When I was asked if I could be a stop on a blog tour for Leslie Patricelli - I just smiled! I can not even tell you how much we LOVE Leslie at our house! Her book, Higher! Higher!, is a constant favorite - on that Chloe asks me to read again and again!
So I was honored that I could interview Leslie as well. Here is what Leslie had to say!
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I wanted to be an artist before a writer. When someone asked me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" my answer was always, "An artist!" In Junior High I refined that, and for my career day interview, I told my teacher I wanted to be a commercial artist and a ski instructor. The teacher kind of laughed at me, like "good luck, kid!" (And he didn't even know I would grow up and marry a musician!)
In college, I started to think about kids' books, since I'd loved them as a kid, and it's seemed like a perfect thing to do if you love to write and draw. I wasn't aiming for that as my career, though, mainly because I had no idea how to get there. At the University of Washington (then, at least) you got pretty pigeonholed into a major and I didn't want to do only art or only writing. I decided to major in communications and thought I might be a graphic designer, until I went to an advertising agency and a copywriter convinced me that he had the fun job. So I aimed for that, and my first job out of college was to write copy for direct mail (that's "junk mail" to everyone who's not in the industry). I learned a lot; like how to write incomplete sentences and use lots of ellipses and exclamation points!!!!!!!! (Basically to write like I was talking.) I also learned that I didn't really like going to an office every day.
Thus I began my path as a "freelance artist" – or "I don't know what I want to do, but I know I don't want to do that!" So I quit the working world and went to Italy, where I traveled, skied and worked as a nanny. I did lots of journal keeping, drawing and reading on my adventure. Before I came home, I had resolved to be a cartoonist . I started my career by self-publishing a cartoon book about the espresso craze of the early 90's in Seattle, called, 'Espresso Served Here!' My cartoon book helped me get a freelance job with Microsoft doing clip art illustrations in their children's division. This led to seven years of freelancing for Microsoft, mainly animating characters (anyone still have Rover the dog on Windows XP? He's mine!).
At Microsoft, I met career writers, animators, and illustrators. I shared an office with Kevan Atteberry, a fantastic illustrator. He told me about a Children's Book class that he had taken at the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle. I took the class, which was taught by two author/illustrators, Keith Baker and Laura Kvasnosky. In the class, I met my awesome critique group (Margaret Chodos-Irvine and Lorie Ann Grover), who helped me stay on the path of getting a book published. Six years after that, my first books came out! (Note: Be sure to look up all those author's names I just dropped, if you don't already know them, you'll find some great children's books!)
What is the story behind the first book you got published – how many tries to find a publisher, etc.?
I mentioned my cartoon book, 'Espresso Served Here!' – it was the first book that I submitted to a publisher. I submitted it to Sasquatch Books, in Seattle, twice. The first time, it was a very rough draft. When I got a rejection, I called the publisher directly and asked why they didn't want to do it. I could tell it was too rough for them to even consider it. So I finished the whole thing with final art and resubmitted it. This time they considered it, but ultimately didn't take it. I was pretty broken-hearted, but I'd learned a lot and finished the book, so I decided to self-publish it. My uncle, who owned a printing company, helped me print it. My parents helped me fund it. I had a basement full of books and I sold them all going door to door to bookstores and espresso stands. I did a second printing, but by the time I'd gotten rid of the majority of that one, I was tired of acting as a publisher. So, several years later, when I started down the road of submitting children's books, I knew I wouldn't self publish again. Some people have great success with self-publishing, but you need to be prepared wear every hat in the entire venture – sales, marketing, accounting, etc. This time, I just wanted the artist hat.
The first children's book that I put together to submit was a poetry book starring these characters I'd worked on that I called Dandelion People. I got my poems and art into a dummy (mock-up) in my book class, but I never did get the idea working well enough to submit it to a publisher. I ended up moving onto another story that I wrote and illustrated, called 'The Nut'. I sent 'The Nut' to twelve publishers and got twelve rejections. I was encouraged to receive several rejections directly from editors (Not Enough Story!). That meant my book was getting onto their desks. I also got a personal rejection by phone and the editor was interested in seeing more. Unfortunately, I didn't really have more that I thought they'd be interested in. Also, I was started on a new project, which was my son. Little did I know that a year later, he would be the one inspiring my first published books.
I started drawing my board book baby in an infant CPR class right after my son, Beck, was born. The nurse was listing all the terrible things that could happen to my new baby . She went on and on, and I started drawing pictures of this baby doing everything she was talking about – sticking forks in outlets, falling down stairs, swimming in the toilet, choking on venetian blind cords, etc. I kept drawing the baby character during different parenting situations. Then, when my son was one, and sticking everything in his mouth, and I was following him around saying, "Yucky! Yucky!" I came up with Yummy Yucky to help teach kids what they can or can't stick into their mouths. I sketched it out and decided to do two other opposite books to go with it: Quiet Loud and Big Little. I put all of my sketches into book dummies and sent them to two publishers. Both of them wanted to publish them. Good fortune!
