It has been my pleasure to get to know writer and illustrator Elizabeth O. Dulemba, or "e" as she is known to many of us on several listservs and chat boards where we all obsess about children's books. Her web site and her blog are chock full of information, book talk, news, activities, coloring pages, and any given number of other useful items. Please make sure to check them out.
Elizabeth has a new book out and I was thrilled to have her visit my blog so I could get answers to a few questions that I had, not the least of which is where she gets all of her enormous energy. Her latest project is called “Paco and the Giant Chile Plant” written by Keith Polette. This is a retelling and humorous variation on the traditional Jack and the Beanstalk tale, only this one is set in the Southwest. It is told mostly in English with a sprinkling of Spanish, but will be out in Spanish only and English only versions come the fall.
The art looks spectacular and is created using very evocative images of the desert and wonderful southwestern hues.
SO, enough of me. On to Elizabeth!
1) I am fascinated by your connection to storytelling in Tennessee. How did you come to be involved, and does it make you want to do some story telling of your own? Writing more? In the vernacular of the country story tellers? I love the storytelling tradition.
It's an odd story (and a bit of a winding one - sorry), but it will make you believe in fate.
Even though I grew up in the Atlanta suburbs, I've always been fascinated by all things Appalachian. I went to summer camp on Lookout Mountain (Mentone, Alabama) and tried to get to the mountains every chance I could after that. (I took up rock-climbing and hang-gliding and later moved to Chattanooga.)
Somewhere in there I learned about the National Association of Storytelling and their annual Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee ( https://www.storytellingcenter.com/festival/festival.htm ). For my Graphic Design exit show in college, I did a line of posters for the event. And here's where it gets really weird - during my research, I found a book in my own collection dedicated to me by my Grandparents in 1973 - "The Jack Tales" gathered by story-catcher, Richard Chase.
It was at the festival that I first saw Ray Hicks tell the Jack Tales. I used to putter up to Tennessee in my '78 Land Cruiser, pay $6 to camp behind a B&B (and use their shower), and spend the weekend listening to
stories. I fell in love with stories and storytelling, but for some reason, Jack Tales especially seemed to seek me out.
What makes Jack Tales so extraordinary is their evolution. Long ago, Scottish, Irish, and English (Cornwall especially) immigrants moved to the Appalachian mountains, many to continue the mining they did in their home countries. But the region was so remote, a culture continued and developed almost entirely independent from outside influences. (Ray Hicks still spoke in an Elizabethan dialect that was so thick it was
difficult to understand.) Survival was off the land, music from the heart, and stories were adapted from the English "Jack" (of "Jack and the Beanstalk" fame) but became their own unique creations in the Appalachian mountains.
I've dabbled with oral storytelling since then (fully acknowledging that I am nowhere near as talented as some), but really found my storytelling voice through writing. Even my novels (one with my agent, one still in progress) take place in the southern Appalachians. It seems to be ingrained in me and I have no idea why.
2) I would love to her more about creating the art and design for advertising, but I also was to hear about the epiphany regarding the move to focus on children's books.
There was never an epiphany - I've wanted to create picture books as long as I can remember. No lie. I used to devour "The Golden Book of Elves and Fairies" illustrated by Garth Williams. His ability to transport me with his art enchanted me and I wanted to be able to do the same thing with my own art. I've always had a vivid imagination, and stories seeped out of me from a very early age, first through drawings and then through words.
However, I was a young, single girl and needed to keep a roof over my head. Graphic Design provided steady income. (I also had some growing up to do.) And while those skills help with my marketing efforts now (and I'm very glad I have them), I was always awaiting the opportunity to dedicate my time to picture books. When I married, my wonderful husband understood my dream and allowed me the opportunity to chase it.
3) Tell us about how you work. Mostly digital or mostly conventional, or both? I find it hard not to go back and "adjust" real paintings, myself, so now I also work that way.
I still sketch by hand, can't seem to get away from that. But all my coloring and rendering is done digitally. It took years of experimenting to figure out my medium - little did I know I had to wait for it to be invented! But it was like breathing for the first time when I discovered how I like to work best.
4) You seem to loaded with energy!! Where does it come from? And so me a favor: paint the picture of your average, busy day, so I can imagine you in action!
I call this a manic-depressive business because it is filled with such unbelievable highs and devastating lows. The lows keep me up at night, but the highs make me jump out of bed each morning anxious to get going. I have so many ideas I want to get out of me and a measly 24 hours just isn't enough to do it all. I'd resent sleep except I get so many ideas from my dreams. I definitely resent having to shower and get dressed every day - how redundant and what a waste of time!!
I'm not sure it's energy so much as obsession. But I'm usually in front of my computer by 7:30 and I work until something makes me stop. (Dogs need food, if I don't exercise I'll melt, dinner with hubbie, grocery store, Spanish lessons, etc.) I stay unbelievably busy. It's a bit nuts, I admit it.
5) This is my favorite question to answer, and it is also my favorite question to ask: describe your dream project to me--one that you would like to write and/or illustrate.
Oh wow, that's tough. It floats in my head like a mist without sharp, defining edges although I think pieces of it come out in all my work. The idea of transporting the viewer/reader is very important to me. I love creating images of imagination, creatures or scenes that don't have to follow the laws of physics. (It's one reason I love creating friendly monsters - they have no rules.) It's part of why I enjoyed illustrating Paco so much. But ironically, the more I write, the more I see words achieving what I want as well. I think it would be a story in which an inferior-feeling protagonist becomes transported and changed through imagination or outside events - a situation where they become better and stronger, and so does the reader. How's that for vague?
6) SO--what's on the horizon for such a busy gal?
Lots of new projects and I wish I had time for more. First, I'm celebrating the release of Paco! (I'm really proud of this book.) I've been taking Spanish lessons for over a year now in anticipation of sharing it with English and Spanish speaking children. I've also illustrated a picture book for a NY Times Bestselling novelist and will be sending out final art soon. I've just signed on to illustrate the next two books in a parental aid picture book series (the first two come out this June). I'm finishing up some coloring book covers and I'm
busy writing my second novel (and waiting to hear news on the first). I'm also waiting to hear on two picture book dummies I have out (one is the winner of three honorable mentions!) and have written two more
picture book stories which I'm currently tweaking (one is bilingual and one is an adaptation of a Jack Tale). So, while this isn't the busiest I've been, it's certainly busy enough!
Wow, these were fun and intense questions! Thanks for letting me share!
Thanks, e, for taking the time to give such thoughtful answers!