Creativity And Becoming A Children’s Author And Illustrator- Interview with Elise Parsley

Elise and I went to college together at Minnesota State University of Moorhead and had the same English classes. She has published a couple children’s books and also did her own illustrations for them. I am super proud of her

Elise Hylden, Devin Joubert, Interview, Writing

Who’s your mascot for life? If you had to choose a character or animal, what would it be? And why?

I have tried to answer this question multiple times, and I cannot think of a clever answer. So I am going to say a sheep, because they are not very clever.

What’s a day in the life of Elise?

Currently I’m up and at ‘em by 6:30 feeding my starving 10-month-old. I eat a nutritious bowl of generic honey nut cheerios and my toddler joins the party between 7 and 8. If we have a sitter that morning, I get a few precious hours to work on stories, sketches, and email…always e-mail. If we don’t have a sitter, I get the baby down by 9:30 and then the toddler and I read books, play, do housework, and/or run errands. My husband always gets to join us for dinner, so that’s my mid-day dose of adult interaction. After that, there’s a special little window when both children are napping, and I’m able to get a bit more work done. We try to take time in the late afternoon and early evening to be together as a family, and since our kids have early bedtimes, I can usually work a bit more after that if needed. Of course a house with tiny children is a house in constant flux, so this schedule probably won’t apply in six months! Ha!

What was your dream when you were a child? What did you want to be as an adult?

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up and be a turtle. But once I learned that wouldn’t pan out, I decided I’d be a ballerina. But for me, that was about as attainable as becoming a turtle. So finally, as a kid, I set my sights on being a piano player, and fortunately, in 1994 my mom signed me up for weekly piano lessons. Dream: achieved! I honestly didn’t plan on writing or illustrating until after high school, so I guess you could say that’s what I wanted to be as an adult.

How’d you get the idea of Magnolia’s stories?

All different ways! The first one was the result of an illustration I made to beef up my portfolio. I wanted to depict an adult, children, and an animal in a familiar-to-kids setting. The result was a little girl, an alligator, and an annoyed teacher with a paper airplane in her hair. The piano/beach story was inspired by my niece who wanted to bring all of her toys to the beach with her. Once I turned that pile of toys into a giant upright piano the story took off from there. I wrote the circus/library story and pirate/Santa story with the settings already in mind. I simply had to come up with something that would really mess up a library and a trip to meet Santa Claus!

Fortunately, my readers are continually giving me new ideas for books – the hilarious combinations are endless! – so I doubt I’ll ever run out of possible Magnolia adventures. How has your publishing/ writing/ illustration journey been? It’s been more than I ever imagined it would be. More rewarding, more work, more wonderful than I had anticipated. I have met so many interesting, kind, and hard-working people – most of them teachers and librarians, but also bookstore employees, students, fellow-creatives, and publishing pros. I’m continually grateful for the support I’ve received these past 5-7 years, and I know without it, my stories would just be scribblings on a yellow legal pad.

Elise Parsley, Writing, Author, interview
This is Elise’s super cute office/studio where she dreams up her story ideas.

How’d you find your agent?

I did what most people do: I looked at agencies online that represented children’s authors and illustrators. I found several with clients that made books that sort of matched my sensibility and style, and I began researching individual agents at those agencies. I only submitted my work to agents that I felt were a good match, and who were accepting my sort of submission. It’s not terribly easy to figure that out, but most agents have done interviews or been guests on podcasts, and many are on social media so you can often learn a lot about an agent just by googling, and looking at authors and illustrators they already represent.

What are some industry secrets that you’d pass on to someone who wants to be a children’s book author and/or illustrator?

Ooo, yes. Lean in. I will share all the secrets. A little closer. There you go. 1. Read childrens’ books. I mean it. Get over to your library or local bookstore and read. 2. Make time to make books. If you’re hoping that free time will just ring your doorbell and invite itself in to your day, you’re dreaming. I really recommend putting your writing and/or illustrating time on the calendar. Even if it’s two hours a week, make those two hours a priority and don’t let other things crowd it out. 3. Critique with other authors/illustrators. You’ve got to share your work to improve it, and sharing it with your mom or spouse doesn’t count. You need to regularly show your stories to fellow creatives and actively critique one another’s work. 4. Join SCBWI and get involved with your local chapter. This is where you’ll find those critique partners, create a network within the children’s industry, and receive continuing education and inspiration at conferences and workshops. Those are my secrets. Can I stop whispering now?

What’s your favorite thing about being a children’s book author and illustrator?

Do I have to pick just one favorite? No? Oh good, because I have two. 1) I love doing school visits! It honestly feels like a book is truly finished when it is read to a child. At school visits I get to share my work with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of children at once. I get to observe their reactions and hear their questions and we have so much fun! It’s great fuel for the next project. 2) I really love that I can do this job wherever I am, as long as I have electricity and the internet. The flexibility allows me to live in South Dakota (where children’s book creator sightings are very rare!) and be at home with my kids. It’s a gift that I don’t take for granted!