Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Debbie Ridpath Ohi

1) Tell us a bit about who you are, and where you live and work.

I write and illustrate for young people and live in Toronto with my husband, Jeff. I founded Inkspot, one of the first sites for writers on the Web (now shut down). I have way too many online projects; you can find out more at my website: I'm represented by Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown Ltd.

In my spare time, I write songs and perform with my music group ( and also draw webcomics.

2) Describe your journey to becoming an author/ illustrator.

I've been writing all my life. I started out getting short nonfiction published in various print and online venues, was approached by Writer's Digest Books to do The Writer's Online Marketplace (2001), have also had short stories and poetry published.

Lee Wardlaw, a children's book author (, encouraged me early on and helped me improve my writing. Lee was also responsible for connecting me with Ginger; Ginger is her agent, too.

At the SCBWI Summer Conference in 2010, I was convinced by an artist friend (Beckett Gladney to enter the Illustrator Portfolio Showcase and, to my shock, won two awards: an Honor Award and a Mentorship Program Award.

One of the Portfolio Showcase judges was Justin Chanda, who is a publisher at Simon & Schuster and heads three imprints: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, Atheneum and McElderry Books. He offered me a book contract, illustrating Michael Ian Black's newest picture book. I was thrilled!

You can read my blog post about what happened here:

3) Describe your body of work. Which have been some of your most meaningful projects?

As I mentioned above, I've written (and been paid for :-)) short nonfiction, a nonfiction book, short fiction and poetry. I've illustrated a picture book. I'm also working on writing my own picture books, plus working on middle grade and YA novels.

AND I have some more very very good book news but can't share it yet. Hopefully soon, though!

A few of my most meaningful projects:

I contributed a short story to the just-released TOMO, a YA anthology edited by Holly Thompson (Stone Bridge Press). Proceeds will help teens affected by last year's Japan earthquake and tsunami. More info:

Also, of course, illustrating I'M BORED for Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers!

4) Tell us about your upcoming release, I’M BORED.

I'M BORED is a new picture book written by comedian, actor and writer Michael Ian Black. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers is publishing it in September, 2012.

It's a fun story in which a little girl tries to convince a potato (yes, I said a POTATO) that kids aren't boring. I had so much illustrating this book! I also learned a ton about writing and illustrating picture books in the process; I'm posting about my experience in an online I'm Bored scrapbook:

I interviewed the editor, art director and author about the process, and am including quotes, photos and cartoons.

5) What is Inkspot? How did you develop the concept for it?

Inkspot was one of the first websites for writers online. I originally started it as a resource for children's book writers but then opened it up to writers of all genres. You can read more about what happened to Inkspot here:

Now I have a new site for writers called Inkygirl (, which is an illustrated guide for those write and draw for young people.

6) Who are your favorite authors? What is on your reading list right now?

It's hard to choose favourite authors -- depends on what type of book you're talking about: fiction, nonfiction, age range, etc. I read a wide variety of books and always reading multiple books -- depends on my mood, what I'm doing and even where I am in the house. :-)

On my current reading list, on my readers & in physical print:

TOMO edited by Holly Thompson (reading the other stories in the anthology)

THE YO-YO PROPHET by Karen Krossing

DEADLINE by Mira Grant

WITCHLANDERS by Lena Coakley

HEREVILLE: HOW MIRKA GOT HER SWORD by Barry Deutsch (graphic novel)

by John Truby

7) How do you promote your work? What methods have worked best for you?

This was a much more difficult question for me to answer. To answer it properly would take a long time and go beyond the scope of a single answer.

So instead, here's the type of promotion that I DON'T do that I see being used quite frequently in Twitter:

Promotion that does NOT work, in my opinion: Making what is essentially the same "buy my book" post over and over again.

I figure most people are already being barraged online and offline (but especially online) with companies and individuals who are trying to get them to buy something.

8) How has music played a role in your life?

Music has been an important part of my life since I was a small child. I took piano lessons for many years and then taught piano part-time for about 20 years (since high school). I took flute in high school and started playing flute with my music group ( and in studio sessions with other musicians.

Now I write songs for and perform with my group, just for the fun of it. We've given concerts in the U.S., Canada, Germany and the UK and have several albums out. Other instruments I've played, with varying degrees of competency: guitar, Celtic harp, tin whistle and various bangy percussion instruments.

My current musical project: writing an "I'M BORED" song for a promotional music video!

9) How have your professional associations enhanced your career?

See my answers above for just a few ways that the SCBWI has helped my illustration career: Not only did I get a book contract, but being a part of the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship program (see the SCBWI Mentees blog: has been immensely rewarding in terms of the friends I've made and priceless advice and guidance I've received.

I save up so I attend the annual conferences in NYC and LA every year…it's been worth every penny. Not just for the talks, workshops and critiques but also for the networking opportunities.

I'm also a member of CANSCAIP (, and have been learning a great deal from the monthly local meetings. If you're a Canadian writer or illustrator, I recommend joining!

10) What are your upcoming plans for 2012?

Looking forward to seeing I'M BORED on the shelves!

AND working on new book projects (hope to be able to share more about this soon -- waiting for the contracts to be finalized).

11) What advice would you offer to aspiring author/illustrators?

Be open to new opportunities.

Don't let yourself get into a rut. Keep working on your craft.

Remember that in the end, it comes down to having a good story. No amount of promotion or networking or multimedia formatting is going to help if you don't have a good story to begin with.

Meet other writers, illustrators and people in the industry in person, not just online. I wish someone had told me this many years ago when I was just starting out.

Author Bio

Photo credit: Beckett Gladney
Debbie Ridpath Ohi is a Toronto-based freelance writer and illustrator with a focus on content for young people. She recently illustrated I'M BORED, a picture book by actor/comedian/author Michael Ian Black, due out this Fall (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2012), and has an illustrated short story in YA fiction anthology, TOMO (Stone Bridge Press, 2012). Previously, she was the founder of Inkspot and Inklings, one of the very first online writing communities and electronic newsletters. (Bio courtesy Chris Cheung of Autodesk SketchBook)

Contact Debbie

Twitter: @inkyelbows

Blog for kidlit/YA writers:

More info about Debbie:


  1. Thanks for interviewing me, Raychelle. :-)

    As for the Super Secret Book News, I was told yesterday that it's official so I can share:

    I just signed TWO book contracts with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, YAAAY!!

    Details here:

  2. "Great Inspiring interview" Love hearing an artist’s experience!
    Thanks Raychelle for the insightful interview with Debbie!

  3. I am grateful to you both for coming on "The Block". I am honored.