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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Lisa Mantchev

I work with words every day,

be it drafting, revising, making editorial changes,

copyediting, page proofing, or daydreaming the next project.

~ Lisa Mantchev

Lisa Mantchev is "a temporally displaced Capricorn who casts her spells from an ancient tree in the Pacific Northwest. When not scribbling, she is by turns an earth elemental, English professor, actress, artist, and domestic goddess. She shares her abode with her husband, two children, two upstairs cats and three downstairs dogs."

By the way, in case you don't know her - Lisa is the author of the award-winning picture book Strictly No Elephants, which has now been translated into fourteen languages and has over one hundred thousand copies in print.

For general information about Lisa, check out our first interview, from October 30, 2017 (here).

Welcome back Lisa, what a pleasure to talk to you again. I am really excited to discuss your newest picture book Remarkables, which released September 10th.

ME: Do you see a common theme or thread in your picture books Jinx and the Doom Fight Crime (2018), Someday, Narwhal (2017), Sister Day! (2017), and Strictly No Elephants (2015)?

LISA: I started off writing short speculative fiction for adults, and I see that fantasy influence in my books for children. There is always some element of whimsy or imaginative play involved, whether it’s a tiny narwhal living in a fishbowl or siblings pretending to be superheroes.

I think that's what makes your books so special. How did the process of creating Remarkables differ from your other books?

Remarkables was originally a wordless picture book. Basically, I sold my editor at S&S a manuscript that art directed the story. Later, we heard from several bookselling outlets that they would love for there to also be text, so I worked with the amazing spreads David Litchfield had produced, setting them out on my giant letterpress cabinet and first writing on Post-It Notes, then typing lines out on my vintage Underwood. It was difficult, working backwards from finished art to words, and not a little bit terrifying, I will admit. But in the end, it’s a book that still moves me to tears when I read it aloud.

Wow. Just goes to show how remarkable YOU are. How different is Jinx and the Doom Fight Crime from your other books?

Jinx & The Doom is based on my own children, which makes it very personal. My daughter’s gaming handle at the time was Jinx, and we called my son “Tiny Doom” since conception (until he solemnly informed us one day that he was no longer tiny, just Doom.) Pacing and story-wise, there’s no one Big Problem that the characters are addressing, but rather a series of microproblems that tie together into a bigger picture. It’s also a fun book because the illustrations by Samantha Cotterill are so graphic, and she built several of them in three dimensions, like a diorama.

How fun. I like the more unusual story structure! Where did the idea for Remarkables come from?

It started with the mental image of a young boy in old-fashioned swimming gear diving into the water only to meet a mermaid. Under all the beautiful circus imagery, this book is very much about the families we choose. I’m an adult child of divorce; when it happened, my husband and I had a new baby in the house, and we had to start brand-new traditions with our daughter. Many of my children’s friends are living with grandparents or adoptive families. It was important to me to tell their story in a way that conveyed how important and special that is.

Family is definitely both what we get and who we chose. How long did Remarkables take to go from idea to publication?

Three years, which is a little longer than usual but also to be expected when illustrators are booked years out with various projects.

And when you write it "backwards." What's something you want your readers to know about Remarkables? Anything you’ve wanted to say about Jinx and the Doom Fight Crime?

Definitely, follow both my illustrators on Instagram. They post the most amazing artwork.

Be sure to take a moment and check them out; especially Samantha's three-dimensional illustrations. Having worked with a number of illustrators, what has been your best experience so far? Your biggest surprise?

The best part is being involved with selecting an illustrator, which means I get to look at *a lot* of portfolios. The pool of talent is really staggering, and there are a lot of people I would love to work with.

I think I got most of my surprise moments out of the process putting together Strictly No Elephants, simply because I had no idea what to expect or when to expect it, so every step of the way, there was a “TAH DAH” moment.

Do you have a favorite spread from Remarkables?

The title page is actually one of my very favorites, with the pale blues and the Ferris wheel visible in the background. I originally wondered if it might be the cover art (which is also striking, but in a very different way.)

I found it interesting that this image is monochromatic (except for the dramatic title), when all the rest of the book is vibrantly colored. It's such a gorgeous boardwalk image. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us? I am especially intrigued by the cover of The Perfectly Perfect Wish, coming out February 4, 2020.

The Perfectly Perfect Wish started off wondering what a wish would look like if you found one in the grass. I even posed this question to my friends on Facebook as I was drafting. It very quickly turned into a story about acknowledging one’s privileges (blessings, if you care to call them that) and using that privilege to help others. Jessica Courtney-Tickle used B&W and color in *amazing* ways to help tell the story. Also in the works is Twisty Turny House (which was originally titled “Upstairs Cats and Downstairs Dogs") which is the story of my own house, where we have three puppers living downstairs and two rescue kitties living upstairs. E.G. Keller is illustrating that one, and I haven’t seen anything yet, but I know it will be fantastic.

I can't wait to see these books! Having gone through a number of book releases and associated readings and school visits, do you have any advice for those just learning their book is to be published? (What will you do/try differently next time? Best or worst experience to avoid?)

Launching a book is both thrilling and terrifying, because it’s the author’s worst nightmare to plan a launch or a reading only for no one to turn up. I think my smallest-ever audience was… eight or nine people? Which, after a three-hour trip to Seattle, was an epic sad-trombone-noise moment. Conversely, thousands of people turned up to the first Seattle Children’s Book Festival, and I didn’t stop signing books and greeting readers for four hours straight. So, my advice is to launch your book close to home, in your favorite indie bookshop, where all your friends and family can easily attend, and also make an effort to travel to big group events, which will introduce you to whole new circle of readers.

Awesome advice. This book festival drew so many great authors and illustrators. Some of the lines for signings and selfies curved around the block. Strictly No Elephants has been made into a musical. Do you have any plans to do that for any of your other picture books?

At the time, I was teaching at a local community theater, but when my daughter entered high school, I put all drama plans on the backburner, just because there aren’t enough hours in the day. I do have the theatrical rights to all the stories, though, so they are available should a professional group approach me about an adaptation.

A time-turner and a teleporter, these would be the best Christmas gifts ever. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?

All stories are important, and no idea is too small or too personal. (Also, all those big vocabulary words you love because you read them somewhere. You are probably mispronouncing them, and that’s okay.)

*chuckle* We all matter and so do our stories. What has been the most surprising (unexpected) thing to happen to one of your books or in your career since you published Strictly No Elephants?

All the translations. I love getting author copies in so many other languages, and now we’re up to fifteen for the tiny elephant book! It was also read on a French television show by a Yeti, which is fairly improbable, as situations go. 😉

HA! That would have been fun to see! Thank you, Lisa for stopping back by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you again.

Be sure to stop by on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF post on Remarkables.

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

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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