I'm delighted to share this interview with the talented Marisabina Russo. She's written an impressive number of books is a variety of genres. Her most recent picture book, Little Bird Takes a Bath, was released March of this year by Schwartz & Wade. She was kind enough to share a bit about her life as an author/illustrator and offer insights on the writing process. Enjoy!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and when did you finish your first book?
As a young child I loved to write poems. I began keeping a journal when I was 11 and soon started writing short stories. My other favorite pastimes were drawing and painting. After majoring in studio art in college I decided to pursue a freelance career as an illustrator. I was successful with magazines (The New Yorker) and newspapers and also cookbooks! Some years later when I was showing my portfolio to Susan Hirschman at Greenwillow Books, she encouraged me to write a story based on my own experiences with my young children. That manuscript became THE LINE UP BOOK, my first picture book, published in 1986. It is still in print today!
What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing?
I learned that I had plenty of stories inside waiting to be written. I had always thought the inspiration had to come from somewhere mysterious, outside of myself. Some day it would hit me like lightening if I was patient. That was never going to happen. Instead, I needed to pay attention to the world around me, be honest, and put my ideas and feelings on paper, writing every day.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
I’m not sure I write in only one particular genre. I’ve done picture books, non-fiction older picture books, YA, and currently, I’m working on a graphic memoir.
How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
It compels me to be disciplined. It helps me to be aware of the things I encounter each day. It also gives me freedom and flexibility which were especially important when I was a young mother.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I read. I read as much as I can; newspapers, novels, non-fiction, graphic novels, memoirs, even cookbooks. I also like to garden, ride my bike, dance, spend time with my grandkids.
What other books have you written and published?
I have written and published over 30 books. You can find the complete list on my website: , but some of my most popular are:
THE LINE UP BOOK
ALWAYS REMEMBER ME
THE BUNNIES ARE NOT IN THEIR BEDS
A VERY BIG BUNNY
SOPHIE SLEEPS OVER
I WILL COME BACK FOR YOU
LITTLE BIRD TAKES A BATH
Briefly, what's your book about?
It’s about a little bird in the city who decides to look for the perfect puddle for a bath the day after a stormy night.
How did you come up with the title?
I don’t remember. It just came to me.
What led you to write the book?
I was with one of my grandsons in the city and we happened to see a bird hopping around a puddle. We watched for a while and I noticed how each time someone walked by, the bird skittered out of the way and then always returned to the same puddle once the coast was clear. It happened over and over again. The next day I woke up and thought about the little bird again and decided I wanted to write about him.
What would you like readers to take from it?
I hope little readers will have fun with it; all the sounds and surprises, all the repetitions and rhythms. I also hope they will cheer for Little Bird and his tenacity. And perhaps when they reach the final page, they will be ready for bed just like Little Bird!
What are your current/future projects?
I am working on a graphic memoir for young adults. It will be quite different from anything I’ve ever done - pen and ink with watercolor, 165 pages of drawings and words, my own story of growing up.
What motivates you?
When I am in my studio with a pencil or a paintbrush I am happy. Simple as that.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Ideas come from any direction and I can’t really categorize them. When I need further information, the library is waiting for me. For certain pictures I use Internet searches.
What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
I try to write every day although some days are more productive than others. I usually jot down ideas when they come. (That’s why I always have a small pad with me.) Later when I start a first draft I’m most comfortable using paper and pencil. Eventually, I type things up on the laptop. It’s always good to leave a first draft in a drawer (or on the desktop!) for a week or so and then return to it with a fresh perspective. In the meantime, I might start doodling and sketching the main characters just to get a sense of what they look like, but I don’t dummy anything until the story is perfect.
How long does it take you to complete a book?
Anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.
What challenges did you face in getting your first book published?
It took years of submissions, rejections, portfolio presentations, and relentless phone calls. Luckily, I have a very optimistic nature and I’m extremely dogged.
Are there certain themes or ideas you prefer?
I like stories that celebrate family and friendships.
If you had to do it all over, is there any aspect of your writing or getting published that you would change?
What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
I’m a fan of so many books; it’s hard to name a few. In children’s books - Kevin Henkes and Vera Williams, both author-illustrators, have created some of the most perfect picture books around. Not only are they pictorially beautiful, they are also pitch-perfect in word choice and timing. Most importantly, they have heart. In adult books - William Maxwell; his writing is elegant, clear, and emotionally powerful. Currently, I am obsessed with the books of Elena Ferrante. (My father’s family was Neapolitan.)
What are the most important elements of good writing? What tools do you believe are must-haves for writers?
Paper, pencil, erasers, time, solitude, patience, and perseverance.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
Sometimes. I just wait it out. Luckily, I can always paint and listen to music.
Talk about revising and/or suggestions about revising for upcoming writers.
As I said earlier, try to put your work aside for short periods and then go back and reread. You’ll see changes that need to be made and wonder how you missed them before. Let people you trust and respect (but preferably, not your family!) read your work and offer suggestions. Read your words out loud! That is extremely helpful in all kinds of writing, not just writing for picture books.
What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers?
It ain’t easy! But as with most worthwhile endeavors, that should not be a reason to give up.
Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book?I think I’ve already “talked” too much. Happy reading!