Blog Archive

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Doodling Pays Off: An Interview with Author/Illustrator Leslie Patricelli

Today's interview is with an author/illustrator who has published more than 30  preschool books for children. Earlier this year, she published her first middle-grade novel.

If you don’t read picture books, you might still be familiar with her artwork as she created and animated Rover the Dog for Windows XP help, which is installed on more than 60 million computers worldwide.

What inspired you to write your first picture book?
I've always loved to write stories and draw cartoons. I was inspired in my childhood by the children's books that I grew up with (many of which stayed in my room through high school), as well as Mad magazine.

I started working on writing and illustrating children's book ideas years before I had children. It wasn't until I had my son, Beck, that I was inspired with an idea I felt was solid enough to submit. He was crawling around on the floor, sticking things into his mouth and I found myself saying "yucky" all the time, and when I was trying to feed him, I was saying "yummy." Yummy Yucky was the first book published, along with Big Little and Quiet Loud

Which came first – the idea for illustrations or the text?
The illustrations of my baby character came first. I had drawn the baby in my notes during an infant CPR class that I took shortly after I had my son. The nurse was telling us about one horrible thing after another that could happen to our new babies.

I started drawing the baby getting into all the terrible situations, such as falling down the stairs in a walker, sticking a fork in an outlet, or falling into a toilet. When I got the idea for Yummy Yucky, I already had my character!

Are you more an illustrator or a writer?
I consider myself equally a writer and an illustrator. When I first got out of college, I wrote direct mail for an advertising agency and did lots of writing. Next, I got a job at Microsoft doing character design and animation. When I was only writing for work, I missed drawing, and when I was only drawing for work, I missed writing!

How did you go about finding a publisher?
When I worked at Microsoft, I met several other artists who wanted to publish children's books. I learned about a class at the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle on writing and illustrating children's books taught by two published author/illustrators, Keith Baker and Laura McGee Kvasnosky.

They helped me focus my work and learn how to submit it. I submitted Yummy Yucky, Big Little and Quiet Loud to two publishers. The first publisher (Candlewick), I submitted through my teacher, Laura. The other publisher (Chronicle) I submitted cold. Both of them wanted to publish my books! 

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
During my first year out of college, I was trying to figure out how I could become a cartoonist or illustrator. One of my favorite Mad Magazine illustrators was Jack Davis. My now husband encouraged me to call him and ask him how to get started as a cartoonist.

His advice was to "keep drawing." I could've never guessed that I'd end up writing books for babies, but as I continued to write and draw, my style changed, and simplified dramatically into a style that succeeded. The best advice for writing is the same: "Keep writing."

We have all experienced writing rejection. How have you learned to write past it?
My new middle-grade novel, The Rizzlerunk Club: Best Buds Under Frogs, was inspired by events from my own fourth-grade year when I moved to a new school. My editor told me that elements of the story weren't believable. My response was always, "But that's how it happened!"

It took me a long time to realize that I wasn't writing an autobiography, but a work of fiction. Finally, I was able to let go of what actually occurred for the betterment of my story. It took me ten years to finish my middle-grade novel. Much of the reason is that it was so personal that I kept having to set it aside to let go of what I had in mind and accept my editor's feedback so I could make a better book. I'm happy with how it turned out!

What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing? What frustrated you the most?
I am surprised by how little a published writer knows about what is going on with sales and marketing of the product. Writers are kept in the dark about numbers. We really only know how a book is selling when the bi-annual royalties statement is mailed out. It makes planning difficult and doesn't provide much of a sense of control over the success of a book. 

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
Writing is a lonely endeavor! To create a book requires many, many hours of alone time. For a social person, that can be difficult. Luckily, I have my audio books to keep me company!

Tell me one of your favorite bits of writing advice.
James Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, said, "Cut it in half, leaving nothing out." Fantastic advice.

Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?

As Stephen King says in his book, 'On Writing,' "The road to hell is paved with adverbs."

What is the next book that will be coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?
My next two baby board books are called, Tooth and Big Kid Bed and will be available in September! I'm especially excited about Tooth because my dad was a dentist and my mom was a hygienist, so tooth-care was a topic of great importance in our household! 

In Big Kid Bed, I explore the emotions a kid might feel when making the move from a crib to a bed. I hope to help them understand their own feelings, so they can feel comfortable and make the choice to stay put in their new bed-without-walls.

That's all for today's interview. If you'd like to learn more about Leslie's writing, here are some links to get you started. 


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