Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Lisa Fipps, the author of
Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules–like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.” And she’s found her safe space–her swimming pool–where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life–by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.
Let’s talk to this marvelous author about her fantastic book!
This is Lisa. Everyone say, “Hi, Lisa!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Lisa! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!
I’m so glad to be joining you! I’m a Hoosier. Haven’t heard that word before? It means someone from Indiana. I graduated from Ball State University with a bachelor’s in journalism. Then I was a reporter, editor, and page designer for companies in Indiana and Texas. Being a journalist allowed me to hone my writing and editing skills. It also gave me an ear for authentic dialogue, plenty of ideas for characters, and the skills to design my own flyers, bookmarks, etc., which helps a lot. I transitioned out of journalism and into marketing several years ago. I’m currently the director of marketing for a public library, in addition to being an author of middle-grade novels.
Oh, wow! Very cool that you’re bringing all of those different experiences to your writing!
What was the inspiration behind STARFISH? And what made you decide to write it as a novel-in-verse?
Starfish was the book I needed when I was a kid. I was fat and bullied relentlessly. I wish someone would have told “Little Lisa” that she didn’t deserve to be treated like that, that she could stand up for herself, that she had a right to be seen and heard. I also wish I would have known how to reach out to get help to deal with all the emotions I felt. Since Starfish wasn’t on library and bookstore shelves when I was little, I wrote it. I write in free verse because that’s how stories come to me. It allows me to tell a story packed full of emotion but with few words.
We love hearing stories about “The Call” here on Kick-butt Kidlit. What were you doing when you found out your book had sold?
My “call” moment is a bit different than most. My agent, Liza Fleissig with Liza Royce Agency, pitched Starfish to Editor Nancy Paulsen. I’d written Starfish as a young adult novel. Nancy asked if the three of us could talk on the phone. During the call, Nancy said she thought I should rewrite Starfish as a middle-grade novel. She said if it were middle-grade that I’d be able to reach the kids who are being bullied while they’re being bullied and be able to give them the tools they needed to deal with it. And maybe, just maybe, I’d also reach the bullies and get some of them to stop. Nancy’s a genius that way. She’s such an expert in children’s literature. I’m blessed beyond measure to work with her. I agreed to rewrite it, and she bought the book.
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on STARFISH?
I realized even the tiniest change can have a huge impact. I tend to write tight, because of my years as a journalist. But through Nancy and the copy editors, I found even more ways to tighten, tighten, tighten. I learned a lot about the book publishing industry’s way of editing. It’s different than journalism. Journalists use the Associated Press style guide. A lot of those rules are all about saving space. For example, journalists use numbers when it comes to 10 and up. Publishing uses the word ten, etc. And I learned that there’s always something to learn. And I like that. I have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge about anything and everything.
That’s such a good way to be!
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
Wow! Fun question! I think I’d want Ellie, Viv, and Catalina to be in a novel for adults, to see what their lives are like when they’re in their thirties. When I create characters, they live on in my head, in my life. I’d like to know how they’re doing, what they’re up to, how they’ve made their mark in the world.
As someone who always wants to check in with characters and see how they’re doing, I would love that!
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
I’m drawn to writing. Period. But what I like about middle-grade, in particular, is that kids don’t tolerate bad writing. An adult might keep reading a book even if it gets boring in spots or doesn’t ring true because they want to see how it ends or they’ve paid good money for the book. Kids won’t. So, you have to up your game as a writer if you want to write for kids.
Any hints about your next book project?
Stay tuned for an exciting announcement. But what I can say is that I’m always working on books. Note the plural. I have several going at one time.
Oooh, exciting! Can’t wait until you can share the details!
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
Journalism is incredibly competitive. You keep everything you know a secret. You want to get the scoop. Have the edge. But fellow authors are so willing to share tips that help them with agents, editors, writing, marketing, etc. It’s a community. I love that.
What are you reading right now?
I bought a copy of any ALA Youth Media Award nominee or winner that I didn’t already own, so my to-be-read pile is quite lengthy, at the moment. I’m also going to be a panelist for several upcoming events, so I’m reading books by my fellow panelists. I tend to read primarily middle-grade novels, a smidge of YA, and then some books for adults. When it comes to books for adults, I usually read nonfiction. Right now, I’m reading I Never Said I Loved You by Rhik Samadder, A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne, and Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. I choose books based on research I’m doing for middle-grade books, what I’m dealing with as a person, or just because it’s something I don’t know yet. I’m a bit eclectic when it comes to books and music.
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
I print or write down every good thing people say about my writing. I place it in a jar. Then, whenever I start to doubt myself or life is kind of crummy, I go through them. I’m inspired. Encouraged. Refueled.
Love that idea!
Thank you so much for joining us, Lisa!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out STARFISH!
It’s on shelves now!
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Contest ends Friday, March 26th at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading!