Author Spotlight: Lisa Kalma

Author Spotlight: Lisa Kalma

Welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!

Today is all about llamas. And their drama. In my experience, llamas always seem to have more drama than other quadrupeds. No, we will not be interviewing a llama so get that out of your head. Lisa Kalma recently debuted her picture book, My Llama Drama and it is a hoot and a half! Lisa is generously offering a picture book manuscript critique with her post, so be sure to read to the end for more information!

But before all that...

Here's Lisa!

My laptop, a flat space for balancing said laptop and a healthy imagination!

What’s something you absolutely must have in your refrigerator, pantry, or refrigerator?

I have a feeling this one will be polarising, but I wouldn't be an Aussie if I didn't say Vegemite, right? There's nothing like Vegemite on warm buttery toast in the morning!

Where do you feel most inspired and why?

I probably couldn't tie my inspirational moments to any one place but more to the human stories I hear related to specific places or objects. I can feel inspired anywhere, but if I had to choose I would say nature and old houses and buildings are often a source of inspiration for me.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into kid lit...why picture books?

I've been a primary school educator for nearly 15 years, having more recently moved into administrative type roles in the education field. I've always written, whether it be poetry, journaling, short stories or even trying my hand at longer novels, so I've always been open to trying my hand at different genres. I have to admit that writing a picture book was something that happened in a very organic fashion for me and I never had the thought, 'Right, now I'm going to be a picture book author!' What started as a funny ditty with my son turned into a short poem which them turned into a full blown story! But now that I'm here I'm totally addicted to this genre. How can you not love writing something that brings so much joy?

How has your time as a primary school teacher impacted you as a picture book author?

I've been in the fortunate position of reading quality texts aloud to children over many years and I know the impact it has on their literacy development, particularly by growing their love of stories and allowing children to explore and discover the pleasures of language. The entertainment value and delight books bring to children can't be underestimated, and so when I began crafting My Llama Drama seriously it was with this entertainment value in mind. I wanted children to enjoy the story and all the other things inherent in the text, such as the rhyme, repetition and word choices.

Congrats on My Llama Drama! Having your book debut must be so exciting. What does it mean to you to have your book out in the world?

Thank you! It's super exciting, but it all still feels a bit surreal! It's an absolute honour to have My Llama Drama in the hands of children across the world and when someone sends me a photo of their child reading the book or I receive a review I have to pinch myself. It's always nerve-wracking putting something that you've created out into the world, but the benefits of doing something you love far outweighs the nerves. As a debut author, having this first book released has provided me with so much joy and it's like they say, after you do something once you quite often realise it's not so scary!

I really liked your book--and honestly, who doesn’t love a talking llama?! Tell us about the inspiration for this story.

My son, Max, is an absolute llama fan. We like to make up silly songs and ditties and one afternoon we happened to be rhyming about llamas and llama farmers. Of course, I couldn't let this go and that evening in the shower (where all the best thinking happens!) I began adding to our little ditty with the intention of turning it into a poem that I would write for Max. Well, when I began writing it down it began to grow and I soon realised I had enough there to turn it into a picture book.

We have llamas of every color, shape, size and ability in this book--the rapping llama is my favorite. So fun! I noticed the book is dedicated to Max and you also have a tall llama named Max in the story...did someone special to you end up in the book?

Yes, absolutely! I thought it only fitting that as my son was the inspiration for the book that it should be dedicated to him and that I should create a character for him also. My Max is very tall for his age so it made sense that he was the tall llama! He also drew the little llama with the bird sitting on its head on the dedication page.

Stories written in rhyme can be particularly challenging for writers. Talk to us about your revision process and the various forms the story took over its evolution. Any practical tips for writing in verse?

As a teacher I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what it meant to write in verse, but boy, was there room for improvement after my first few drafts! Luckily, I found a wonderful editor who is also a poetry coach (Tamara Rittershaus) and she was instrumental in teaching me meter and how to perfect the story. The story evolved quite a bit through the editing process. I think we revised the story about twelve times before it was in a good place for publishing! The same characters, elements and theme are still there (about talking llamas) but the composition and word choices are different and the meter is actually spot on now. Phew!

