Leonard Lambert, a University of Washington graduate with a degree in communications, is a veteran of the United States Coast Guard. He has been a shipboard professional in several capacities, including captain, and has made a career of sailing to remote destinations to see what the world is about. He has written a picture book, The Fish Who Could Fly, inspired by a moment at sea.
Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Leonard. Your book, The Fish Who Could Fly, is receiving great reviews. Do you think parents are searching for books that install positive values in their children?
Leonard Lambert: Yes, I do. I think parents get their kids the books on subjects the kids are interested in. Many parents have told me that their child loved my book for different reasons; the illustrations, the love of fish, the love of water, that fact that it rhymes. My favorite order came from a Mom that hand wrote a note to me describing that her 3rd grade son had worked on his chores and saved all his money and chose to spend it purchasing my book. He refused his Mom’s help and money and wanted to do it all by himself. I was so moved by that that I decided to hand deliver his signed book to him in the middle of his class and thanked him for his hard work. If a book can deliver a positive value or message that resonates with a child, it can become part of their hard wiring. I know this to be true because that is exactly what happened to me and one of the reasons I am a writer.
Ferrante: That’s a moving story. The kind that fuels a writer. Wonderful.
You’re a veteran of the US Coast Guard. Did your experiences at sea inspire your choice of character for this picture book? Have you ever seen a fish that could fly?
Lambert: Yes, it did and yes, I have. I was standing on the bridge of the ship in the middle of the ocean staring out the window, trying to focus my scattered thoughts about writing. I was currently struggling with a story that was getting more and more complicated. The subject matter was outside my expertise and knowledge. I was telling myself that if you write what you know, you will succeed. That is how my first book got published in 2007. So, I was just staring out the window at the ocean telling myself to write what I know over and over when all at once a flying fish flew down the side of the ship and the question popped into my head, “What made that fish decide to fly?” The idea of the book rushed into my head and I had this epiphany. Once the story had been written, I searched for an illustrator who could bring it to life; Kevin Cook did just that. It was his idea for the hat, goggles and all the wonderful expressions. I have seen many flying fish on my voyages out to sea, and I never get tired of it.
Ferrante: You’ve been a shipboard professional in several capacities, including Captain. Your knowledge of the ocean and ships must be extensive. Why did you choose a picture book to write? Did you enjoy this genre and do you plan to continue writing picture books?
Lambert: I would literally say that the book chose me. I have struggled with a lot of my daughter’s books that we read to her from the subject matter, illustrations, plot, etc. I thought that I could write a children’s book that had what I thought kids and parents were looking for: Beautiful illustrations, rhyming cadence, interesting subject matter and a good moral message. I was waiting for the subject to come to me. I have plans to write a collection of Flying Fish books, but do not have a book deal in place for them. My publisher and I only entered into contract for the first book. I have two more Flying Fish books completed and many more children’s stories completed. I do enjoy the genre and I love reading to kids. I try to visit one elementary school a week to talk to kids about writing, reading and creative inspiration. It has truly been a wonderful experience and one I hope to continue the rest of my life.
Ferrante: Do you have any other book ideas inspired by your experiences sailing to remote destinations?
Lambert: I do. I am working on a young adult book about a character named Donn Reilly. He is a young orphan that takes to the ships as a means to escape his current situation. The story is about his adventures upon the high seas as a young boy and his wild journey around the world. I also am writing a book about a young sea lion who was rescued from a restaurant in San Diego.
Ferrante: What did you learn about writing a picture book that surprised you?
Lambert: I was surprised about how many people are involved in the publishing process. The attention to detail on each letter of each page was amazing. It was a real treat to have everyone focused on creating the perfect book. From the quality of paper, binding, page count, hard cover, dust jacket, it was all a dedicated effort to create the work of art in The Fish Who Could Fly. I feel that at the end of the process, we created more than a book, it is a piece of art that we can all feel proud of.
Ferrante: What advice would you give a new author?
Lambert: My advice to a new author: Beware that this is a market stifled with books. In the digital age of blogging, posting and self publishing, it is extremely hard to get noticed and be successful. Success can be measured in different ways and you must make sure you keep your perspective. Completing a manuscript is very hard and it is commendable. When I get frustrated about the sales and marketing of my book, my lovely wife reminds me that I published a wonderful book that has made many kids and parents happy. I guess you must answer the question, “why are you doing this?” To complete a manuscript? To publish a book? To validate that you are indeed a writer? To make money? To leave a legacy? Not all of these will be applicable, but you get the idea. Keep your perspective, and enjoy the process. Writing and publishing is a tricky game and I feel like the rules change all the time.
An example: when I was researching how to query publishers with a picture book, I read many posts and blogs that said publishers do not want illustrations. The publishers like to use their own illustrators for the manuscript. I read just as many posts and blogs that said you should use your own illustrations or illustrator for your manuscript if you are not both. This attracts publishers to your work as a completed picture book. In my experience, I collaborated with an illustrator because I wanted creative control in the development of the story, and that eventually attracted the publisher I chose, but it turned many, many others away.
Ferrante: Did you solicit feedback while working on your book, or did you wait until it was polished to share it with anyone? What method do you think is most productive?
Lambert: I did not solicit feedback while working on the book. I looked into writing groups and blogs, but I did not go to any of them. I haven’t felt the need yet, but I always look into it and understand that it is a process and everyone treats it differently. I did read the book to my friends and family for reviews and feedback. I feel the most productive process is to write everyday, even if it is a couple of lines. If you need to have reviews and feedback, a writing group or something like that could help greatly.
Ferrante: You’ve been given the chance to travel into the future to see how the world will change over the next 50 years. Why change a particular are you most interested in?
Lambert: I would like to see how technology has improved our quality of life, versus isolating us.
Ferrante: If you could enter a resource in the Kentucky Derby, what would you name your horse?
Lambert: Eva Elise, my daughter’s name.
Ferrante: If you were asked to make a “Top 10” list of the people you regard as the all-time greatest Americans, whom would you rank in the third, second, and first spots?
- Earvin “Magic” Johnson
- Austin Wentworth Lambert (my father)
- Nikola Tesla
Ferrante: From basketball to family to science, interesting. Thank you for participating in my Three Random Questions interview today. Good luck with your two new projects.
A Fish Who Could Fly will be reviewed on this blog October 24, 2016.
Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.