Lisa Jahn-Clough has published over a dozen picture books and three young adult novels. Her work has won awards from Child Magazine, Parent’s Choice, Bank Street, Raising Readers, and Entertainment Weekly. Her latest novel is Nothing But Blue. She is working on the text for a series of early-reader graphic comic books.
Lisa earned a BA from Hampshire College and an MFA from Emerson College and has been writing, publishing, and teaching ever since. She has taught at Emerson College, Maine College of Art, Vermont College of Fine Arts and Hamline University. She is now a tenured Associate Professor at Rowan University. Lisa also speaks to hundreds of elementary, middle and high school students and teachers as a visiting author.
She lives with her husband and their two dogs in Portland, Maine in a little yellow house in the summer, and across from a cornfield in southern New Jersey in the winter.
Long BIO - personal:
I was born in Rhode Island on a small farm and except for a two-year interlude in Norway between ages 2-4, and summers spent on Monhegan Island, Maine, I lived on the farm until I was ten. I recall my farm years as idyllic: I had an older brother, a best friend, goats, acres of woods to explore, and the ocean at the end of the road. My father was a zoologist, with an interest in mammals, so we often had animals around. We had a pet monkey for a while, who we named Zephyr after the monkey in the Babar books. My brother and I collected lots of bugs and butterflies.
We moved to Maine when I was ten. We left the farm life behind and lived in a town where I could walk to school. I have always felt very connected to Maine, especially to Monhegan Island which is about half-way up the coast and where my family has been going since the 1940's.
I have had a life full of rich and unique experiences, although it was around age eleven when I began to more keenly experience the sufferings of growing up, beginning with my parents' divorce and then being diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, and later when I left for college, my father's death. All of my writing stems from my self. I make things up after that, but the initial inspiration usually begins with my own experiences; both past and present.
I consider myself lucky, in that knew I wanted to make books since before I could even write myself. I used to dictate stories to my father who wrote them down in a little book of blank pages I had tied together with string. I would then draw pictures in the book to go with the story. The first book I did like this was called "The Little Girl" about a girl who doesn't want to go outside because it is raining and she doesn't like to get wet. I still have it.
Later, in elementary school and throughout most of junior high I always had a novel-in-progress. I would plan the story in my mind, draw an elaborate cover, list and title every chapter, and usually write one or two pages of chapter one before starting on the next novel.
I read all the time, too. I was deeply moved and influenced by some of the books I read. Mainly those about young girls; Eloise, Ramona, Harriet the Spy, The Secret Garden, Little Women, and any biography (scientists, writers, astrologers, pioneer women--they all fascinated me). I was very curious about what people did and how they lived (I still am).
I was encouraged by all my teachers and I especially loved my early years of school. I was such a little brown-noser--I would actually ask for extra work. I loved filling out worksheets, especially the ones where you could draw as well as write your answer. And I loved writing stories. My seventh grade English teacher suggested that I submit my stories to magazines. I went on a brief frenzy then, sending off stories to various magazines. I got a lot of rejections, but did finally get a story published in READ magazine, which went out to Language Arts teachers to use in classrooms. I stopped writing stories for a while after that, although I wrote in my journal more than ever. Sadly, my high school did not offer much creative writing opportunities and I became discouraged and self-conscious. I also struggled with the idea that if I was going to be a writer I'd have to give up my other passion; visual art.
The development of my art is a different story. Art is something I've always done and had in my life. I think a lot of what I know is merely by osmosis through my mother, who is a painter, and by the fact that she handed my brother and I paper and paint practically at birth and let us go to it. There was an entire wall in our kitchen plastered with our artwork. I have always been intrigued with making cards, books, decorations, paper cut-outs, collage, potato prints, wood carvings. My early childhood was full of making art things and I still love cutting and pasting and coloring. Oddly enough, when I 'stopped' writing in high school I became more involved in the art department, and even won a couple awards. I think that perhaps because my art was not as serious for me as my writing was I have been able to be more free with it. For a time in college I toyed between majoring in art or writing. I ended up majoring in writing, but the art has never left me.
In 1990 I wrote and illustrated a small book (literally small, approx. 3" x 4" with black and white drawings and hand-written text, tied with ribbon) called ALICIA AND HER HAPPY WAY OF LIFE. It describes Alicia and her seemingly relentless happiness and delight in the world. After several friends pointed out that not even Alicia could be happy all the time, I felt I needed to explore Alicia's other moods. Thus came ALICIA HAS A BAD DAY. The first version of ALICIA HAS A BAD DAY is quite different from the final version. I've become much more aware of the elements of a good picture book story. In the first version Alicia falls asleep and has a dream about being in a castle and being the center of attention. The dream is what takes her out of her bad mood. There is no dog in the first version. In the final version, I added her dog, Neptune so Alicia can relate to another creature. She goes through a series of attempts to get out of her bad mood herself. And although none of them work exactly she gets to a point where she gives up. Just then she finds Neptune and is now receptive to another creature and to being in a better mood. It is her actions and persistence that allows herself to be cheered up.
I wrote and illustrated four other books about the character Alicia and self-published them under the publishing name Arm-In-Arm Press. I marketed them from 1990-1993 with some success. Now ALICIA HAS A BAD DAY and MY HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOOK have been published with Houghton Mifflin in very different forms, and I am (happily) no longer in the business of self-publishing (except for calendars and cards). I learned a great deal about the field; about publishing, about marketing, and about believing in my work and my self from this experience. The way I went about self-publishing was gradual. A few copies sold, so I got more printed up, a few more sold, and so on. With more sales I gained more confidence and began taking them to more stores. And although it was exciting, it was also a lot of work and very little money. Having my work out there and knowing others' were reading it was my main motivation. It is incredibly gratifying to have your work reach other people.
It makes total sense to me that I am writing and illustrating my own work now. Even when I was self-publishing and making books with Arm-In-Arm Press when I was in my early twenties, it was similar to "The Little Girl", which I made when I was four. Right down to the small size and the hand-made binding. Although, I hope that the stories are tighter and get better the more I write. Alicia is one of my favorite characters, because she was my first and has lots of me in her, but I am also quite fond of my other characters, Simon and Molly and, most recently, Hester. I am very curious how people interact with themselves and with each other. Most of my books deal with some sort of relationship and conflict. Often, readers ask me why there are no parents or adults in my books. I am more curious as to how the characters figure things out by themselves. Often, I think my characters could be any age. We all deal with the same things the kids in my books do; having bad days and not knowing why, wanting something someone else has, missing people, or being jealous or insecure that we aren't loved enough. The great thing about writing books is that I can create an ending that is logical and happily resolved! I love that part of it.
Below are some of the books and art Lisa made when she was little:
Lisa, age 3.
The first story Lisa ever published was in her middle-school newspaper.
Alicia and Neptune dolls sit in a green chair in my living room.
The original dummy books for MY FRIEND AND I series (above).
The final published books (below).
The original Arm-In-Arm Press books with the character Alicia (above).
One of a dozen storyboards for ALICIA HAS A BAD DAY (below).
ALICIA HAS A BAD DAY dummy book and final published book.
Five different illustrations of a single page for ALICIA HAS A BAD DAY--each one got a little bit better, with the last one going into the final book.
Lisa's attempt at making a comic book when she was in 5th grade.
The evolution of ALICIA HAS A BAD DAY, my first book and still in print (it is now available as an ITunes App as well!)