Sweet Sixteener Jennifer Bardsley recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Constance Lombardo about her debut middle grade illustrated novel, MR. PUFFBALL, STUNT CAT TO THE STARS (September 29, 2015 from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins).
About the Author:
Constance Lombardo began drawing when she was 10 years old. She studied Illustration at Syracuse University, took classes in drawing and printmaking at the Art Students League of NY, and worked with a muralist in San Francisco. Her illustrations have appeared in a variety of magazines. Her debut illustrated middle grade novel, MR. PUFFBALL: STUNT CAT TO THE STARS (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins) is coming out this fall. She is represented by Lori Nowicki of Painted Words. Plus she likes cats. And cake. But not at the same time.
Mr. Puffball’s a hero for today. Or possibly tomorrow. He’s a cat. He’s awesome. And . . . wait for it . . . he’s going to Hollywood to become a famous movie star! Follow Mr. Puffball on his trip cross-country. (Look at all the postcards to Mom!) See him stumble upon Hobowood! (Not as glamorous as Hollywood, but full of beans.) Watch him land at last in Hollywood, where he meets a cast of thousands (or at least half a dozen) and catapults himself into the next best thing to being a famous movie star: working as a stunt cat to his movie star hero, El Gato!
Jennifer: Mr. Puffball is a cat who follows his dreams, despite every obstacle. What’s the biggest dream you have pursued?
Constance: Definitely becoming a published author!! I started writing picture books – and submitting too soon! – when my daughter was one year old. When my debut middle grade novel, MR. PUFFBALL: STUNT CAT TO THE STARS, comes out at the end of this month, she will be twelve. I’ve written lots of picture books and collected a very thick folder full of rejection letters. I submitted numerous picture books, two YA novels and one other MG novel to agents and editors over the years. I like to try new things, and I love to draw in b&w (with my rapidograph pen) and I love cats. These all came together when I started working on Mr. Puffball. I got a positive response from my fantastic agent (Lori Nowicki!) relatively quickly after subbing. She helped make my dream come true by connecting me with Jill Davis, my awesome editor at Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. We worked long and hard to turn Mr. Puffball into a star! Publishing my first novel has been a long time coming, and now it’s really happening!! Dreams do come true!
Jennifer: Your writing is full of purrrrrfect puns, which kids and adults will adore. How did you come up with all of that cat humor? Did you keep a running list, or write down wild thoughts in the middle of the night?
Constance: I do all and everything I can to brainstorm fun puns. I watch my cats. I ask my fabulous writing group, the Secret Gardeners, for ideas. I ask my husband (a fellow punster for sure!) I visit websites about cats, cat names, cat movies, cat words even! I go through the alphabet. I make lists of feline-inspired words. I think about puns I love. (One of my favorites: In Madagascar 3, Vitaly, the Russian acrobat tiger, gets angry and yells, ‘That’s Bolshevik!’ I wish I’d thought of that!) I’m a bit of a puzzle addict and love all kinds of wordplay. The pun I’m most proud of from my book: “Haven’t you heard the phrase- ‘cool as a uke number’?’”
Jennifer: The artwork in MR. PUFFBALL is extremely engaging. How long does it take you to make an illustration?
Constance: Very rarely, I can finish a simple illustration in 30 minutes. Some I work on, redoing and reworking, over the course of a few days. One of the illustrations I worked on the longest is the Hollywood Jobs Coolness Graph. I think the part of my brain that’s convinced we’re not good at math shut down every time I tried to do this graph. And it’s very simple! The other issue is I’m no good at straight lines. When somebody says, “I can’t even draw a straight line.” I want to say, “Neither can I. And I went to art school!” The other very challenging illustration for me was the limousine (straight lines again!) Plus cars do not interest me much. I struggled with this for quite a while, using my favorite website as reference. (Google images! I sometimes just google images Colin Firth or George Clooney for a moment of bliss.) Actually when I look at the illustration now I see its imprecision is the source of its charm. Though if it wasn’t for the hood ornament, I wouldn’t know which part was the front!
Jennifer: This question is from my six-year-old daughter. “Why doesn’t Mr. Puffball have to pay for his salon services or dancing lessons?”
Constance: Great question!! We don’t see Mr. Puffball pay for his make-over, but I’m almost positive he does! Or maybe Ms. Lola likes helping young cats with big dreams!! On the other hand, the oldsters who provide acting, singing and dancing lessons so that Mr. Puffball can become a triple threat do not want his money. They are giving back to their community by helping an aspiring actor on the road to success. Plus they like his cat-titude! And his bow tie! AND, as you’ll notice in the school schedule, he is expected to help with the lunch buffet. Mr. Puffball also has to help with the dishes! (This was in an earlier draft but got cut.) The conclusion: friends are the best riches of all! Also, cats barter.
Lightning Round Questions
Favorite writing snack? Snacking is an essential part of my writing process. Pretzels.
Oddest joy you ever had? The joy of seeing my baby after 20 hours of labor. Indescribable. I’ll just say she honestly looked to me like she was surrounded by gold light.
Pets? Two cats: Myrtle the Good and Gandalf the Grey the Naughty Kitten.
Cat food preference: kibble or canned? Kibble most days, canned food is our Sunday Special!
Favorite Broadway musical? OMG…so many!!! I was lucky enough to see Bernadette Peters as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun, so let’s go with that! (And You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun is one of my favorite show tunes!)
Oddest job you ever had? OMG…so many! Braiding rugs for a craft rug maker in Chelsea (the NYC neighborhood) in the mid-1980s. I got blisters on my fingers! I did not last long in that one. One of the best jobs I ever had was working with the famous San Francisco muralist Susan Cervantes. Painting huge scale on walls is so fun!
About the Interviewer:
Jennifer Bardsley is the author of GENESIS GIRL. She also writes the parenting column “I Brake for Moms” for The Everett Daily Herald. You can find Jennifer on her website or on her Facebook page: The YA Gal. An alumna of Stanford University, Jennifer lives in Edmonds, WA with her husband and two children.
GENESIS GIRL is YA speculative fiction. Shielded from the Internet for eighteen years, Blanca’s lack of a virtual footprint makes her so valuable that she’s auctioned off to the highest bidder. (Month9Books, Fall 2016)