Lisa Desimini grew up reading and drawing every chance she got. Her friends and fellow students told her that she should be an artist when she grew up, and Lisa agreed. She graduated from The School of Visual Arts in NYC. Now, she has written and/or illustrated over 35 books for children. She has also illustrated many book jackets for YA and adults novels.
For what age audience do you write/illustrate, and in what genre(s)?
My children’s books are for children ages 3-7. Some of my books are for all ages. My favorite genre is fantasy, but I’ve published non-fiction, too. I adore illustrating poetry collections.
Henry: I met Lisa at a book event at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, where she was signing her new picture book. I was especially surprised and pleased to learn she also illustrated the covers for the Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) paranormal fantasy novels!
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is THE FLEATASTICS. It’s about an acrobatic troupe of fleas that travel from sleeping dog to sleeping dog to put on a show. Sarafleana’s family wants her to be part of their parasite pyramid, but she dreams of having her own act. When someone in the audience says the forbidden “T” word…Sarafleana gets a chance to prove what she can do.
Henry: My agent is right now shopping a narrative nonfiction picture book told by and about fleas. Fascinating little dudes.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
There are two messages in this book. First, it’s important to do what it takes to follow ones dreams. The second message is that no matter what knocks us down, we have to get back up, brush ourselves off and get back on the horse… But I usually don’t set out with a mission for my books to have a message. It just happens sometimes.
Henry: If you’re a flea, you brush yourself off and get back on the cat.
What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?
For me, writing is more challenging. I write something and, at first, I love it. Then I kind of like it, then I’m not sure about it at all, so I put it away for a few days. When I look again, I say, “OK, this has potential!” Then I show a friend and they make me see something I could do to make it better, so I do it and I like it better. Rinse and repeat and then maybe I send it to my editor and maybe it gets published. I don’t have as much back and forth when it comes to illustration because I’ve been making pictures since I was a little kid.
Henry: I certainly agree that critique groups (the external opinion) is absolutely vital to good writing.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer/illustrator?
The powerful lesson I’ve learned is the more research the better! Nowadays, the internet makes it easier to find books, gather information, and see images from different regions. When I was younger I illustrated a book about the Navaho and I thought I did a good job in recreating their hogans, but I got a very sweet letter from the tribe saying they weren’t accurate. I felt terrible. More recently, when I illustrated, SHE SANG PROMISE about a Seminole woman named Betty Mae Jumper, I was thrilled that National Geographic sent my images to the Seminole museum to be approved.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer/illustrator?
The memorable experiences for me are when I do a drawing at the end of all my school visits. They’re not preplanned. I use the students’ ideas, and they never cease to amaze me. When their creativity is lit up, there is an exuberant energy in the room. They might call out instead of raising their hands, bounce around, and get a bit loud, but it’s all worth it to me because when creativity is unleashed, it’s wild. It’s not always about being perfectly behaved.
Henry: I also call out instead of raising my hand.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors or illustrators?
I would tell aspiring authors and illustrators to read as much as you can. Go to the library or bookstore every week–read classics and the latest books. Take a class and join the SCBWI. If kid’s books are truly your passion, you will have the energy and desire to follow the ideas that come to you. Some of my ideas have flowed quickly, but most of my books have taken years to come together and sell.
Henry: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has been helpful to many a career. Their website is http://www.scbwi.org.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
My favorite quote: “You must do the things you think you cannot do.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
Henry: I also like “Whether you think you can, or you think you cannot, you are right.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write/illustrate?
I like to clean up and organize before I start working on a new project. Then I read a bunch of favorite books. Even if they’re not related to my new project, they get me excited and revved up about stories and the infinite worlds they create.
Henry: Is that preparation or procrastination? 🙂
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
My superpower would be the ability to teleport myself–anytime and anywhere.
Henry: I love it. No time wasted commuting or in traffic. No greenhouse gas emissions.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Is it OK if I answer a slightly different question–a dinner with my favorite characters from books instead of authors? I love authors, but Owen Meany, Harry Potter and Pippi Longstocking popped into my mind!! Owen because he is so dearly earnest, Harry because of his bravery, and Pippi because of her adventurous spirit!
Henry: No, it is not OK. This interview is cancelled! Per Wikipedia:
A Prayer for Owen Meany is the seventh novel by American writer John Irving. Published in 1989, it tells the story of John Wheelwright and his best friend Owen Meany growing up together in a small New Hampshire town during the 1950s and 1960s. According to John’s narration, Owen is a remarkable boy in many ways; he believes himself to be God’s instrument and sets out to fulfill the fate he has prophesied for himself.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
My favorite creature is a centaur. I like that they have the intellect of a human and an animal’s wild nature.
Henry: I like them too. One is featured on the cover of my first book.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing/illustrating?
When I’m not writing, I like to be with my husband and our kitty Crash, cook, read, watch movies, be in the garden and do yoga.
Henry: But not all at the same time…Yoga cooking!
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
I plan on being cremated and turned into a tree, so my treestone would say, “She always tried to be better and do better.”
Henry: I’m going to go out on a limb and say the root of that choice is that one must be thick-skinned to be an author.
Where can readers find your work?
You can find my work in bookstores, libraries and on my website: http://www.lisadesimini.com
Henry: Thank you for spending time with us, Lisa!