By the way, my original Yummy Yucky submission had the baby eating all sorts of really dangerous and poisonous things on the yucky pages. It had to be toned down quite a bit for publication!
How do you choose your topics for your books?
I don't choose them, they choose me! It sounds cliche, but it's true. Ideas pop into my head and the ones I like, I eventually sketch out into my sketch book. There are plenty of unfinished ideas in my sketchbooks that will probably rest there forever. But, if one seems like it's working, and I'm enjoying doing it, I'll keep at it. Once I pursue an idea enough to send to the publisher, it is ultimately up to them which books will move forward from there.
What is your favorite food??
Hard to say, because I love almost all food (except uni sushi – I'll pass on that), but being a good (half) Italian girl, I'll pick spaghetti with Italian sausage and fresh tomato-basil sauce.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Also hard to say, because I love so many of them. I'll stick with picture books to narrow it down. I still love my favorite authors from my childhood, Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak and Shel Silverstein. My favorite book as a kid, and my kids now love it, was Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr. I think it's funny that Mog, who forgets everything, was my favorite book as a kid, because I am always spacing out and forgetting things. On the other hand, my sister's favorite book was called 'The Dead Tree', by Alvin R Tresselt, about a dead tree that spawns new life. She grew up to be an evolutionary biologist! With my own kids, I find myself re-reading Peggy Rathman, Ian Falconer, Lauren Child, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Jon Sciezka and J Otto Siebold, to name a few recent favorites, but by no means all.
Who has inspired you as a writer?
I was initially inspired for my own board books by Lucy Cousins, Todd Parr and Nina Laden. They taught me to keep it simple. Also, all the other authors and illustrators I've mentioned in this interview!
Plans you can share for upcoming books?
My next release, 'The Patterson Puppies and the Rainy Day' comes out on November 11. It's the first book that I've done that stems from an incident in my own childhood (it has to do with lots of water and a blue carpet!). It also has far more text than anything I've done to date. They are a cute family of four little puppies - two boys and two girls. I stole the personalities of the puppies directly from my own children. I am also done with the second Patterson Puppies book, called 'The Patterson Puppies and the Midnight Monster Party', also inspired by an incident from when I was a kid. I hope to do lots more Patterson Puppies books. Right now, I am in the middle of painting two new board books, 'Tubby' and 'Potty', starring my baby character. Look for those next fall! I'm also working on a rhyming picture book about a monkey drummer, and a middle grade novel (a brand new thing for me). Lots of fun stuff!
What has been one of your favorite books to write?
The process is so different for each book that I don't really have a favorite. Sometimes, they are complete in my head before I ever sketch them out, like Higher! Higher! Sometimes I have an idea and sit down and type all the words before I draw any pictures, like 'The Birthday Box' and the Patterson Puppies books. Sometimes I start with a picture and then find a story in it, like 'Binky'. I have absolutely loved writing my middle grade novel, I am amazed to see what stories emerge from my fingertips (but I have a feeling that editing that one could be my biggest challenge yet!)
Where is your favorite spot to write?
I really don't have one, I'll write anywhere that I can when I can find the time. I can tell you where I least like to write – my desk.
Can you tell us a bit about your family….
I come from a big, giant Italian family in Seattle with lots of cousins, aunts and uncles. I have a scientist sister, Gail, who creates bird robots (really – Google her!), and a dentist dad and hygienist mom who are retired now, but still clean our teeth. They also make excellent grandparents (when they are not off traveling or having fun). I have a drummer husband, Jason, who teaches music to kids, drums with local bands, and also teaches skiing here in Sun Valley. I met Jason in college and we have three hilarious children who are growing up too fast. They are Beck (10), Tia (7) and Tatum (5). For Halloween they are going to be Pennywise the Clown from Stephen King's 'It', a giant orange Ugly Doll (which my Mom sewed – it is incredible!), and a mummy. Beck is a fantastic musician like his Dad. Tia and Tatum love to draw and create. The messes they make are unbelievable! Our house is creative, fun, loud and messy!
And her books are just as good as her interview!! I received a copy of her latest book, The Patterson Puppies and the Rainy Day - just this week to review for this blog tour. I just LOVED it! I tell you, you can't go wrong with Patricelli!! Her stories are heart warming - and ones kids WILL relate to - and her illustrations are SO fun!
Thanks again to Leslie Patricelli for appearing, courtesy of Provato Marketing, for other stops on the tour please check www.provatoevents.com.