Angela DiTerlizzi, THE MAGICAL YET

Angela DiTerlizzi, THE MAGICAL YET

Zibby Owens: Angela DiTerlizzi is the author of The Magical Yet. She is a mom, wife, and author who delights in writing rhythmic, charming picture books to be enjoyed and shared by both parents and children alike. Prior to her career as an author, Angela worked for over fifteen years as a makeup artist, most notably in the film and TV and music industry. In 2013, her debut picture book, Say What?, appeared in over one million boxes of Cheerios as a part of the General Mills Spoonfuls of Stories program. Her book Some Bugs, which by the way my kids love and we’ve had forever, had kids and critics buzzing and was chosen as one of Buzzfeed’s Best Picture Books of 2014. In the spring of 2015, Angela celebrated the joys of a new baby in her picture book, Baby Love. She and her husband, who’s also a best-selling author and illustrator named Tony DiTerlizzi, live with their daughter and their dog in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Welcome, Angela. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Angela DiTerlizzi: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me, Zibby.

Zibby: Thanks also for writing The Magical Yet which I just read again with my kids. I said, “What did you like about this?” My daughter who’s almost seven said, “I think it was really inspiring.” So there you go.

Angela: Oh, my goodness. Mission accomplished. That is so great to hear. Tell her thank you so much.

Zibby: I will. Can you tell listeners please what The Magical Yet, this adorable inspiring children’s book, is about? Also, what inspired you to write this one?

Angela: The Magical Yet is a special companion that is with you when you’re down and your dreams haven’t come true or you’re upset by the things you can’t do. If you’ve lost or failed or cried just a bit, you’re fed up with waiting and ready to quit, your magical yet is with you. Your magical yet is kind of like your coach, your teacher, your cheerleader, and supporting you along the way when you’re trying new things and having new adventures.

Zibby: You’re going to have to just rhyme the whole rest of our chat here. Only rhyming couplets please. Nothing else is accepted.

Angela: That’s how I pretty much hear everything in my brain. I think it’s because I listened to so much Dolly Parton as a kid. All my stories kind of come to me in rhyme.

Zibby: 9 to 5 was one of my favorite movies. Did you see 9 to 5 with Dolly Parton?

Angela: Oh, yes, of course. Absolutely. The fact that you could be funny and beautiful and sarcastic and in charge, those were the icons that I remember growing up and seeing those women and being like, that’s what I want to be like when I grow up.

Zibby: I was like, I don’t want to be in an office. That’s what I took away from that. That and Working Girl, I was like, I’m not thinking the cubicle life is for me.

Angela: Same, same. Absolutely. The seed for The Magical Yet began when my daughter, who is now almost thirteen, was about nine years old. She was playing basketball on a team for the very first time. Her team had lost every single game of the season, which is just so painful as a parent to see. It was the very last game, and she got the ball. It was this slow-motion moment in which the ball soared from her fingertips through the air and into the basket. Just as I cheered, I realized in that moment she had just scored for the other team.

Zibby: Oh, no.

Angela: It was crushing. The pep talk started immediately after getting in the car leaving the game. The words of Dr. Carol Dweck, who is a psychologist and professor from Stanford who talks about the power of yet, kind of came to me. I thought, this is the thing. You’re not there yet. You have not mastered basketball yet, but you will get better if you keep trying. In that same week, we had a studio assistant who worked with my husband and I — he’s an author and an illustrator. She was finishing up her senior year at college. She wanted to be a comic book artist. She showed up one day having a complete meltdown because she couldn’t draw hands. She said, “I’ve thrown away my entire college career. How can I ever be a successful artist? I can’t draw hands.” My husband gave her a book of drawing anatomy and sent her home and told her to draw a hundred hands. The conversation that we had was, “You can’t draw hands yet, but you will be able to. You’ll get better.” Those two things combined, and I’m really thinking where a nine-year-old was at, where a twenty-two-year old was at, and myself as a forty-seven-year-old, sometimes we have to be often reminded that we’re just not there yet.

Zibby: It’s true. This is a timeless message because giving up is just so much easier than keeping going.

Angela: Absolutely. It’s timeless and right now feels extremely timely as well because there’s just so many things we can’t do yet. We’re having those conversations too. We’re not returning to life as it used to be yet. Our daughter is not back at school yet. People can’t go back to work yet. That has been something that I need to, again, remind ourselves of often and became quite timely in this conversation.

Zibby: It’s true. One of my kid’s schools in particular, that is one of their mantras, is always adding yet onto the end of a sentence. When I saw your book, even the title of it, I was like, ah, yes, this is preaching to the choir here. It is. It’s such a good message. It’s not your first children’s book. I realized that we have two of your other books that I have read countless times. The one about the cows going moo, what’s it called?

Angela: Say What?

Zibby: Say What? Yes, I love that with the cow-shaped clouds and the tweeting birds and how you don’t know what animals are thinking. They could be saying a whole different range of things.

Angela: That was actually my first picture book that I ever wrote, which was also inspired by my daughter. I feel like becoming a parent became a wealth of inspiration for me as an author considering I had a whole nother life and a career where I was a makeup artist.

