Critter Lit

Write. Draw. Read. Repeat.

authors

Interview with Author/Illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, Illustrators, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so excited about today’s interview because our guest is…wait for it…

DEBBIE RIDPATH OHI!

I absolutely adore Debbie’s books and I’m thrilled to have her on Critter Lit and share her fabulous interview with you all. Debbie’s newest book, I’M WORRIED, written by Michael Ian Black, just released in June. If you haven’t read this series, you are missing out! I’M WORRIED is the third book in the I’m Bored! Series. The art is playful and wonderful and the text is spot on. Go check these books out! Debbie also offers incredible advice, templates, and posts about writing and illustrating children’s books on her site inkygirl.com.

So without further ado…please welcome Debbie Ridpath Ohi!

DebbieOhi-PhotoAnnieTruuvert-201807-DSC_0410-flat1000.jpg

Where do you live?

I live in Toronto, Canada.

How many years have you been in publishing?

It depends what you mean by publishing.

My first children’s book came out in 2012: I’M BORED was written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by me, and was published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. My first book for grown-ups came out in 2001: THE WRITER’S ONLINE MARKETPLACE published by Writer’s Digest Books.

I think that the first thing I ever had officially published was a series of comics I created when I was in high school which ended up appearing in a cross-Canada newspaper for schools. I ended up winning their overall writing contest - I won a typewriter!

But the very first thing I had unofficially published was a family magazine I created with the aid of my sister and brother called FAMILY WEEKLY. I was the editor, and we all contributed stories, comics, puzzles, contests, and jokes.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi and Michael Ian Black

Debbie Ridpath Ohi and Michael Ian Black

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

Yes! 

My first full-time job, was a computer programmer/analyst.

What inspires you to create picture books?

Interacting with young readers. 

Michael Ian Black and Debbie talk to young readers at Savoy Bank Street in Westerly, RI

Michael Ian Black and Debbie talk to young readers at Savoy Bank Street in Westerly, RI

What surprised you the most working as an author/illustrator?

When I first started illustrating picture books, I was amazed at how much creative input I had. I came from a writer’s world, after all, and used to think that a picture book illustrator just illustrated the author’s text. What I found: there is soooooooo much more to being a children’s book illustrator!

If I could give my young self some advice about writing picture books, it would be this: Leave room for your illustrator. Their creative vision matters just as much as yours. I feel incredibly lucky to have been working with authors, art directors and editors who understand this.

What is your favorite thing about being an author/illustrator?

Two favorite things:

  1. The part of the creative process when you fall so deeply into your work that everything else around you disappears.

  2. Talking with young readers.

What do you find difficult working as an author/illustrator?

Trying not to compare myself to others.

It’s hard not to do this, especially when I’m on social media so much!

The fact is that there are ALWAYS going to be people who seem to be in a better place than me, whether it’s book contracts or awards, bestseller lists, getting more attention and public praise, and so on.

Two things that help the most:

  • Trying to focus on enjoying my own journey at my own pace.

  • Talking with young readers and hearing about young readers who love my books. I know I’ve mentioned this earlier, but I do find this helps ground me, reminding me of what’s really important. Sure, I may not have made it onto such-and-such list or someone posted a bad review of my newest book BUT (!!!!) here’s this earnest 2nd-grader who tells me that reading my book inspired her to write a story or draw a picture or helped her in some way.

DebbieReadsImWorried-PotatoPile.png

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Read books. Get out of my office and take a walk. Going to SCBWI and CANSCAIP events. Hanging out in person with Kidlit friends. Read more books.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

What I find helps me the most: focusing on the FUN, and not being afraid to make mistakes.

For me, this means using inexpensive art materials during creative play. I find it hard to immerse myself in fun creative experimentation if I’m using a piece of watercolor paper that costs $5 a sheet, for example. 

Another important factor for me: uninterrupted focus time. This can be as short as 15 minutes, but I need to know that during that 15 minutes, I’m not going to be interrupted. This means no Internet, no phone calls, etc.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kid Lit community?

Omigosh - this is such a hard question because there have been so many!

Here’s just one: Lee Wardlaw was the first children’s book professional who ever encouraged me in my writing. She was also the one to first tell me about the SCBWI, introduced me to people at my very first conference. After working with me on my first middle grade mss, she introduced me to her agent, Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown. Ginger is now my agent.

Recommended reading?

One of my favorite writing craft books right now is THE MAGIC WORDS: Writing Great Books For Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

So many highlights to choose from! I’m grateful for all of them.

But I would say one personal highlight was meeting Judy Blume in person after illustrating some of her revamped middle grade and chapter books with Atheneum / Simon & Schuster Children’s.

Photo by my Simon & Schuster editor Justin Chanda, moments after I burst into tears after Justin introduced me to Judy Blume.

Photo by my Simon & Schuster editor Justin Chanda, moments after I burst into tears after Justin introduced me to Judy Blume.

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing/illustrating?

Working on your craft is important, it’s true, but you also need to get out and start meeting people in the industry. Yes, you are an introvert who dreads the whole idea of “networking” - but you CAN learn how to do it, and will make good friends in the process.

Also, be prepared for rejections. Many, many rejections. Learning how to handle rejection is an essential skill before and after publication.

Can you tell us about your newest book?

I’M WORRIED is a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by me (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers), and is part of the I’M.... series of books about emotions. The first was I’M BORED and the second was I’M SAD.

