Liza Dora is the author and illustrator of the children’s book Is Lena Pretty? She wrote the book in approximately 45 seconds after she was diagnosed with cancer. Inspired by her daughter and anxious to impart the wisdom of a thousand lifetimes (because cancer sucks), she wrote and illustrated her first book.
Tell me about Is Lena Pretty? – what is its message?
I’d say the message of the book is that it is the responsibility of parents, teachers and caregivers to praise our girls for more than just their appearances.
Is this an idea that is unique in children’s books?
I don’t know if it’s unique as there are so many amazing children’s books out in the world, but I did think it was a message worth reiterating.
Is this idea of self-worth and self-esteem not needing to be tied into appearance one that you’ve been personally influenced by?
I grew up never really comfortable with my appearance. I think I’m pretty analytical by nature and my look isn’t one that would necessarily make a magazine cover, but I never doubted what was between my ears. I always knew I was smart and that was important. I knew I could run fast. I knew I was a nice person. I knew I was a good friend. And luckily for me, I had people in my life that valued and praised those things. They taught me those things were important and that it was not just ok, but appropriate, that I had confidence in myself.
Sounds like you had a lot of confidence and had some great role models. What other messages do you hope to share with your daughter and other young girls?
Oh gosh, that’s at least ten more books. (Laughs). I think there are so many professional women doing an amazing job of sharing what they’ve learned with the next generation. I love seeing women embracing feminism and taking the time to understand what it means. I want girls to feel valued. I want them to understand that they have power and they don’t have to let it be taken from them. I want girls to realize that they can determine their own futures. And I want that to be true.
You already knew what you wanted to say but what did you learn about yourself as your went through the process of writing and illustrating the book?
This project was the most personal thing I’ve ever done. My words, my art-it’s on every page. And as a whole that book contains what I want for my daughter. The stability, love and support to know that she can determine who and what she is and what she wants to be. Selfishly this book gave me a chance to tell my daughter something I want her to hear everyday whether I’m here or not – that she’s beautiful.
And now that we’re both crying…Tell me about the illustrations – it is so neat that you both wrote AND illustrated Is Lena Pretty? Where did you learn to draw?
My Grandmother was a talented artist and so is my mother. Drawing has always helped me focus. My notes from school all the way through college and post-graduate studies are covered in pictures.
(Laughs) Mine were too! But doodles because I’m not a talented artist! So, you wrote, you drew…did you have any struggles while writing?
I was crying a lot. (Laughs). It was an emotional time for me. I was waiting on my cancer to be staged. And then after it was staged, I had to go through localized chemotherapy treatment. I think contemplating mortality at thirty with a 14-month-old was just really overwhelming.
Of course, but you were clearly able to channel those feelings into your book and make something powerful! Now that you’ve successfully managed to break into the children’s book game, what’s next for you?
Ha! Did I break in? Actually, I have a second book called People Aren’t Socks coming out October 1st and I’ve begun outlining my first Y.A. novel. I also blog on my website LizaDora.com.
So, how does it feel to know people are buying and reading something you wrote?
It’s pretty bananas. I love all the pictures. I think that’s my favorite thing. Seeing all the kids with copies of their books – it’s unreal. Recently, a friend I used to work for told me that over breakfast he complimented his granddaughter on how smart she was and she responded that she was smart and brave and talented and therefore beautiful. I mean what can be better than that?
That’s amazing! Do you have any advice for new authors who are struggling to make it?
Get in where you fit in. This book was self-published and I’m now getting some interest from smaller publishing houses. It can happen! I self-published because honestly, I wasn’t sure about my timeline cancer-wise. But I think self-publishing is dangerous if you don’t have someone to edit. If you are (and you are), too close to a project you miss opportunities to make it better. I had an awesome editor, who happens to be a very good friend. Otherwise I’d say keep writing. Get better. Become so good at your craft that you can’t be ignored. When you get that good – people will find you. I’m still very much on my way. Definitely not there yet, but I will be.
I do a project with my seniors where they have to decide what legacy they want to leave behind. I think it’s a really interesting idea, especially as you write and publish things and leave a piece of yourself open to the world forever so, what legacy do you want to leave?
I’m not sure how I want the world to remember me. It still seems like a pretty big place. For me it’s easier to focus on how I want my daughter to remember me. I want her to know I that I was scared- of cancer, of being a mother, of chasing a dream- but I wasn’t scared in a way that made me want to quit. I want her to know that I took the fear as a challenge and I did it anyway. I want her to have the confidence and the inner strength to be able to go into the world that was not, in the slightest bit, designed for girls and to make her life what she wants it to be on her terms. I want her to know her power. I want her to know she’s beautiful.
She is – just like her Momma. Thanks for sharing, Liza Dora!