Meet Our (National) Members: Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? and Sam & Eva (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers). Her illustrations also appear in books by Judy Blume, Michael Ian Black, Linda Sue Park, Rob Sanders, Lauren McLaughlin, Aaron Reynolds and others. For more info about Debbie and upcoming projects, see DebbieOhi.com. Her blog for readers, writers and illustrators: Inkygirl.com. You can find Debbie on Twitter at @inkyelbows, Instagram at @inkygirl and Youtube at @debbieohi.

Describe your workspace.

My office is in the basement of our house. I have two tiny windows but because one opens up under our back deck and the other is blocked by a bush, I don’t ever use them, at least not as windows! These days, half of my small office is my writing and art space, and the other is my photo studio space.

Describe a typical workday.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I haven’t really had a typical workday. My goal is to try to focus on my writing first thing in the morning, but sometimes I need to move stuff around because I have a virtual meeting or workshop or school visit in Google Meet or Zoom. Just before lunchtime, I try to get some kind of exercise – either a walk outside or indoors via Ring Fit Adventure or Animal Crossing (I try to only play the latter when I’m standing up, walking or jogging in place).

List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

1. A paint-spattered striped blue shirt that hangs on a hook in my office where I can always see it. My mom-in-law used to wear it when she painted, and I miss her dearly.

2. A reader letter I have pinned up on my Inspiration Board that reminds me of why I do what I do.

3. Printouts of tweets from Judy Blume to me, when I was working on illustrations for her books. I remember being soooooo excited when i saw that she had tweeted me!

Do you have any rituals in your work habits?

I try to avoid rituals because I don’t want to become too reliant on them. (“Oh dear, I can’t work on my middle grade novel today because my pencil sharpener is broken and I *need* to have three freshly sharpened pencils within reach at all times….”)

What do you listen to while you work?

It depends on the stage of my work and what kind of work.

If I’m writing anything or in early stages of illustrating a book, then I can’t listen to anything with English words or I find it too distracting. Instead, I’ll listen to mellow soundtracks (I have a playlist on Spotify) or Italian progrock. Or silence, but I try to avoid doing that too often in case I have to work in an environment where silence isn’t possible….especially when I’m traveling.

If I’m working on a repetitive stage of illustrating that doesn’t require as much concentration (color flats, inking etc) then I’ll put on some of my current faves. These days, it’s often the soundtrack to Hamilton! 

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Drink: water.

Snack, when I’m being good: baby carrots, celery and hummus. Cupcakes, when I’m not being so good.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I use a very rough outline for the early drafts, but I try to give my muse a lot of wiggle room.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Someone who preferred working at night. That way I could have my workspace to myself during the day! Yes, I tend to be anti-social when doing creative book work.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

Linda Sue Park: “Read. That’s the single best thing an aspiring writer can do for his or her work. I once heard an editor say, ‘Read a thousand books of the genre you’re interested in. THEN write yours.”

What media do you use and which is your favourite?

For playtime: Pentel Pocket Brush (love the variable width of the line), crayons, found object art.

For books: I mainly work digitally but have recently started incorporating real-life textures and objects. I used 491 Crayola crayons in the making of GURPLE AND PREEN: A BROKEN CRAYON COSMIC ADVENTURE (written by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by me, coming out from Simon & Schuster on Aug.25, 2020)!

Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.

Meet Our (National) Members: Mahtab Narsimhan

Mahtab was born in Mumbai and after a brief sojourn in the Middle East, immigrated to Canada in 1997. She started writing in January 2004, and after four years and countless rejections, her debut novel, The Third Eye, was ready for publication. It won the Silver Birch Fiction Award in 2009 and Mahtab has not looked back since. To learn more, visit her website.

Describe your workspace.

My office is spacious and has a small window with a lovely view. I’ve spent many contented hours reading, doodling, researching in there. However, it also doubles up as my office for my daytime job. I find that taking a break from it when working on a new manuscript, a change of scenery so to speak, helps the words to flow.