This newest book in the series is about Potato, who is worried about everything. Because anything might happen. When he tells his friends, he expects them to comfort him by saying that everything will be okay. Except they don’t. Because it might not be, and that’s okay too. Still, there’s one thing they can promise for sure: no matter what happens…they will always be by his side.

Im Worried JKT-1500.jpg
Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

What’s up next for you?

I’m working on illustrations for GURPLE & PREEN, a picture book story written by Linda Sue Park. I’m excited about this project because Linda Sue wrote it especially for me to illustrate with my broken crayon art! Our book is coming out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2020.

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

Intelligent perseverance is as important as talent.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

So hard to choose! I’m torn between Back To The Future (1985) and E.T. (1982).


Huge thank you to Debbie for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited about all of your fabulous books! Congrats on all your success!


DEBBIE RIDPATH OHI is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? (2015) and Sam & Eva (Simon & Schuster, 2017). Her writing and/or illustrations have appeared in over 20 books for young people, including titles by Michael Ian Black, Judy Blume, Rob Sanders, Aaron Reynolds, Lauren McLaughlin and Colby Sharp. Her newest book is I'm Worried, a sequel to NY Times Notable I'm Bored and I'm Sad, written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie. Debbie posts about reading, writing and illustrating children’s books at Inkygirl.com. You can find out more about Debbie and her work at DebbieOhi.com as well as on Twitter at @inkyelbows and Instagram at @inkygirl.

TO ORDER Debbie’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of I’M WORRIED?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, July 25th! US addresses only please.

Interview with Debut Author Cathy Ballou Mealey

Authors, book release, Debut InterviewsLindsay Ward7 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have an interview with author Cathy Ballou Mealey! Her debut picture book, WHEN A TREE GROWS, illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska, just released this month with Sterling Children’s Books. I’m so excited to share this brand new book with you all today! Here’s a sneak peek:

When Moose sees the inviting tree where Squirrel has built his nest, he rubs his itchy antlers against the trunk—and sets in motion a chain of comic catastrophes. The tree falls and wakes Bear, who stumbles into Moose, who causes a truck driver to swerve off the road. But then Squirrel jumps onto that truck and ends up in the city, all alone. Who will help him get home? And how will Squirrel thank them? Kids will love this adorable picture book, with its irresistible animal characters and rhythmic text that’s made for reading out loud.

So without further ado…please welcome Cathy Ballou Mealey!

Cathy Mealey headshot.jpg

Where do you live?

I have lived in Massachusetts all my life. I grew up just below the Vermont/New Hampshire border, and went to college in Metrowest. After a decade in Cambridge, I’m currently on the fabulous North Shore.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I wrote my first picture book in 2010 to enter the Cheerios “Spoonful of Stories” contest. Even though “Ozzie the Oyster” was definitely not ready for publication, my prize was discovering a passion for the craft of picture book writing. After attending conferences, classes and workshops, I joined SCBWI, the 2012 12X12 Challenge and two critique groups. I have been writing, revising and studying ever since.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

Drafting TREE took roughly 6 weeks before I had a preliminary version to share with critique partners. I used multiple revision tactics to trim text and tighten the storyline. I plastered sticky notes on my door to rearrange the scene sequence. I pasted sentence strips into a book dummy loaded with stick-critter sketches. When friends urged me to send out the revised TREE, I started to query agents. In May 2015 I signed with Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency and by December TREE was putting down roots at Sterling Books for Children.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Scribble my idea into a notebook and mull it over. Develop a pitch. Research some related non-fiction titles from the library about moose, squirrels, bears, etc. Mull some more. Write a long, rambling draft. Chew on word choices. Revise, re-write. Plunk text into a word cloud generator like WordItOut or Wordle, draft a few rhyming lines, make a dummy with stick figures. Revise until it is ready for critique group. Mull over feedback. Revise, rinse, and repeat until ready!

WHEN A TREE GROWS WordCloud.png

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Go for a long walk outdoors. Visit a museum. Browse the greeting card section of my favorite stationery store. Bring my son to a playground and eavesdrop on the kid chatter!

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

A window. Natural light. Being able to gaze at the sky or trees. I watched a lot of squirrel activity while writing When A Tree Grows, and kept my camera close at hand.

AAA prize squirrel.JPG

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

Every up-and-coming writer yet to be published inspires me. Making book dreams come true is tough, especially when balancing the demands of career, family life, and community responsibilities. Those who consistently carve out time to nurture that writing spark inspire me to work harder, write better, persevere.

I have so little drawing ability that I am floored by almost every illustrator’s work in one fashion or another. Particular favorites to pore over include Catherine Rayner, Hadley Hooper, and Melissa Sweet. I’m so grateful to Kasia Nowowiejska for her dedicated efforts to make WHEN A TREE GROWS the very best book it could be.

Dream project to work on?

This is such an interesting question! I can’t name a specific dream project. However, there are certainly manuscripts that I’ve pored blood, sweat and tears into that I would love to see become real, live books one day.

Interior Spread - WHEN A TREE GROWS

Interior Spread - WHEN A TREE GROWS

Tell us about your debut book.

WHEN A TREE GROWS is a rollicking read-aloud that follows a zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose. Kirkus gave it a lovely review, saying “Laugh along as a story about a tree in the forest comes full circle, bringing three creatures along for a bumpy but fun ride.”

What’s up next for you?

Next up for me is a still-secret picture book with an amazing publisher in Canada. A sloth and a squirrel team up for a special mission. Look for an announcement soon, and a book sometime in 2021!

And last, but not least, favorite 80’s movie?

An 80’s movie set in 1963 - Dirty Dancing.

