Carmela and Steven D'Amico are a husband and wife team who have written a children's book series called Ella the Elegant Elephant. You can find out more about Ella on the official website (it's adorable).
They've been kind enough to answer a few questions about Ella and their work. Enjoy!
Could you tell my readers a bit about Ella?
Carmela: Ella is a small, shy but very determined and courageous little elephant. She loves her friends and her mom a whole lot and is often looking for ways to be helpful. Her friend Belinda is often getting into trouble and Ella is often trying to get her out of trouble.
Ella is described as shy. Is she based on a real person in your lives?
Carmela: I wouldn't say Ella is directly based on anyone. But I was very shy as a child. And it's funny how we tend to block out painful experiences and how, if we're creative, those experiences tend to come out in our work. Shortly after our first book, Ella the Elegant Elephant, was published, my Aunt Judy said to me, "Oh, I remember Belinda." (Belinda bullies Ella pretty ruthlessly in the first book, though they become friends in later stories.) I said, “You do? I don’t.” My Aunt Judy went on to remind me of a little girl named Belinda who picked on me in first grade. But I honestly hadn't consciously recalled her when writing. In fact, I had completely forgotten about her. I also had to start at a new school, like Ella, but several times. Otherwise, she is wholly her own little elephant!
Carmela is a writer and Steven is an artist. What made you decide to collaborate? Did you always plan to or did it just sort of happen?
Carmela: We share a love of children's literature. I kid you not, it was probably our second date when we joked about working on a children's book together. Later on, when we got married, we started talking seriously about it. It seemed like a natural thing for us to try our hands at, given our occupations.
Steve: We both had a feeling that creative collaboration would be our destiny when we met. Once we began actually working together we discovered that not only did we share a creative spark, we ended up balancing each other’s strengths and weaknesses well in the development process. I feel very fortunate to have found in Carmela such a perfect compliment for my abilities!
The illustrations are lovely and have a vintage feel to them. They remind me of the books I read as a child. What were some of your favorite books growing up?
Carmela: I loved A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle so very much. I'm presently reading it with my daughter, who is 8, and loving it all over again. Charlotte's Web, The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia and all things Dr. Seuss were all very appealing to me as well when I was a child.
Steve: Thanks for the compliment! As a child I spent a lot of time in the library, partly because my parents kicked the TV out of the house when I was about 8. My siblings and I had a special fondness for Dr. Seuss, we memorized entire sections of stories like The Sneetches and Horton Hears A Who. I remember devouring all of the Peanuts collections I could find, and I got totally lost in the Oz books when I was about 10. I loved Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and Charlie & The Great Glass Elevator. The gothic dreaminess of John Tenniel's illustrations for Alice In Wonderland had a big impact. I know I'm forgetting a lot of other favorites right now, but those are a few...
Are there plans for more of Ella's adventures in the works?
Carmela: We're presently taking a little break from Ella. We had the good fortune of being offered to do a short series about Ella. But as a creative person, I don't want to feel hedged in. I love Ella and want to return to her eventually, but my inspiration is being channeled in other directions just now.
Steve: Ella the Elegant Elephant wasn't originally intended as the beginning of a series, but when our publisher offered to put out more books about her we decided that there were more stories to tell. Carmela has a backlog of other stories that we’d like to get to, so Ella’s on hiatus for now.
I saw on Steven's blog that you had been working on another collaboration involving a bunny named Suki. I have a soft spot for bunnies and the images on the blog are beautiful. How is that project coming along?
Carmela: That project is coming along beautifully. We’re excited to have recently accepted an offer from Dutton. Suki is really fun because she's a bunny but she doesn't really act like one. My daughter, Olivia, drew a picture of a bunny a few years back and titled it "Suki the Very Cute Bunny". She really wanted me to write a story about Suki. So I started thinking, "Okay, what else is Suki besides cute?" And suddenly this image of a little bunny shouting in a happy, excited way hopped through my mind. The story took off from there. I have several other characters I'm dying to explore but at the moment I'm wrapped up in Suki.
Steve: I’m having fun working on Suki and her world. In some ways it’s a departure from the Ella books, but fans of the Ella series will probably see some things that look a little familiar, too.
Are there other projects you're working on individually that you'd like to share?
Carmela: I'm working on a novel that I hope to have finished this year. But it's hard for me to talk about projects until they're very close to finished. Lately, I've been putting a lot of energy into a project called The Green Scouts that I've started with a friend. It's similar to Girl and Boy Scouts except that it's boys and girls working together with an emphasis on the arts as a way of bringing change to our communities and the environment. Our website thegreenscouts.com should be up later this month.
Steve: I’m busy working on finishing a series of trading cards called Alien All-Stars with my friend Derek Munson, author of the children’s book Enemy Pie. It’s a lot different than my book illustration, but I’m having a great time exploring my inner 10-year-old drawing weird aliens from distant planets playing baseball.
My daughter is very creative. She writes and illustrates her own stories. She's also 6 years old. What advice would you give a young writer/artist?
Carmela: Good for her! I love to see children writing and drawing. My advice to her would be to read as much as she can and to write down her best ideas. Also to write even if she doesn't really feel like writing. It's good practice. When it comes to writing, practice might not make perfect but it’s the only thing in the world that can help us to become better writers.
Steve: I think the key is finding the subject matter that truly inspires you first, then immerse yourself in that world and practice, practice, practice. When I was 5 or 6 I was infatuated with Batman, dinosaurs and astronauts. I copied pictures from books and doodled on just about any scrap of paper I could find. Over time I became more and more proficient, adding new details and learning how to communicate with pictures. For budding illustrators I think even tracing can be helpful as part of a discovery process. I eventually went to college to study art, but for me the groundwork was laid back in first grade.
Thank you both for your time. Good luck with Ella and all your other projects.
Carmela: Thank you, Christina.
Steve: Thanks for having us!
Thanks again to Carmela D’Amico/Steve D’Amico for appearing, courtesy of Provato Marketing, for other stops on the tour please check www.provatoevents.com.