and past surveys in the Inkygirl Survey Archives.

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21. Comic: Serial Comma Killer

OHI0022 WRI CommaCuts

Re-posted for Mikki. :-)

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22. Will Write For Chocolate updated: "What The New iPhone *doesn't* have...."

In case anyone was wondering, I *have* decided to upgrade my iPhone to the iPhone 5s. I read ebooks on my iPhone as well as taking a ton of photos, so the improved graphics capability (and especially the new camera features) make it well worth it for me.

More info about Apple's new iPhones in the NYTimes today as well as (of course) on Apple's site.

Get Will Write For Chocolate updates on Facebook.

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23. Interview: Peggy Eddleman and SKY JUMPERS (Random House Children's)

SKY JUMPERS - Author: Peggy Eddleman - Hardcover / 288 pages / Publication date: Sept. 24, 2013 from Random House Children's Books. ISBN 0307981274. More info about the book on Goodreads.

SKY JUMPERS by Peggy Eddleman is a fast-paced middle grade adventure with engaging characters and imaginative world-building. I was totally fascinated by the idea of the Bomb's Breath, a layer of chemically altered air that will kill those who breathe it yet slows the fall of Hope and her friends when they jump into it. I can't wait for the next book in the series! Highly recommended.

Book description:

What happens when you can’t do the one thing that matters most? Twelve-year-old Hope Toriella lives in White Rock, a town of inventors struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath—the deadly band of compressed air that covers the crater left by the bombs—than fail at yet another invention. When bandits discover that White Rock has priceless antibiotics, they invade. With a two-day deadline to finish making this year’s batch and no ingredients to make more, the town is left to choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from the disease that’s run rampant since the bombs, or die fighting the bandits now. Help lies in a neighboring town, but the bandits count everyone fourteen and older each hour. Hope and her friends—Aaron and Brock—might be the only ones who can escape to make the dangerous trek through the Bomb’s Breath and over the snow-covered mountain. Inventing won’t help her make it through alive, but with Aaron and Brock’s help, the daring and recklessness that usually gets her into trouble might just save them all.

About The Author:

Peggy lives at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Utah with her husband and their three children. She enjoys painting, playing games with her family (especially laser tag), and of course, reading.

Where to find Peggy online: Website - Blog - Twitter - Facebook

Q. What's your writing process?

I know it’s strange, and unlike 97% of authors, but I don’t write in my pajamas. I don’t write on the couch, and I don’t write in bed. Ever. I do line edits on my desktop computer, because it’s easiest there. But my desktop is also where I tackle all the non-writing aspects of being an author, so being in front of that computer distracts me. Plus, I feel like I’m in a cave. And I face a blank wall. It’s all very uninspiring.

Peggy writing in the Museum Of Art gardens.

So when I write or revise, I take my laptop somewhere else. A lot of times it’s my kitchen table, with the blinds on my french doors wide open, spilling in sunshine and a view of the trees, with my hubby and kids nearby. Sometimes it’s on my porch swing on my back patio with the bugs and the cat. And sometimes I go anywhere else. I take a camp chair to the ridiculously beautiful mountains overlooking my valley, I go to the park, the beach, next to a stream in the canyon, or at a neighborhood fast food dive that has the best shakes and who don’t care if I stay forever. The more ambiance and sunshine, the better.

Peggy writing on the beach.

When I first became a writer, I got my best ideas while folding clothes (which was mightily convenient). Sadly, though, that seemed to wear off. Now I work though the trickiest of plot problems while walking. There’s a great pedestrian canal road that runs alongside my town where I can talk out loud to myself all I want (because that when the best ideas always come, right?), and people are rarely close by enough to care. It gets hot where I live, though. Like melting hot.

Peggy writing in the mountains.

Because of my publishing schedule, my summers are always spent deep in revisions, and it’s just way too hot for my canal walks. So I wear paths around my shaded backyard, circling it and circling it and circling it until I come up with my answers. It also gets cold where I live. Like freeze-your-lungs cold. Winter is when I draft, though, and that’s when I’m left to rely on a good ole basket of laundry for ideas.

Q. How did SKY JUMPERS get published?

I decided that I wanted to take the traditional publishing route, and I started by reading everything I could about that process. I poured over writing blogs. I went to conferences and classes and joined critique groups. I made writing friends online. I read post after post about writing query letters. I learned what querying can do to your mental state and prepared myself for it. I learned hot the publishing industry worked. I was determined to go into this with my eyes wide open, and to have myself as prepared as possible for every aspect of it.

Sending her first pass pages for Sky Jumpers back to NYC.

After I had a manuscript (my fifth) that was unique, critiqued by dozens, well-revised, and one I knew had a good chance of selling, I set to writing my query letter. Learning so much about getting an agent may have brought out the defeated perfectionist in me. I’m not going to lie– it was very difficult to write my query letter! And it was very difficult to rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite.