RIP Patrick Swayze.

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”


Huge thank you to Cathy for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited for your debut and can’t wait to see what’s next!


CATHY BALLOU MEALEY lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a moose to appear. Her favorite nut is the hazelnut and her favorite cupcake is cardamom crème.

Her debut book, WHEN A TREE GROWS, is a rollicking read-aloud that follows a zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Cathy and her work, visit her online here or follow her on social media:

Twitter: @CatBallouMealey

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cathy.mealey

Instagram: @catballoumealey

TO ORDER Cathy’s book, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of WHEN A TREE GROWS?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, April 18th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author Natascha Biebow!

Interview with Debut Author Jonathan Stutzman

Authors, Debut Interviews, InterviewsLindsay Ward6 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! This week we have an interview with debut author Jonathan Stutzman. I’m so excited to share his work with you all— his debut picture book, TINY T. REX AND THE IMPOSSIBLE HUG, illustrated by Jay Fleck, is already a favorite in our household and has become a regular request at bedtime.

So without further ado…please welcome Jonathan Stutzman!

Stutz headshot 3.jpg

Where do you live?

I live right outside of Hershey, Pennsylvania (the land of chocolate!).

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

I love telling stories, I think I always have, and I’ve been tinkering with different ways of doing that since I was a child. I wrote my first comic book when I was 9 or 10 and my first picture book when I was 11. I tried making one with a friend again while I was in film school, but it wasn’t until I met my fiancée (illustrator Heather Fox) that I really dove into picture books. I worked on a school project with her (which we self-published) and it was SO MUCH FUN. I started spending a lot of time in the kids section at my local library and the bookstore, reading a bunch of the classics as well as popular current titles. I connected with them instantly. The mix of words and images, the page turns, it reminded me a lot of filmmaking, which I studied in college and grad school. The visual storytelling of picture books held a similar power and poetry for me.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

So my first published writing was actually some “Tiny stories” I wrote for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tiny Book of Tiny Stories Vol 1-3. I submitted to his collaborative online company Hitrecord, they liked them, and a handful ended up in all three volumes of the series. It was such a fun experience collaborating with people I never met. And then finding those books at bookstores, seeing my words on the page, it lit a fire in me. It’s mind blowing and humbling to know that strangers all around the world are reading something you wrote. There is magic to it, a reminder that we are all connected, and it only deepened my love of storytelling.

A year or two later I met Heather. As I mentioned before we self-published a book together on a whim, and we had such a blast doing it we thought, why don’t we try to find an agent and do this full time? So we spent many many hours researching, both the nuances of picture book storytelling as well as the publishing industry. I will always repeat this to anyone who dreams of being published: we had no idea what we were doing. We just made it up as we went. It’s ok if you are as lost and naive as we were. 

I’m very passionate about things I like. So when I fell for picture books I fell hard. I wanted to know everything. I read STACKS of books. I bought too many. I acquired library fines. I began writing a bunch of stories from the ideas building up. Of course, I thought the ones I wrote were absolutely terrible, but thankfully Heather was there to encourage me and push me to just maybe… take a chance and submit queries. We worked together to tighten up our WIP (Butts Are Everywhere), Heather made adorable illustrations to go with it, and I compiled a list of the top agents to query (which I found just looking online). I kept tinkering away at the story and would probably still be doing that to this day if not for Heather, who with a swift and firm “Send it NOW, Jonathan”, pushed me to hit send.

Can you share a bit about your process?

Well I think being inspired is always first, and there are many ways to be inspired. For me they often come when I’m reading or watching a movie or listening to music. Something will trigger a new idea or a character or a title. I’m weird, I often think of titles first and then dive into characters. Do other people do that? Once I have the idea I write out the story. Spend time reworking it, reading it out loud over and over, trying to feel out the page turns and momentum of the story. Often I’m writing multiple at one time. I jump from idea to idea. Whatever is feeling exciting at the moment. For me I have to feel something about the story in order to put my time and energy in it.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

This again goes back to being inspired. I rarely “take a break” because I find writing and storytelling to be incredibly fun and so woven into the fabric of who I am. Sure I go hang out with my friends, watch movies, have adventures, and enjoy the world, but the entire time I’m also thinking about stories. Reworking them in my head, piecing things together. I think most writers or creative people work that way. If you are finding joy and life in the people and the world around you, creative inspiration will be hitting you from all sides. 

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Coffee. Also, I love being surrounded by books while I work.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

There are so many. I’m constantly amazed at the writers and illustrators working today and all the amazing books being made. Not to mention all the brilliance of the past. Neil Gaiman is my favorite author, and Jacqueline Woodson is magic at everything she does. I love comic strips, so Schultz’ Peanuts, Larson’s The Far Side, Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes really inspire me. For kid lit, there are too many to name them all, but here are a few creators working today that inspire me: Isabelle Arsenault, Dan Santat, The Fan Brothers, Corinna Luyken, Kazu Kibuishi, Ame Dyckman, Christian Robinson, Carson Ellis. And Heather! She’s my creative partner in crime and she inspires me daily. I feel so lucky to make such silly and fun books with her!

Dream project to work on?

Every project feels like a dream project. That sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I can’t believe I get to write stories that get made into books, let alone having a chance to work with incredible illustrators that create beautiful, adorable art for my words. I work with Heather every day on so many fun books. I have a series with Jay Fleck. A book coming out with Joseph Kuefler. And one with Dan Santat. Like I said, every one is a dream project. It still doesn’t seem real to be able to be making books with such talented creators.