My latest manuscript, a YA historical novel, is taking shape in my guest bedroom where I have zero distractions. Often, when I need new perspective, I change my writing location. It really helps!

Describe a typical workday.

My alarm is set for 5:00 am but I usually get out of bed by 5:30 and am at my writing spot by 6:00. I write for however long it takes me to complete my daily quota of 1500 words. Some days I manage that in an hour and a half, sometimes it takes two. I check email and respond to the most urgent ones after I’ve finished the word count.

My day job starts by 9am and I work till about 3.30pm with a break for lunch.

Evenings are for research, critiquing my friends’ manuscripts and catching up on the “business” aspect of being an author, plus the most important pastime of all: reading.

List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

Sam. He’s always sat on top of my bookshelf, inviting me to pick up a book and relax. I love his goofy expression.

My (very) old Koss Boombox. No matter how hard I try, I’m unable to get rid of it. I used to play some of my favourite tapes (totally dating myself here!) and CDs on it and still do even though most music is available online.

The lunchbox I brought back from India for the cover of my book, The Tiffin published by DCB in August 2011. The book symbolizes the teamwork of the dabbawallas who work hard as a family to maintain their almost perfect delivery stats; one box in six million lost, which is also the premise of this story.

The other, and more important, reason the tiffin-box is special is that because of my trip to India in March 2011, I had the chance to say goodbye to my favourite aunt who passed away of cancer one day after we arrived. The Tiffin is dedicated to her.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits?

None really. I just avoid the internet, phone, any kind of distractions and just get down to it. It’s not too hard first thing in the morning and when it becomes a habit.

What do you listen to while you work?

Eclectic Mix but always instrumental. Words distract me. My faves:

Adrian von Ziegler

Thomas Newman

John Williams

Ramin Djawadi

Buddha Bar

Or any ambient chillout music.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Tea with lemon grass and mint leaves. Sometimes I’ll switch to tea with ginger and cardamom.

No snacks in the morning. However, if I’m revising or reading, later in the evening, a cheese platter and a glass of Chardonnay often keep me company.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

During my earlier novels, I never outlined. I was a discovery writer.

Of late I always have an outline and I always know my ending. When you have a dynamic ending, it’s much easier to write towards it. As Brandon Sanderson, one of the hosts of the podcast Writing Excuses (which I love and highly recommend) said; “Plot backward and write forward.” This has worked out very well for me.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I cannot work with anyone in the room. It’s just the way I’ve worked and do not see myself changing anytime soon. But if forced, Roald Dahl. I wouldn’t be able to write, I’d just peek over his shoulder to see what he was writing.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

I love Stephen King’s Book, On Writing. However, this bit of advice was from an interview with him. A journalist asked Stephen King how he managed to be so prolific. His answer? One word at a time.

Often when I’m overwhelmed with the thought of writing a 60K or 90K word novel, I think of King’s words and only focus on the day’s goal; 1500 words.

A book is made up lots of words. I can write a word. And then another and then one more. I’ll get there in the end. So will anyone else who aspires to be a writer.

Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.

Meet Our (National) Members: Kari-Lynn Winters

Dr. Kari-Lynn Winters is an award-winning children’s author, playwright, performer, and academic scholar. Sixteen of her picture or poetry books have been published or are in press. An experienced teacher of writing, she has worked with students across Canada and the United States. Kari-Lynn is an assistant professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. More information about Kari-Lynn can be found at www.kariwinters.com

Describe your workspace.

A Caribbean themed office. Not too big. Ocean blue walls.

Describe a typical workday.

5am-8am writing
9-5 workday at Brock
6-8 some sort of exercise (e.g., volleyball, walk) and/or socializing (e.g., with family or friends)
9-11 relax time

List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

The painting of Grenada my boyfriend bought me, my vision board, and my display of books. These three things remind of the abundance of life and how lucky I am to be an author.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits?

Yes. Tea and chocolate help me focus. MMMM.

What do you listen to while you work?

