Eastern NY SCBWI Member Spotlight

Created September 30, 2023 by Kyra Johnston

New York: Eastern Upstate

An interview of John Ebbert our Critique Coordinator by Janine De Tillio Cammarata

Eastern NY SCBWI Member Spotlight

These member spotlights are a fabulous way to get to know my fellow writers and artists. I’m impressed by John’s art and admire that he has ventured into the world of middle grade writing while running his own publishing company with his wife.

It takes a great deal of time, grit, and determination to start a company, design, write, illustrate, and print books, while also marketing and fulfilling orders. Each is a full-time job. I think John might agree that we do it because of the love we have for our books and to fill specific needs. Read more about why and how John and his wife started their publishing company.

Having your work critiqued can be scary and nerve-wracking but John creates an organized and supportive environment that has grown into a close and supportive community. More than ever it’s important to stay connected. Critiques are offered monthly. Check the calendar to get the dates for the critiques and deadlines to upload them.

John offers some great advice on writing and taking care of himself. Be sure to check out his website for available books. A great gift for the holidays and other special occasions!

Janine De Tillio Cammarata


Can you tell me about yourself? Anything you want to share about your family, hobbies, likes, joys?

We never really intended to, but my wife and I (and our just turned 15-year-old daughter) live in a log house on about 8 acres of woods, about five miles from where New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania come together at the Delaware river. We moved here from Brooklyn when civilization pushed me from my Brooklyn live/work space in 2004.

I designed and implemented children’s displays for The Scholastic Bookstore, FAO Schwarz, and Toys “R” Us Times Square from 1995, when I was working on my MFA in Painting at Pratt, until all three closed their stores between 2015 and 2017. I literally made the going out of business signs for all three.

How long have you been a member of SCBWI?

It will be 8 years come February.

What interested you in volunteering and becoming a Regional Critique Coordinator?

I had begun to write in earnest and joined SCBWI to find a community of people working on similar types of projects. I’ve always felt that being a part of community meant contributing. Besides, I love the critique process; I get to learn about other people and what they are working on. That really helps me understand where I might do things better. So, I was planning on attending the meetings anyway. It’s not like a major burden to help them run smoothly.

What are some of your volunteer responsibilities?

It’s mostly about making sure people have access to other authors’ submissions, arranged in genres like: YA, MG, and PB, with enough time to review them before critique sessions. Sending announcements and links out on time. Then, it’s just a matter of hosting the Peer Critique Zoom meetings. There is usually someone there to help put people into genre-specific breakout rooms. We’re a pretty relaxed group, so this isn’t a big deal with a lot of pressure.

Why should someone become a member of SCBWI?

Community. People in SCBWI are all working to improve their craft. They share freely. The people there are not cutthroat. Everyone is really hoping that the people around them become successful. Success is not something gained despite others; it’s something gained with others.

How did your publishing company, Dooleyglot Books get started?

That’s a loooong story.

Here’s the short version:

At first, my wife, Mison Kim was looking for bilingual (Korean/English) board books to use with our daughter. What she found in the market didn’t suit her. So being the artist/designer that she is, she made her own—boards and all. I was doing monthly displays at Scholastic’s headquarters in NYC at the time, so we thought maybe they’d be interested in pursuing our project. At that time, we were proposing six board books, six subjects, six languages (each with English)—that’s 36 books, at once! We’d obviously never heard of a P&L sheet.

It wasn’t until we were talking to someone at Abrams Publishing and asked what their board book runs were like that it dawned on us that ours was an impossible task for a traditional publisher. Expensive books for a very targeted audience made for a distribution nightmare. Because our books were quite different than what was in the market, though, we thought we’d go it on our own. Fortunately, enough people believed in our project that a successful Kickstarter campaign made publishing nine books (three books, three subjects, three languages—Spanish, Chinese, and Korean) a possibility in 2019. So, at least we took care of most of the “L” from the Profit & Loss margins.

The books look great. They’re well made—published in New York State. They were very well received, especially at the events we organized at independent bookstores, libraries, book fairs, and children’s museums. Then, the pandemic hit and ended those events. But you can still get yours today.

There’s a get three for the price of two holiday sale going on at: www.Dooleyglot.com.

What age and genre do you write?

