Thursday, January 12, 2023

Q&A with Joan Marr




Joan Marr is the author of the new children's picture book Izmelda, the Fairest Dragon of Them All!. She lives in Pennsylvania. 


Q: What inspired you to write Izmelda, the Fairest Dragon of Them All!?


A: Several years ago, the two main characters popped into my head somewhat fully formed: an over-the-top, enthusiastic dragon who's obsessed with princesses, and a princess who's far less enthusiastic about dragons. 


During the time I wrote the story, we welcomed a dog into our home whose boundless cheerfulness came to influence Izmelda's personality. We also have two cats, and my pup wants desperately to be friends with them, but the cats are... let's just say, not quite as gung-ho.


However, she hasn't given up trying, and I'm hopeful that one day, just as Penelope came around to Izmelda's enthusiasm, our cats will come to love our dog as much as she loves them!


Q: How would you describe the relationship between Izmelda and Penelope?


A: Because there's such a conflict of personalities from the get-go, it was important to me that the friendship that grew between them was based on mutual respect, and that through the resolution, neither of them felt forced to change who they were to make their friendship work.


I didn't want Izmelda to stop being enthusiastic, and I didn't want Penelope to feel she had to start doing traditional princess things. They had to accept each other for who they each were, not who they (initially) wanted each other to be. 

Q: What do you think Lala Watkins’ illustrations add to the story?


A: Lala's amazing illustrations were an integral part of this story.


In fact, the original plot was quite a bit different from the version that's hitting the shelves, but after Lala started submitting her drawings, we all realized that certain aspects of the characters' personalities she was drawing out (pardon the pun!) should come across even more strongly in the text, and so I revised to better incorporate the vision she was bringing to the project.


I can truly say that the story would not be what it is today without her contributions. With picture books, the final version is always a product of both the author and the illustrator, and with this one, that holds absolutely true!

Q: The Kirkus review of the book calls it “A cheery subversion of fairy-tale tropes.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love it! I was so happy to see that they connected with the story. I've always loved stories that play with fairy-tale clichés, and that's what I set out to do when writing this, so I'm thrilled that it's getting such positive feedback for that aspect of it.

Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm working on a few other things! I have some more picture books in the works, and I'm also branching out to formats for older readers - in particular, chapter books for ages 7-10 and middle grade books for ages 8-12. They're all very different projects but they have similar themes running through them: like with Izmelda, humor sprinkled with heart, and kids figuring out friendships. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: This is my debut, and the experience has been both exhilarating and, at times, terrifying! I couldn't have done it if not for my incredible family who supported me along the way, and also, my phenomenal critique partners. Writing is 100 percent a team sport, and this was possible only because of the input and feedback of many, many people who have helped me become a better writer.


If I could give one piece of advice to writers starting out, it would be to connect with other writers. There's no substitute for having people you can turn to to ask, is this working?


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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