Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Rebecca Williamson Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/8/2024
  • Sheila Fernley Agent Spotlight Interview, Critique Giveaway, and One-Hour Zoom Call on 7/29/2024
  • Erica McGrath Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 8/12/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.


Before I share today's interview I want to be sure that you know about last week's interview with Jennifer Nielson and giveaway of THE FALSE PRINCE. Because blogger would not cooperate and for a few hours the post would not come up in blogger or google reader. And I totally LOVE, LOVE this book and want you all to know about it. It reminds me a lot of Megan Whalen Turner's series. And every book reviewer whose review I read loves it too. So if you haven't entered the contest yet, go here to check out the interview and enter the contest. Trust me, you want to read this book.

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:

When her teacher assigns a report about animals and all the popular animals get snatched up, Ellie McDoodle is stumped for a topic. Then a neighbor asks Ellie to pet-sit her African gray parrot and it seems her problem is solved. But when the parrot flies the coop-literally-Ellie has an even bigger problem. With help from a librarian, a zookeeper, and Ellie's own pet-obsessed family, the bird comes home-but will Ellie finish her report on time?

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.

2. That’s awesome that you and Charlie collaborated. And I know he’s getting back into writing again too. You’ve certainly tried a lot of different ways to make money from your art. How did you come up with the first Ellie McDoodle story and what have been the challenges as you continued it as a series?

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.

4. You do a great job making it relevant to kids. And getting Ellie into serious trouble. In BEST FRIENDS FUR-EVER, all the kids are picking animals for a project in school. You did an excellent job weaving in facts about the animals that kids would think of and be interested in. Tell us how you decided on the animals and the facts you chose to use.

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.

6. Yes those are hard lessons and choices many kids (including my daughter) have to face. You illustrate as well as write your stories. What’s your writing/illustrating process? Do the pictures come first or the plot and words? How much more time does it take you write a book because you’re illustrating them too?

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.

8. That’s an amazing way how Erin discovered you. We’d all wish for a similar experience. You’re now marketing your fourth book. What advice can you share about marketing a middle grade book?

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
Erin’s blog.
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.

Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays was started by ShannonWhitney Messenger to spotlight middle grade authors. Check it out here.

And check out these other Marvelous Monday Middle Grade Reviewers:

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!


Khanada said...

Thanks again for the great interview, Natalie. My daughter LOVES Ellie McDoodle, and I can't believe the latest came out and my radar missed it! She has the big NYS tests this week, the most-important-test-of-your-life test though we really shouldn't be saying that until the SATs! (her teacher's job is now largely dependent on how she does on this test). This will be a terrific gift for her when she finishes.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Ruth, it's great to meet you! Your latest book sounds awesome, so MG. Best of luck to you.

Thanks to Natalie for hosting you!

Carrie Pearson said...

Great interview, Natalie and Ruth. I always love Ruth's humble and grateful approach to life--especially from such a talented lady.

jpetroroy said...

I'd love these formy daughter, Ellie!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks Ruth for sharing all your great tips and letting me be a part of your new book release.

Kristin Lenz said...

My daughter is a huge Ellie McDoodle fan. I'll save the giveaway for someone new to Ruth's books - we already have them all at our house!

Lydia Kang said...

Thanks Ruth for sharing your journey with us. The illustrations are so cute and catchy!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Congrats to Jemi. Nice interview. Love the illustrations.

Ruth McNally Barshaw said...

Thanks so much. :) I'm working on making book 5 even better than book 4. The Ellie McDoodle: Most Valuable Player book launch party is *today* -- if you're near Lansing, Michigan, come to Eastwood Towne Center Schulers for fun and drawing and prizes and free sketchbooks!
Natalie, many thanks for bringing Ellie McDoodle into the awesome and highly esteemed Literary Rambles blog community.

Barbara Watson said...

These sound great (and I haven't heard of them--not sure why not??!!?). Thank you for the giveaway and the interview!

Laurisa White Reyes said...

My daughter would love Ellie Doodle. I've tweeted this giveaway: https://twitter.com/#!/lwreyes/status/191927416925585409

BTW - I'm a MMGM-er, too! http://1000wrongs.blogspot.com

Danielle H. said...

My daughter loves Ellie! Thank you for the insight into your publishing career. Can't wait to read the new book.

Danielle Hammelef

LJ Moz said...


Glad you have sooooo much more to learn about Ellie! Our family gang of girls love Ellie's adventures. We'd miss her ;~D

Happy Book Release party today!!!


Laura Ellen said...

Great interview Natalie! Ruth, we love Ellie at my house and her jokes are a staple at our dinner table :)

Ali B said...

Ellie McDoodle sounds like a winner to me! Thanks for the interview, Natalie.

Anonymous said...