Tell us about your debut book.

TINY T. REX AND THE IMPOSSIBLE HUG is the first book in a picture book series with Chronicle Books. It follows the diminutive, but plucky Tiny T. Rex who is determined to find a way to cheer up his best friend, Pointy. Tiny decides hugging is the way to go, even though his tiny arms (as is the t-rex way) make hugging very difficult. Tiny asks his family for advice and overcomes many obstacles to show that the biggest hugs come from the biggest hearts. I wanted a character that kids could cheer for, but also encouraged them to remember their own agency. That they too can make a difference in the world, and in someone’s life, no matter the odds stacked against them.

What’s up next for you?

I have so many exciting projects coming up, a few I mentioned before. The next twp picture books are with Heather, Llama Destroys the World (May 7th, Macmillan), and Don’t Feed the Coos (January 2020). Book 2 of the Tiny T. Rex series comes out next spring, as does another silly picture book with Heather, Butts Are Everywhere (Putnam/Penguin).

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

OH That is difficult. There are so many great ones. I guess I’d have to Empire Strikes Back or E.T. Extra Terrestrial, which are two of my favorite movies ever.


Thanks so much for stopping by Critter Lit today Jonathan! We can’t wait to see all your amazing books. Huge congrats on all your success!


Jonathan Stutzman is an award-winning filmmaker and writer. His short films have screened at film festivals all over the world and on television. He lives outside Hershey, Pennsylvania.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Jonathan and his work visit him online here or follow him on Twitter @dustdancestoo or Instagram @thedustdancestoo.

TO ORDER Jonathan’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of TINY T. REX AND THE IMPOSSIBLE HUG?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, April 4th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author and illustrator and husband and wife team Megan + Jorge Lacera!

Critter Lit Call for Questions

Authors + Illustrators, Authors, Craft, publishingLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today I’m reaching out to find out about YOUR questions. Questions about writing, illustrating, querying, submissions, publishing— and everything else in between. Critter Lit will begin featuring a Q & A post every month answering YOUR questions. So send them over to lindsay@critterlit.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

xo

Lindsay

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author Jonathan Stutzman!

WriteOnCon 2019 Blog Post: Working Full-time as an Author/Illustrator

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, Craft, IllustratorsLindsay Ward7 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Earlier this month I had the opportunity to present at WriteOnCon, a wonderful online conference for the Kidlit community. If you don’t know what WriteOnCon is, make sure to check it out next year!

Recently, I’ve been receiving some questions about what it’s like to be a full-time author and illustrator, which oddly enough was the topic of my blog post for WriteOnCon this year. I’ve been making picture books full-time for almost nine years now. There have been many ups and downs. Some years have been fantastic, and others have been scary and awful. (Sorry!) That’s probably not what you want to hear. Okay, let me start again…

Here’s what I know about doing this amazing, terrifying, and creative job that we do as writers and illustrators full-time:

  • If you don’t love it, it’s not going to work. I mean really love it. Like a child. (I don’t say that lightly, I have two kiddos myself). Like children, making books is both exhilarating and exhausting. And you have to be able to roll with that, which isn’t always easy. But, let’s be honest, the best things in life never are.

  • Commit to your craft. Even if you aren’t doing this full-time. Carve out time to be creative, ideally every day (if you can), but whatever time you can dedicate, be consistent with it. Even though I don’t leave my house to work, I still treat it like a job in that I go for a designated time, to a designated space.

  • Your creative space is sacred. Make a space for yourself that you feel completely comfortable in, designated for your craft. A place you can foster creativity. It could be a spare bedroom, a small den, a closet! (If Harry Potter can live in one, you can certainly write in one!) Whatever works for you. But NOT the dining room table or another shared communal space. This space should be just for you and your craft.

  • Respect your craft. Nurture it. Let it flourish. Take care of it.

  • Patience. Patience. Patience. Practice patience every day. You’ll need it. Especially if you are able to make the jump to creating books full-time. Publishing is notoriously slow.

  • Balance. I can’t stress this one enough. I do not believe in working a creative job like a normal, full-time, eight-hour-a-day one. Creativity requires balance. It means taking a break and going for a walk. Or stepping out of your studio to run some errands. Or going for a swim. I’m not talking about procrastination. Think of it more as meditation. I may be going for a walk, but I’m contemplating my work. Mulling it over. Considering all the pieces in order to understand how to put them together.

So here’s what a typical day for me as a full-time author/illustrator looks like:

5:00 a.m.  - Wake up, make coffee, head to my studio.

7:00 a.m. - Get my kiddos up, eat breakfast, get ready for the day (at this point I’ve already worked two hours, uninterrupted by kids and life, which for me, is an incredibly productive and positive way to start the day).

8:00 a.m. - Go for a family walk with my husband (who also works from home), my two kiddos, and our dog. We live in a national park, so walking and hiking is a big part of our day to day and the balance I try to maintain in my workday. 

9:00 a.m. - Come home, put my 15-month-old down for a nap. If it’s not a school day for my three-year-old, then my husband watches him while I go back to work for another two hours.

11:00 a.m. - Make lunch. Take over watching the kiddos while my husband works in his office. I’m done working for the day. I typically only do four hours of creative work a day. It doesn’t sound like much, but I find I’m incredibly productive in those four hours.

The rest of the day is filled with a mix of naps, errands, taking care of stuff around the house, and making dinner.

7:30 p.m. - kiddos are in bed. I tackle emails, play catch-up (writing blog posts like this one), and do some editorial work, either with my husband or on manuscripts submitted through Critter Lit.