I write all over the place, but lately most of my attention has been directed at writing middle grade novels.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

My training is in fine arts, painting. But I’ve been jotting things down since forever ago. As far as writing for kids goes, that pretty much started about 14 years ago, to find out if we could make stories instead of just first words books.

Who/What inspires you to write?

At first, I wrote stories that might appeal to my daughter. Now, after putting in the time to learn the craft, I find the challenge to write stories well exhilarating.

What are you currently working on?

I have two middle grade novels—one of them is highly illustrated—ready to query.

The highly illustrated novel, William’s Gambit, is a contemporary fantasy about a boy whose energy is being used by a 108-year-old lady and her troupe of highly trained circus cats, to trap him in a magical space where he must tell the perfect story to save himself.

The other book, The Herald, is a more of a grand fantasy. The day after Hana is told her destiny is to be the life-long servant of a nasty little princess, the king and queen are hanged, and the kingdom is overrun. She’s stuck in the dilapidated top of the tallest tower in the castle with her only friend, a pet pig named Hamlit, whom she has accidentally stabbed. Her food and water are gone. Her parents have abandoned her in allegiance to the fallen kingdom, and soldiers wait below to kill the girl if she tries to escape. On the verge of death, Hana draws to life a dragon that carries her and Hamlit to a place where art comes alive, and Hana learns how difficult it is to be the hero. Something like that…

Can you share about your process? 

I’m a head-in-the-cloudser. I tend to walk around with full scenes playing out in my head. For example: I’ll go to Planet Fitness and for the length of my workout, in my head, a ten-year-old girl will be having an argument with her backward-talking future-telling pig. Later, I’ll write that scene into a growing pile of notebooks. The first edit will be when I type the chapter into the computer. Then I print things out and read them out loud, often to my daughter, to see how they play. Then, the rewrites begin.

What does a day of writing look like for you?

It depends on where I am in a story. I might handwrite a chapter like I describe above. I have more red pens than black pens, though. I spend quite a bit of time rewriting so that words and sentences seem fun to me. I see writing as solving puzzles with words. Trying to get them to tumble into interesting combinations is what makes the whole process worthwhile.

Or, I might be drawing part of a story instead.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to write/publish for children?

Novel means new. Picture the world with wonder, as if seeing through a child’s eyes. Remember this, though: You’re not writing for children; you’re writing for future adults. Create treasures they’ll want to carry on that long journey.

If you want to save yourself a lot of misery, plot at least a rough outline of potential scenes for your story. You don’t have to stick strictly to it, but it will go a long way to helping you stay focused on a novel-length book. It just might save you years of time.

Workshop your writing. Other people will see things in your words you’re too close to see. Take their advice, but… It’s your story, don’t let yourself be bullied by strong opinions that don’t fit with what you’re doing.

What do you hope readers receive/get/learn from what you personally write and from the books you publish?

I always try to see the world through my characters’ eyes. I hope that helps the reader do the same.

How have the last three years affected your creative process?

If anything, they made me want to be more professional. I worked hard at craft; wrote another manuscript in a much more organized way; consolidated my illustrative style; attended on-line workshops; worked on pitches and queries; set myself up for when I could meet people in human form again.

What forms of self-care do you bring into your day while writing?

Every day is the same. I call it ARMX. For me, to have a successful day, I need to do these four things for at least five minutes each:

Art (could be writing or illustrating)

Reading someone else’s work, a book, article, or manuscript

Music (I play guitar—fool around with composition or play other people’s songs)

eXercise (If I don’t go to the gym, I need to walk at least two miles). Five minutes almost always leads to more concentrated efforts.

What are a couple of your favorite children’s books (titles and authors)  from the last five years?

Hello Universe, Erin Entrada Kelly

The Last Cuentista, Donna Barba Higuera

These were both big award winners, so no surprise there. I’m amazed at how many books I’ve read recently that are suddenly more than five years old.

What are your website/social media handles?


Twitter: john_ebbert@john_ebbert (although I really hope to move on from this)

Is there anything else you want readers to know?

Keep at it.

I work really hard, but I’m still pre-published as a novelist. Every time I present my work, though, I feel that I’m getting better at what I’m doing and closer to my goal.

Illustration by John Ebbert and posted with his permission.