– Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
My name is Barbara Dilorenzo, and I’m a children’s book author and illustrator. I went to college at the Rhode Island School of Design, where I majored in illustration. My first book, Renato and the Lion (Viking, 2017) was well-received. Booklist gave it a starred review. It was a Junior Library Guild Selection, A Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People by the Children’s Book Council, a Keystone State Reading Association finalist for 2018, and part of the Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year for ages 5-9.
My second book, QUINCY: The Chameleon Who Couldn’t Blend In (Little Bee, 2018) is on the short-list for an SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. For more information on me and to see a portfolio of my work, please visit www.barbaradilorenzo.com.
– What is/are the story(ies) behind your book(s)?
Quincy is an artistic chameleon who doesn’t quite fit in with his class. This book is sort of autobiographical. I’m not a chameleon, but I know what it’s like to stand out in a way that doesn’t feel good. I didn’t look that different from my peers–it was my thoughts that made me feel different. I remember struggling to think of something “normal” to say when standing in a group. When I found my tribe of creative folks in the art room, I found the one place in the world where I didn’t have to explain myself. Or work to think of something “normal” to say. Not much has changed since I was a student. I’m a fish in water at the Arts Council of Princeton. If you bring me to a party of regular and lovely people, I get nervous and turn the deepest shade of crimson.
Renato and the Lion is about a little boy in WWII Florence, Italy and a stone lion that saves him.
Renato and the Lion was inspired by my son when he was 3. He believed a statue was alive, and acted scared of it. I loved the idea of a stone lion coming to life, and drew pages of characters from funny and silly, to serious and sad. It wasn’t until I learned about the period of WWII in Italy when citizens bricked over their sculptures to protect them, that the plot of the story came together.
One of the most fun aspects of writing this book was getting permission to use the Princeton University libraries and getting help from research assistant, Peter Bae. Although the boy is not real, and the plot is fiction, the setting and the protection of art did happen. I could never fully determine if the lion had been protected-but Peter helped me to conclude that if there had been documentation of protection, it might have perished in a flood in 1966. That left it delightfully open-ended, and my story exists in this unknown space. I also went to Italy for 10 days by myself and drew everything. I spent evenings by the lion, drawing him and listening to the music in the Piazza della Signoria. My step-grandmother had died the week prior to my trip, so I was a little sad. But I felt as if she was on the journey with me, helping me make discoveries–like the bookseller that was 7-years-old in 1944 and was able to share his experiences of the time period. With the help of Antonia d’Ajeta, I interviewed him and learned of even more stories that could be told from this time and place. There really was so much more information I could have put into this book.
– What inspires/inspired your creativity?
Observing the world around me, I find unusual behaviors and odd situations that sometimes evolve into a story. I wouldn’t be able to come up with a story locked in my studio. Being out in the world, learning about history, all informs my work.
– How do you deal with creative block?
Creative blocks happen to everyone. The only way to handle it is to keep showing up at the writing desk or drafting table to make work. Eventually, the block dissolves and a creative person can continue their work.
– What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
If you don’t write from the heart, everyone can tell. It’s just not worth it.
– Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
I make my own book covers, but art directors help with this process. Sometimes I need to revise a cover numerous times to meet the goal.
– How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
So far I’ve had kind reviews with tinges of criticism. But I’ve read really tough reviews, and I know it’s not a question of if, but when, I will receive these. Any harsh criticism stings. But I do think the important thing is to make the best book you can with your publishing team, and stand behind the work. Then go out and make more. We can obsess over people’s reactions to our work, but it only serves to slow down our creative process.
When I get a rejection from a publisher, a contest, a fine-art show, or anything else–I give myself a day to be bummed. A full day to kick the dirt and scowl. Then, magically, I feel better the next day.
– How has your creation process improved over time?
Some people sit down at their desk, sip their tea, and type out a story. They edit, get feedback from peers, and repeat until the draft is workable. At that point, they sketch illustrations. Those people are organized and lovely. My process is sketch an idea, write a few sentences, and paint a final painting. Then I usually set everything aside for another deadline. When I return to the project, I write something that changes the main character from a monkey to a polar bear. I then sketch new sketches, get feedback, get overwhelmed, cry a little, and laugh at my own sketch jokes. At this point, when I’m really frustrated, I usually decide to just start over and tell the story that amuses me. At that point, the whole thing gushes out in a more cohesive story. When I show my agent and then possibly win the art director’s love for the book, I inevitably earn the frustration of the editor that has to wrangle the text into better shape.
Don’t do it this way. Try to be like the organized and lovely people.
– What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
I had no idea I could paint 44 pages worth of final artwork in 6 weeks while newly pregnant (tired, nauseous) while moving homes and finalizing a divorce… while working full time. I still wonder if the book would have been even better if I had had one less thing on my plate.
– Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
I have come to realize that I need to satisfy myself first. If it doesn’t work for me, it won’t work for anyone. After that, I try to address areas that would help readers understand the story better.
– What role do emotions play in creativity?
I’m an emotional person, and I’m certain that artistic sensitivity stems from this. However, I work as an art teacher and artists on all points of the emotional spectrum have something to offer.
– Do you have any creativity tricks?
Deadlines. Lots of em. Nothing like pressure to move an artist off their butt to finish a project.
– What are your plans for future books?
I have one project about a young Leonardo da Vinci out on submission right now.
– Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
Outside of art and writing, I’ve gone skydiving, hang gliding, and whitewater rafting. I also used to surf, and have driven across the U.S. with my son so he could earn Junior Ranger badges from various National Parks. I’ve traveled to Italy several times, and lived in Bolivia for six months during college in order to work in a school for the deaf.