Next I'll announce the winner of ABOVE. The winner is:
Congrats! E-mail me your address and I'll send you your book.
One more piece of news I want to share before getting to Ruth's interview. One of our followers Laura Pauling sold her book HOW TO SURVIVE ANCIENT SPELLS AND CRAZY KINGS to Pugalicious Press. The story sounds awesome. Stop by her blog here to congratulate her.
Today I’m so excited to interview Ruth McNally Barshaw, a friend I know through the Michigan SCBWI chapter. She has four books published in the Ellie McDoodle middle grade series. Her most recent book, ELLIE MCDOODLE: MOST VALUABLE PLAYER, was released on April 10, 2012. I remember when Ruth was one of the speakers at a SCBWI conference when her first Ellie McDoodle book debuted in 2007. It was so exciting to have my book signed by someone I knew. This is a fantastic series. Ellie is such an endearing character with a great middle grader voice who gets herself in messes and Ruth’s illustrations add so much to the stories.
Here’s a blurb from Goodreads of ELLIE MCCDOODLE: BEST FRIENDS FUR-EVER that I’m giving away:
And here’s a blurb of ELLIE MCDOODLE: MOST VALUABLE PLAYER from Goodreads, Ruth’s most recent book, that’s she’s offering for a giveaway:
Poor Ellie. When her friend, Mo, suggests they try out for soccer together, Ellie doesn’t know her own father has just been named the coach! To make matters worse, Ellie can’t seem to get her head (or her feet) around the game. She’d much rather be solving word problems and doing other brain-bending quizzes in the Journey of the Mind club. But when both teams have their tournament on the same day, will Ellie choose soccer or school? This lively story, told in words and doodles, will have kids cheering on the sidelines for Ellie!
Hi Ruth. Thanks so much for joining us.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer.
You’re welcome, and thank you, Natalie!
I grew up in a huge, brilliant, creative family in the Detroit area. I liked to draw and write as a kid and hoped to be a cartoonist when I grew up but couldn’t figure out how to get into the business. I settled for “commercial artist” instead but didn’t know what it meant (art for business promotion). I went away to college, studied advertising and psychology, and met my husband, Charlie, there, and we settled there and raised a family – four of the best kids in the world. They’re ages 14-28 right now.
Charlie was a writer, I was an illustrator, and we collaborated on lots of neat projects including my daily comic strip in the school newspaper, mini books and a few editions of a satirical newspaper. Then he got into retail management and out of writing. I worked for the university.
Eventually I quit my job to work out of my house. I wanted a family audience for my cartoony art. By the fall of 2002 I’d failed as a cartoonist (two different syndicates said I was “in”, then dropped me), rubber stamp artist (they wanted me to change my style), portrait artist (underpaid), t-shirt artist (underpaid), graphic designer (bored, underpaid), essay writer (won 6 national essay contests in a row, lost the next 6)… Writing and illustrating kids’ books was sort of my last hope. Ironically, I’d considered doing kids’ books in 1985 and again in 1992, but abandoned the idea because I was too busy. In 2002 I was still busy, but the time was right. I entered a picture book competition run by Simon & Schuster. Lost the contest, but loved the work. So I wrote and illustrated more books. It took me two more years to learn this business: I worked full time without a paycheck. It was painful. But eventually it paid off. In 2005 my first book sold, ELLIE MCDOODLE: HAVE PEN, WILL TRAVEL.
The first book was inspired by camp when I was a kid. By age 12 I’d gone to family camp, day camp, overnight camp with my cousin, Girl Scout camp, cabin camping, tent camping, trailer camping, private campgrounds, state parks, pit toilets, ice cold showers, fishing, frogging, skunks, raccoons, mosquitoes, making friends, losing friends – plenty of material for a book.
I started the book as a lark. I intended to show my writer friends that I didn’t have what it took to create a cartoony book for kids. I was sure it wasn’t going to work out. To my utter shock, it did work – instantly. Unlike the books I’d been doing for the past couple of years, there was no writing, then storyboarding, then drawing, then angst, then changing the writing, then changing the storyboard, then changing the drawing, ad nauseum. This just flowed from start to finish. Even the revisions were great fun, like a puzzle to be solved.
The series challenges are formidable: book 2 was scariest to write. Suddenly I was concerned with improving on the previous book and pleasing the readers, librarians, reviewers, my family, my publisher… Eventually I realized I needed to just write for myself.
Time is always a challenge for me. And quieting the demons in my head is an ongoing battle. They tell me my work stinks, and it’ll always stink…
3. That’s so weird how you wrote this to prove you couldn’t write a kid’s book and now you have a series. And I think most authors can relate to the book 2 pressures. Ellie is such a likeable character, but she always seems to get in trouble. I was worried for her the whole time while I read BEST FRIENDS FUR-EVER. How did you develop her as a character and pick the problems she must face?
Trouble is what makes a book fun to read. Resolved trouble is what makes it fun to remember. I like putting Ellie in trouble, and having her resolve it in a satisfying and unexpected way.
Ellie grew out of me and my kids. I’m always getting into trouble, like Ellie, and I always have a sketchjournal handy. But Ellie is still fresh to me – I don’t know her completely, yet. Maybe when I figure her out all the way, her stories will be done.
Her problems are specific and quirky and weird, but they’re also universal. We all at some point strive to be understood, to make new friends, to make good choices. I try to keep her relevant to today’s kids, but I think if I’d read an Ellie book when I was 10, I’d have liked it a lot.
