Author Interview: Liz Garton Scanlon

May 14, 2012

When I send off the questions for my favorite authors to answer, I do so with my fingers crossed. Will he be as creative as I imagined? Will she be as whimsical as her words? Magical? Witty? One-of-a-kind wonderful? Oh, I have impossibly high hopes for all of them, and yet they somehow always turn out to be true! Children’s book authors are a very cool breed! So here is my latest revelation: Liz Garton Scanlon is just as open-hearted, just as joyous, and just as imaginative and charming as her books. More so. I know you’re going to enjoy her answers. Her response to where she’d choose to live for one year touched me so…and made me miss my sister even more. Please enjoy Liz!

Q: I always ask about childhoods. For some reason, we all half-believe that a creative mind like yours was inherited!

A: I grew up in Colorado with a lot of wild space and what we now call “unstructured time” at my disposal — both of which feed the creative imagination, I think. While neither of my parents are artists per se, my mother is a lover of the arts — she introduced us to music and dance and theater — and has a highly developed and enviable aesthetic. And, she could make anything — strawberry jam, candles, clothing, curtains. My dad is an adventurer, a risk-taker, a man of strong passions. I think some combination of those influences translated into art being a viable choice for me, which is a really lucky thing. I don’t know if they’ve been surprised by what I’ve chosen to do, but they’ve been immensely patient, supportive and proud.

As for my own kids…wow. Their creative chops far exceed my own. They’re both musicians (thanks to hard work and their dad’s genes), they both sew beautifully (and fearlessly), one knits, one is becoming a terrific photographer, they make these amazing stop-motion videos. And, I know I’m biased here, but they’re both becoming very fine writers. I’m totally inspired by my daughters.

Q: We’d love to hear about your studio and where you’re most creative. What’s your view while you work?

A: I work, mostly, in my closet-sized studio at an old library table. It’s not the most space-efficient piece of furniture but the wood is chinked and well-worn and it serves as a tangible connection to the outside world, and to my readers. I have to work in silence when I’m writing, but I listen to Pandora when I’m building PowerPoints or answering email. I have lots of little talismans on my shelves and desk — little bits of beauty or nostalgia — stones, seed pods, charms, baby pictures of my kids. I figure I need all the help I can get!

Q: When did you first realize that you were great at writing stories and making wildly popular books? When did the world realize this, too?

A: Ha! Trick question! I suffer from the all-too-common Imposter’s Syndrome. I’m constantly worried that “they” are going to find out that I don’t know what I’m doing! In the meantime, though, I am in the very lucky position of having a number of books in the pipeline — one almost ready to launch, a couple being illustrated, a couple more at the editorial stage still. And while this momentum doesn’t mean I’ve got it all figured out, it does make me feel legit enough to carry on.

Q: What was the first book that made you cry?

A: There may have been earlier ones, but the one I remember viscerally was Where the Red Fern Grows. I cry a lot when I read aloud. I just finished reading Moon Over Manifest to my girls and I was a sobbing mess at the end.

Q: The greatest honor you’ve ever been given…

A: I’ve received some truly generous public recognition of my work — from a children’s dance troupe adapting my first book (A Sock Is a Pocket for Your Toes), to Joanne Woodward narrating a video of my second book (All the World), to seeing my third book (Noodle & Lou) in boxes of Cheerios. Not to mention some highly flattering reviews and the Caldecott Honor! But I think it is when I receive letters — from children, parents, and librarians — that I feel most honored. I cannot believe my books are out there in the real world, being read by real people who find themselves moved enough to write to me. It’s mind boggling.

Q: What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

A: Listen to your gut. Then go for it.

Q: And how about the best personal advice?

A: Same as above. The better I get at paying credence to my own intuition, the better my life and work seem to be.

Q: If you could live anywhere else in the world for one year, where would you choose? And why?

A: I have to pick one? There are so many places I’d love to experience more deeply than as a visitor, and so many people I’d like to connect with. (I don’t have a great shoe collection, or a nice car, but I’m always willing to spend all my extra pennies on travel.)

I’d love to live in Mexico or South or Latin America and get my Spanish back in shape; I’d love to live very rurally and become more self-resourceful; I’d love to live in a little apartment in a big European city and walk to the shops and the museums and the cafes. I’d love to live in a some place very, very foreign so that I was knocked off-kilter and had to find my footing again. I’d love to live right next door to my sister so that we could share pots of soup. I’m happy where I am, but there are lots of adventures I’d be open to.

Q: What has been the best, most memorable response to your work from a reader?

