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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Blog Book Tour for Ruth McNally Barshaw!

     Today's blog book tour is for Ruth McNally Barshaw and her new release, Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel. Ruth's story is an inspiring one, so enjoy reading my interview with her today and visit the other stops on her tour. Dotti Enderle on Monday, Karen Lee on Wednesday, Kim Norman on Thursday, Alan Gratz on Friday, Barbara Newman on Saturday, and Greg Fishbone on Sunday!


     Ruth, Congratulations on the release of your first book "Ellie McDoodle" (Bloomsbury), written And illustrated by YOU!! The story of how you sold your first book is truly magical. Can you share?

     Thank you! I could not be more thrilled. It's still hard to believe it's all for real.
     Harken back to October, 2004. I'd been studying and creating picturebook dummies for two years and loved it, and was at the personal rejection stage. That's where the editor says, "Nice, no thanks, but send us something else you've done."
     I met my idol, Tomie dePaola, at a local bookstore (and incidentally had declared on a few email lists that if I ever met him in person I would wash his feet. I did remember to offer but he declined politely). I stood near his snaking booksigning line and drew him a few times, laughed at all his jokes, and when it was finally time -- two hours later -- to get his autograph he treated me like an old friend. Bear in mind I had my squirmy toddler grandson on my back and my 8-year-old daughter at my side the entire time. I was desperate to get a few minutes with Tomie.
     What he said ended up changing my life: "Come to New York for the annual SCBWI Conference in February; we're doing more for illustrators this time." I said I would go.
     All the way home I beat myself up for it. I had no money, no means to go to New York. But I felt he meant there were specific opportunities for me.
     Well, magically the money materialized -- a cartooning job, and reimbursement from a cousin for art done many months earlier. Suddenly I could go. But I was scared, so a friend arranged to go with me, splitting the cost of transportation and covering the cost of the hotel. The friend backed out at the last minute, and I couldn't just write off that $400 in tuition. We were broke!
     I begged the bank for a $500 loan to cover the train and hotel (showed them a painting I planned to display at the conference), and I went. I had no hotel room for the first night. Had never been to New York, never been on a train. It was a total leap of faith, and somehow it all worked out.
     While there I drew everything, like I always do.
     I came home discouraged. I'd put myself "out there" and nobody discovered me. Although it was a glorious and inspiring time, I wondered when I would finally get my work published. I vowed to improve it until they HAD to hire me. (In fact I read books on color theory on the train home).
     On a lark, I put my sketchbook online, and sent the link to a few writer/illustrator groups and was deluged with email.
     They convinced me to do a kids' book in that style. A week later, an agent found me. We signed and she sold the book to Bloomsbury soon after.
     My life completely changed, almost overnight.
     My agent and the staff at Bloomsbury are so brilliant and wonderful to work with. I feel very lucky. And my writer friends have my undying gratitude. I've come to realize conferences aren't about the editor or agent connections you make. They're about the other writers and illustrators. My peers helped get me published, and they have mentored me and nurtured me through every step in the process.
     My family didn't understand what I was doing -- in fact they actively opposed it. But my writer and illustrator friends -- gosh, what truly great people they are. The book is dedicated to them.

     Wow! Some story, eh? To see Ruth's SCBWI-NY sketchbook for 2007, go to: http://www.ruthexpress.com/sketch/nyc07/001.html. To see the sketchbook that started the whole thing, go to: Ruth's 2005 NY-SCBWI sketchbook.

     Thank you! The link for the original sketchbook, from '05, is on my website, too. And the one from '06. Each one has almost 200 pages of sketches and conference notes.

     They're worth the look-see too - I've enjoyed every page!
     So tell us the story of Ellie McDoodle!


     Ellie is almost 12, and she gets stuck going camping with relatives she cannot stand, and she writes and draws all aboutit in her sketchbook. She always has a sketchbook handy. Eventually she discovers things aren't always as they first seem, and there's more good to her relatives than she originally thought.
     That's the surface stuff. Deeper, Ellie is about loss and despair, and hope and how things eventually work out ok. Most especially it is about living in the moment: Inventing fun, sharing, noticing small things, and enjoying whatever path you're on.

     This is your first book, but you've already lined up the sequel for 2008. A two book deal! What's that been like? Did you already plan to create a second book?

     When I was writing Ellie I kept thinking this could be a series, but it wasn't pitched that way to the editor. I kept squirrelling away ideas for a sequel but it wasn't until the revisions stage that I realized Bloomsbury was looking ahead also. My editor said something like, "Can you make this character her little brother instead of her cousin, so he can be featured in future books?" I felt like I had hit the jackpot.
     A few months later my agent returned from an editor meeting saying they wanted a book every year for a while. I don't think I will ever forget that day.
     I'm working on the sequel right now. It wasn't hard to write the synopsis, but sitting down to do the writing was daunting. I procrastinated for weeks. I was scared to even try to produce something better than the first book. I know it has to be great for people to want to read it. What a huge challenge. And the deadlines are extremely tight because it's such a complicated book to produce, both on my end and the publisher's. It's a big, intense job.
     Staring down all that hard work is not easy. I'm learning to pace myself, though. Last year during the revisions I either got very sick or attended a funeral every single time I took a break. I'm determined to make it go better this time.

     You are just now starting to kick-off book signings and events for Ellie McDoodle. What do you have on the docket and what are you really excited about?

     I'm deliriously excited about a few things:
     - book 2, which is almost ready to hand off to my editor,
     - working on a picturebook project which is very funny,
     - seeing my book in stores, and hearing when it has sold out,
     - getting Ellie into the hands of people who love her.
     Yesterday a family strolled down my street, and I paid particular attention because their girls looked to be Ellie's age. My grandson ran after them yelling, "Hey! This is about Ellie McDoodle!" (he had a flyer about the Book Launch Party in his hand) and I'm afraid I didn't stop him. I want as many people to know as possible. The family thought we were weirdos at first but they eventually lost the deer-in-the-headlights look.

     Again, congratulations. It's been so fun to watch your success!

     Thank you! It's been fun living it.
     I remember when my kids were babies I used to sometimes cry myself to sleep, just certain that my extreme happiness couldn't possibly last. But it did. Similarly, I sometimes feel this, today, is too good to last. But it's one heck of a thrill ride in the meantime.

     Here's to Ruth's (and Ellie's) continued success!

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