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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Lisa Robinson

What is the creative process and how does it work?

This is a question that intrigues me.

~ Lisa Robinson

Lisa Robinson was born in Kampala, Uganda. Her parents were Peace Corps volunteers who later became world-traveling diplomats, "so books became my best friends."

Now, Lisa is a psychiatrist who works with children, teens, and adults and a children's book author. She has an MFA in Creative Writing for Young People from Lesley University where she now teaches an elective course, Creativity and the Unconscious Mind. She lives in the Boston area with her family and three cats. When she's not working or writing she's flying through the air with her daughters on aerial silks at her local circus studio. She lives in Massachusetts with her scientist husband, two daughters, and a family of cats, the Spice Cats—Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Paprika.

Her debut picture book, Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten, released August 1st and her second picture book, Pippa’s Night Parade, released October 8th.

Lisa, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your picture books and writing.

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)

LISA: I write whenever I can—in the interstices of the many different responsibilities I juggle: my professional work as a psychiatrist, teaching an online writing class for an MFA program, parenting two teens, and keeping up with my aerial arts skills. Some weeks I have no time to write, other weeks I find 5-10 hours to write.

I’ve been writing seriously since 2007 when I realized that I needed a creative outlet. I am always working on a novel (I’ve written three, two haven’t sold and one is about to go out on submission). I like to work on picture book texts at the same time that I work on my novels. I enjoy both kinds of writing although they are different kinds of challenges.

Definitely would give you an outlet for creativity when either the novel or the picture book was being difficult. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

I dream of owning a blue electric Volkswagen van when they come out in 2022 (although I’m sure I won’t be able to afford one!). My parents owned a blue Volkswagen van when I was growing up and we took it to Senegal and London when we moved. We drove it to a safari park and camped out in a pop-up tent on top. I wish I could give that experience to my kids!

What an amazing experience camping in a safari park must have been. What was your inspiration for Pippa’s Night Parade? How about for Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten?

Pippa’s Night Parade was inspired by my professional work with children who are anxious and fearful. I’m always trying to find ways to help children use their imaginations to overcome their fears. Pippa uses her wits and creativity to fight off the monsters that appear in her bedroom at night.

My children’s transitions to kindergarten from preschool inspired Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten. They were both upset about leaving beloved teachers behind and when I tried to find a book about this aspect of the transition, I couldn’t find one. So I decided to write one.

If you can't find the right book, write it. Do you feel there is a common theme in these two books and/or your upcoming releases?

Yes! Both of these books feature bold and creative girls who find creative ways to face their fears.

Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

I loved Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. . .

Did you have any input into the illustrations for either of your books? Either at the beginning or in a later review stage? Do you have a favorite spread or image?

For each of these books, my editor involved me in the choice of illustrator. In addition, I was shown sketches along the way and asked if I had any feedback or comments about the art. Both artists did amazing jobs and I was thrilled with their work; each of them added so many interesting details that were their own vision for the book and it was so fun to see their imaginations at work.

In Pippa, my favorite spread is a full spread in which Pippa is dressed in a wolf costume and she’s being chased by a bear.

Text © Lisa Robinson, 2019

Image © Lucy Fleming, 2019.​

In Pirates, I love the full spread in the middle where the kids are racing up the rigging of Emma’s imaginary pirate ship.

Text © Lisa Robinson, 2019

Image © Eda Kaban, 2019.

I can see why you like these illustrations. Is there something you want your readers to know about Pippa’s Night Parade? How about for Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten?

Pippa’s Night Parade is special to me as it was the book that brought me across the publishing threshold after many years of writing and submitting.

Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten was first written in 2007 and then after many rejections and revisions it was finally published in 2019. Don’t give up on your stories if you believe in them!

Great advice. What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? Any advice for unpublished authors?

Persistence is the name of the game. It took me ten years of writing and over 100’ish rejections before I finally received an offer for a picture book. Improving one’s craft is vital, too. Keep working on new projects, submitting, getting critiques . . . You have to really love the writing because it’s not an easy road. Some people have quicker success and that’s great but many of us have to work at it for a long time before we cross the publishing threshold.

I often hear the patience is one of the most important assets a writer can possess. Is there anything you’ve learned from your critique buddies?

I’m in two critique groups, a local SCBWI group that meets monthly at my local library, and an online group called Crumpled Paper. Both groups have helped me so much. The main thing I’ve learned from these critique groups is that it’s vital to get feedback. And that it never hurts to try out people’s suggestions even if you don’t agree with them—sometimes it produces wonderful results.

It never hurts to try a suggestion. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I’m excited about a nonfiction picture book about Ben and Jerry and their rocky road to ice cream success—it’s coming out in Spring 2022.

[And although she didn't mention it, here is the cover of her third picture book, Madame Saqui, Revolutionary Rope Dancer, releasing in 3/24/2020.]

What a great pitch! That book sounds yummy. Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or something you’re glad you didn’t know about in advance?

I’m glad I didn’t know it would take me ten years. And I’m glad that I didn’t know that I’d write two novels that wouldn’t sell. If I’d known that, I’m not sure I would have continued. Instead, I labored away with the hope that it’d take me one or two years . . . and that my novels would sell.

Hope the third one fares better than the previous ones. What is your favorite animal? Why?

I confess I’m a cat person. I love dogs, too, (I grew up with border collies) but I’ve always owned a cat (or two or three). Although others might disagree, I find them to be loving, cuddly, and sociable.

I totally agree with you. Thank you, Lisa for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.

Be sure to stop back by on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Pipa's Night Parade.

To find out more about Lisa Robinson, or get in touch with her:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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