“Talented Author/Illustrator, Lisa Anne Cullen” by Joan Y. Edwards
I am very excited to interview my friend, Lisa Anne Cullen.
Thanks for being here on my blog with me, Lisa.
You’re very welcome, Joan. It’s an honor to be here with you and your readers! I want to give away a free copy of Little Orange Honey Hood to one of your readers! I can’t wait to share Blossom’s story.
Thank you, Lisa. that is so sweet. (Thank you to all who left a comment. The winner is listed at the end of this post. )
Let’s get started.
- Where were you born?
I was born in sunny Orlando, Florida. My father was a traveling salesman, so I moved frequently changing homes and schools from Florida to Texas nearly every other year.
- Where was your favorite place to travel? Why?
My favorite place to travel includes the outdoors and either salt or fresh water. A mixture of sunny and rainy days is a must, and the destination, well, I am happy wherever travel takes me.
- Where is your favorite place to live? Why?
My favorite place to live is in our amazing hometown of Ridgeway, SC. Just last night, my husband and I sat high up in a tree, with camera in hand, and found ourselves just a few yards away from the most beautiful 8-point buck we’ve ever seen. His antlers were in full summer velvet and his eyes never found us. We got some great photos.
- Did you ever want to hide when you were a child?
Yes. I hid all the time. I found comfort in the forest and trees around our many homes. I would sometimes take paint and art boards and recreate lake and sunset scenes. Or I would scavenge a large kitchen spoon, dig in the dirt until I hit clay, then mold the clay into mushrooms. Mushrooms were my favorite thing to sculpt, even though today, I don’t like to eat them at all.
- What are your 3 favorite places to read a book?
My three favorite places to read are in the library next to a window, on the porch deck, in the back yard, and in a comfy, full-pillow bed.
- What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you?
Does painfully funny count? When I was eleven, my best friend Veronica called (on the rotary wall phone) and said, “Come over!” I had strap-on roller skates attached to my feet at the time and grabbed my ten speed bike. I swung my leg over the seat, and the other wheeled foot slipped out from under me, and whamo!, I hit the concrete sidewalk hard on my bum. The doc said, “Broken tailbone.” I couldn’t sit for months without a pillow. Once healed, I had learned my lesson. The next time Veronica called unexpectedly, I took my skates off and tied them around the handle bars. Just as I turned the corner of her street, the skates got tangled into my front tire spokes, and, whamo!, I flipped head first over the bike and hit the street hard. Veronica’s mom said, “Just some scrapes and bruises. You’ll live.”
- How did you do in English in high school?
I did great in English in high school. In grade school, not so much. I found it difficult to read in grade school, and I’m really not sure why. I think it was because I am a sensitive being of sorts and words and stories blossom and magnify intensely for me. Because of my difficulty in reading in my youth, one of my fifth-grade teachers recommended either holding me back a year or going to summer school. I don’t know if it was me or my parents that made the choice, but I ended up going to summer school. I had a great time in summer school. It’s fun to roam the dark, hollow halls when no one is there. The summer school teacher tested my reading ability. She said I read at an eighth-grade level. Go figure. It’s still all a mystery why I had such difficulty in grade school. It’s funny because one of my most favorite career moments recently was working in a children’s literature library reading and selecting children’s books for the textbook market. Thank you, Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt School Publishers for that amazing privilege and honor. Thank you.
- When and why did you decide to become an author/illustrator?
I’ve been an artist since I can remember. I am not a trained artist, yet I always excelled in art in school. In high school, I was named “Official School Artist” and still have the beautiful bright yellow jacket the school bestowed upon me. I was also offered an art scholarship in my senior year of high school. I regret, to this day, not accepting it. I was afraid of college at the time.
It wasn’t until 1988, four years after graduating high school, that I was inspired by a character in a movie to become an author/illustrator. In the movie Funny Farm (novel by Jay Cronley) with Chevy Chase and Madolyn Smith Osborne, this couple exchanges their city life for country livin’ where Chevy’s character wants to write the next great American novel. Instead, his wife, Madolyn’s character becomes successful as a children’s author, and whamo!, my life’s journey altered its course for the better.
While working full-time at Sea World of Florida, then running a family pool cleaning business cleaning pools, then ultimately working in publishing as an editor and librarian for Harcourt, it took twelve (short) years to tackle college on weeknights and weekends to learn how to write for children. Going to college helped me gain confidence in my author/illustrator journey, and I loved every minute of reading every college and children’s book I could get my hands on. Speech class and Shakespeare were my dreaded-turned-favorite classes as an undergrad at University of Central Florida (UCF) and the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program and my professors at Valencia Community College and Vermont College of Fine Art (VCFA) brought my dream home. Then, my husband and I exchanged our city life for country livin’ to beautiful Ridgeway, SC.
It’s hard to say I “decided” to become an author/illustrator. It felt more like fulfilling my life’s purpose by tackling my childhood reading and writing challenge. Since I had difficulty reading and writing in grade school, my hope is to write and illustrate books that have young characters who face and overcome difficult challenges. This is my purpose as an author and illustrator, and my hope is to continue to learn as I continue to write and illustrate.
