Lisa Frenkel Riddiough is a Northern California based writer whose projects include picture books, middle-grade, and short fiction. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. Her debut middle-grade novel, Elvis and the World as it Stands, released in August 2021, and her debut picture book, Letters to Live By, arrives in January 2022. Lisa is a former sales executive, an avid squirrel watcher, and a frequent baker of chocolate pound cake. She is pro-Oxford comma! Also, she likes exclamation points!!

What three books do you wish you had written and why?

  • THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, by Katherine Applegate– this book is my gold standard for talking animal middle grade stories. First, I love that it is written in first person, with Ivan the silverback gorilla narrating. The book so beautifully captures Ivan’s sorrow. But Applegate has given Ivan agency with his talent as an artist. He is able to do something positive that in the end saves Ruby and also saves himself. I adore the friendship and understanding that Ivan has with the human girl, Julia, and I can feel both of their individual heartaches and hopes.
  • EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE, by Daniel Nayeri – in this book, the protagonist, Daniel, uses storytelling as a way to survive his life as an immigrant to the US. I love how the author has taken true events (this is a memoir) and given it a feeling of fable or fiction. The form and structure of this book are so unique, and there is so much empathy. Just brilliant.
  • STARFISH, by Lisa Fipps – this book absolutely nails the suffering that come with being bullied and made to feel less than. Though the author uses an economy of words via writing in verse, she packs an enormous emotional punch in every poem. This book should be read by every kid and every parent.

Tell us a story about a time when you and a mentee used a strategy or tool and it unlocked new possibilities in their work.

While working with Amruta Srinivasan, I encouraged her to think outside the box when she was stuck on one crucial element of her fantasy novel. She has been working on the rules of a magical stone. I asked her what the stone might say if it could speak. This presented the idea that maybe the stone could have its own first-person chapters in the book. Amruta wrote two or three chapters from the stone’s POV. Though she didn’t end up using the stone’s POV in the final draft, she did unlock the rules of the stone by asking the stone to speak for itself. It was fascinating.

Beyond writing books, what is another way you express your creative voice?

I believe that my creative voice comes out in very simple ways. For example, I love a beautifully set dinner table. Finding the just right centerpiece, folding the linen napkins, making individual place cards, and mixing and matching the plates and glasses can be a fulfilling creative task. Baking is another example. There is so much satisfaction in making a pie from scratch or decorating cookies. I have at least one hundred cookie cutters and a special drawer in my kitchen just for sprinkles. Flair pens and sprinkles are all I really need to voice my creativity!

What are you working on now in your own writing?

Currently I am working on a middle grade novel that is a prequel to my debut that came out in August. I’m also working on a chapter book/early reader type of (maybe) graphic novel that involves a (sort of) odd couple duo who are trying to (possibly) change the world. Can you tell that this one is still in development? As always, I am constantly fiddling with my picture book manuscripts and hoping that a one will bubble up and shine. Beyond that, there are short stories aplenty that I turn to on occasion when I feel like working outside of children’s literature! There is never a dull moment in my writing life.

Lisa, how do you stay focused?

In very short bursts! Lol!

We each have stories to tell.

Plus, our own unique ways of telling them.

That’s why we personalize each mentorship at Society of Young Inklings. Our mentors are professional writers, storytellers, and illustrators who help students understand how they think, learn, and best achieve momentum. Our mentorships are designed for writers ages 8+ who are ready for a challenge.