Then I get up and do it all over again. This may sound crazy. But somehow we make it work— watching our kids ourselves and working. Don’t get me wrong, there are days where life is nuts in our house, but most days it works. Most days it’s a balancing act. A dance of sorts.

Now, I’m going to tell you this next part to push you. Because the one thing I hear all that time from aspiring writers and illustrators is that they don’t have time to commit to their craft. But here’s the thing…time is what you make it. And if you don’t respect your craft enough to make time for it, then you may as well let it go. You have to believe in the value of your work. No one is going to do it for you.

My plate is full. Like really full. Just like all of you. We are all super busy. In addition to writing and illustrating picture books, I run a small stationery and design business with my mom. Two years ago I decided to start a Critter Lit, offering free critiques, interviews, and advice to up-and-coming writers and illustrators. I have two kiddos under the age of four. We live in a constant state of renovation because my husband and I decided to buy a total fixer-upper. This is my life. I tell you this not to impress you. I tell you because if I can make time, then so can you.

Now go make time for your craft. You totally got this!

Interview with Author Sue Fliess

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward8 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! It’s been a big week! Huge congrats to all the winners and honors from the ALA Youth Media Awards this past Monday. So many beautiful books to celebrate. If you haven’t had a chance to check out all the books honored this year, click here.

Also this week (today actually!) the Writing With the Stars mentorship program will announce the mentees chosen for this year’s contest. If you haven’t heard of this program and are an aspiring picture book author, illustrator, or author/illustrator, make sure to check it out and apply next year. This is an awesome contest run by picture book authors and sisters, Becky Cattie and Tara Leubbe, who both volunteer their time to give back to the Kidlit community. This is the second year I will be participating as a mentor and I’m so thrilled to be apart of this wonderful opportunity for new writers and illustrators.

Okay, now let’s get to our interview today!

YOU GUYS! TODAY WE HAVE SUE FLIESS! I’m so excited! We are big fans of Sue’s work here in our house. My three-year-old LOVES Tons of Trucks and The Bug Book. I was lucky enough to meet Sue last summer at ALA. She is incredibly funny and talented and I adore the playfulness in her picture books.

So without further ado, please welcome SUE FLIESS!

fullsizeoutput_f49.jpg

Where do you live?

Ashburn, in Northern Virginia 

How many years have you been in publishing?

I started my journey in children’s publishing in 2005. 

How did you first get published?

I attribute nearly all my success to the connections and industry knowledge I gained from being an active member of SCBWI (for those who don’t know, that’s the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators). 

How many books have you published?

I have 27 books out in the world, and 6 currently under contract, coming out between now and sometime in 2020. 

Do you write full-time?

Yes. Hooray for that! But let’s use ‘write’ loosely, as so many other book-related tasks must share that writing time. 

What inspires you to create picture books?

They’re just more fun to write than any other kind of story! So, I guess the pure joy of letting my brain enter that wacky realm, keeps me coming back for more. 

What surprised you the most working as an author?

How motivated I would be to continue to sell more manuscripts. I thought once I sold one, the fire in my belly would dim a bit, but it had the opposite effect. The sale of my first book lit an inferno and I’ve been on a writing tear ever since.   

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

Having my own schedule (barring any publisher deadlines), being my own boss as far as writing what I want to write/feel passionate about, and visiting schools and meeting the readers/teachers/librarians. 

What do you find difficult working as an author?

Prioritizing the ‘tougher’ writing. I tend to procrastinate on the writing that I’m struggling with. I have been “writing” a middle grade novel for going on 7 years now. Ha! But I keep getting ideas or publisher asks for new picture books, and they get moved to the top of my writing list, naturally. 

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Lots of things. 

I go to the library and read books or if the timing is right, I’ll attend a writing conference, which always inspires. Sometimes I’ll meet other writers for lunch, or go on a weekend writing retreat. And my remote critique group meets once a month via Google Hangout, and often that is the kick in the pants I need to get back on track.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

COFFEE. I’m joking, sort of, but I just need to be awake and alert to be creative. Coffee helps. 

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the kid lit community?

There are so many! I would say any time another author/illustrator takes the time to boost my book(s), attend a book signing, or refer me to a school for a school visit. Also, when I was starting out, a few authors took the time to meet with me for coffee – the dreaded ‘pick your brain’ conversation! I accept these invites now too when I can, to pay it forward, because I know there is nothing like talking with someone actually doing what you aspire to do. 

Recommended reading?

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and any books that are in the genre/style you wish to write in. 

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

Again, this is too difficult! Any time I sign a new contract for a book is a highlight – a complete joy and reward. I would say that the real highlights though, come in the form of the children I meet at school visits, who think I’m the greatest thing since…video games. I get big hugs and hear things like, “Can you adopt me?” or “This has been the best day of my life!” You cannot beat that. 

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing?

It doesn’t matter how many books you have out, how many awards/honors you received, you will still have book events that are poorly-attended. Unpredictability is just part of the gig. Also, sometimes the book that was the ‘best thing you ever wrote’ and took you forever to get right, does not sell, but the one that just poured out in no time, gets scooped up right away. 

Tell us about your newest book?

My newest book is called NINJA CAMP, and it just released on January 8! It follows the story of a group of campers who attend a summer ninja camp in the hopes of receiving the training they need to become the Ninjas of the Night. But they must be brave and guard the Shadow Blade…and when the rival camp invades and steals the relic, they must use their new skills to get it back. It’s in rhyme, and has a fast pace, and is fun to read aloud. 