Thank you! I wanted to pick animals and facts that kids would love to explore more. I like to plant little surprises in the books, too. In that book there’s a flip book effect, a flying bird on the last 50 pages. In NEW KID IN SCHOOL, the first two words of the story are ‘The End’ and the last two words are ‘the beginning.’ In MOST VALUABLE PLAYER there are Rube Goldberg contraptions, American Sign Language, and Spirit Week at school where all sorts of crazy things happen.
5. In your new book, tell us a bit about the problems Ellie faces when she tries out for soccer and her dad’s the coach.
At first Ellie thinks soccer will be easy for her since her dad is the coach. She’s dismayed (like most kids would be, and like I always am) to find that unrelenting practice doesn’t guarantee immediate improvement. She doesn’t like the tough exercise workout. She doesn’t like the in-your-face teammate who’s become self-appointed captain. And she doesn’t like that soccer will interfere with her academic games schedule; she doesn’t like having to choose between the two.
Book 1 came out as writing and art at the same time, page by page. Book 2 was the same but took less time. Book 3 was writing and art together, then revised writing, then revised art. Book 4 was writing first and then the art. At the beginning the art took as long to do as the writing. Now the art comes much faster.
The concept for a book comes to me in illustrated vignettes of joy and frustration on a subject I’d like to explore deeply. I’ll spend half a year gathering ideas and playing with themes while finishing another project. Then two months seriously brainstorming and thinking and researching and outlining. Three months writing. A month illustrating. A month rewriting and redrawing. Mash it all together, mix it up a bit, add or take away time, and that’s my process. It takes a year to produce a book but not all that time is writing or drawing. There’s off-time. And there’s double-time. Once my head is in a project it’s pretty firmly implanted and it gets difficult to think about much else.
7. So interesting to see the process since you have both jobs for your books. Your agent is Erin Murphy. Tell us how she became your agent and about your road to publication.
I’m lucky to be with Erin and EMLA (Erin Murphy Literary Agency). She has many seriously impressive people working with her. I‘ve formed deep friendships with many of them, and they’ve taught me a lot about craft, marketing, and life.
Erin found me back in February, 2005. One of her writers, Susan Vaught (STORMWITCH, TRIGGER, MY BIG FAT MANIFESTO), sent Erin to my website to read a conference sketchbook I’d just uploaded. I was halfway through writing the first Ellie book, on a dare, really, and Erin asked to see it when it was ready, if I was considering representation. Susan knew about my sketchbook and that I was trying to create a book in that sketchbook style, because it’d become a discussion thread in the huge Children’s Writers group in Yahoo groups, where I chatted and Susan lurked. The whole Ellie McDoodle creation process played out online. Without the internet, without a website, without that fabulous writer/illustrator community, I’d have no books.
Don’t bother trying to do everything – there are too many options and the internet is a free-for-all. Pick a few things you want to do, and master them (as my martial arts instructor also advises). Visit schools, libraries and bookstores. Form a marketing group to share resources and ideas. Ignore reviews, Amazon rankings and social networking sites that suck up your time and give you nothing in return. Don’t be intimidated by fellow writers who seem to be marketing geniuses.
We’re all good at some things and we all struggle at some things; maybe that person isn’t as good as you at character or plot development. Keep aware of what’s going on in the industry – read the blogs and the books and the trade journals, but don’t let that interfere with writing. Because really, that’s what matters most: Giving readers your best next book.
9. Phew! That’s a relief to know we don’t have to be good at it all. What are you working on now?
I’m working on the next Ellie McDoodle! In another month we’ll have a title and cover art. A month after that I’ll have a good first draft (which means, if it’s “good”, it’s actually a third draft). A few months later I’ll be wrapping up this book and starting the next.
It’s fun working on the next book. There are parts I love already. But it’s also quite daunting. Right now I can’t imagine how this book can come out better than MOST VALUABLE PLAYER. Still, that’s my goal.
Thanks so much, Natalie.
Thanks Ruth for sharing all your advice. You can find Ruth at her blog and website and she’s shared a few other links:
Conference sketchbook that caught Erin’s attention here.
Interesting blog by some of Erin’s debut authors here.
I’m offering a signed copy of BEST FRIENDS FUR-EVER and Ruth is offering a signed copy of ELLIE MCDOODLE: MOST VALUABLE PLAYER. All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on May 5th. I’ll announce the winner on May 7th. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries are welcome.
If you mention this contest on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook, please let me know in the comments and I’ll give you an extra entry.
ShannonWhitney Messenger to spotlight middle grade authors. Check it out here.
Julie from That's Swell
Here's what's coming up. Next Monday I'm interviewing a panel of high school kids for my ASK THE EXPERT series and will also be giving away 2-3 popular YA books. PLEASE, PLEASE stop back next week and comment because my daughter's language arts teacher arranged for this panel discussion. She's an amazingly passionate person about books and I know the interview will be great. The class will be checking the blog probably on Tuesday to see who commented. I've won a lot of newly published books lately and I want to pass them on.
On Wednesday that week, Casey is interviewing Jenny Sanchez-Torrez and giving away an ARC of THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE. Then the next Monday I'm interviewing Tracey Bilen and giving away a copy of her debut book WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND. I still haven't got the ARC and I'm seriously dying to read her book.
Hope to see you on Monday!