Zibby: Really? I was actually going to ask you how you got into this and if you wanted to do this from the start. Tell me what happened.

Angela: Backing up, I worked about fifteen years as a makeup artist when we lived in New York. I worked on the Today Show. I worked on Saturday Night Live. I worked with a lot of musicians and politicians and celebrities. It was actually 9/11 that we decided to relocate out of the city. I was working on the Today Show that morning. It was so stressful and so anxiety-producing. I just thought, I can’t go in and have this experience every single day. We relocated to Amherst, Massachusetts. As I mentioned, my husband’s a children’s book author. There’s a huge community of children’s book authors and illustrators. We’re just down the street from the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, and just a great literary legacy within this community. I joked that I moved to a town where no one wears makeup, so I had to find a new job. Which is a joke. I have a lot of friends here who wear makeup. I realized quickly I wasn’t going to be commuting the three hours into the city. It was after our daughter was born that I wrote my first manuscript. I showed it to my husband. He said, “This is really good. I think we should show it to the publisher,” to Simon & Schuster. And so I showed it to our publisher at the time. They showed it to an editor and didn’t mention that I was Tony’s wife. They decided to purchase the manuscript.

Zibby: That’s great.

Angela: I just kept going and kept writing. Here we are ten books later. I’m continuing to keep writing and get inspiration, even in times like this when it’s challenging to be creative.

Zibby: Actually, you’ll have to give me advice. I sold a two-book deal to Penguin Random House for children’s books also.

Angela: Yes, I saw. Congratulations.

Zibby: Thank you. I wrote the first one, but now I have to write the second one. Now I feel like, how did I even write the first one? You’ve written ten.

Angela: Every single time, I have that same reaction. How did I do this? How did I get here? Why am I doing this? Does anybody want to read it? Is it terrible? I recognize that that is part of my process too. It’s just about digging into the work and thinking about the original seeds of inspiration that got you to that first book. Once you have a recipe for something, you can change it up, you can add some different ingredients, but it’s all there. You’ve got it.

Zibby: If you had to say something that you can’t do yet that you need the encouragement of that magical yet for, what would it be?

Angela: As we talked about, all of my picture books are in rhyme. The thing that I’ve been challenging myself to do is to write a picture book that’s not in rhyme. That’s what I am doing right now. I’m going to be collaborating with my husband on that. It’s funny because I feel really comfortable on this path of, this is how I’ve done things. This is how I know it’s done now. I know part of my process is that insecurity, but I could always hear the rhythm in my head in writing in rhyme. Now I don’t have that safety net. When you don’t have that safety net, how does that feel? It’s really scary, but that’s okay. I’ve been there before too. That’s the thing I’m having to remind myself of, of my yet, is writing a manuscript not in rhyme.

Zibby: There you go.

Angela: And playing the ukulele. I’m learning ukulele too right now.

Zibby: Awesome. I was going to say non-book related. There you go. I interviewed Roz Chast and her coauthor, who I’m blanking on her name, about a book they had done. They both came with their ukuleles and played on the show. They have this little ukulele band that they take all over the place. So you know what? You can go far with a ukulele career.

Angela: That’s hilarious. I feel like I’ve seen so many ukuleles and sourdough starters in my social media feeds right now.

Zibby: Totally. I know. I’m like, I am just not going to get to the sourdough. I’m just not.

Angela: No, I’m not either.

Zibby: My baking has leveled off. I feel like I was doing a lot of baking at the beginning. Now maybe because my clothes are barely fitting, I’ve stepped away from the baking. How about you?

Angela: I was following Christina Tosi of Milk Bar fame. She’s doing a baking club every day at two PM. I start following along. I was baking things. Everything tasted amazing and delicious. I had made things that I’d never made before. Then I realized, okay, time to take a break. Roll back on the butter, flour, and sugar.

Zibby: There is something really nice. It’s the same feeling of reading a children’s book and getting your hands in the sugar. There’s something so satisfying and emotionally fulfilling about both of those that take me back to being a kid. I feel like whenever I bake it’s me pretending I’m a kid with my mother or something.

Angela: Absolutely. It’s comfort and nostalgia and sweetness and connection. Yes, I feel the same way.

Zibby: Crazy. What is it like being married to someone who is also in the same exact creative field as you? There aren’t that many — I can think of some couples I know who are both authors of literary fiction or things like that. Two children’s book authors, what’s that like?

Angela: We’ve been together for twenty-seven years. I can’t imagine my life being any other way. It is, for both of us, being with our best friends, our support system. Tony is my first line of editing, of connection, of his opinion. I trust it more than anything. I wouldn’t be in this career path if it wasn’t for Tony. I feel like in observing his career, I got this amazing masterclass in writing books for children. We haven’t really collaborated a whole lot prior to the book we’re working on before. It was difficult for me sometimes in the beginning because I thought, how could I be an author when we already have a number-one New York Times best-selling author/illustrator in the house? He set the bar extremely high. We would discuss that along the way and just say, my path is my own. My challenges are my own. My accomplishments are my own to experience. We were going to be there for one another throughout that entire process. We both love children’s book art. We both love reading children’s literature. It’s like walking out of a movie with your best friend and you immediately start talking about all the things that you liked and all the things that you critique and criticize. We are that for each other every day.

