To close out this crazy and unprecedented year, I wanted to take some time to highlight my fellow kidlit creators who are working their tails off to birth their beautiful book babies into the world. These interviews will cast a light on the wonderful work of these pre-published, unagented authors and author-illustrators who are destined to be stars!
Meet Rising Star
Lisa is an author-illustrator. Her love of children's books began when her grandmother and aunt (both teachers) gifted her books like, Sam Bangs & Moonshine by Evaline Ness and Are You There God It's Me, Margaret? by Judy Blume. As a young girl, her stories, poems, and drawings were pasted into the family Christmas cards.
Lisa's work with young children in public schools as an educator, and raising three boys, has inspired her to write stories with relatable characters, humor, and heart.
Lisa is seeking agent representation.
Welcome, Lisa! You're our first Rising Star! Hooray! I'm so excited to have you here and chat about all things kidlit and creativity!
AD: Let’s start with a speed round...
I know, I know – I’m drawn to these books about death/grief Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds,
The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier, The Scarecrow by Beth Ferry.
AD: Okay, now down to the serious stuff….
AD: Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
LF: Five years ago, I was inspired to write my first picture book manuscript about my son who was grieving the loss of his pet chicken. I remember writing that story through tears watching my son go through it and how I felt putting thoughts to paper. Before I was a mom and educator, I earned a BFA from RISD. Why not illustrate my stories too! How hard could it be? I was humbled by my local NESCBWI critique group after realizing that my manuscript was far from a final draft at 1800 words. Thirty plus manuscripts later, I’m finding joy in the journey and making progress. Last year, my manuscript was chosen as runner up by author-illustrator, Cori Doerrfeld, in the PBChat Mentorship. I continue to put my work out into the world by entering writing contests and scholarships and submitting to agents and editors. Although rejections are a reality, I’ve had encouraging feedback and requests for more work. I’ve also received several requests for R&R's (revise and resubmit). I remain persistent and dedicated.
My favorite mantra is to “trust the timing of your life” so I plan to write well into my retirement. I like to practice mindfulness by hand doodling/drawing mandalas when life distracts me. Wondering what happened to that first manuscript? While it’s been the anchor for my other stories, I’m still revising it.
AD: Thanks for sharing your background, Lisa! I can totally relate to the emotions that go into writing difficult stories especially ones about grief. They are tough, but help us process. Congrats on being chosen as a runner up in last year's PBChat mentorship, too! Putting ourselves out there is one of the hardest parts so kudos to you for being vulnerable and brave!
AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author-illustrator? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
LF: I’ve enjoyed drawing and writing since I was a young girl. I dabbled in printmaking (my major in college), craft making, custom home décor, mural painting and set design for local theater, and most recently, house portraits. I love to work with all types of mediums. From the idea, to execution whether it be a picture, a craft, or a story, it’s the creative process that calls to me.
AD: What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing/art? Favorite genres you like to write in or favorite art materials/techniques?
LM: I tend to focus on heartfelt and humor with relatable characters and strive to write stories with twists and turns that might make you tear up with grief and sentiment or laugh out loud with silly and punny word play.
© 2020 Lisa Furness Art
AD: Breaking into the publishing industry is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?
LF: My biggest challenge has been connecting with an agent who loves my work as much as I do. I’m on the road this year to receiving over 50 rejections and although I’m getting some positive feedback, it’s difficult-especially when you really want to work with a specific agent. But I keep a gratitude journal to appreciate all the positivity in my life and refer to it every day: “Trust the timing of your life” and "It will all work out” are my favorites.
AD: I keep a gratitude journal as well. They are key to helping maintain the ups and downs of life and this crazy, creative journey. You have some really great mantras and affirmations, too. I find the journal helps me refocus on what's truly important in life.
AD: As creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing/illustration journey?
LF: My biggest accomplishment is how far I’ve come with my writing and understanding of the picture book genre since I started five years ago. I feel I have a good understanding of what needs work and what I’m most confident about. I’m most proud of a specific manuscript that has completely changed. I better understand how to tell this particular story in a different way and still honor the message and theme.
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author/illustrator? What makes your art/writing unique to you?
LF: Making a picture book is a collaboration from the moment you put your story out into the world. I like brainstorming ideas and finding solutions with my critique partners, and I’m excited when a critique partner has good news to share from a manuscript they’ve shared with me. I’m not afraid to revise or take risks whether it’s trying different points of view or changing an idea completely if it helps to make the story stronger. I understand different picture book structures and often like to write pitches when I’m critiquing other’s manuscripts. I look forward to the process of collaboration with an agent/editor someday.
AD: Yes! Collaboration can be so fun in critique groups. It's always nice to have a trusted group that can help you grow and develop. It's exciting to know that you've helped someone reach their goal, move past a block, or discover a new way of looking at an old manuscript.
AD: What inspires your work?
LF: Situations or events that have impacted my own children and the children I work with inspire me. Also, picture books I admire and affect me make me aspire to write stories for children that will make a positive difference and influence their world.
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
LF: Until recently I haven’t really struggled with the creative process but current life stressors are impacting my ability to focus. But I’m okay with this. When the dust settles I’ll get back into it because I know writing feeds my creative soul.
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author-illustrator?
LF: My creative community has been so important to me. I’ve attended several conferences and love to getaway and immerse myself in all things writing and connect with writing peers. My critique groups are key to helping my stories become the best they can be. I also belong to Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 and love her informational monthly webinars. Also, Arree Chung’s Storyteller Academy for craft, and I participate in Twitter pitch parties and PBChat. When time and money allow, I enroll in popular writing courses and attend craft webinars, workshops, and book debuts by author friends.
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
LF: Read as many picture books as you can get your hands on! The local library is a great place to network with and request books. Participate in the wonderfully generous kidlit community that is out there, join a critique group, and Never Give Up.
AD: Yes! Yes! and yes! Wise words, Lisa ;)
AD: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
To learn more about my work you can visit my WEBSITE here!
Lisa's Twitter @_lisafurness
Lisa's instagram @lisalfurness
Lisa, thank you so much for sharing a bit about yourself and contributing to the Rising Stars in Kidlit series! We can’t wait to read your stories and see your work in the hands of young readers! Feel free to drop a comment below to support Lisa and her work.
Stay tuned for next week where we get to meet another Rising Star in Kidlit, and be sure to subscribe below so you don't miss out and follow along on Twitter at #RisingStarsinKidlit.
If you are interested in being featured in the Rising Stars in KidLit series, please complete the following Getting to Know You form to be considered. Thank you!
Who Am I?
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the author of the award-winning picture book, 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag, Moonlight Memories (summer, 2023) and a yet to be announced forthcoming title. She also has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. Amanda has over ten years of experience as a classroom teacher and was selected as Massachusetts Secondary Art Educator of the Year. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her family and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.