Today, I’m thrilled to finally be able to share Isabella Kung’s interview with you. We’ve been working on it since December, but there were some hiccups in announcing her book deal. If you attended last November’s Black Friday Bootcamp, you might remember Isabella from Arree’s panel of debut authors and illustrators.
Q: What is your background?
A: I’ve been an illustrator and instructor for the past eight years or so. I’ve taught little kids at small art studios to college students at Academy of Art University. In terms of children’s books, I’ve mostly illustrated for educational publishing houses, small presses, and magazines. Now I’m getting into trade books. Come 2020, I will debut as an author/illustrator with my first book baby, NoFuzzball!
Q: That face! He's adorable. What made you want to start writing and illustrating picture books?
A: Drawing, painting, and stories, these three loves of mine have been a full-on obsession ever since I was a child. While I was still studying for my BFA in Traditional Illustration, I discovered illustrating picture books fit all three obsessions perfectly! Where else can I draw adorable, fun, whimsical characters, have the freedom to embrace painting in as many traditional mediums as I want, and tell stories in my favorite book format?
The writing came later. Amazing speakers at SCBWI conferences inspired me. I've lost count of how many times I heard author/illustrators—who never thought they could draw—say they’d published their third book; or illustrator/authors—who never thought they could write—who’d published their fifteenth book! So, I may have exaggerated the numbers, but the point is: I wanted to be just like them, creating my own characters and scenes! I wanted to create my own stories!
Q: How long have you been writing?
A: Almost five years. Admittedly the first two years were more of a learning-and-growing experience. My first story has been shelved, and my second story finally landed me a contract after four years and fourteen drafts. I’m still learning how to write, but with all this practice, trial and error, I’m finally getting better.
SCBWI and Storyteller Academy
Q: Have there been any writing or illustrating communities who’ve helped you along your path?
A: SCBWI helped me so much. It gave me a community to learn from and grow with after graduating from college, when I was still discovering my way. I learned about the industry, got my work critiqued by professionals, and met others who share the same love for children’s books. Storyteller Academy is quickly becoming another community that I’m glad to be a part of. Listening to Arree’s journey was very motivating, and Jim Averbeck’s Writing and Revising Picture Book Manuscripts class really strengthened my writing skills!
Q: Have you ever felt frustrated by trying to get a picture book right?
A: Oh, all the time! I have never finished a book without getting frustrated at some point, even when I am just illustrating it. My past teachers have said, “To be a good illustrator, you have to be good at visual problem solving.” I couldn’t agree more. So, with that logic, being both the illustrator and the author is just doubling the problem-solving aspect. Frustration is almost a guarantee. BUT, once you figure out a way to solve all your problems, it is immensely satisfying!
Q: When and why did you take Jim Averbeck’s Writing and Revising Picture Book Manuscripts?
A: I took Jim’s class during the spring of 2018. I’d heard Jim speak in person at the SCBWI’s Golden Gate Conference beforehand. I’d enjoyed his talk a lot back then and have always liked his books. I took a break from teaching that year, and when I read about his new class, I knew I had to sign up! Jim’s critiques are invaluable! I hunkered down the entire six weeks and turned an idea I’d shelved years ago into a fleshed out dummy! I will be pitching that story soon. Jim has the innate ability to pinpoint the core of a story and provide suggestions on how to strengthen the storytelling. I highly recommend his class!
Isabella's Book Deal
Q: Could you tell us about your recent book deal?
A: My recent book deal is for a story I’ve started four years ago, about a Queen named NoFuzzball. She is a sassy, fuzzy black cat accustomed to the highest level of worship by her subjects. I’d taken it to my critique group countless times and sought critiques from editors and agents in the past, as well. I even took a year-long break from this story! 14 Drafts later and with the help of my agent, Jennifer Laughran, it was finally picked up by Scholastic. Collaboration with my editor, Kait Feldmann, and designer, Steve Ponzo, has been amazing so far!
Q: Do you have any advice that might help our blog readers find satisfaction or joy in writing picture books?
A: Creating a picture book is not easy, and sometimes, in the darkest of times, we might question why we are even doing this. It’s true that “Nothing good comes easy,” especially in any creative endeavors! Know that the dark feeling will pass, and we just have to remember our love for it. There is nothing more satisfying than when the story finally comes together and is well received by your friends, your critique group, your agent, your editors and most importantly, the kids reading your books. Knowing your story connected with your audience in a special way—or when they simply laugh at your jokes—is priceless.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I'm working on finishing the illustrations for NoFuzzball! and starting another illustration book deal. I have a story ready to go on submission, two other stories in the making, and a character named Sir Chester Whiskerfluff Purrington the 3rd, who is patiently waiting for his story to be written. And I also became the new Illustrator Coordinator for the SCBWI SF/South Region this year!
Q: Congratulations, Isabella! Where can we find you on the Internet?