What’s up next for you?

I have a BIG year of books ahead, for which I’m so grateful! But I do dread the fact that I’ll be talking about myself all year on social media. So do a girl a favor and retweet me, yeah? Hehe. 

On February 5, HOW TO TRACK AN EASTER BUNNY, illustrated by Simona Sanfilippo, releases with Sky Pony Press.

On March 1, THE EARTH GIVES MORE, illustrated by Christiane Engel, releases with Albert Whitman & Co. 

This fall, HOW TO TRICK A CHRISTMAS ELF, also illustrated by Simona Sanfilippo, comes out. 

Finally, LITTLE RED RHYMING HOOD publishes October 1 with Albert Whitman, illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis. 

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

Don’t give up. It sounds so cliché, but there is a lot of rejection in this business, and it’s important to remember that it is such a subjective industry. Keep working on your craft and your story will find a home. 

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Pretty in Pink. Story arc, soundtrack, actors—all of it! 


Thank you so much for stopping by Critter Lit today Sue! We can’t wait to check out all the wonderful books you have coming out this year! So exciting!


Sue Fliess ("fleece") is the bestselling author of Robots, Robots Everywhere!, How to Trap a Leprechaun, and 25 other children's books, including Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins, Mary Had a Little Lab, Ninja Camp, Tons of Trucks, and many Little Golden Books. Her books have sold over 850k copies worldwide. Her background is in copywriting and PR/marketing, and her essays have been in O Magazine, HuffPo, Writer's Digest, & more. Fliess has also written for Walt Disney. Her books have received honors from SCBWI, have been used in school curricula, museum educational programs, been named to A Mighty Girl's Best Books lists, and have even been translated into French and Chinese. The Bug Book was chosen for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. Mary Had a Little Lab was named to Oklahoma's Redbud Read-Aloud Award master list and made the top 10 for Rhyme Revolution's Best in Rhyme award. She's a member of SCBWI & Children's Book Guild of DC. She does school visits and speaking engagements and lives with her family in No. Virginia. Visit her at www.suefliess.com.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Sue and her work visit her website: www.suefliess.com or follow her on Twitter @SueFliess

TO PRE-ORDER Sue’s newest book, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of NINJA CAMP?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, February 7th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author Laura Roettiger.

Interview with Debut Author Hannah Holt

Debut Interviews, Authors, InterviewsLindsay Ward14 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! This week we have an interview with debut author Hannah Holt! I’m so excited to be featuring a non-fiction picture book biography this week with Hannah’s debut book, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY: THE CREATION OF DIAMONDS & THE LIFE OF H. TRACY HALL, illustrated by Jay Fleck. This is such an inventive picture book, told in two narratives, about Hannah’s grandfather, H. Tracy Hall, and the fascinating process of how diamonds are created.

So without further ado, please welcome Hannah Holt!

HannahHolt_small.jpg

Where do you live?

I live in Oregon with my husband, four children, and a pet cat.

When did you know you wanted to write picture books?

One Christmas during graduate school, my husband and I didn't have money for presents, so I created handmade comic books. While I worked I wondered: what if I gave myself year to write a children's book?

After a year, I realized I would need more time and gave myself a decade to pursue publishing a children's bookSeven years into that decade, I sold my first picture book, The Diamond & The Boy, to Balzer+Bray.

Tell us about your road to publication, what did that involve for you?

I began writing ten years ago. During my first year, I received only form rejections and non-replies. By my second year, I had started receiving personal rejections and requests for more work. 

Then my twins were born. With four children ages five and under, I took a year break from writing, so I could attempt sleep every now and then.

After a year away, the writing itch returned stronger than ever, and I joined Julie Hedlund's 12x12 challenge. Two years after my writing reset, I signed with agent Danielle Smith. That didn't work out, so we parted ways.

After another year of querying, I signed with my second agent, Laura Biagi. Oh my heavens, it was such a difference working with a real advocate for my work! We sold two books together. Then she left agenting to pursue her own writing.

Publishing is full of twist and turns, but I try to focus on things I can control, like improving my craft.

Can you share a bit about your process?

I'm the type of writer that needs to revise many times before I have a submission ready piece. I wrote more than eighty drafts of The Diamond & the Boy before it sold. Similarly I wrote more than forty drafts of A Father's Love before it sold. Some authors might find perfection after five or so drafts. It just doesn't work that way for me.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

I've never had a problem with ideas (knock on wood!). Ideas always seem to come in spades. It's the execution of those ideas that plagues me. It's not unusual for me to try a story from several different points of view or to write drafts in both verse and prose. I keep trying until I find a direction that resonates.

Anything you can’t live without while you write?

Snacks! When I get stuck, I take a snack break. Snacks make everything better.

Any authors and/or illustrators who inspire you?

There are so many legends I look up to, but here are two authors that might be new to your readers:

Jessie Oliveros has a beautiful picture book about sharing memories called The Remember Balloons. Dana Wulfekotte's limited palette illustrations are a perfect match for the text. I read a lot of picture books, and this one is something special.

Tina Cho recently released a picture book about a girl in South Korea trying to help her neighbors to the north called Rice From Heaven. The language is lyrical and moving.

Dream project to work on?

This isn't necessarily a dream project, but I hope to publish a middle grade novel one day. I've written two so far, but they were both so terrible I never sent them out. I would like to write a middle grade novel someday that doesn't stink.

Tell us about your debut book.