- Where is your favorite place to create your books?
I’ve always had an art space or a studio as far back as I can remember. For the past four and a half years, I’ve been creating stories and art in our small, loft studio. This month, though, we’ll be moving my studio into a small wooden cabin adjacent to our home. As far as creating stories, ideas come to me all the time, every day, no matter where I am. I now have more time to write and produce all the works that are near completion. If only my sweet cat, Oreo, could skip a few naps here and there and lend a paw.
- Who or what has been the most help and inspiration to you as a writer/illustrator?
There are so many. Can I list them all? My husband Jeff, my family and friends, SCBWI, my writer’s groups (Florida group and Carolina group), my Ridgeway community of friends, amazing neighbors, and council members, my friends at Harcourt, Carley, and Camber Corps, UCF professors and classmates, Scholastic editors and art director, VCFA professors and classmates, my friends at the Pat Conroy Literary Center, the entirety of those at the University of South Carolina Press and Young Palmetto Books, and each and every person I meet that says, “Go for it!”
As so many already know, being an author, an artist, an illustrator, a creative, is a rewarding and challenging journey. There are ups and downs and wild curve balls that I never expected, ever. There are the moments when my skates get tangled in my front bike tire spokes and whamo! I have to slow it all down, take a look around, regroup and learn, then brush myself off and continue to my unending destination in a walk-stride. But, I know, I just know I’m on the right path when the spark of a story, a character, a plot line, a good-guy-bad-guy scenario pops in my head and I just can’t shake it until I write it down. It’s the untethered blossoming of creativity that keeps my adventurous journey on a forward momentum with no end in sight. I can’t imagine my life without art, without writing, without photography, and screenwriting. I am so grateful for all those who enrich and inspire anyone’s creative purpose. For all those who support and believe in artists, it’s more powerful than money could ever be and as potent as love.
- Which is your favorite genre? Why?
My favorite genre is first and foremost the amazing picture book. I love balancing art and story so that readers enjoy it, and especially for those who have difficulty reading (whether they be too young or emotionally sensitive, like me). I hope those readers can understand most of the story based on the illustrations.
- What’s your favorite book? Why?
Favorite picture book: Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg – Because his vision, his artistry, his impact of story became a phenomenal movie mirroring his book. His characters overcome so much more than the jungle before them.
Favorite author/illustrator: Eric Carle – Because his illustrations invite readers into the stories he writes, into the books he creates. To illustrate in a way that says, “Read me and you’ll love it,” is Mr. Carle’s talent and skill.
Favorite film – (Other than Funny Farm is) Hunt for Red October – Because when one believes in a truth, against everyone and every odd imaginable, and risks everything putting trust at the forefront, honor and success will prevail. The film came out March 4, 1990 (story by Tom Clancy). Even today, it’s a must-see.
Little Orange Honey Hood: A Carolina Folktale (University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, 2018.
Three Wild Pigs: A Carolina Folktale (University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, 2018)
Summary: A vibrant retelling of the classic children’s story in which three pigs take on Hurricane Wolf.
13. What is your next project?
My next project is to complete the film adaptation of three Carolina folktale picture book stories combined, which include Little Orange Honey Hood and Three Wild Pigs (University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, 2018). I’ve been working on this screenplay and hope to bring it to completion soon.
14. What has been the most exhilarating moment for you as a writer/illustrator, so far?
I have been blessed to have many exhilarating moments as an author/illustrator.
- When Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published my pieces within their textbooks.
- When Scholastic published two books I wrote for their product series.
- When I earned acceptance into the MFA program at VCFA in Vermont.
- When USC Press said yes to publication of my two newly released picture books.
- Receiving advance copies of these picture books in the mail was breathtaking.
- Being a part of teaching a summer camp in June 2018 at Camp Conroy: Build-A-Book through the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC.
- Even more recently, being asked to participate in this very special interview.
These are amazing moments I will cherish and am blessed to have these events to remember forever.
15. Do you ever cry while writing or illustrating your books?
Yes. I am an emotionally sensitive artist, like so many, so I am hopeful that these emotions will help guide me to what’s important in my stories and art, what’s important in my characters’ lives and adventures. I laugh, too, and try to feel what my characters feel all the time.
16. Do you outline and plan your books ahead of time or do you let your books develop on their own as you write them?
I love to plan. Inevitably, when I plan my books, I think about the arc of the story and the impact of what is at stake for each character. I ponder paired illustrations that might fit the desired action or emotion. Once the process begins, the plans go out the loft window, and the piece takes on its own life. That is the beauty of creation. That is the magic of being an author and illustrator.
17. What resources help you improve your illustration skills?
Photography is one way I improve my illustration skills and it is two-fold. One, photography is my path into nature, my catapult outdoors away from technology. Photography allows me to connect with nature, restore my energy, and zoom in and look closely at the beautiful creatures living around me. These are many brave creatures living outdoors with many hurdles and predators. I gain much strength watching the natural world. Photography also improves my illustration skills because photos provide reference for sketching, drawing, and illustrating.
