Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino
Discover How to Be Your Best
Lisa Jahn-Clough

Teacher and Author

By: Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino

Elizabeth: You have a new book out. Please share the title and the brewing controversy.

Lisa Jahn Clough: The book is the paperback edition of my Young Adult Novel, Me, Penelope. The hardback came out in 07 and this edition, just out this month, has a new splashy cover (supposedly more targeted to teens) and a cheaper list price. The novel is about a 17 year old girl who is overshadowed by a domineering mother and haunted by the accidental death of her baby brother seven years ago. She is desperate to find love (and sex) and to get out of her town and to make amends with her mother. The controversy started last fall at a middle school in Orlando, Florida. A parent was outraged when he found his twelve year old daughter reading the book saying it was full of lewd and gross behavior. He challenged the book to be taken out of the school library, which it was, along with at least one other nearby school district, even though the board voted to keep it in. Now the book appears on banned book lists and there's been a flurry of articles (including the Florida Fox news report) about censorship and for and against the book. Mostly for.

Elizabeth: You are from Maine??? Share your connection with Maine.

Lisa Jahn-Clough: I was not born in Maine, but since I was three months old I've been going to Monhegan Island every summer. My grandfather bought a house there in the 40's and it's been in my family ever since. My family moved to Brunswick, Maine when I was eleven. We no longer have that house in Brunswick, but Monhegan has remained a constant in my life. I went to school in Massachusetts, lived out west and then in Boston for ten years before buying a house in Portland where I've been since 2000. I love Portland.

Elizabeth: You have children's books. How many have you written and what is your favorite?

Lisa Jahn-Clough: I write and illustrate picture books and I write novels for teens. So far I have twelve books out. Ten picture books and two young adult novels. It's hard to claim a favorite, though I've always had a special soft spot for my very first picture book character, Alicia. And I usually have a soft spot for the most recent book or the book in progress.

Elizabeth: What's next?

Lisa Jahn-Clough: I am currently working on a picture book about two bunnies and a h ot air balloon. It is slated to come out in the fall of 2010. I am also working on a sequel to my novel Me, Penelope, but do not have a pub date for that yet.

Elizabeth: When did you decide to become an author? How did this all get started.

Lisa Jahn-Clough: I was one of those nerdy kids who knew what I wanted to do from a very young age. I wanted to grow up to be a famous author and to write long-winded novels. I didn't consider doing children's books until I was in graduate school, and I didn't think I'd end up illustrating them myself! My mother is a well-known Maine painter and was a major influence on my art, but I still didn't think of myself as an artist until I met with my editor and he suggested I do the illustrations for my first book.

Elizabeth: Tell us a secret.

Lisa Jahn-Clough: If I told you it wouldn't be a secret!

Elizabeth: What is going on in your life? Are you teaching, etc...

Lisa Jahn-Clough: I've been teaching ever since my first book came out and I finished graduate school (with an MFA in creative writing) in 1994. Mostly I teach writing--first I was at Emerson College for eight years, then Vermont College, then the Maine College of Art where I was the chair of illustration. That was a new venue for me and I found I prefer teaching writing to art. Currently I teach at a low-residency program at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN in their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. It's a very specific, niche program of highly motivated grad students and most of the teaching is done individually each month through the mail, so it enables me to live anywhere and have some flexibility for working on my own books.

Currently I am spending some time in Savannah, GA--just for a limited time period to see what it's like! I haven't sold my house in Portland or anything, and I will always return there. My sweetheart got a job teaching at the Savannah College of Art and Design and I am working from home and taking care of our crazy dogs. It's kind of nice to be taking a break from full-time teaching and be able to focus more on my own work, though at times I do miss the classroom.

Elizabeth: Who are a few of your favorite authors and books?

Lisa Jahn-Clough: I have so many. I absolutely LOVE Isabel Allende and her magical realism storytelling. I like Toni Morrison, John Irving and Gabriel Garcia Marquez for their brilliant, long, enduring novels. Les Miserables and Tess of the D'ubervilles are two of my all-time favorite novels.

For children's authors and books: The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier is a classic favorite because it still works on so many levels. Also, I Am The Messenger, by Marcus Zusac (a contemporary Australian writer) is a brilliant novel.

I love the wry whimsy of Ruth Kraus, who mostly published in the 50's and 60's.
And all of Kevin Henkes current picture books and novels. And Peggy Ratman, Vera Williams, Marc Simont, Edward Gorey, and so many others...

Elizabeth: Where do you go for ideas? How do they come about?

Lisa Jahn-Clough: Ideas come about in the strangest ways. Usually they come from some other idea I am working on that doesn't work. From that failed project one seed might emerge that leads to something good. I also get a lot of ideas while going for long, lonely walks with my dogs20and clearing my head of business. Many of my ideas come, not from my own childhood as one might suspect, but from themes relevant to my life today or of things I observe in the world. I might take some of the specifics from my past (I had an interesting childhood, as many people do--full of humor, suffering, and survival), and then I make the rest up.

Elizabeth: Who is your favorite for American Idol?

Lisa Jahn-Clough: I am totally embarrassed that we do not have a television and I have never followed American Idol. The most guilty pleasure I have is reading through People Magazine at the dentist's office, but luckily have not had to go to the dentist lately.