Karen Lechelt is a writer, illustrator and artist. She was born in South Korea, raised in New Jersey and currently lives in San Francisco. Most of her stories have animals wearing pants. Making books is something she finds impossible and impossibly wonderful. I had the opportunity to meet her at this year’s LA Times Festival of Books.
For what age audience do you write?
Early readers (1-5), picture books
Tell us about your book.
It’s about a young girl who while playing with her toys imagines asking them one simple question, WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOU? Their responses are sweet, silly and unique.
What DO YOU LOVE ABOUT that book?
I hope readers and non-readers will begin to think about what it is they love about themselves…obvious I know, but that’s what I’m really hoping for.
Henry: Very nice.
What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?
Finishing a story or an idea is difficult for me. Ideas can come to me rather quickly. But completing the idea and the ending is almost always a struggle for me. I’m not a tidy person, and find it impossible to come up with tidy endings.
Henry: I’m a very tidy person, and it’s still a challenge to come up with tidy endings.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer/illustrator?
To never give up on myself. After a hundred rejections and many moments of self doubt, ultimately it was MY voice (both verbal and graphic) that shined through the massive slush piles and landed me a wonderful publisher, agent and editor. I have to believe in myself otherwise no one else will.
Henry: Solid advice. That, and grow a thick skin!
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
I’ve never been a fan of public speaking…actually I used to loathe it. But since becoming a published author and presenting my book to over 500 students, children and adults, I’ve learned to enjoy the experience. And reading on the children’s stage at the LA Times Festival of Books is something I never expected to do and will NEVER forget. Also getting my picture taken with Jon Klassen AND Mac Barnett at LATFB was a huge treat for this fan.
Henry: I saw you there. Great job!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors or illustrators?
I’m too much of an imposter to give advice. But if forced, maybe I’d say no matter what, just enjoy the artful journey of storytelling.
Henry: Good advice. The artistic road is hilly, so enjoy the high points.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
Not really a quote, but a cartoon by Jack Ziegler. A man walks into a party and thinks to himself “Yipes! Grownups!”. That happens to me almost every day…not the party, just the feeling.
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?
I don’t, but my dog does. He follows me to my desk, waits for me to turn around in my chair and say “I see you” and then jumps onto the small sofa. If I don’t acknowledge him, he stares through me until I’ve relented. Oh, and I do eat a lot of chocolate, but there’s nothing strange about that.
Henry: “Acknowledge me, hooman! One does not simply work without acknowledging me. It is folly.”
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Having a 10 year old daughter, I have discussed this quite a bit. I would absolutely fly. I love traveling and eating. So if I could fly I would wake up in the morning and eat bagels in NY, then fly to Paris for a ham baguette and croissant, then I’d go and eat Udon in Japan and end my day in Florence with waffles and gelato. I’d be a very selfish superhero and happily very plump. If I couldn’t fly I’d maybe like to control the weather. I think I could do a lot of good if I could control the weather.
Henry: If you get too plump, it would affect your aerodynamics. Flying is a lot trickier than it first appears. I wrote a mock interview of Edna Mode, discussing the challenges of flying and other superpowers.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
I would love to have Haruki Murakami over for dinner because he is my favorite all-time author. I would want to ask him about the inklings and cats and shadows in his books. I would also love to eat with Mary Blair, although technically she’s not an author, but illustrator. She illustrated one of my all time favorite picture books, I CAN FLY. Her color, style and creativity are unrivaled. And lastly I would have Charles Bukowski at the table, because I love his writing, but more importantly, I think he would be horribly fun. Either I’d love him or end up kicking him out.
Henry: Wikipedia helpfully offers:
“Haruki Murakami is a Japanese writer. His books and stories have been bestsellers in Japan as well as internationally, with his work being translated into 50 languages and selling millions of copies outside his native country. The critical acclaim for his fiction and non-fiction has led to numerous awards, in Japan and internationally, including the World Fantasy Award (2006) and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award (2006). His oeuvre received, for example, the Franz Kafka Prize (2006) and the Jerusalem Prize (2009). Murakami’s most notable works include A Wild Sheep Chase (1982), Norwegian Wood (1987), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994–95), Kafka on the Shore (2002), and 1Q84 (2009–10).
Mary Blair, born Mary Robinson, was an American artist who was prominent in producing art and animation for The Walt Disney Company, drawing concept art for such films as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Song of the South and Cinderella. Blair also created character designs for enduring attractions such as Disneyland’s It’s a Small World, the fiesta scene in El Rio del Tiempo in the Mexico pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, and an enormous mosaic inside Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Several of her illustrated children’s books from the 1950s remain in print, such as I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss. Blair was inducted into the prestigious group of Disney Legends in 1991.
Henry Charles Bukowski was a German-born American poet, novelist, and short story writer. His writing was influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambience of his home city of Los Angeles. His work addresses the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels, eventually publishing over 60 books. The FBI kept a file on him as a result of his column, Notes of a Dirty Old Man, in the LA underground newspaper Open City. In 1986 Time called Bukowski a “laureate of American lowlife”.”
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
I like the cats in Murakami’s books because they are delegates from another world. When I read a Murakami story I may be entering a world that I actually feel like I belong to. I believe my dog, Mr. Jones, often tries to lead me down a rabbit hole.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Right now I’m really into painting…and chocolate.
Henry: Chocolate is becoming a theme here…
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
Lived a long happy life.
Where can readers find your work?
Tell them to check their local library! And if they want to buy it they can go to their local book store, Barnes and Noble, Amazon and the like.
Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Karen.