Silence.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Mint tea…warm or cold. Dairy Milk chocolate.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I think for a long time. Then do research. Then write. I rewrite as my main muse. I rethink and rewrite and rewrite…etc.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Mo Willems (if I had to…lol)  I do love his work!

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

Get used to edits. They are sweet gifts.

Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.

Meet Our (National) Members: Ellen Jaffe

Ellen S. Jaffe grew up in New York City, studied in England, and moved to Canada in 1979; she recently moved to Toronto after many years in Hamilton. Her YA novel, Feast of Lights, won the Moonbeam award for multi-cultural fiction in 2007. She has also written nonfiction and poetry and has also adapted Margaret Laurence’s novel for children, Jason’s Quest, into a play. She is working on a new young-adult novel and poetry for children. You can read more about Ellen on her website www.ellen-s-jaffe.com

Describe your workspace.

I work in the back (extra) bedroom of the townhouse my partner and I share in the Oak Street Co-op in downtown Toronto. The townhouses are built around a courtyard, so I can look out the window and see trees (bare now, letting in light and sun; in the summer they will be leafy green and provide shade.) It is far enough away from the street that I don’t hear much traffic noise. There are many books, on shelves above my desk, and in a bookshelf. The wooden desk is cluttered with too much paper, and has a large open space at the bottom where I can store documents and supplies; my printer is next to the desk, on a built-in wire shelf. There are photographs and pictures on the wall, ones that are especially meaningful (3 of which I will describe below).  

Describe a typical workday.

As I have been going through treatment for cancer for the past year, my workday is different from what it was in the past. I do not feel ill, but my energy fluctuates according to where I am in the chemotherapy cycle, and also what appointments I might have. I am not working outside my home at the moment (up to a year ago, I was teaching writing in schools and community centres, and working part-time as a family therapist). This gives me more time for reading and writing; I try to write for a couple of hours every day, either working on something new or revising earlier drafts. I have always felt much better and more centered when I am writing. And the diagnosis has given me new material to write about.

List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

A hand-typed five-line letter from Margaret Laurence, which she wrote me in 1984 (two years before her death) after I wrote her a “fan letter.” This is one of my special treasures. After she died, I discovered her novel for children, Jason’s Quest, and (with permission from her estate) developed it into a play for young people, which was first produced In 2001.

A painting of autumn trees and a lake by my friend Rita-Anne Piquet, who died (too young) in 2017. I love the peaceful scene, and the picture holds memories of my friend.

A photo of my mother, her sister, and their cousin at the Statue of Liberty in 1928, paired with a photo of my mother, my friend Linda, and me at the Statue of Liberty in 1953. This reminds me of my roots, and I write a lot about family, in fiction, poetry, and memoir..

Do you have any rituals in your work habits?

Not really. For a while, working on a particular project, I wore a red flannel shirt with cows printed on it, which I bought at Valu-Village; I still have the shirt but don’t need to wear it for writing.

What do you listen to while you work?

Usually CBC radio, either the talk programs or “Shift” with Tom Allen (Monday to Friday afternoons), in which he plays a mix of classical and popular music, with interesting observations about music and life.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Hot tea, either regular with milk or herbal with honey. I don’t usually eat while working.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I write poetry for adults as well as children’s and young adult stories. The poetry usually starts with a line or image and then I write freely, “letting the muse lead me.” I let the draft sit a while, and then revise. For my novel Feast of Lights, I first got the idea (the protagonist goes back in time, through the light of the Hanukkah candles, to meet relatives from the past), then went through several versions of the story before I found the right narrative line, and made some outlines and notes about the characters and the various scenes to guide me — though I went to new places during the actual writing. I also did some writing exercises which didn’t get into the book itself but through which I learned more about the characters and their lives.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Yikes! It would be hard to share this workspace, as it is small and full of my things — both tangible and imaginary. When I had a cat, she was welcome to share the space when she felt like it. I have also written in cafés, trains, planes, and similar public places, where I share space with whoever was nearby — but do not have to interact with them. (This can be a pleasant change of pace). At home, if we needed to, I could share this space with my partner Roger — who, though not a writer himself, is an avid reader and gets engrossed in his books, so we can be in the same room but don’t need to talk. He supports my writing and often is the first reader.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

