Meet Rising Star
Author-Illustrator Erin Siska!
AD: Welcome, Erin! I’m so excited to have you on the blog.
Let’s start with a speed round…
- Top three favorite children’s books of all time? Gah! It’s totally impossible to pick just three but it’s deadline time so here goes…
- Goodnight Moon (classic)
- Not Quite Narwhal (contemporary)
- The Crayons’ Christmas – because how often do you get to the third book in a series that is just as funny and clever and original as the first, and even takes it to the next level with an interactive component of paper dolls, pullout game, and build-your-own dreidel? So huge props to Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers on that one!
- Coffee, tea (or neither)? Coffee on the daily. Tea when I’m sick.
- Where is your safe place? With my family.
- Dogs, cats, (or neither)? Dogs.
- Early bird or night owl? These days, early bird.
- Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world…Grit, luck, and Big time, Patience.
AD: Okay, now down to the serious stuff….please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
ES: I am currently a stay-at-home mom and I live with my husband, two children, and rescue dog in Fort Lauderdale. After reading thousands of picture books to my children, I started to say “I should write one of these!” I started writing creatively again over the past year, while isolating during the pandemic, and I am so glad that I did.
AD: A bright spot from this pandemic! How lovely! 🙂
AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author-illustrator? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
ES: I have always enjoyed writing but my first career was a lawyer because I had to earn a living. I became a stay-at-home mom after my second child was born and my wonderful husband supports us all now. Thank you Joe, we love and appreciate you! Before lawyering, I worked in retail, in restaurants, in sandwich shops, and in the law library. Writing my stories is way more fun than negotiating and drafting insurance contracts and shareholder and employment agreements, although the money is not quite as good (*coughs* no money from writing yet. Zero.)
AD: So good to hear you are finding the fun in creating. That’s so important. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the fun factor as we work towards our publishing goals. Thanks for the reminder to HAVE FUN!
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?
ES: In writing, I usually focus on character-driven fiction picture books although I have one non-fiction manuscript for ages 8-12 about the recent attack on the U.S. Capitol that I am excited about. And I’m also working on a chapter book series. I like quirky characters, gentle humor, and an emphasis on good mental health. It is a subject that is very important to me as someone who manages anxiety and depression and has a family history of mental illness. Laughter is often the best medicine. I focus on themes such as being your authentic self, kindness, inclusion, the power of positive thinking, and having a growth mindset. In art, I like clean, simple lines and lots of colors!
AD: Good for you for tackling the recent attacks on the Capitol and for creating stories that focus on mental health. I’m a big advocate for children needing all types of stories that explore a range of topics and emotions. They need it all!
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?
ES: For me, it’s been having patience! I thought the wheels of
justice turned slowly but the legal field’s got nothing on the publishing industry. I had to take a deep breath, slow down, and remind myself that it’s about the journey and not the destination. Thank goodness I have my critique partners to talk things over with and provide support and encouragement!
AD: CP’s are the best!!
“I believe that the perfect is the enemy of the good.”
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?
I’m really proud of creating my author website all by myself. It might not look like much, and it took me FOREVER, but as a technologically-challenged person this was a huge win for me! And I love that I have carved out a little corner of cyberspace just for me.
AD: Your author website looks great! Congrats! Every small success is worthy of celebration on this journey!
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author/illustrator? What makes your art/writing unique to you?
ES: I am big on characters, so I focus on them first then the plot, dialogue, illustration style, and everything else flows from there. I love my characters so much! As the mom of two young children; host of a zillion play dates and Girl Scout meetings; and class parent, I have a pretty good ear for dialogue and will use funny things the kids say in my manuscripts.
AD: What inspires your work?
ES: There are ideas all around – from my children, from going on walks, art and music, everywhere.
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
ES: I’m big on accountability, so having set meeting times with some of my critique groups keeps me on track. If I have a meeting coming up, it puts a good type of pressure on me to submit something, even if it’s not polished or even finished. Just get something done, and send it in! It’s a great motivator.
Regarding my creative process, I tend to let ideas percolate for a long time in my mind before putting them on paper. Then when I’m ready, it just flows. I might do a few rounds of revisions, especially if big-picture ones are needed, but I don’t like nitpicking at my manuscripts. I guess I’m a bit of a brat that way, but I believe that the perfect is the enemy of the good and my manuscripts are never going to be perfect in everyone’s mind anyway. So I may as well just get them out there!
AD: The perfect is the enemy of the good…I love that, and so true!
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author-illustrator?
ES: I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my critique partners who have inspired me and helped me grow as a writer. And Storyteller Academy has taught me how to draw and how to think like an artist, in addition to helping me on the writing front.
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
ES: I would recommend engaging with the KidLit community and connecting with other writers and artists because it is such a warm, collegial, and creative community and that is a rare and very wonderful thing!
AD: I completely agree!!
Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
Oh! And can I give a few shoutouts before I go?
AD: Of course!!!
I would like to thank the critique partners in my StoryStellars and Inkalicious critique groups…
…Yana Yakubchik for her beautiful art
…Tara Lazar for Storystorm
…Julie Hedlund for her 12 Days of Christmas for Writers
…Mindy Alyse Weiss from my Florida SCBWI for #PBParty and her sparkle
…Chris Nantais for his new word counting tool for Google docs. You can find his PB Workshop at https://discord.com/invite/KSYfkNg
…Mark Wright for #TacoPitch. It was so much fun!!!
…Ally Enz, my peak performance partner
…my family and friends for their support
…and I would like to thank the Academy – I mean, the SCBWI – for making this all possible! Well, I hear the orchestra playing me off now. OK. Byyyye!
Thank you so much for this opportunity and this interview, Amanda!