The Diamond & the Boy is a biography of my grandfather, inventor H. Tracy Hall. However, it's also the story of how graphite transforms into a diamond. This dual narrative story covers the two stories side-by-side. From the jacket flap:

"Before a diamond is a gem, it’s a common gray rock called graphite. Through an intense trial of heat and pressure, it changes into one of the most valuable stones in the world.

Before Tracy Hall was an inventor, he was a boy—born into poverty, bullied by peers, forced to work at an early age. However, through education and experimentation, he became one of the brightest innovators of the twentieth century, eventually building a revolutionary machine that makes diamonds.

From debut author Hannah Holt—the granddaughter of Tracy Hall—and illustrator Jay Fleck comes this fascinating in-depth portrait of both rock and man."

What’s up next for you?

My second book, A FATHER’S LOVE, comes out in 2019 just in time for Father’s Day. It’s a lyrical non-fiction picture book that celebrates different types of animal father’s from all around the world.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

Better Off Dead


Huge thank you to Hannah Holt for stopping by Critter Lit to chat today! We can’t wait to see all of your upcoming books!


Hannah Holt is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond & The Boy (2018, Balzer+Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She and her family enjoy reading, hiking, and eating chocolate chip cookies.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Hannah and her work visit her website: www.hannahholt.com or follow her on Twitter @HannahWHolt

TO ORDER a copy of Hannah’s wonderful books, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a SIGNED copy of THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY: THE CREATION OF DIAMONDS & THE LIFE OF H. TRACY HALL?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, December 13th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Interview with author/illustrator Corinna Luyken!

Interview with Author Tricia Springstubb

Authors, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so excited for today’s interview because it’s with none other than the fabulously talented Tricia Springstubb, who also happens to be a friend of mine and fellow local author here in the Cleveland area. Tricia writes early chapter books, middle grade, and picture books—she’s a triple threat! Many of you may know her from her latest series, the CODY books, which are wonderful! Here at my house, we are big fans of PHOEBE AND THE DIGGER. Her writing is lovely, insightful, and powerful. I’m honored to share her work with you today and give you all a sneak peek at her process.

So without further ado, please welcome Tricia Springstubb!

kentucky.jpg

Where do you live?

I live in Cleveland Heights with my husband, my garden and Billy the cat. We have three grown daughters and here’s how lucky we are--our two grandbabies live a bicycle ride away. 

How many years have you been in publishing?

I’ve been publishing since prehistoric times.  

Do you write full-time?

Yes--I told you I’m lucky! 

What inspires you to create books for children?

Children are the world’s most passionate readers—no one believes in and cares about story more deeply than they do. The world is still so new for them, and their hearts are wide open. I feel privileged to write for them. 

What surprised you the most working as an author?

That children treat you like a rock star!

What is your favorite thing about being an author?

I still get the craziest thrill when I find one of my books on a library or bookstore shelf. 

Also, I love working with illustrators. I’ve been so lucky (lucky!) to have many talented, visionary artists do the covers and spot art for my novels. The illustrators for my picture books and chapter books make the whole much greater than the sum of its parts. I’m always so excited getting those first sketches. You feel you know your story inside out, and then you see it through the artist’s eyes and it takes on a whole new, rich dimension.  

What do you find difficult working as an author?

When I’ve lost my way and know that I need to go back in for a major revision or possibly even start over from scratch. There’s a certain relief in scrapping something you know isn’t working, but it’s also hard to let go of all those weeks and months of writing.  

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

I always write in the morning, when I’m closest to my dreams and before the world has a chance to make me cranky. After I finish, I go for a long walk or, in summer, a swim. Almost always I get another idea or two, or untangle some knot in the plot-- I make sure to carry pen and notebook in my pocket or swim bag! 

 Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the kid lit community?

Kid lit has always been a warm and generous community, and it’s getting even better. Social media has allowed us to come together over so many wonderful causes. Just in the last few months, I’ve been part of #kidsneedbooks, where we donate books to teachers who need them for classroom libraries, and #kidsneedmentors, where we’re partnering with teachers and students to encourage writing and creativity of all kinds.  

What is your favorite picture book?

Yesterday I’d have said Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. Today I’ll say Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Tomorrow I might say Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown. Can you tell I’m re-visiting the classics with my grandbabies? I couldn’t even begin to choose among contemporary picture books—one after another, they are breaking new ground in text and art. Breath-taking!  

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing?

What a slow, slow writer I am, and how there seems to be no help for it. I try to tell myself that I’m creating something that never existed before, something I hope will last for a long time—but I still wish I didn’t have to go through a zillion drafts every time!!! (Maybe it’s better that I didn’t know all this when I first started.) 

Tell us about your most recent book?

This past spring, the fourth and last book in my Cody series published. Cody and the Heart of a Champion rounds out a year in the life of Cody, her family, her neighbors and friends. The books are inspired by my own diverse, lively, Cleveland neighborhood. They’re about the things that loom big in kids’ lives: whether the teacher likes you; how to do the right thing even when it’s really hard; not being good at soccer. Every few pages there’s an illustration by the genius Eliza Wheeler, who gives the characters and settings the perfect comic and sweet (but never too sweet) touch. 

What’s up next for you?

I’m revising a new middle grade novel of which I must not yet speak, and looking forward to my new picture book, Khalil and Mr. Hagerty. Candlewick will publish it in 2020. It’s inspired both by my late grandfather and by an Iraqi refugee family with whom my family has become close friends. The illustrator is Elaheh Taherian and you really, really want to look up her work right now at elahehtaherian.com

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

In the 80s we were raising our three kids and I swear we didn’t go to the movies more than twice the whole decade. I remember loving Tootsie but I’m not sure if that’s because it was good or I was so happy to get out of the house. I pretend to have seen The Goonies even though (ssh) I really haven’t.