“Cut your darlings.” From Don McKay, at Pipers Frith writing workshop in Newfoundland: i.e. that favourite image or scene may have been an inspiration but may not work in the finished piece. Also, “You don’t have to say, Dear Reader, I married him.” From Laurence Hill, when he was writer in residence at McMaster University in Hamilton, commenting on how you don’t need to wrap everything up neatly in a story; sometimes it is better to stay with the poignancy of the moment.

Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.

Meet Our (National) Members: Judy Ann Sadler

Judy Ann Sadler has written 25 books for children, and counting! All of her early books are craft books filled with creative ideas. She knows that by making original, beautiful, useful items you become creative, curious, enthusiastic, resourceful, patient, passionate and generous. Now Judy Ann is focused on writing picture books because everyone loves a good story! 

Describe your workspace.

I work in a studio space on our second floor with three windows, two window seats, a sewing machine and lots of shelves and bins filled with yarn, fabric and ideas!

Describe a typical workday.

I don’t really have a typical workday. I work part-time at two branches of London Public Library, so some days I work away from home. I’m also busy with family responsibilities (which I love!) so I try to carve out time as often as possible.

List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

My desk is a cast-off from an artist friend so it is covered with paint splatters. I love that it had a former life and that I’m using it for more creative endeavours! The table in my studio came from my childhood home where ten of us gathered daily for meals, homework and games. I love it!

I’m also very lucky to have window seats in my workspace. I wish I could say that I sit on them daily and daydream, but most of the time they are cluttered with books and fabric! 

Do you have any rituals in your work habits?

When I begin a new book, I start with a blank notebook and a sharp pencil. I love brainstorming ideas and quickly getting them down on paper. I’m afraid if I brainstorm on my laptop, I’ll delete ideas, good and bad. I often refer to my early scribblings and find them valuable.


What do you listen to while you work?

I’m a radio junkie so I have CBC Radio 1 on all the time. I tune in and out as I work.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I graze on crackers, nuts and chocolate!

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

Mostly I brainstorm. I like to gather resources that might be helpful and immerse myself in the world I’m writing about. Words and sentences pop into my head across a day or week or month and I add them to my notebook. When I’m ready, I try to come up with a first draft. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, I’m very happy!

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

One of my kids or grandkids would likely keep me inspired.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

“Begin, Sir, begin.”

Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.

Meet Our (National) Members: Patricia Storms

Patricia Storms is an author/illustrator of 30 children’s books and humour books. She has also worked as a Graphic Designer, Library Technician, and book binder. Her most recent titles are Moon Wishes, If You’re Thankful and You Know It and By The Time You Read This. Patricia’s next book will come out Spring 2021 with Groundwood, entitled The Dog’s Gardener, and illustrated by Nathalie Dion.

Describe your workspace.

I have too many work spaces right now.

Lately I have ended up working in my living room — writing and drawing. I have a computer room upstairs where I have done my colouring work in the past (Photoshop) and my drawing room is also upstairs. For some reason I feel less lonely working in my living room — plus the light is pretty good. Not great, but ok. I’m not sure why, but I suddenly got hit with a big case of loneliness about two years ago and the end result is this pile of stuff in our living room. It’s not great for my back either, sitting on my soft couch leaning over my laptop, but that is the way things are at the moment. I am in part working away from my computer when it comes to the drawing because I’ve been experimenting with traditional illustration, mainly pencil work and pencil crayon. I’m having a lot of fun, and hopefully am improving. 

Describe a typical workday.

