Q: Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Kingston, PA.
Q: Where did you go to college?
I went to Washington University in St. Louis. I studied illustration and art history.
Q: What were your favorite comics growing up?
My very favorite comic as a kid was Peanuts. I used to draw Snoopy and Woodstock on everything – paper, books, walls (don’t ask). In a weird twist of fate, my dad happened to co-own a paper supply company when I was growing up. You can imagine how many free scratch pads were covered in Snoopy doodles. As I got older, I became a fan of Berke Breathed and Lynda Barry. These days I love so many kinds of comics, my taste is all over the place.
Q: Can you send me an autographed book?
Unfortunately, I can’t. I only get a few freebies myself. I usually have to buy them just like you. If you’re interested in a signed copy, you can visit this website’s blog or my Facebook page to see if I’m coming to your town for an event. I always do signings then.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, illustrators, and cartoonists?
First of all, practice, practice, practice! Sign up for classes, and sketch or write on your sketchpad, notebook, phone, arms, legs, whatever. Just keep at it. That’s the only way you get better.
Also, look at works by creators you enjoy. See what their style is like. It’s okay to try to mimic it for a while. That’s what helps you eventually find your own style.
Also, read! I read all the time, for both enjoyment and reference. I use magazines, books, and online articles as reference for my comic strip. I also read other middle grade books for inspiration (but not to steal from!). There are so many great authors and illustrators out there, and they’re so easy to find online.
Here’s something else I’ll bet you weren’t expecting: learn to edit. That’s just as important as writing and drawing. Learn to get rid of unnecessary words or images. But do that after you do an initial brain dump! Also, don’t be afraid to rewrite. I must have rewritten Izzy four times.
Last but not least, walk away from your work from time to time. Go back to it a few days (or weeks) later and review it with fresh eyes. Best trick of the trade!
Q: What is your writing and artistic process? What tools do you use?
I’ve done several blog posts about this. Here’s a link.
Q: What was the inspiration for Invisible Emmie?
Go to this link.
Q: For Positively Izzy?
I had a tougher time writing Izzy than Emmie. At first, I had a completely different plot and characters. After about three tries, I decided to drop one of the main characters and bring back Emmie’s bff, Brianna. I already knew her well. Her personality (along with ideas from my editor) helped me think of a new story. Bri doesn’t like performing and enjoys her studies, so I wanted to take her out of her comfort zone. Izzy is the opposite of Bri, someone who enjoys performing and hates studying. This inspired me to see how their dynamics played out during a talent show.
Q: For Just Jaime?
Jaime was much easier to write than Izzy. The story practically spilled out of me. Its theme of exclusion was loosely based on an incident that happened to my older daughter in eighth grade. It was horrible (she’s fine now), but after much time and distance, I thought it would be an interesting twist to show the perspectives of both the excluder and the excluded.
Q: Will you come to my school or library?
You can email me at email@example.com I’m often very busy, but you can certainly ask. If I can fit it in, I will! I love presenting to kids.
Q: Can I interview you for a school assignment?
Unfortunately, I’m really busy and can’t really take extra time out for this. But hopefully there is enough information on this page to answer any questions you may have for a school assignment.
Q: Do you have kids, siblings, or pets?
I have two daughters (one in high school, one in college), two siblings, and no pets as of now. My younger daughter was in middle school when I wrote Invisible Emmie, and she gave me lots of help and feedback. My sister and brother are 7 and 9 years older than me respectively. So Emmie’s situation is very much like mine…a girl who has siblings, yet grew up feeling like an only child because her sibs were out of the house when she became a tween.
As far as pets go, I used to have a cat (see “weird facts” below) as well as a dog. Unfortunately, our dog passed away when my older daughter was a toddler.
From left to right: my cat, Bubbelah; my dog, Merlot, with my older daughter; me and my siblings from days of yore (hopefully they won’t yell at me for using this photo)
Q: What are your hobbies?
My main hobbies are reading, going to museums and galleries, traveling, and exercising. I especially like to run and kickbox. You don’t want to corner me in a dark alley!