Huge thank you to Tricia Springstubb for stopping by Critter Lit to chat today! We can’t wait to see all of your upcoming books!


Tricia has been publishing picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels for over thirty years. Her work has received many starred reviews and appeared on numerous Best of the Year lists. Her books have won the Parents Choice Silver Award and the Ohioana Award for Children’s Literature, been nominated for state reading awards, and been chosen by the Junior Library Guild. She is a frequent speaker at schools, libraries and conferences.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Tricia and her work visit her website: triciaspringstubb.com or follow her on Twitter @springstubb.

TO ORDER a copy of any of Tricia’s wonderful books, ring up your local bookstore, or click here.


BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of CODY AND THE FOUNTAIN OF HAPPINESS?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, December 6th! US addresses only please.

What's up on deck? Tune in next week for a Critter Lit Interview with debut author Hannah Holt!

Fighting the Writing

Craft, Authors, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today’s craft post is all about fighting the writing.

Being Type-A, I work around a pretty structured schedule, it’s the only way I can get anything done—and I stay pretty busy between all of the plates I’m spinning on any given day. That being said, there are days, more than I would like to admit, where getting words on the page is like pulling teeth. I sit, staring at the computer screen, waiting for something brilliant to come to me, which to be honest, never does when I try to force it. The cursor blinks at me, laughing. Or so it feels…

So how do you pull yourself out of that? How do you sit down and write when it’s the last thing you want to do? The answer is pretty simple, but you’re not going to like it: YOU JUST HAVE TO WRITE THROUGH IT. Write through the fog and the self-doubt and the fear. I’m a firm believer that you have to write a bunch of crap to get to the good stuff. I wish there was a more eloquent way to say that, but I’m sorry, there’s just not. The muse is fleeting and unpredictable, but when she shows up everything suddenly clicks into place and the magic starts to happen. Getting there…well, sometimes it’s hell.

I make the mistake of self-editing while I write. I want it to be perfect the first time I do it, which as anyone who writes knows, is just ridiculous! Writing is revision and inspection and constant consideration. We write because we have too. You wouldn’t put yourself through the agony of it all if you didn’t absolutely have to do it. If it wasn’t apart of who you are, right? Otherwise, you would be miserable constantly.

For me the trick is consistency. Make a commitment to your craft. Do it every day, in some form or another. Now, I say that because I’m not someone who physically writes every day. I tend to be very cerebral with how I work. I used to beat myself up over that, feeling as though I wasn’t writing enough. Conceptually, most of the framework for my books happens in thought, not with actual pen and paper. But I make time for contemplating my work every day, usually on walks with our dog. And when I say contemplating, I don’t mean procrastinating. I mean actual problem-solving. I generally only sit down to write and/or sketch when I feel ready (unless I’m trying to force it, as previously mentioned, which is never a good idea). Sometimes that’s days…months…or years (WHEN BLUE MET EGG is a perfect example of years).

Creatively, everyone works differently. Each manuscript is its own challenge and will require flexibility in variation from you. So don’t do that thing where you go on Twitter and you read about fabulous book deals while your blank document glares at you with its oppressively, blinding light. That certainly won’t help you get to the good stuff. Nor will it inspire you. As much as I love how connective and supportive social media can be, it can also be incredibly distracting and isolating. You have to learn to tune out the white noise. Which I realize is a lot easier said than done. Whether that white noise is you, your peers, or the internet, find a way to unplug and focus on the work.

So now that I’ve told you to make a commitment to your craft, I’m also going to tell you to take a break from it. Often. Creative work, and life for that matter, is all about balance. But it’s really easy to throw yourself off balance and continue stumbling around without even realizing it’s happening. So make time to get away. Experience the world. See new things. Spend time with loved ones. Read a book! Whether it’s for a ten-minute walk or month-long vacation, just step away. I can’t stress the importance of getting out of your own head and re-charging enough.

I’m a list person. They give me a sense of control and accomplishment in my busy life. Which, I know, sounds silly, but it’s oh so true. So I’m going to suggest this: write down your commitments. Your commitment to your craft and to taking a break. How much time will you allow yourself for both? Make a note of that. Then try to stick with it. I find that writing it down makes it more important and real. Preferably in a place where you can see it, first thing, every day.

I know how easy it is for life to get in the way. Day jobs, relationships, kids— they all require precious amounts of your time. But if you are really serious about writing (and/or illustrating) you have to make time for it amidst everything else. Because you have to. It’s what you are passionate about, right?

So go out there and write some good stuff!

Until next time…

Happy Writing!

Lindsay


What’s up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator and art director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Lucy Ruth Cummins!

Halloween Book Picks | October 2018

Recommended Reading, Holiday BooksLindsay WardComment

Happy Halloween Critters! I know it’s a little early, and we still have the rest of October to go, but Halloween is big in our house. It’s my husband’s favorite holiday (I’m more of a Thanksgiving kinda gal…) but I do love a good Halloween story. So, this month, instead of two new book reviews, I’m sharing a round-up of Critter Lit’s Favorite Halloween Books.

I’m a huge fan of holiday books and now that I have kids, it’s so much fun share them throughout the month with my kiddos. Some of these books are new, some are old, all are wonderful! I hope you take the time to check them out. Enjoy!



What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with debut author and illustrator Aidan Cassie!