The final My Llama Drama is written in iambic tetrameter but the first few drafts were all over the place. Writing in perfect meter is actually much harder than it looks and finding the right word that adds to the story can be an agonising experience because in picture books every word matters, and even more so in verse! I think it was Dr Seuss who said that to write successfully in verse you need to make it look like you've just whipped it up on one rainy Sunday afternoon.

So yes, tip number one. Find yourself expert help but also be kind to yourself. Acknowledge it's a hard thing to do, it can be frustrating and easy to give up on but keep going! Tip number two. I think it's also really important to come at the editing process with the right mindset. I was determined not to take anything personally and to learn from the experience as Tamara and I worked together to shape the book into a publishable state and I think that really helped.

Even though the work can feel like an extension of yourself it's important to be able to separate yourself from it and look at every suggested change as an opportunity to improve, not a criticism. Luckily, Tamara is an amazing person to work with; she's very patient and has a great way of delivering suggestions so that wasn't an issue anyway.

What are some things that you have done to celebrate and promote your book?

I started gathering interest in the book long before it was published, so I think trying to establish an audience early is important. You'll have a group of hungry readers ready to devour your book when it's finally released. I did this by creating a social media presence for myself early and joining groups both on social media and in the real world. Join your local SCBWI or writers centre if you can. I've met some wonderful people this way! Being part of the teaching community, I'm so fortunate to know lots of teachers! I've been invited to school visits by beautiful supportive people, some I know and others I don't, which has been wonderful.

Your local bookstores are your best friends and I've had the pleasure of participating in story time at a local bookstore where I got to share the story with children, and also participate in 'Love Your Bookshop Day' at a rotating author table. I've met some amazingly generous people who have interviewed me (just like yourself!) and offered to review My Llama Drama, and I'm also part of some really supportive social media groups for authors where we support and help each other out. One particular group, 'On the Scene in 19' has been wonderful in this respect. I can't speak highly enough of making connections with others in the author world. We can learn so much from each other!

What kinds of things do writers need to do to help build their stamina and resilience in the face of rejection?

I think it's all about mindset, as I mentioned earlier. This is much easier said than done though, I know. I find it really hard to stick to writing longer pieces of work (I'm one of those 'Oh, look! Another shiny new idea I need to chase!' kind of person) so I worked out eventually that I get satisfaction from actually finishing shorter pieces of work like short stories, poems and picture books. Writing shorter pieces has given me the ability to send things off to competitions etc. and meet shorter goals and move on to the next piece while I wait. It means I always have something on the go, which is fun. In terms of rejection it's always disappointing, but again, if you can look at it as a learning experience and actually take any feedback that's given and use it wisely then you're doing great! I think persistence is the key - never give up! If you love writing keep at it!

What are some picture books published recently that have inspired you or had you laughing out loud?

Aaron Blabey's Pig the Pug series of books are always winners with me and they keep getting better and funnier! Pig the Tourist was recently released and it's a cracker! If you haven't read any of Aaron's stuff then I highly recommend that you do.

What are you currently working on that you can share with us? Any teasers?

I have a few things on the go at the moment. I have written a second llama picture book which is still in the editing process and I'm in the middle of writing two other picture books; one about a beautiful local building call the The Shine Dome and the other with a STEM focus, particularly in the mathematics domain. I have so many ideas it's really hard to pick which one to work on at any given time!

Who would you like to give a shout out to?

Absolutely, I would like to acknowledge that every book is not just the labour of the author, but takes many hands and minds to bring it all together. My Llama Drama is the culmination of many talented people and I want to give a shout out to my awesome editor, Tamara Rittershaus, and the wonderful team at Bear With Us Productions including the book's hugely talented illustrator, Eduardo Paj. Of course, I want to give a shout out to my patient and ever-supportive family and friends who have backed me from the beginning and allowed me the time and space to get the job done!

they spark curiosity, imagination and delight in readers, big or small.

Thank you for sharing all the llama drama with us, Lisa!

And thank YOU for reading and sharing and subscribing, kidlit fam! If you fancy yourself a picture book manuscript critique (and who among us does not?), then take a gander below for details on how to enter.

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