Q: What are your favorite books and authors?
I love reading historical fiction and nonfiction. I also love graphic novels (I have a huge collection). My favorite author when I was a child: Dr. Seuss. As an adolescent: Judy Blume. These days I don’t have a favorite author, just favorite types of books.
Q: How did you decide to become a cartoonist?
I’ve always loved comics and cartoons. Growing up, my brother had a big collection of Mad Magazines and Archie comic books, as well as comic strip anthologies. I used to swipe them and read them. He was not happy about that…especially when I embellished those Archies with my own drawings.
I created many of my own comics as well. I even teamed up with another kid on our block and we’d draw pages and pages of comics after school every day. In high school and college, I did strips for the school newspaper. I was an illustration major in college, and I noticed I kept doing my assignments in more and more of a cartoony fashion. That’s really when I realized I wanted to become a cartoonist. In fact, for my senior project, I created a large-scale comic book. I even created the school’s first (and maybe only) cartoon independent study.
After college, I got a job with American Greetings in Cleveland, OH, as a humorous card writer/illustrator. Basically, I got to create cartoons on cards. Not a bad first job! While working there, I submitted comic strip ideas to newspaper syndicates on the side. I did this on and off for about ten years. I got my first break with a weekly strip called Got a Life. That ran for two years, then I created The Pajama Diaries, which was syndicated as a daily strip. It launched in 2006 and ran in hundreds of papers internationally until I retired it in January, 2020. If you’d like to read the reruns online, you can visit ComicsKingdom.com.
Q: How did you decide to become an author?
You can go to this link.
Q: Will you write more books?
Becoming Brianna will be out May, 2020. There will also be an Emmie & Friends guided journal/activity book in fall, 2020. I’ll have a fifth book in the series coming out in 2021. Who knows – there may be even more after that.
Q: What are some weird or fun facts about you that I might not know?
I used to have a cat named Bubbelah. My husband is allergic to cats, so I had to give her up when we got married. I gave her to a friend who renamed her Bubbles. He took her to live with him in Hawaii. I was never so jealous of a cat.
I am half Turkish. My mom was born in Ankara and raised in Istanbul. I visited the country 20 years ago and fell in love with it (and the people).
I’m also 100% Jewish. During the Spanish Inquisition (around 1492), my mother’s Jewish ancestors were booted from Spain. They settled in Turkey, which is why my mom’s family is Turkish. My Turkish grandparents spoke Ladino, which is a combo of Spanish, Hebrew, and some Turkish thrown in for fun. My mom would speak to them in Turkish and they would speak back to her in Ladino. Sometimes I’d hear them say my name and I’d have no idea what they were saying about me. Infuriating! My dad’s family were all Eastern European Jews from Russia.
I have a very rare blood disorder called Essential Thrombocytosis. It was discovered in 2009. It’s not terrible, but I have to take lots of medication. The disease sometimes makes me really tired and – weirdly – itchy!
I’m pescatarian, which means the only meat I eat is fish. BUT I’m a huge foodie and love to eat…a LOT. I like eating all kinds of ethnic food, but my favorite still comes down to french fries. I could eat them all day. I don’t. But I would.
I love cooking. I never used to. In fact, I used to avoid it. But when I stopped eating meat (except fish), I started experimenting with vegetarian recipes. Now I really enjoy it! Some of my kids’ favorite meals are Pad Thai, spinach pesto pasta, and baked salmon. (Add some fries, and I’d be in heaven.)
I have freckles in my irises.
I can’t drink coffee, tea, or hot chocolate unless they’re scalding hot.
I’m really clumsy. Which is not good considering I like scalding hot drinks.
My kids are good artists, too. There’s definitely a genetic component. My mom and dad were amazing artists, as well. My mom studied painting, and my dad enjoyed graphic design and interior design as a hobby. Right now my kids aren’t sure whether or not they’ll pursue art as a career. But they’re definitely capable.
(If I think of any more, I’ll add ‘em to the list!)