Author Spotlight: Lisa Riddiough
Feb. 11, 2022
We are excited to feature author Lisa Riddiough and her recent picture book debut, LETTERS TO LIVE BY: AN ALPHABET BOOK WITH INTENTION, illustrated by Asa Gilland (Running Press Kids 2022). Her middle grade debut, ELVIS AND THE WORLD AS IT STANDS (Amulet Books, 2021) came out last year. Enter to win a copy of both LETTERS TO LIVE BY and ELVIS AND THE WORLD AS IT STANDS.
Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children.
Thank you so much for having me on Kidlit411. This is fun!!
Although I did not grow up always wanting to be a writer (I was a finance major in college), I have always had a head full of stories. About ten years ago, I began to write them down in earnest. I had been carrying around a multitude of picture book ideas for years and finally joined SCBWI and went to the LA conference. That is where I discovered that I didn’t know anything about craft. So, I enrolled in my local UC Extension (Berkeley) program and began taking night classes in fiction writing. I wrote short fiction and personal essays and even started a couple of novels. I published a few short stories and essasy but kept circling back to my picture books. I decided to continue my education by attending the MFAC program at Hamline University. Here, I was able to continue refining my craft and beaome immersed in the world of kidlit. Since then, it’s been full speed ahead.
Congratulations on your recent picture book debut, Letters to Live By! Tell us about the story and what inspired you.
Thank you!!! Letters to Live By is a book of intentions, structured via the alphabet, that gives kids a roadmap of actionable ideas to help make themselves and the world a better place. I wrote this book originally as a note-to-self. It is very personal for me. There is always so much room for improvement!
But the story of how I got the idea comes from one of my kids’ middle school science teachers. Mr. Greenebaum, of Piedmont Middle School in Piedmont, CA, sends his students home each Friday with this message for their weekend: “Rest up, have fun, read something, and practice peace.” I first heard him say this at back-to-school night, and I absolutely loved it. But most of all, I loved, “Practice Peace.” I think it was because I was going through a turbulent time in my life and was looking for peace. I am still looking for peace, and it is a lifelong practice. Anyway, I loved the content, meaning, and alliteration of the phrase. Combine this with my love of the alphabet, and an idea was born. Could I find a meaningful alliterative pairing for each letter? It turns out that this was very easy for me. I love working with the alphabet, and every letter’s directive comes straight from my heart. The book is me. I work every day on all 26 of these intentions.
Last year, your middle grade debut, Elvis and the World as It Stands, came out. Congrats on that too! Tell us about the story and how it came about.
|cover illustration by Asa Gilland/ design by Jade Rector
Thank you, again!! Elvis and the World as it Stands is a book about moving forward in the face of loss. It is told from the point of view of a shelter kitten who is separated from his sister on adoption day. When my daughter, Julia, read an early draft of this book, she said, “This is our whole life.” In many ways, it is. Julia and I volunteered for years at the East Bay SPCA in the feline department, where we often wondered how the cats felt about having no control over their lives and where they would end up. As humans, there are a plethora of times when we might feel that we have no agency in our own lives. Kids, especially, feel this way. This book is an exploration of how we move forward, even when we feel like life is spinning out of control. A cat might feel this way upon arriving at their new forever home. A child might feel this way when their parents split up. The whole world might feel this way when a terrorist attack like 9/11 (which is touched on in the book) occurs. How do we move forward? Hopefully, with the support of friends and family and a strong sense of purpose. As with Letters, I wrote this book in response to my own life and my own struggles in an out of control world. The book deals with serious themes but balances them with talking animal humor. To me, that’s the purr-fect mix!
Was your journey to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
I would definitely call it long and winding. As I mentioned above, it took me years of study and whole lot of rejection to get here. I wouldn’t change any of it though. I’m incredibly grateful for all I’ve learned and continue to learn in this writing journey.
What are some of your favorite classic MGs? recent ones?
My all-time favorite middle grade book from my childhood is Stuart Little! I still have my copy from the seventies, with my name stuck to it with a plastic label from the fancy label maker that I used on everything back then. Naturally, I love Charlotte's Web and all the Roald Dahl books. With a super soft spot for talking animal books, my favorite contemporary titles are The One and Only Ivan and The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp. And let’s not forget all the Kate DiCamillos!!
What projects are you working on now?
I have an ongoing stream of picture book manuscripts in my rotation and a couple of talking animal middle grade novels, too. I also continue to work on my grown-up short stories and enjoy sending those out into the world every now and then. I am delighted to say that I have another picture book forthcoming that was recently announced. Pie-Rats! is about a band of pirates, who are rats, in search of pie (you probably guessed that). It comes out with Viking Children’s in 2024. It’s long ways away, but I promise it will be worth the wait!
What advice would you give your younger self? Is this the same you'd give to aspiring authors?
I think my advice to myself would be the advice I’d give anyone: Your writing matters! What you have to say matters! Your stories matter! You are making something from nothing. That is miraculous. You are learning how to say what you have to say, and the more you write the easier it will become. One day, someone who you don’t know will read one of your stories. If will affect them in a personal way. That day might be years from now, but the wait will be worth it. Keep going!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I’m an excellent parallel parker! After graduating from college, I moved from Colorado to San Franciso. I drove a VW Golf stick shift. I became an expert at driving up and down those hills and sliding my car sideways into the snuggest fitting parking spaces. Where I live now, parking is not so challenging. But every now and then I have to squeeze into a spot – and you’ll be happy to know that I’ve still got it!!
Where can people find you online?
Twitter - @lisariddiough
Instagram - @lisariddiough
FB – Lisa Frenkel Riddiough
Lisa Frenkel Riddiough is a Northern California-based writer whose projects include picture books, middle grade, and short fiction. She is a graduate of Hamline University’s MFAC program, where her critical thesis was titled, “It’s Not Just Talk: How Empathy Elevates When Talking Animals Exist in Contemporary Human Settings – Middle Grade.” She is a former sales executive, an avid squirrel watcher, and a frequent baker of chocolate pound cake. Her debut middle-grade novel, ELVIS AND THE WORLD AS IT STANDS, came out in August 2021. LETTERS TO LIVE BY is her fist picture book.
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