None of my days are typical, heh. I wish I could say I have a routine, but my brain has never really worked that way. Either I’m busy doing a book project, or I am drawing to improve my skill, or writing, writing, writing. Or I’m wasting too much time on Facebook. I’ve been doing a lot more writing lately, which I truly enjoy. If memory serves me correctly (and these days, it’s a crap shoot) I did a lot more writing than drawing when I was young. If not writing or drawing or napping (heh) I might be swimming or reading or going for a walk, or attending a launch or presenting to a school or library. I also love music, so I try to fit in ukulele practice in there, as well as singing. I was in a women’s choir for a couple years, and am interested in another choir closer to home. The singing really helps me to feel like a human being on this odd planet. I’d love to do a book about music from a layperson’s perspective one day…

List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

This is difficult to answer because as I have gotten older I have become less and less attached to things. It’s good for one’s sanity. But having said that….I love working in the living room because it gives me a perfect view of some of my favourite photos of my husband Guy, and all the beautiful cats we have had in our marriage (25 yrs!). Other than that, I have a big Starbucks mug which is brown with pink heats on it and that is my favourite coffee mug to get me going in the morning.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits?

Other than panicking from time to time and eating too much from the fridge, I don’t think so.

What do you listen to while you work?

In the past when I have had big colouring projects I enjoyed listening to music to zone out. I love pretty much all music except for really negative stuff, so it can be ABBA or Queen or The Beatles or Beethoven or Arlo Guthrie. But these days drawing or writing, I love complete silence.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Coffee, coffee, coffee. I really need to stay away from the fridge.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

A bit of the muse leading me — being relaxed really helps. If my brain is tight, things don’t work as well. Walking or being in a dream state is helpful. Also conversations with writers or sometimes even strangers. I’ve got a few good  book ideas from talking to strangers on my travels. I guess I have good taste in strangers.


If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I’d really rather not share, thank you. 😉  But if I HAD to, I would say my husband, because we have managed to share work environments in the past without killing each other.


What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

I’m paraphrasing here, but it would have to be that ultimately you have to be confident and secure in your own voice & writing, because no one else is going to do the work for you. Well I guess someone could, but then what would be the point?


What media do you use and which is your favourite?

In the past I have hand drawn with a brush & india ink and then coloured in Photoshop. I am now playing with pencil crayons. I’d also really like to experiment with Procreate in the future, if possible. Hard to pick a favourite, but I am loving the traditional methods of illustration, and getting my hands dirty again! Eraser bits and ink stains galore.

Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.

Meet Our (National) Members: Bev Katz Rosenbaum

Bev Katz Rosenbaum has worked as an editor for publishers and magazines and taught writing at the college level. Currently, she toils as a freelance fiction editor for publishers and individuals, and writes children’s books. Her most recent release is the Orca Currents novel, Who is Tanksy? 

Describe your workspace.

Is it a ‘workspace’ if it’s your dining room, LOL? I tried making a dedicated office space in a corner of my bedroom, but the light is so much nicer in the living room…  (Canadian winters, man…)

Describe a typical workday.

In the past, I’ve only worked on my own stuff when I had a gap in editing work, but I’m trying to change that and work on my own stuff a little every day. I’m figuring out how to write effectively in short spurts. So I wake up, have breakfast, write for an hour or two, then switch to my editing work for the rest of the day. If it’s a teaching night (I run private writing workshops), I might squeeze some prep work in there too.

List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

I’m a minimalist, but I have a pile of novels on the floor that are the books that influenced and inspired me the most. I’m counting the pile as one thing, LOL. I’ve also brought to the dining room office a copy of Modern Morsels, a McGraw-Hill Ryerson high school fiction and poetry anthology I edited. I’m as proud of this book as all the books I’ve written. My mandate was to make sure the contributors and pieces represented Canada in all its diversity. Last but not least, I always have a great pic of my kids nearby.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits?

Coffee.  Lots and lots of coffee.

What do you listen to while you work?

I need total silence. I don’t get how people can write or edit with music on!

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

See above. Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. (And a couple Lindt chocolate squares after lunch.)

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I would be a total hypocrite if I let the muse lead me–I am forever trying to impress upon my students and clients the importance of outlining!

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Any of my kid lit writer friends!

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

Get used to rejection. It never stops.

Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.