Thank you, Lisa for agreeing to be interviewed for the PB22Peekaboo Blog!
Thank you for interviewing me, Bonnie. This is fun!!
First let’s start with your book!
Letters To Live By: An Alphabet Book With Intention is available now for pre-order and will be released on January 11, 2022 by Running Press. We are so excited to see it come to the bookshelves.
You mentioned that you first wrote this book as a memo to yourself six years ago. What was going on in your life at that time that made you take pause and contemplate your intentions this way?
When I wrote this alphabetical list of intentions, I was looking at all the things in my life that needed improvement. My youngest had just graduated from high school and was off to college, and the empty nest was – well, empty. Simply said, I was facing the rest of my life and trying to figure out how I wanted it to look. I had just completed a writing certificate program at UC Berkeley Extension and was trying to figure out next steps. Although I had published a handful of essays and short stories, what I really wanted was to break into children’s literature but had only seen rejection. It was time to Become Brave, Embrace Education and apply to an MFA program that focused on children’s lit. I did just that and enrolled at Hamline the following year, where I honed my picture book skills and learned how to write middle grade novels. It is not lost on me that my debut picture book is one that I simply wrote for myself to help me find a roadmap forward in my life. When we write authentically from the heart, the magic happens!
Can you tell us a little bit more about your time in the query trenches?
Oh, the query trenches! I lived there for so long. Ha ha! I definitely started querying long before I knew what I was doing. Even still, I wouldn’t change those rookie mistakes because they led me to where I am now. In the beginning, I queried various picture book manuscripts with agents and editors (who accepted unsolicited submissions). It was a life of rejection.
Eventually I realized that I needed to start over completely and enrolled in my local UC Berkeley Extension, taking night classes in creative writing. During that time, I published a handful of personal essays and short stories, and then it was time to circle back to picture books. I decided to double down on my studies and applied to Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. This was a game changer for me.
After completing the program, I began to query again. Interestingly, it was in a conference workshop that I met my agent, Jennifer Mattson of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. By this time, I had eight years of manuscripts in my computer. This is the beauty of spending so much time working on your craft. You will eventually have a computer full of manuscripts to polish! I still occasionally query essays and short stories and continue to write across genres. The query trenches never really go away. But it has all been worth it!
Do you have any words of wisdom for authors who might be at that critical point in their journey?
It all has to go exactly the way it is going! You are doing it the right way – even if it is the wrong way. Does that make sense? For example, if you’ve queried your precious manuscript that has never been critiqued by anyone and you get rejected all over the place, now you know to get yourself a good critique group and start over. There is no shame in this. We are all learning. We are all doing the best we can. Dive in and work hard. It is going to happen – it’s just a matter of time.
You mention in your personal essay that you questioned your abilities as an author many times before finding success. Where did you find the strength to persevere after facing rejections?
It’s never easy. But as writers, I believe that when we turn the corner from wanting to “get published” to wanting to write, as Hemingway said, “one true sentence,” things change. As corny as it sounds, I am a truth seeker. I’m not saying I have all the answers (I barely have any), but my writing is so much more to me than a publishing contract. When I realized this, that I am doing this to learn about myself and the world, rejection just became part of that learning. I’m not saying it doesn’t sting, but it is a vital part of the process.
You wrote that you struggled with reading as a child. If you could go back in time and talk to that version of yourself, what would you tell her?
I love this question! It was so hard for me to focus as a child. Sometimes, it still is. I would tell my young self that it is OK to pick a book that is short, that has large font, plenty of white space, and lots of pictures. I would also tell myself that whatever I discovered about the book I was reading, whatever my opinion of it, I was right. I believe that when a child reads a book, every single thing they think about what they’ve read is valid. Reading comprehension is different for all of us. We are never wrong for thinking or feeling whatever it is we think or feel about the books we read. The whole point is to think or feel something. How can that be wrong?
The illustrations in the book are gorgeous. Åsa Gilland is an amazing illustrator. What were your feelings when they were first revealed to you?
Absolute delight!!! I felt so honored to have my words paired with the brilliance of Asa. Her work is so full of joy and wonder and just perfect for this book. I especially love the characters and all their wonderful details. I have so enjoyed following Asa’s other projects as well and am utterly thrilled to have the chance to work with her!!
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Lisa. We can’t wait to set our own intentions for 2022 using your picture book as our guide.