Interview: Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Writer & Illustrator

Photo: Beckett Gladney

Photo: Beckett Gladney

Debbie Ridpath Ohi writes and illustrates for young people. She is the illustrator of I’M BORED by Michael Ian Black (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2012), which was chosen by The New York Times for its list of Notable Children’s Books Of 2012. Debbie’s upcoming projects include books with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, HarperCollins Children’s Books and Random House Children’s.

Debbie is represented by Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown Ltd. and tweets about writing & illustrating books at @inkyelbows.

Debbie is currently working on her first picture book that she is writing AND illustrating, coming out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2015. She has also just finished illustrating NAKED!, a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black, coming out from S&S in Summer 2014.

Let’s see how Debbie answers the Proust Questionnaire!

ImBoredFrontCover-400What is your idea of happiness?
Starting to read a new book and getting pulled in by the voice and characters right away. Then settling into reading with delicious anticipation, curled up in my favorite reading nook. For a broader answer, see my blog post, “When I Learned To Actively Pursue Happiness (Life-Changing Moment Series).”

Which talent would you most like to have?
Figuring out how to squeeze more hours out of a day to do the things I want to do.

On what occasion do you lie?
When declining invitations from people I don’t know very well to events in which I’m not all that interested.

What is your present state of mind?
Excited about upcoming projects. Somewhat angsty because I want to do them ALL AT ONCE AND RIGHT NOW but know it’s better to figure out a schedule that works.

What is your motto?
 Life is not a dress rehearsal. – Rose Tremain. I have it written on my office wall.

What character trait do you most value in your friends?
A positive life outlook.

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth (1948)

Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth (1948)

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
NAKED! I’ve been working on a book called NAKED! for the past five months, so have been using it a lot in email and in conversation. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of emails these days get filtered into people’s spam folders.

I recently tweeted about this, saying that I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve used the word “NAKED!” this year, and that it’s all Michael Ian Black’s fault. Michael tweeted back almost right away: “Mission accomplished.”

Your favorite painting?
Like my favorite song, this changes. One painting I’ve always liked since I was a young person: Christina’s World, by Andrew Wyeth. I love the feeling of open space and of yearning.

What is your favorite song? When do you first remember hearing it?
Hard question to answer, since this changes so often and it depends on my mood. My favorite songs tend to be story songs, like Jonathan Coulton’s “Skullcrusher Mountain” and Suzanne Vega’s “The Queen and the Soldier.”

What is your favorite journey?
Favorite literal journey: a canoe trip with my husband on the Nahanni River.

But my favorite personal journey, even though it was difficult sometimes, is my path to publication. I used to be a computer programmer/analyst for a bank and now I write and illustrate children’s books for a living. Life is crazy and wonderful. You can read about how (yet another) rejection turned into my first children’s book deal.

What do you need to achieve before you can die happy?

To start getting my novels for young people published.

So many people familiar with my I’M BORED story aren’t aware that I began as a writer (“Oh, I didn’t know you’re a writer, too!”). As delighted as I am with my children’s book illustration projects, I have not given up my lifelong dream of getting my novels published.

In retrospect, I’m glad that the first book that my agent sent out didn’t get published. By now I’ve written several, and I continue to improve my craft with each project.

I’m close now, I can feel it, and will persevere.


What is your favorite time of day?
First thing in the morning, when most of the world is still asleep.

With which literary hero or heroine would you most like to share a coffee?
Ray Bradbury. I’m a longtime Ray Bradbury fan — I have his autograph and also wrote a song about one of his short stories. You can see both here.

Who or what is your first love?
My husband, Jeff. He was the one to convince me to quit my programmer/analyst job so I could pursue my dreams. This year, we’ll have been married 22 years.

OHI0128-WritersOnVacation-500wWhat’s the last dream you remember?
This past weekend, I had a dream about a little crabby girl that was so vivid that I had to draw her as soon as I woke up. I think she may end up in a book.

What’s your madeleine?
Music I loved when I was much younger, especially songs that strongly evoke memories of a specific event or time in my life. Like “Haru Ga Kita“, a Japanese folk song that my mother used to sing to me when I was a child


Without thinking, in one word: what is life?

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