Interview: Carrie Salazar, Illustrator of A New Leaf for Lyle

I’ve known Carrie for nearly 19 years. I have yet to meet her, face to face, but I have no doubt that we’ll meet in person one day – sooner than later. We are sisters by choice, and have children the same age. Now, we have a book that we created together: my third children’s book, her debut as an illustrator. I’ve known for a long time – at least since finding her “Dead Rats in My Freezer” blog – that I wanted to work with Carrie on a book.

“But Carrie,” I ask, “what was it that made you say yes to working on A New Leaf for Lyle?” I’m pretty sure it’s not the money, and if I’m not mistaken, Carrie’s over there batting the spotlight off her face like it’s a bug.

“Oh the light is bright! My answer is, who wouldn’t? I’ve known you and trusted you for years — OK, almost decades. The only thing I was hesitant about was — Can I do it?  Illustrating for children is something I have never done professionally, whereas you already had lots of children’s book authoring experience. I felt you were placing an inordinate amount of trust in me.

In a stage whisper, Carrie turns her head and says, “Thankfully, she’s usually right – but don’t tell her I said that.”

I chuckle. “Got you fooled!”


“I can’t believe this is your first time illustrating a book. I’m eager to write another one, just so I can twist your arm into illustrating it! But what’s it like, telling a story in pictures? What were the biggest challenges you dealt with, in illustrating A New Leaf for Lyle?

“I’d love to! The biggest challenge at first was settling into a style and staying there for several drawings. I kept veering off track because I’m used to drawing adults, not children. After that, the biggest hill was learning InDesign in a small amount of time. Fortunately, my google-fu helped me conquer it.”

“I imagine this is similar to how writers sometimes struggle to ‘find their voice.’ You know, a lot of people would be really intimidated by having to learn a program like InDesign so quickly, but I didn’t realize until I asked you to do the layout and book design that maybe you didn’t have oodles of experience with it! I never once doubted you could do it.

“Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?”

“I was born in New Orleans to newly immigrant parents. After my dad left LSU, we moved to a tiny town east of Baton Rouge. There were no other immigrants, so I spent most of my childhood alone in my head making up stories and drawing, catching amphibians and reptiles. I was the quintessential tomboy. The swamps are a great place to be a kid.

“Now I’m in California, and there are Latinos who look like me everywhere! But given my strange upbringing, I don’t quite fit  here either. It is all best summed up in an essay my daughter once wrote about me: ‘[My mom] knows more about catching baby alligators than making empanadas. She hasn’t given me a family identity so much as taught me to absorb influences and cultivate my own.’

“I have written many tales of my odd childhood and plan to illustrate them one day.”

“You should! I’d love to read them. Did you read a lot, as a kid? Did you play sports? 

“My early education was terrible, no really — terrible! School had a meager library and there were no bookstores. I doubt I’d ever have picked up a book  beyond Dr. Seuss, Archie, and Charlie Brown (there were too many tadpoles to collect) if my precocious older sister (the Literature and Creative Writing major) didn’t leave all her novels laying around. My school never required much reading, and I felt those stories they assigned were boring. But the books my sister was able to get (somehow, I do not know) were always more fascinating. It wasn’t until college until I became a voracious reader (sorry, parents, but I give you hope for a mediocre student! I was a very late bloomer).”

“That’s something I didn’t realize until now that we had in common! I loved catching tadpoles! We didn’t have swamps in Ohio, but we had lots of ponds and they were full of frogs’ eggs and tadpoles. I made pets of rolypoly pill bugs, too.

“Did you draw comics back in grade school, like George and Harold in Captain Underpants?”

“I did draw a lot. I remember a line of kids behind my desk wanting me to illustrate for them. In the fifth grade I wrote and illustrated cartoons of warrior cats (pre-Warrior books) and of my Barbie/Mattel cars/GI Joe universe (which was VERY complicated). I only shared these works with only my close friends after a few kids stole them and made fun of my cats!! Early exposure to art critics I suppose.

“I’m very individual sports orientated now, but I was into music and band as a child. You can change your mind later, as I often did!”

“How did you learn to draw? What advice would you give to an aspiring young artist or illustrator?”

“I’ve always drawn, but it took work to get better. Yet, like any skill you can learn it if you practice it a lot. I’ve known people who willed themselves into becoming artists with just hard work even though they had little or no natural talent. I’ve known artists who let their natural gift fade. If you want it you have to draw every day. I can guarantee you will get better if you draw every day, but it takes a long time. And draw what you love. Don’t let anyone say you have to do digital, or anime, or humans … animals, cartoons, realism, etc. If you draw what you love you’ll be more likely to do it more often, and you’ll find people that like that style too! Holly liked my style and she let me illustrate her book!”

“‘Let you’? I’m honored you said yes! So – your number one tip for future illustrators?”

What did I say? Draw every day! Anything. Start with sending me Lyle fanart!”

What a marvelous idea! (Don’t forget Amy, though, too!)


More about A New Leaf for Lyle, including where to buy it.





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