Q&A: Lita Judge

There are a lot of wonderful writers living in our state. As the Director of the NH Center for the Book  I get the opportunity to talk to many of them. This interview series of Q&As with New Hampshire authors here on Book Notes lets me share that experience a bit with my blog readers.
Lita Judge and friends
    If someone hasn't read your  work yet, where should they start?
    I write and illustrate both fiction and nonfiction picture books, so if a new reader wants to explore fiction, I’d answer Red Sled. For non fiction, I’d say Bird Talk. 
    When did you first think of  yourself as a writer?
    I guess it wasn’t until I published my first book, One Thousand Tracings. I had written in journals throughout my life, but thought of myself as an artist only because that is how I made my living. After writing my first book, I knew writing was just as much a part of my work as creating art and that I would continue to create stories.
    How did you end up living in NH?
    I had always lived in the west and had spent very little time on the east coast. Then my husband and I traveled to Boston for the first time in 2002 and flew into the Manchester airport. Though it was a work trip with most of our time spent in Boston, we took a weekend to explore NH. One of my favorite painters, Abbot Thayer, had lived here in the early 1900’s and I wanted to explore the landscapes he had painted. We had such a lovely time that weekend, we decided to move here immediately. We flew home, put our house up for sale, packed the U-haul, and were headed back to NH by the end of that week! I had spent a total of 2 days in NH, but our instincts were right. We love the natural beauty of the land and the people here, and will spend the rest of lives here. Now we have a wonderful red house in the woods outside Peterborough with a big studio that looks like a barn on the outside.
Lita in her studio
     Where do you like to write? 
    Where doesn’t matter for writing, as long as I have a cat on my lap and an idea in my heart. I always paint at my easel by the huge north light window in my studio. But for writing, I float around the house and porch choosing whichever spot looks comfy. I also love writing in my sketchbook/journal on travels.
At her easel
    How important is place in  your writing?
    A sense of place is hugely important in both my writing and my artwork. When creating a story, even one straight from my imagination, I want a feeling that you could get a ticket and go there. I think all my experiences traveling, writing, and painting on location have instilled a great sense of place in my work. Characters just don’t come alive to me until I’ve established where they live and play and imagine.

    What do you do when you aren't writing?
    I paint, and paint, and paint. Sometimes I stop to play with my parrot and cats, build a pot out of clay, or go for a hike with my husband, but I love creating and spend most of my waking time (and dreaming time as well) painting and writing. Even when traveling to places I love, I spend most of my time painting and writing in my journal, capturing everything I see and experience.
Lita sketching in the UK
    What’s the best piece  of advice (writing or otherwise) you were ever given?
    If you want to be a writer, read great books, and if you want to be an artist, look at great paintings. And always practice your craft everyday - write in your journal, do a sketch on location, and remember don’t just create the easier things like doing fun loose sketches or journal entries, but take a piece of work and revise it over and over again until you’ve built something from your ideas.

    What books do you love  and what about them speaks to you?
    There are so many – at any one time I have stacks of books near the couch, window seat, and bed. I cherish them all so it’s hard to pick favorites. Right now I’m really enjoying an eclectic mix of journals and sketchbooks by other illustrators. Their rawness and gesture quality gives me such insight to their work. I’m particularly in love with the journal memoirs of Danny Gregory. His personal journey of overcoming a devastating loss and rebuilding his life through journal writing and sketching is a big inspiration to me. I’ve also read and reread When Woman Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams. Her insight to finding one’s personal voice in their writing has been a huge inspiration. For children’s books – oh so many I love, but I return over and over to Red Sings from the Treetops by Joyce Sidman and A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip and Erin Stead. The warmth and love conveyed in these two books constantly restores me.

    What are you working  on now?
    I have so many projects in the works! I have a new book coming out now, entitled Red Hat which is a story with the characters from Red Sled. And I just finished another fiction story called Flight School about a penguin with big dreams. I also have a couple of nonfiction books in the works, How Big Were Dinosaurs, and a book about baby animals. And now I’m having a ball writing a book about my parrot, Beatrix. This book is so much fun! I’ve been working hard at the storyboard putting this together, while the real Beatrix whistles and sings inspiration. I’ll be posting videos and the first of these sketches on my blog and website.
    What do you want to share that I neglected to ask  about?
    My inspirations for my stories come from everything. Things I see, my travels, things I learn through conversations and reading, but my greatest inspiration are the animals I love. From the wildlife I helped care for as a kid with my grandparents (who were wildlife biologists) to the pets I have today, these animals inspire my writing and my art. I draw from life as often as I can, capturing each nuanced gesture and expression, filling up journal after journal. And from those drawings comes many of my favorite stories. The drawings always come first, then the words. It’s as if I must create the look and feel of my character before I can hear their voices. I know many writers have different approaches, but drawing my characters is my way into a story, opening up my understanding of their characters so that I can build their stories.

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