Other resources that improve my illustration skills are asking professionals to provide feedback for my works. Art directors, art editors, other illustrators, editorial directors, publishing professionals, and artists have an amazing focus on art, illustration, and publishing success. Attending the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conferences is essential and provides many levels of professional help and support. Listening to how I can improve as an artist is profoundly irresistible.
18. What classes have you recently taught?
I recently had the honor of teaching at the Camp Conroy: Build A Book summer camp in Beaufort, SC with Miho Kinnas and Maura Connelly. Our campers wrote poetry, stories, created art, photos, and illustrations and completed an anthology of works within this two-week summer camp. The campers collaborated in building an amazing book, and I am so proud of all of their efforts in producing this stellar anthology in such a short period of time. It is titled From Where We Stand: A Look Into Their World. With so much support from the Pat Conroy Literary Center and community, this inaugural summer camp was a masterful success for all involved.
19. What questions should a writer ask herself about what her main character’s problem and the steps he takes to solve it?
A writer should always ask about purpose when it comes to a main character’s problem. What is the character’s overall purpose on his or her journey? What is at stake? What are the obstacles? Who is in the way of success and is it worth the risks and the perilous journey ahead? The character’s purpose must be worthwhile.
20. What are 3 ways to create an unforgettable character?
Three ways to create an unforgettable fictional character is first, the author and illustrator (screenwriter, too) must believe the character is alive and is of their own heart, soul, and blood. A character is ultimately a child of the author and illustrator, no matter the age of the character.
Second, the author and illustrator must genuinely feel pure emotional attachment to that character via love, hate, indifference, sorrow, empathy, compassion, pride, etc.
Lastly, the author and illustrator must want their characters to succeed (or fail) and make that journey as realistic and life-like as possible and yet as random and unexpected as that journey may be for the character in a realistic or magical world.
Make your characters stand out and be likable.
Of course, if the character is the antagonist, unlikable is the goal. It all depends on the characters’ roles in the story, so making them unforgettable is key.
21. What are the essential steps to outline a compelling plot?
- First, I recommend writing a one sentence summary of the plot. One sentence (or log line) is a difficult thing to do when writing a book (or screenplay). That sentence will explore setting, main character age, genre, crisis, conflict, and a mysterious and unknown resolution that creates a hook for readers or movie-goers to want to investigate more.
- Next, write a short paragraph with a few more details, exploring a bit more of what is mentioned in the one sentence.
- Lastly, write a one page summary of the entirety of the characters and plot and include the long-awaited resolution to its end. Leave nothing out.
These three steps will help tighten your plot and ultimately provide the next important aspect of writing, character development.
22. How can a writer tell when a manuscript is ready for submission to an editor or agent?
My recommendation, before submitting to an editor or agent, is to have other professional writers and publishing professionals review the manuscript. Maybe a writer’s group, PAL members of SCBWI, or local librarians would be willing to review your manuscript before submitting. I think it is important to get as much professional feedback as possible as the best way to prepare a final manuscript for submission.
Ways to Get an Agent or Editor to Respond Enthusiastically
- Important: Join the local chapter of SCBWI.
- Get familiar with the works and clients’ works of the editor or agent.
- Prepare a professional cover letter.
- Maybe even hire a professional editor or copyeditor to proof your manuscript before you submit your manuscript.
- Follow the editor’s or agent’s submission guidelines.
23. Have you had stories rejected? What are your thoughts on manuscript and screenplay rejection?
Yes. All writers, artists, illustrators, photographers, screenwriters, creatives of all kinds experience rejection. It is part of our career; it is what makes us stronger and better creators overall. Rejection is as important as acceptance and should be embraced and not feared. Rejection means we are trying and not giving up. Acceptance means our work found the right home for publication and exposure.
Thank you, Joan for inviting me to visit your blog. I would love to giveaway a copy of Little Orange Honey Hood: A Carolina Folktale. I would be honored to share Blossom’s story.
You’re very welcome, Lisa. It’s fun to have you here with us. Thanks for doing the Giveaway.
Winner of Giveaway
Thank you to the 375 people who read this post about Lisa Anne Cullen. A special thank you to 1. Gloria Glenn, 2. Sheri Levy, and 3. Linda Gutheil for leaving sweet comments for Lisa before midnight July 14, 2018. Random.org chose number 3, therefore, congratulations, Linda Gutheil won the free copy of Little Orange Honey Hood: A Carolina Folktale, I will forward Linda’s email address to Lisa. It’s an honor to have you as a guest on my blog, Lisa.
More about Lisa
LISA ANNE CULLEN is the author or editor of eight children’s books and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She holds a master of fine arts degree in writing for children and pairs this passion with her love of illustration, art, photography, and screenwriting. Cullen has won awards for her artistic and written works and finds pure joy in connecting with the natural world. She is a Florida native living with her husband in the rolling hills of Ridgeway, South Carolina.
Little Orange Honey Hood: A Carolina Folktale (University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, 2018)