A: Besides the letters and emails I receive, the most exciting responses to my work come during school visits. The students I speak with ask the funniest questions and tell the most earnest, heartfelt stories. I think my favorite moments are when one of them will tip-toe up to me after a presentation and say softly, “I’m an author, too.”

Q: If we could only read one of your books, which one would tell us the most about you? How so?

A: Probably All the World. All of my other books are in that book, really. It sounds corny to say, but the love of nature and community, the joy of food and music, the understanding of ups and downs? Those things really are what I care about and believe in and what I hope will show up, in little and big ways, in all my work.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: My next book is called Think Big, and it’s about art — all kinds of art! Illustrator Vanessa Newton used a combination of digital imagery and collage — it’s really exciting. Then, after that, comes a book called Happy Birthday, Bunny, due out in early 2013. The illustrations are almost done on that book, too, and it’s some of the warmest, sweetest work I’ve ever seen (thanks to artist Stephanie Graegin). In the meantime, I’ve promised myself and my critique group that I would finish a draft of a middle grade novel that I’ve had in my head for a long time but can’t seem to get down on paper. Now’s the time…

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Thank you, Liz, for adding your warmth to Design Mom. I will miss our email exchanges! Please keep us posted on that young adult novel, will you?

Friends, what would your all-time favorite children’s book tell us about you? Have you ever thought about that?

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You can find the entire Author Interview Series here.

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{ 14 comments }

1 geri justinger May 14, 2012 at 7:22 am

I’m lucky enough to have met Liz this past summer, one of my best friends is a relative :) And I can confirm – she is a truly wonderful and inspiring woman – full of life and love! Thanks to you both for sharing a bit more about her process and story. Looking forward to more stories :)

2 dawn May 14, 2012 at 7:45 am

Thanks so much for this interview! When we were vacationing in Florida a few years ago, our neighbour gave us “All the World” (out of her Cheerios box, I think!) and it immediately became a favourite. Even though my daughter has moved beyond picture books, we still sometimes pull this one out and read it to each other – it has such beautiful rhythm, words and illustrations, and I always feel so peaceful after reading it. Thanks for bringing back some great memories on this Monday morning!

3 Jeanette Larson May 14, 2012 at 7:52 am

I’m fortunate to live in the same city/metro area as Liz so see her occasionally. This interview is wonderful and I learned some things about Liz that I didn’t know.

4 Kristin Shaw May 14, 2012 at 9:50 am

Great interview! I had the opportunity to meet Liz several months ago and was captivated by her charm and “real-ness”

5 vermontmommy May 14, 2012 at 11:26 am

We have this book and love it. Such sweetness.

6 Alysa May 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I love All the World — and I love anything marla frazee illustrates!

how could I possibly pick a favorite?? But so many of the books I love are about being genuine. The real you is the best you.

7 Melissa May 14, 2012 at 2:29 pm

I love this book! My daughter was given it last year, and it is beautiful and amazing from start to finish.

8 se7en May 14, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Oh just so magical!!! Totally love it!!!

9 Liz Garton Scanlon May 14, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Thanks, you all, for the very kind responses — and thanks, Gabrielle for the invitation to join you here…
I’m absolutely honored.

10 Sabrina Visser May 15, 2012 at 12:17 am

This is the book my Son asks for when he wants to feel inspired! It is a very comforting read and the illustrations by our favorite illustrator are stunning. This book was gifted to us by a friend who has managed a children’s book store in Ashland, OR for 20 plus years. She picked this from thousands of others she has come to know over the years – a true testament to the quality of this book!

11 Jenna May 15, 2012 at 4:07 pm

We love All the World. It is one of our favorites. Such a wonderful message and amazing illustrations. I always get a little choked up at the end…
“hope and peace and love and trust, all the world is all of us”…
seriously teared up just typing it.
That’s beautiful writing and I love sharing it with my son.

12 Leigh Ann May 15, 2012 at 10:49 pm

I was lucky enough to meet and sit next to Liz at a conference here in Austin, TX last January. She is also a wonderful speaker and just a lovely person in general. I’m glad you featured her here!

13 Heather in NYC May 16, 2012 at 6:24 am

Oh, we absolutely ADORE All the World! Thanks Liz for such incredibly beautiful, inspiring work and Gabby for sharing!

14 FreeRange Pamela May 17, 2012 at 11:01 am

This is one of my favorite books! We first checked it out from the library and ended up buying a copy to read over and over again. It’s gorgeous — both physically, and in spirit.

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