I have yet to read the Ellie McDoodle books...must get that fixed! Thanks so, so much for a chance to win a SIGNED copies!

And---congrats to Jemi on the win and congrats to Laura on the book sale!!!

Jocelyn said...

I've had the pleasure of meeting (and dining with) Ruth on a few occasions and she, her husband and her daughter are all delightful :) Thanks for the giveaway!

Joanne R. Fritz said...

Great interview, as always, Natalie. I've read the first Ellie McDoodle, but not the others. I would love signed copies! I think Ruth's advice -- to ignore social networking sites that suck up your time -- is so true!

And I'm sorry I was on a blogging break last week so I didn't see your interview with Jennifer Nielsen, but coincidentally I'm in the middle of reading The False Prince right now -- received my own copy from the publisher.

Ann Finkelstein said...

Fun interview.

Anonymous said...

Ruth! So good to see you here, and Natalie, thanks so much for today's interview. My kids (my own kids and my students) adore Ellie McDoodle, and they'll be thrilled to know that more are on the way. :-)

Stina said...

I'm going to check out these books for my kids, especially for my youngest. What a great concept!!!!

Congrats JEMI! And I was so excited when I heard Laura's news. :D

Rose Green said...

Ellie McDoodle, Have Pen, Will Travel, is one of the most reread books in our house--I'm always finding it out, or tucked under a kid's arm. I LOVE Ruth's sketch books, and we definitely need to get her latest book!

Jessie Humphries said...

Holy Moly Natalie, you have a ton going on in this post! I can barely keep up with you. How do you do it?

Jill the OWL said...

I hadn't heard of this series before! Thanks for introducing me to it. Love what she said about a problem making a book interesting to read and solving the conflict memorable. Wish my students would get that!

Natasha said...

Great interview! Sounds like an awesome series, thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Rosi said...

Ellie is a great character. Terrific interview. Thanks.

Carl Scott said...

Ellie McDoodle sounds like a character that lots of kids could relate to. I would love to win a copy of Most Valuable Player.
I do follow this blog by email: carlscott(at)prodigy(dot)net(dot)mx
I also tweeted about the event: https://twitter.com/#!/carlrscott/status/192120418201632769
Those are my allowable entries. Thanks for the chance to win the book.

Mary Preston said...

Just wonderful thank you. My daughter & I would certainly enjoy these.

GFC: Mary Preston

Email Subscriber


Linda A. said...

Please include my name in this drawing--how appropriate that it's a "drawing." This book sounds so fun. I love how it came to be.

Anonymous said...

I can't keep up with the books my middle school daughter is reading. Would love to put all of these on her summer reading list!

cathy54321 (at) hotmail (dot) com

Mundie Kids said...

How fun! This sounds like a fabulous MG series. Thank you for spotlighting it and bringing it to my attention.

Coleen Patrick said...

Great interview!!

Reading Mind / The Loyal Book said...

Really, I think I'm loving your interviews even more. Always such good questions! This one was great :) And thanks for all the other kind of posts, I love them!

Ruth McNally Barshaw said...

Thank you so much for your kind comments. :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I think my daughter would like these. How did I not know about them?! *gasp*

Thanks for spotlighting them, Natalie. :)

Geo Librarian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Geo Librarian said...

My students love this kind of book. Similar in style to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Note: I mentioned your giveaway on my blog: http://geolibrarian.blogspot.com

Martina Boone said...

Another great interview, Natalie! Thank you. I love how in depth you are able to get, and I love Ruth's reminder about how much passion we have to have for a project to sustain ourselves through the writing and editing.


Suzanne R. Klein said...

I remember following the comments on the Children's Writer yahoo group a few years ago, when Ruth got the attention of her agent, Erin. That was exciting to "watch." I'm glad to see you are doing so well. My daughter loves your books. Thanks, Natalie, for posting this interview!

Dana Atnip said...

Great interview Natalie & Ruth! It was wonderful to be able to learn more about Ellie McDoodle and the process of creating the books. Congratulations on your new book Ruth, I can't wait to read it!

Christina L said...

We love Ellie McDoodle! When my son gets out his Wimpy Kid books, my daughter pulls out these. Glad to hear there are more coming!

Psyche said...

I would love to read those books to know more of Ellie´s adventures.

GFC: maly
Email: msbookworm22(at)yahoo(dot)com

Rachna Chhabria said...

I would love to get to know Ellie better, she sounds amazing!

Anonymous said...

Hello! New follower. Great interview!


Anonymous said...

I am a new follower and glad to be. I actually found this site when I googled for kids story book sites.

I would love to win any of the books. I review kid's books (children's and middle grade) and all of these look to be wonderful additions to any book reviewer's site.

I was a softball coach for kids ages 7 to 14 at different times so the Most Valuable Player story would be my first choice (though they are all appealing).