Zibby: Aw, that’s so nice. That also makes me very nostalgic for going to movies with friends. Right? Wouldn’t that be nice?

Angela: Remember back in the day when we sat in theaters and had soda pop and popcorn?

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. Does your daughter get inspired by all of the stuff you guys are doing?

Angela: She absolutely gets inspired by all the stuff that we’re doing. We are just a creative household. We were speaking with somebody last night who is also a creative. He’s a screenwriter that we’re working with. He said, “Sometimes it can actually be a little challenging for our kids to wrap their heads around the idea that we get paid to do this thing that we love so much that takes place in our house.” When I was a kid, we always equated your parents leave for eight hours a day, and this is how much they get paid an hour, and that’s why they’re gone. When they come home, the paycheck is equated to that time. We don’t have that. It’s sometimes difficult to set the limits of, okay, I’m going to work a little bit. We’re going down to the studio — Tony has a studio downstairs. I have one upstairs. She is super, super creative. She loves to make stuff. She loves nature. She loves animals. We are always making things. I feel like that’s kind of the go-to of self-expression and of boredom, is taking a break and just sitting around and making stuff together.

Zibby: What kind of stuff do you like to read when you’re not writing children’s books?

Angela: The funny thing is I was always a very reluctant reader, before the term reluctant reader, when I was a kid. I didn’t grow up in a house reading a lot of books. I didn’t have parents who were modeling sitting down and reading for pleasure. When I went into middle school, I got really frustrated because I loved illustrations in books. Those were waning. Those islands of taking a break in the middle of a bunch of words were gone. I was being forced to read books like Where the Red Fern Grows and Flowers for Algernon and The Outsiders and these really traumatic stories. I wasn’t just a non-reader, I was an anti-reader. I thought, why would anybody want to read this stuff? Why do you want to read about gang violence? I really didn’t read a whole lot from my teen years on. It wasn’t until I met Tony that I kind of rediscovered this literary childhood. Even now, I’m drawn to books with illustrations in them. I love reading books, graphic novels. I love reading picture books. I love reading “art of” books. I do love reading — . Right now on my bedside table is Pretty Mess, the autobiography of Erika Jayne, the real housewife of Beverly Hills. It definitely makes for an interesting mix of books. Picture books are definitely my go-to because I’m such a fan of words and pictures together.

Zibby: There is something really special about that combination and something that makes it very easy to remember as opposed to the eight bazillion other books. A picture can just, at least for me, I feel like I’m very visual, it can take me right back.

Angela: Absolutely. You’re such a huge reader. Moms don’t have time to read, I just felt like moms don’t have time to write. I’m just trying to figure out that time to make space for work time, creative time, family time, self time. I feel like especially now in this day of social media, it makes us even more aware of the things that we’re not doing for ourselves, each other, and our family. It’s just trying to parse out some balance for myself.

Zibby: Yes, that is a huge challenge. I know. I feel like I don’t have time to do anything. I’m doing a lot of things, but I feel like I’m not doing hardly any of them well anymore, especially now. Everything is quick and rushed. I’ll do this. I’ll do that. I long for the time when I could sit with a book and finish it and write up thoughtful questions. Now I’m lucky if I read half a book, but whatever.

Angela: I feel like the messaging right now is, you have all this time at home, but for someone like you or someone like me who, in addition to doing our job, is also creating content in this time, it’s not really free time. I don’t really have a whole lot of free time. It’s exciting because it now is challenging us to connect in many different ways, but it’s not necessarily free time in that time.

Zibby: Right. You collaborate with your husband on Facebook, not story time, draw time? How would you…?

Angela: Yes, draw time. It’s called Drawn to Fantasy every afternoon. It’s almost like a visual podcast in a way. He’s drawing and sketching. We’re talking about books and reference. It’s interactive. Since we’re doing it live, we’re talking with fans and other artists. We’re just offering a glimpse into our creative space. I think that’s the thing that we thought we could do at this time. That’s the thing that’s been making me feel better in this, is being of service and just saying, what can I do for others to share a little bit of what we do?

Zibby: That’s great. I know you’ve already included advice here for aspiring authors. If you had one final piece of advice, maybe something that can help people get to their yet, what would it be?

Angela: I would say you’re never too old to — you’ll never forget your yet. Your yet is always with you. I think back to the places that were always the most challenging for me, the places that were the most difficult, the places where I thought I was up against challenges that I could never overcome. Here I am. I’ve made it through them and past them. Don’t give up. Know that there’s always a place beyond where you are right now. If you’re an aspiring author, don’t be afraid to put your creativity down. Don’t be afraid to tap into your innermost emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Put it down even if it just begins for yourself alone and without the pressure of thinking, this is something I have to share with the greater world.

Zibby: That’s great advice. Thanks, Angela. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” and sharing your story and all of your stories with the world. Thanks.

Angela: Thank you so much, Zibby. Thanks for having me.

Zibby: My pleasure.

Angela DiTerlizzi, THE MAGICAL YET