Sunday, January 10, 2010

Meet Author Lisa Mallen!

My guest today is Chicago resident Lisa Mallen, author of numerous magazine and newspaper articles. Her children's picture book Elton the Elf (Lobster Press, 2000) was described by Publishers Weekly as being "decked out in whimsical, bright-as-a-button acrylics" with "a jolly premise just right for preschoolers to learn about the holidays."

For more information about Lisa Mallen, visit her website:

Q: How old were you when you first realized that you wanted to be a writer?

LISA: I was in my early 30's, when my kids were in elementary school, although I think I had a seed planted in my head from a college course at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. I started out in nursing, loved all the science, microbiology, genetics courses -- hated chemistry and working in the hospital. My hats are off to all who do work in nursing and the medical field. It takes a special person, and I was not one of those special people, so I changed my major. I absolutely loved my children's literature course in the program I followed, so when my kids were very young, I came to their school any time an author or illustrator visited. I was always so intrigued. When the author/illustrator Megan Lloyd came to visit my second grade son's class to talk about her book Farmer Mack Measures His Pig, I was so intrigued. A light bulb went off in my head, and I thought, that's it, that's what I want to do! Write Children's Books! So I vowed and made a promise to myself that I would do everything I could to learn about writing my stories down, learn about  the publishing industry, and how to submit my stories, and submit them, etc., etc.

Q: Please describe one of your earliest works. Who or what inspired you to write it?

LISA: My earliest story was about a girl who didn't like her freckles and what she did to try to get rid of them, and then realizing in the end, because of her grandfather, that her freckles were ok. It was actually about me, and when I lived in Italy. My dad was in the army and we lived near a farm where the ladies had lots of advice for my mom and also me. They knew I didn't like my freckles, and had a remedy they totally believed in and I tried. So I guess you could say that my dad and my kids inspired me to write it.

Q: Can you name someone whose encouragement made a significant difference as you developed as a writer.

LISA: Yes, I will name two, and they were equally significant: Megan Lloyd (author/illustrator) and R.L. Stine (author of Goosebumps and many young adult books). Both Megan and Bob gave me so much encouragement and advice,  and still do.

Q: Please tell us a little about your ties to Chicago.

LISA: My family and I lived in Naperville for 9 years, after moving here from the east coast. We knew nothing about the Midwest, although my husband grew up in Wisconsin. I was an army brat, and lived everywhere but the Midwest. I moved into Chicago from Naperville in 2007. I absolutely love Chicago and the Midwest. You couldn't ask for a more friendly and welcoming environment. I've lived all over the world and U.S., and I have to say that Chicago is my favorite place to live. It's number one in my book!

Q: What was relatively easy about writing Elton the Elf? What was difficult?

LISA: The story and my vision of the story were easy. The editorial process with my editor and publisher was difficult, but with our collaboration together, it made it the great book it is today.

Q: What type of books do you read for pleasure?

LISA: I love non-fiction. I love biographies, and I'm reading the Andrew Jackson book American Lion. It is special to me because my aunt and cousins are direct descendants of Andrew Jackson and Rachel Jackson. In fact they have inherited and live on the farms that Andrew owned and lived on in Tennessee, that have been passed down through the generations. I also love mysteries. Mary Higgins Clark is one of my favorite authors. And then I belong to a book club in my building. They choose books I would not normally select, but I really, really enjoy reading selections out of my comfort zone and stepping into something totally different.

Q: You have a formula or a "course of action" that you like to share with children and other writers. Can you tell us little about that?

LISA: I think besides what everyone else says -- "You need to read. You need to write." -- I think you need to dream and put your dreams into action. I'm still trying to do it: having a vision, setting goals, making a plan, and proceeding with the plan.

Q: What would you like us to know about your current work/s in progress?

LISA: I have a variety of works in progress, a few finished and a few I'm still revising and tweaking. They include fiction and non-fiction, picture books, chapter books, and adult books.

Each of my manuscripts has relevance to my life and my experiences from childhood to present. For instance, Paige's Purr-fect Pet, a picture book about a preschooler and how the desire for a pet affected her and her family. This fictional story has so many true happenings about our cat, Pillow, and our neighbor's child, Paige.

My fictional chapter book Glory Halle Lujah is about an army brat -- something I wish I could have read as a kid and an army brat.

My passion now has been and is the Blues music genre and I've researched and written oodles about Buddy Guy and Phil Guy, "America's Real Blues Brothers." In the process I became Phil's manager for 3-1/2 years and learned so much more. Unfortunately, he passed away from prostate cancer August 20, 2008. I've been trying to get back into continuing this non-fiction biography about the legendary brothers, and think that after the roadblocks of grieving, I'm going to finish it this year. There are several other stories and manuscripts that are complete and I'm excited about, so I hope to keep submitting and have something happen with one or all of them!

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

LISA: I guess it's a question or a thought to ponder: If you know you have good stories, and have been critiqued and told you have good stories, and it's been nearly 10 years since your first and last published book, and with the current recession, and the woes of publishers these days downsizing and not accepting as much as they did to publish, not that they did before, what would be the advice and suggestions of your readers?


  1. Scotti, thanks so much for doing this BLOG about me! Naturally, I think it is great!
    Somehow, I missed letting you know that we actually moved into the city of Chicago from Naperville in 2007. The photo of Chicago you have on your BLOG includes our building!

  2. No problem. I edited the interview and incorporated the move into Chicago.

  3. I also added a photo of you with Buddy Guy from your web site!

  4. Hi!

    I am just catching up with your blog, Scotti, and am really enjoying the author interviews. In answer to Lisa's question about a long dry spell -- I know how she feels! My last middle-grade novel was published in 2000. To keep going and feeling productive while submitting and revising other novel manuscripts, I wrote some short stories that were accepted by magazines. I also self-published a YA novel that got a favorable review in VOYA. In addition, I wrote about 10 stories about real dogs that participate in a reading program at our local library. These were compiled into a booklet that we gave away to the kids who read to the dogs. In other words -- keep writing and finding ways to get your work out into the world, even if publishers are failing to accept your work. I decided that's their failure not mine! I just signed a contract for a new small press to publish my new middle-grade novel. So keep at it!

    Sheila Kelly Welch

  5. Hi!

    I must not have read very carefully because I just noticed that Lisa has had lots of pieces in newspapers and magazines. Just be persistent about submitting to book publishers and be open to small presses, unconventional presses, and self-publishing.

    Good luck!