Keeper Shelf Monday: Laini Taylor

January 25th, 2010

The thing I think is so cool about the author of today’s book for Keeper Shelf Monday is that she started out as an artist making her own line of cool greeting cards (something I’ve always dreamed of doing!).

And then she got a got book published!

Plus, she has pink hair!

How cool is that?

Answer: Totally cool.

For those of you who don’t already know her, her name is Laini Taylor, and her latest book, Lips Touch (which I loved from page one…it’s magical and romantic and takes you to another world—but one that’s totally grounded in this world!) was a National Book Award Finalist.

Her husband illustrated Lips Touch. And they have a new baby named Clementine.

The minute I found all that (plus the above, about the greeting cards and the pink hair) I was like: “What? Get out! Must…know…more…about…this…author!”

So…I emailed her and asked if I could interview her.

And she was kind enough to say yes!


Laini and her husband and publisher—who dyed his beard pink for the occasion of the National Book Awards!

So find out below how Laini got started writing (and selling her cool line of cards), what her books are about, and how she gets her hair SO PINK!


One of Laini’s Ladies, who are just as romantic and lush and kickass as her heroines

Meg: So, Laini, you have a background in art, but now you write AND do art. What made you go from being an artist to a writer…or did you always want to do both?

Laini: Writing was my first love. When I look back now, I can see that my whole art journey was really an elaborate procrastination from writing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and in college I majored in English and took writing workshops, planning (in the vaguest possible way) to take the publishing world by storm after graduation.


Another one of Laini’s Ladies

Laini: Well. There was one small problem. I didn’t actually write very much. Minor detail! I thought about writing a lot, but actual words on the page? Not so much. Writing was really hard, so, out of avoidance, I began to do art instead. It started as a hobby, but I got obsessed, and within a couple of years I was applying to art schools. It was years before I got back to writing seriously, and I can’t help but imagine all the books I might have written in that time. Still, I’m glad my life took that path. Art has been a great second career AND I met my husband in art school!


Check out Laini’s cool website about how writing is not for robots.

Meg: Did you ever experience rejection along the way? How did you deal with that if it happened?

Laini: The rejections I remember the most viscerally relate to my artwork, because they were on-the-spot and in-person, rather than form rejections in the mail. When I was still making my gift line, Laini’s Ladies, by hand, I went to some local gift boutiques to see if they would carry them.

Fortunately the buyers at the first store I went to were lovely and gracious and placed a big order, because the next several places I tried were awful. Nasty. It was really hard for me to put myself out there like that to begin with, and these women, these haughty, self-important gift-shop buyers, could really make you feel small.


(Meg: I can’t believe this! I love Laini’s Ladies! Find tons of them here! Don’t tell Laini I told you!)

Laini: The orthodox answer to how to deal with rejection is you just keep on doing your thing, no matter what. In my favorite picture book, Max Makes a Million by Maira Kalman, there’s an artist who only paints invisible paintings, and nobody gets it.


“But Bruno is no crybaby. He just keeps working on the ideas in his head.” That’s really the necessary spirit.

But. I have another way of dealing with rejection that’s much more fun: make enemies. Really. I have a secret nemesis, a writer who snubbed me at a convention once (no, I won’t say who!). Since then, I’ve only ever said his/her name in the way Seinfeld says “Newman!”

Laini: And I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to forbid my husband from buying his/her books. This writer, of course, has no idea he/she is my nemesis, that’s the “secret” part — I do not advocate reciprocal meanness. It’s all in fun, and really, it is fun blowing a minor snub out of all reasonable proportion. I recommend everyone have at least one nemesis. It takes the sting out of rejection.

Meg: HA! I think that’s hilarious.


Another one of Laini’s Ladies

Meg: So, the girls in your stories seem very strong. Who were your favorite heroines (real or imaginary) growing up? How much of you is in the heroines you create now?

Laini: Weirdly, I don’t remember who my childhood heroines were! It’s making me feel old. Childhood just seems so long ago! I do remember that, as a 70s baby and a gymnast, I worshipped Nadia Comenici.


