Lisa Brown is a New York Times bestselling illustrator, author, and cartoonist. Her books for young’uns include HOW TO BE, BABY MIX ME A DRINK, THE LATKE WHO COULDN’T STOP SCREAMING by Lemony Snicket, EMILY’S BLUE PERIOD by Cathleen Daly, and MUMMY CAT by Marcus Ewert. She teaches picture book writing and illustration at the California College of the Arts. Her most recent book, THE AIRPORT BOOK, is about the airport. She lives in San Francisco.
For what age audience do you write?
A better question might be “for what age audience DON’T you write?” I’ve created humor books and comics for adults, picture books for kiddos, one co-authored illustrated novel for teens (PICTURE THE DEAD, with Adele Griffin), and I am blissfully at work on a YA graphic novel.
Henry: FYI, the YA graphic novel is entitled THE LIVING DOLL, and tells the story of conjoined twins who remain connected even after one of them dies during the operation to separate them.
Tell us about your latest book.
It’s a picture book about the airport. Called, creatively, The Airport Book.
Henry: Hey, spoiler alert!
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope to demystify and mystify an airline journey.
Henry: Always burning the candle at both ends, eh?
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
Perhaps the most challenging thing is letting it out of my hands. I always think that there is more to be done.
Henry: I agree. I suspect sculptors feel the same way, although it’s worse for them. If they remove something, it’s much harder to put it back.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
Don’t read Amazon reviews.
Henry: So true! Note: this is not a criticism of Amazon. Rather, it is advice about reviews in general. The good ones tell you what you already know, and the bad ones make you sad or frustrated. My writer friend Deborah Underwood got a bad review because the book arrived damaged! My bedtime picture book MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS was dinged for not having enough action!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
You can’t write well if you don’t read well. Read. Read everything. Read like a writer, with one eye always on craft.
Henry: A lion is the product of all the zebras it’s eaten. I read critically now, although I find it can take some of the joy out of reading others’ picture books.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
a medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
and I am Marie of Romania.” —Dorothy Parker
Henry: “Wanna be the ruler of the galaxy?
Wanna be the king of the universe?
Let’s meet and have a baby now!
Wanna be the empress of fashion?
Wanna be the president of Moscow?
Let’s meet and have a baby now!” – B-52’s
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
Henry: That is my life’s work, and we don’t have room here…
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Invisibility. It would be useful while eavesdropping, an activity important to any writer. And relaxing for introverts like me.
Henry: Invisibility is a good choice. Like mind reading, though, it could lead to learning things you really don’t want to know…
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
I already have an author over for dinner almost every night, my husband, Daniel Handler (http://www.danielhandler.com). So maybe I’d choose some other kind of artist. I’d have loved to have dined with David Bowie, of blessed memory, Dorothy Parker, and Edward Gorey.
Henry: Hey, that’s cheating! For the few that don’t know, Daniel Handler is also known as Lemony Snicket. Wikipedia helpfully adds: “Dorothy Parker was an American poet, short story writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.”
“From a conflicted and unhappy childhood, Parker rose to acclaim, both for her literary output in publications such as The New Yorker and as a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. Following the breakup of the circle, Parker traveled to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting. Her successes there, including two Academy Award nominations, were curtailed when her involvement in left-wing politics led to a place on the Hollywood blacklist.”
“Edward Gorey was an American writer and artist noted for his illustrated books. His characteristic pen-and-ink drawings often depict vaguely unsettling narrative scenes in Victorian and Edwardian settings. He illustrated works as diverse as DRACULA by Bram Stoker, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS by H. G. Wells, and OLD POSSUM’S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS by T. S. Eliot.”
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
I always really, really wanted the Borrowers to exist.
Henry: A fine choice. Note: THE BORROWERS is a children’s fantasy novel by Mary Norton, featuring four-inch tall people who borrow things from their human hosts.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Read. Draw. Drink coffee.
Henry: Write. Read. Draw. Drink coffee. Repeat.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
Please stay off the grass.
Where can readers find your work?
In bookstores and libraries, naturally. And online… I post my daily sketches on my Tumblr, here: http://americanchickens.tumblr.com. They can also take a peek at my Three Panel Book Reviews, which will be collected and expanded into a book by Algonquin Books, here: http://threepanelbookreview.tumblr.com
Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Lisa.