Lisa Desimini is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book The Fleatastics. Her many other books include Dot the Fire Dog and Trick-or-Treat, Smell My Feet!. She lives in Topanga, California.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Fleatastics, and for your main character, Sarafleana?
A: I was doodling and thought about the long body of a dachshund. I sketched the dog’s head as the first spread, then there were 12 spreads of his body and the final spread was the tail.
I thought maybe a story could be happening behind the dog with time passing and weather changing. The body sketch was just a horizontal line. One day I looked at it and saw a stage and that’s when I thought of a performance. Of course, fleas would be the performers!
I did not have a main character when I sold the story. My first idea was a flea named Farley Fillmore that no one took seriously because he was so tiny; I had a character that was always perfectly put together and a couple of other ideas. I worked for weeks on each storyline, but they just weren’t right.
When I came up with the first line, “Sarafleana was a born jumper,” I knew I was on the right track. It made complete sense that my main character would love to jump and dream of being the highest jumping flea of all time, but it still took a while for the story to unfold with the help of editor Rebecca Davis, her assistant, Brittany Ryan, and art director Barbra Grzeslo. They were an absolute joy to work with.
Q: Did you come up with the illustrations or the text first, or did you work on them simultaneously?
A: For me it’s usually the story that comes first. Sometimes a sketch or doodle will inspire a book idea, or maybe a word or a phrase.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: The main message is about following our heart. I never get tired of that message. Sarafleana has to stay focused, practice hard, and keep her jumping ability a secret because to follow her path means she can’t be part of her family’s Parasite Pyramid. It’s not always easy to have different desires and dreams from our families.
The book has another message that I love: No matter what happens we have to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and keep moving forward. The show must go on!
Q: Who are some of your favorite authors and illustrators?
A: My favorite author/ illustrator is M.B. Goffstein–all of her books, especially Artists’ Helpers Enjoy the Evening. I love Ana Juan’s illustrations, Cynthia Rylant, Maira Kalman, and Aaron Reynolds.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on an idea for a graphic novel about a magician and putting together a proposal for a picture book series called The Adventures of Lucy and Seven. I’ve also created a whole new body of photo-digital illustrations. These images would be for adult, Y/A and middle grade covers.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: My husband and I created a trailer for The Fleatastics. I wrote the narration and Matt did the animation. He made Sarafleana flip and jump, the fleas parachute to Sparky the dog, and the Fleatastics perform.
We listened to about 150 different kinds of circus music to find the right one. Then Matt layered park sounds, crickets, boings, a drum roll, and applause. Here is the link.
Thanks Deborah! This has been fun!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb