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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Work of Writing and Illustrating: Author Interview with Jan Lis

You’ve won awards for your art and your work has been exhibited in many shows. What made you decide to leave that work to write and illustrate a children’s book?
My writing for children started one fall. When the days started getting dark early, the time before dinner was a low spot for me. So, I decided to take that time and turn it into something positive. 

I wrote a children’s Christmas story every year at that time. Before long I realized I was enjoying writing and illustrating my stories more than just painting. And I felt the stories had more to give. That said, I have not given up on my artwork.

Which comes first for you -- the idea for the illustrations or the storyline?
Interestingly, sometimes the idea for the story is first, and sometimes the illustrations are first. In Tyrone The Terrible, I wrote the story and then added the drawings. In Rags Joins the Circus, I wanted to be free to capture any part of the circus I was drawn to, so I painted the illustrations first. I had a storyline in my head, but I wanted the artwork to direct the story.

How many rewrites do you do on the storyline?
I do tons of rewrites, for each story. Even Kid Lit has to have the right feel to it. For Tyrone, I did all my edits and thought I had a pretty tight story. Imagine my surprise when the publisher’s editor got a look at it! 

Do your illustrations get multiple “reworks” as well?
My illustrations are a different matter. They do not get do-overs. I develop each aspect of an illustration separately and then assembly them like a montage.

I was surprised to see that you have blurbs of several of your unpublished kids' stories on your website. Has that helped in getting other books published?
My unpublished stories have helped in the respect that I have gone on to self-publish some of my manuscripts on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing. KDP is a great and easy way to get introduced to the world of publishing. I followed this up by learning a few marketing skills.

Prior to writing your picture books, you wrote for newspapers. How did that help or hinder the writing of your picture books?
Writing stories for newspapers has been both a good thing and a not so good thing for me. The plus side is that I am able to condense the story action into a few words. The minus is that my stories tend to be too condensed, and I have to work at extending the storyline.

You are represented by the Hartline Agency. How did that come about?
I am represented by a wonderful agent at Hartline. I went online and read through many agent bios until I found the one who seemed to be a perfect fit for me. You don’t even want to query an agent who doesn’t represent children’s books if that is what you write. Then, and this is the most important thing I have found in promoting yourself, I went to a conference where he was, and set up an interview with him.

How much time daily do you have for writing or for artwork?
I think writers have the easiest part. Illustrators get to do the hardest. That is the way it works out for me anyway. I always have many story ideas, and writing them down is easy. Editing takes a bit more time. But the most complex and time heavy is putting together and painting the illustration. That said, it is the part I most enjoy.

What has surprised or frustrated you the most in publishing books?
What I have found the most surprising in the industry is how helpful everyone is. Tyrone being my first non-self-published book, I am amazed at the willingness of everyone to help me get started. To answer my stupid questions, and have patience with my getting it all wrong.

What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned that you would like to pass along?
Looking back on my desire to pursue writing, there is one thing that has made all the difference  -- attending Writer’s Conferences. Conferences are where you meet people and make the contacts that are so necessary in getting your book published. You learn to hone your craft in the workshops and meet exciting people working in your genre.

Any other thoughts you’d like to add about writing and illustrating?
As a final thought, though for me it is a first thought - do what you love. Write what you know. For years, I wrote my stories, and they got put in the drawer. It seemed like my writing was going nowhere. But I kept at it, and it has worked out. You will make it.

Is there a new book coming out you’d like to promote?
As a matter of fact, there is a new book to shout about. It is a Picture Book titled, I Hate Oatmeal. The book will be released in November. It is Mom’s comic answer to a picky eater.

That’s all for today’s interview. If you’d like to see more of Jan’s writing and illustrations, here are some links to get you started.

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