Signing her contract.I slaved over every word, every sentence, making sure they were the exact right one. And then I’d put it away and bring it out after a week or two, so I could slave over it with a fresh mind. Whenever someone offered a query critique, I took them up on it. I took a query-writing webinar and had an agent critique it. I took conference classes on query writing and had the presenter critique it. I had my sister critique it so many times, I was sure I’d invented a new form of torture.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I spent five months on it. Was that overkill? Quite possibly. Would I do it again? Absolutely. I’ve gotten some serious mileage with that baby! It got me both an agent and an editor quickly, a lot of the phrases / sentences from it are word for word in my jacket flap, and my agent uses it as an example when she talks about query writing at conferences. Best of all? Those phrases are burnt so deeply in my brain that when someone asks me to tell them about my book, it’s not so hard to tell them.

A question I get asked often goes something like this: “After your editor makes you change a bunch of things, did it feel like it wasn’t your book anymore?”

The answer is absolutely not.

When I got my first edit letter, my editor told me that I didn't have to change a single thing in my book if I didn't want to– that they loved it already and it was good enough to go to print as is. It could've been tempting to just say, “I'm going to leave it as is, then, because it's just how I want it. Then it’ll still feel like my book.” (For the record, it wasn't actually tempting.) Instead, I dove into the 9 page single-spaced edit letter full of really tough suggestions with an open mind and a willingness to work. And then we went through another three tough rounds and a round of tweaks after that before going to copy edits.

Standing outside the Random House building on a trip to NYC to meet her editor.

And do you know what I learned? That there really isn’t anything to worry about when it comes to the book no longer feeling like yours. Editors rarely tell you what you have to do to fix something. They just bring up the issues or places that it can be improved, and let YOU figure out how YOU want it solved. They’ll brainstorm with you on how to fix each thing if that’s what works for you, or they’ll let you figure it out on your own if that’s what works. The point is, in the end it’s still full to the top of your ideas and your writing. It’s just better. Because under the direction and support of someone who is brilliant, your own brilliance can find a way out.

In the NYC subway, holding her very first ARC of Sky Jumpers.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring children's book writers?

Three things: be persistent, be teachable, and be flexible.

Be persistent.

This profession is not for quitters. It gets tough and you’ll get knocked down and beat up and rejected a lot of times and in a lot of ways. And the only way you’re going to get through it is if you have a very strong conviction that what you are pursuing is exactly right for you, and that you are strong enough to do it. So when those really tough things happen, you can remind yourself that you were made for this, and you can take anything that’s thrown at you. That you can stand back up, lick your wounds, and most importantly, that YOU CAN DO THIS. That you aren’t going to let a little thing like a harsh critique or a few bad writing days in a row or a rejection letter or even hundreds of rejection letters or shelving a beloved manuscript and starting over again stop you. That when it comes right down to it, you are going to win because you never quit.

At the filming of her book trailer.

Be teachable.

When you first start writing, it is so easy to feel like you’re an expert. (If you’re in this blissful stage right now, enjoy it. Enjoy it A LOT.) But the truth is, the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. You can stay in that stage where you feel like you’re the expert for as long as you want, but you will never improve until you kick yourself out of it. And the only way to do that is by being teachable. When you have someone critique your work, and their critique hurts right down to the center of your soul, resist the urge to get defensive and to decide that they’re wrong. That they just didn’t get what you were going for, or think that they just aren’t as good of a writer as you, and therefore can be ignored. Let those feelings die down and then look at it with fresh eyes. There is truth in every critique if you are willing to be teachable. The thing about writing is that you will never get to the point where you can’t improve anymore, or where you don’t need to improve anymore. Yes. It’s both frustrating and awesome. The really great authors are the ones who never stop learning.

The kids playing Aaren, Hope, and Brock in the book trailer during their sky jumping scene.Be flexible.

Things rarely go according to plan in the writing world. From when you have planned to write, to that one scene not working out, to when you’re going to finish that draft, to when edits will be done, to when you plan to have an agent, to when your book sells, to where your book sells, to what marketing your book gets. Some of those things you can control. And some you can’t, no matter how hard you try to. You kind of just have to go with the flow, and accept that some things happen differently than you had hoped. Sometimes even after getting an agent, your book won’t sell. That’s when you change plans and write another one. Sometimes when you’re sitting down to write, your loved ones will need you. So you change plans and be with your family/friends. The more flexible you are, the more you will enjoy writing.

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

I am just finishing up the very last of edits for book two of Sky Jumpers, which comes out in a year, and I’m gearing up for my launch party for Sky Jumpers. It’s going to be a huge celebration, and I can’t wait!


Where to find Peggy online: Website - Blog - Twitter - Facebook

Her book blog tour continues tomorrow at the Society Of Young Inklings.


Peggy's agent, Sara Crowe, explains why she fell for Sky Jumpers - Literary Rambles

Cover Scoop: SKY JUMPERS by Peggy Eddleman - The Lucky 13s

SKY JUMPERS extras on Peggy's website

SKY JUMPERS on Goodreads


For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

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24. Happy International Dot Day!


International Dot Day is a celebration of creativity around the globe, inspired by Peter H. Reynolds' book, The Dot.

I was  invited to contribute to the Celebri-Dots gallery, and came up with the image above.

To authors and illustrators: If you're interested in contributing a Celebri-dot to help inspired young people, here's more info.

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25. Music video: Picture book writer Sue Fliess pitches with a Pitch Perfect musical parody

Love this.

You can find out more about Sue Fliess and her work at:  http://www.suefliess.com/

and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/SueFliess

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