(Pause for Meg to go: Eeeeee, I loved Nadia too! So hilarious Laini mentioned her. Now back to the interview:)

Laini: The other one that comes to mind is really obscure: Lady Oscar. She was from a Japanese cartoon I watched on Italian TV (I lived in Italy as a kid). She was Marie Antoinette’s kick-ass female bodyguard and she dressed and fought like a man but she was beautiful and had a great love story. I love a character who can smooch and kick ass.

Laini: As for the heroines in my books, I would say that the least strong of them, Kizzy (from Goblin Fruit, in Lips Touch), is the one most like me — her yearning and huge daydreams are a portrait of my high school self, and I can say absolutely that I would haven fallen victim to Jack Husk.

Meg: Me, too! So how does the collaboration process on your books work, with your husband Jim di Bartolo illustrating and you writing? Do you ever look at his illustrations and go “No! It’s not supposed to look like that!” Would you like to illustrate your own book someday? Would he ever want to write his own book someday?

Laini: Jim works from my manuscripts to develop the art. We have meetings (sometimes at home and sometimes at our favorite restaurants, and once we even conjured an excuse to go to Prague!) where we discuss what/who will be illustrated and Jim makes thumbnail sketches. Later, when he gets to developing the look of things, there can be a bit of, “No, that’s not what he looks like,” but mostly I’m amazed by how much Jim brings to the process, capturing my vision, but also adding his own to it. It’s so much fun!


Art by Jim di Bartolo!

Laini: As for illustrating my own books some day: yes! Picture books were my reason for going to art school, and along the way I got sidetracked by an awakening love of middle grade and YA fiction, but I still adore picture books, and hope to be able to write and illustrate at least one. As for Jim and writing: also yes. He has several ideas at various stages of development.


More art by Jim!

Meg: Awesome! I can’t wait for them. So what new projects do you have coming up that we should look out for?

Laini: I have a YA novel in the works (for Arthur Levine, my Lips Touch publisher), that’s like the Lips Touch stories in style — supernatural romance, creepy and sexy — but is bigger and juicier and you can really sink your teeth into. Also, Jim and I are also collaborating on an illustrated project for younger middle-grade readers that’s very different from my other books—very silly and full of boy humor. Neither of them have pub dates yet.

Meg: I’ll be totally looking out for them! OK, this is something I’ve been longing to ask, since I used to have a pink streak in my hair, and maintaining it was really hard! How do you get your hair SO PINK?

Laini: Actually, maintaining the pink isn’t that hard! I have it done at a salon, and my stylist uses
Elumen by Goldwell
. That’s really the key. It’s a “magnetic” color and fades and bleeds very little. The product is so good that I really only have to re-dye about every 12 weeks, but I have a half-way appointment every 6 just for the roots. My natural color is brown, so my stylist has to bleach me first (after the first time, only the roots get rebleached) to make the pink as vivid as it is. The full-head appointments take about three hours, the roots appointments about half that.

Laini: I’ve had pink hair for about 2-1/2 years now, and it’s so much more fun than my old color. It’s hard to imagine ever changing back!

Meg: YOU ARE AWESOME. Thanks so much for letting me interview you!

Laini: Thanks so much, Meg! It’s a thrill to *be here*!

The funniest part about my interview with Laini was, after I sent her an email asking if I could interview her (along with all my interview questions, hoping she’d say yes), she reminded me that I had already met her and her husband Jim at BEA last year when she was pregnant with her new baby Clementine.

How funny is that???

(I remember very little from that morning, because I got up so early to do the Children’s Breakfast with Julie Andrews. And I am not a morning person.)

But as soon as she sent this photo I remembered! And then I was like, “Oh, yeah! She was so cool!”

So, there you go. Laini Taylor, for everyone who hasn’t already met her!

Great writer and fun pink-haired lady. READ HER BOOKS!

More later.

Much love,

Meg