Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Q&A with Isabella Kung



Isabella Kung is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book No Snowball!. It's a sequel to her book No Fuzzball!. She grew up in Hong Kong and lives in San Francisco.


Q: What inspired you to create a sequel to No Fuzzball!?


A: No Snowball! has always been a seedling of an idea. It all started as a bluff when an agent casually asked if I plan on developing my story into a series. I remember I said yes without thinking and listed a few ideas off the top of my head (fake it till you make it, am I right?).


Introducing a white kitten was one of them. That idea stuck and No Snowball! was pitched as a potential sequel even as I was submitting No Fuzzball! I just loved the concept of Queen NoFuzzball encountering her complete opposite – an itty-bitty, clueless, overly enthusiastic, and affectionate white kitten!


After that, the nature of their relationship – the classic sibling rivalry and love, just fell into place. I drew inspiration from my own experiences as the younger sibling who always wanted to be included; as the older cousin who got annoyed at my younger cousins; as the caring babysitter who watched over my host sister and neighborhood kids… and I learned a lot from my own cats' reaction to a foster kitten too!


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “Her watercolor and gouache illustrations of a family and their wide-eyed, endearing pets are a perfect match (and mismatch) for the tale’s action—hilariously, NoFuzzball’s interpretation of events is sometimes at odds with what is depicted in the artwork.” What do you think of that description, and what's your sense of NoFuzzball’s view of the world?


A: That description is spot on and is the core concept of this series! We have all pondered what is going through our pets’ minds when we interact with them, especially when we “yell” at them when they misbehave.


If you ask anyone who has lived with cats, most of us will say they behave as though they own the place and we are serving them instead! NoFuzzball’s worldview is based on that logic (but slightly exaggerated), that she is not only the one in charge, but she is actually the queen of the house.


By letting the readers know NoFuzzball and NoSnowball’s world view juxtaposed with what is actually happening in the illustrations heightens the hilarity and gives readers the joy of knowing more than the characters about what's going on.


Q: Was your process for creating No Snowball! similar to that of No Fuzzball!, or was it different this time around?

A: No Fuzzball! was my debut author/illustrator picture book. It all started with the character first–Fuzzball was initially designed as a set of emojis, then I wrote her story later when I got bit by the writing bug. There was a lot of trial and error, self-doubt, and career detours, but I learned a lot through that process. The first book took 14 drafts to land a contract and 16 in total before I got the okay to move on to final illustrations.


No Snowball!’s process, on the other hand, was so much faster. I only did seven drafts and I started by writing the two main character’s first interaction with each other. Because it is a sequel, much of the character and setting have been established and the foundation has been laid and (as mentioned earlier) the idea has been planted for a while. That explains the quicker pace though I’d like to think I have improved over the years too!


Though writing the sequel has its own set of challenges. The hardest part was figuring out a good balance between introducing a new character to the book and adding new elements (e.g., dialogue) to the story; while still staying true to the previously established voice, jokes, rules, and structures set up in the first book.


Another element I had to carefully balance was having two main characters: I wanted the sequel to still be a No Fuzzball book but with a new co-star! Initially, I was worried about Snowball taking the spotlight away from Fuzzball.


Fortunately, I found that the two characters complemented each other and their personalities only shine brighter together. The most fun part was writing Snowball’s positively upbeat response to every sassy thing Fuzzball says! I loved embodying both characters!


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between the two cats?


A: At first, Queen NoFuzzball is highly irritated by the new kitten and even considers her a threat to the throne! Then with NoSnowball’s sheer optimism and bravery, she reluctantly accepts and appoints her next the next heir, as her princess! Just like an older sibling reluctantly accepting a younger sibling.


I hope readers can relate to Fuzzball and Snowball’s relationship. That no matter how annoying siblings can be sometimes, they are family, and it’s always better when they are on your side. I hope it encourages reluctant older siblings to take their younger siblings under their paws. And to the younger siblings, I hope they are never discouraged to be themselves.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on two more stories for my No Fuzzball! They are each at different stages; hopefully, I will get a chance to continue my royal felines’ journey!


I have another story on submission about two twin koalas that I hope can find the right publishing home. I am also working on my very first near-wordless picture book. It is a very emotional and personal story for me, something very different from what I’ve created before.


I had trepidation at first, doubting why I even want to work on something so out of my comfort zone. But this idea and vision have been revisiting me again and again for the last four years, so how can I not feel compelled to create it? I’m working on a revision right now, gearing for it to be ready for submission next year.


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: I currently teach Children's Book Illustration courses at Storyteller Academy and also offer one-on-one critiques through them as well. You can find all the information on their website here:


You can also find me on:

Instagram: @isabellakungill

Twitter: @isaberryk

Website: www.isabellakung.com

Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/IsabellaKung 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Isabella Kung.

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