Today I am so excited to be introducing a fabulous author/illustrator to you all. Please give a warm welcome to the wonderful and talented Lisa Thiesing!
Hi Lisa! Thanks so much for joining us today!!
Hi Susanna! Thanks so much for inviting me! I’m excited to be here!
SLH: When did you first become interested in writing and/or illustrating? Was it something you always did, or something you came to later in life?
LT: I first became interested in children’s books when I was very little. My mother always read to me and she was very excited about all the new books that were coming out at the time. Things like the Little Bear books and Eloise were brand new! Can you believe it? Eloise was a character I particularly related to since I grew up in Manhattan, just a few blocks away from you! We even had a mail chute by the elevator. It was tempting but I never did pour water down it! Oh! and Harriet the Spy…. I often ran around the park pretending to be her. These characters seemed so real and were my friends. My mother would also point out interesting things in the drawings, like how a certain expression on a character was just so perfect for the story. She made books seem important and fun. Also, this is probably bad, but she would let me stay home “sick” from school so that I could work on my tremendously original novel about Old Boy, a dog that was constantly saving his boy from falling down wells and other disasters.
SLH: Were you encouraged by family/teachers?
LT: I was definitely encouraged by my mother. I was VERY shy as a girl and I think she saw writing and drawing as my way of communicating.
SLH: You are both an author and an illustrator. Which comes first for you, the story or the art?
LT: The story comes first. When I write a story, what usually happens is that a certain phrase will keep repeating in my head. Sometimes it’s the beginning of the story, sometimes it’s the ending. When I wrote my first picture book, Me &You, my daughter was very little and she kept doing things that I used to do when I was that age. So I kept saying to her that I used to do whatever it was, just like you! That would be my beginning. And I knew I wanted to end it with And when I grew up, I wanted to have a little girl…just like you! I had a beginning and I had an ending. I just needed to fill in the middle. I had lots of photos of me and Katherine doing the same things but completely differently. So that took care of the middle. And with the photos for reference, I was able to tell the other part of the story – the differences in time, place, personality, attitude - through the illustrations.
SLH: Is there an author/illustrator who has been especially inspirational or instrumental in your own development as a writer/illustrator?
LT: I really like the early reader genre. So people like Arnold Lobel, Syd Hoff and James Marshall are particularly inspirational.
SLH: What was your first published children’s book? Tell us about the moment when you got your first offer!
LT: My first book assignment was The Ghosts of Hungryhouse Lane by Sam McBratney. I had been taking my portfolio around to all the various publishing houses for a couple of years, with no luck. I did keep working on my portfolio, showing it again and again, and kept sending out postcards to editors. I was close to giving up when the phone rang and it was Brenda Bowen, then at Henry Holt! She asked if I might be interested in illustrating a middle grade novel! I nearly fell on the floor! I thought to myself, “Are you kidding me?!?!” But I was cool and instead shouted, “YES!!!!” I got to go to her office, but now as an actual illustrator because I had a real book to do and we’d talk about our project! It felt wonderful.
SLH: Where/when/how do you get your ideas?
LT: It seems I often get ideas for stories while driving. I don’t know why that is. Or doing the dishes. My Peggy the Pig books were adaptations of stories I already knew. The Viper is based on the old campfire scary joke. The Aliens Are Coming! is a variation on War of the Worlds. A Dark and Noisy Night is a combination of The Tell Tale Heart and my cousin’s daughter’s fear that the tree branches scratching at her window were witches’ fingers! And The Scarecrow’s New Clothes is from an old story a friend’s mother used to tell.
If I’m illustrating someone else’s story, then the ideas, of course, stem from the story. Except that I do get to make the characters look how I want and set the scenes where I want. It’s like being a movie director. You get the story and then you can interpret it visually as you like.
SLH: What has been the most challenging thing you have faced as an author/illustrator?
LT: The most challenging thing I have faced is the current climate of publishing in general. It used to be that even if you were not a super star, bestselling author/illustrator you could still work and still publish books. It seems that now you are given a small window of opportunity and if in that time you don’t produce a best seller, that’s it. As Heidi Klum would say, “One day you’re in and the next day you’re out.”
SLH: What has been the most wonderful thing that has happened to you as an author/illustrator?
LT: That’s a difficult question. A couple of things come to mind. A few parents have told me that their children actually learned to read with my All Better book. That is really gratifying. There is a lot of repetition in that book and it was my goal to help kids learn to read and to enjoy it. And they did!
Also, the first time I saw my Two Silly Trolls in the front of the I Can Read display at Barnes & Noble. I took a picture of that and then the sales person said I wasn’t allowed to do that. And I said, “But that’s my book!” And he said, “Well, it’s our policy, blah, blah, blah…”
It’s also really wonderful at school visits when kids say, “I LOVE you! You are the best writer and illustrator ever! Don’t ever leave!!!”
SLH: Do you do school visits? Would you be kind enough to briefly describe your program/presentation? What is your preferred age range and group size? Do you have materials available for parents/teachers to go along with your books(s)?
LT: So, yes, I do school visits. I have a PowerPoint presentation of one of my books, complete with sound effects! Currently I’m doing The Viper. There’s also a little bit about printing and binding because I have found that kids really want to know how a book is actually made. My books are geared toward K-4 and I prefer smaller groups. After we do questions and answers, I also give a short drawing lesson. I’ve been using basic shapes and have the kids follow me step by step. We draw Peggy and also do other animals or a scene. All of them, even the youngest, have made beautiful, wonderful pictures which they are really excited about.
SLH: Can you give us any hints about what you’re working on now?
LT: This seems an unlikely turn of events. But recently I was contacted by someone from The Guggenheim to work on a project with them! I will be writing a narrative for children that will be performed at the end of the month for the museum’s Family Day. It is part of the “still spotting” project, which finds different places in the city that inspire peace, quietness, “home”, transformation. This will be in Jackson Heights, Queens. http://stillspotting.guggenheim.org/about/
SLH: Do you attend writer’s conferences?
LT: I have attended conferences. I think they are valuable when you are starting out because they do provide a lot of information. Sometimes there is a really great keynote speaker and that can be inspiring.
SLH: What has been your best-selling book so far? Which book's sales (if any) did not do as well as expected? Why do you think that might have been? Have all your titles earned out? Are they all still in print? Have sales affected publishers' willingness to do further projects in a good or bad way?
LT: My best-selling books so far have been the Two Silly Trolls books. They were part of the HarperCollins I Can Read program, which is one of the best, most trusted and well-loved group of books ever. So there is a built-in safety umbrella. Both retail customers and educational outlets are going to buy books that are published by them. That doesn’t happen with most books.
Most of my books have earned out and I’ve received royalties. But ALL of my books should have sold better than they did and they are now out of print. And that, of course, does affect publishers’ willingness to publish more.
SLH: Where can we find you?
Info on School Visits:
I’ve started giving art lessons to kids in my studio! It’s been really fun!
Info on Art Lessons:
Also, I’ll be participating in the Hudson Children’s Book Festival on May 5th. I would love to see everyone there! It’s a great opportunity for people who love children’s books to come out and meet some of their favorite authors and illustrators. Bring the kids!
Reader question: how important is it to have a story? Can you just entertain and make people think, or do you have to have a story to make a picture book?
LT: A story is very important. But I’m not sure what you mean by story. Even a concept book about color, for example, is a story. And I think it is tremendously important that a book be entertaining. Reading is fun! A silly book can also be thought provoking and that’s a challenge as a writer for children.
Just for fun quick questions:
Agented or not? Not.
Traditionally or self-published? Traditionally.
Hard copy or digital? Hard Copy.
Apps or not? Not.
Plotter or pantser? Don’t even know what that means!
Laptop or desktop? Desktop.
Mac or PC? PC.
Day or night worker? Day worker.
Coffee or tea? Coffee!
Snack or not? Not.
Salty or sweet? Both.
Quiet or music? Quiet for writing. Music for drawing.
Cat or dog? Dog. (But I have 3 cats, too.)
Thanks for visiting everyone! And now you have a chance to win a personalized signed copy of Lisa's fun and popular book A Dark And Noisy Night!
by Erica Chase-Salerno
The fourth annual Hudson Children’s Book Festival takes place on Saturday, May 5: not just a book festival, but the largest book festival in New York State! Bring your book-loving family and meet more than 85 children’s and Young Adult authors and illustrators, browse through hundreds of books, listen to author and illustrator presentations and do some arts and crafts. Live music performances will take place throughout the day.
One local author/illustrator to look for is Lisa Thiesing (pronounced “teasing”), who will be reading her wonderful book The Viper. I asked Lisa if she had any rituals for drawing or writing. “I suppose my ritual for either drawing or writing is to procrastinate for as long as possible. It’s then that I think of anything else that I could possibly do, which is usually cleaning the house. You would think that my house would be a lot cleaner! As a deadline gets closer, then I know that I have to do whatever it is, and I do it.” I also wondered what advice she might have for aspiring artists. “Just keep drawing – all the time! And don’t worry about what anybody else thinks of it. If it makes you happy, that’s good enough.”
Thiesing recently began offering art classes to children. “I really am enjoying that, and am finding it quite inspirational. I have a small group of really great kids. But I would like to have a few more. It’s been good, and also a challenge, to have to think of something new for them to do every week, and perhaps a new way to do it. It’s made me reassess my own drawing skills and tap back into what children find interesting.”
The Children’s Book Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and admission is free. The event is located at Hudson Junior and Senior High Schools, located at 215 Harry Howard Avenue in Hudson. For more information, call (518) 828-4360, extension 1112, or visit www.hudsonchildrensbookfestival.com. To learn more about Lisa Thiesing, see www.lisathiesing.com.