Q: Why frogs?

A: When my younger brother was in his early teens, I helped him make an award-winning clay-animated short film about a little country inhabited by costumed frogs. I decided to use frogs for Lily Pond as well, partly because I already knew how to sculpt them and partly because I knew they could look pretty silly in clothes.

Q: Have you saved the sculptures you made for the book?

A: Modeling clay doesn’t harden so the sculpts couldn’t be made permanent. To protect them, the disassembled sculpts were stored in clear plastic boxes. They met their fate in the detached garage of a house we’d rented in the Bay Area. After a year, when I went to pack them for another move, I found the boxes along with most of the sculpts covered in large fluffy patches of rainbow-colored mold – like specimens in some horrible giant petri dish. Only five boxes were salvageable.

Q: Why did the scenes take so long to make?

A: I started working on the illustrations when I was twenty-two and, with no husband, no children, no boss, and no deadline, felt like I had all the time in the world. I passed many happy hours sculpting things over and over and over again until they looked right. Work on the illustrations had to be squeezed in as jobs and life allowed, so fifteen years passed before all the scenes were completed. Several more years were spent raising my kids before I could focus on fixing errors, adjusting colors and adding skies to the illustrations by computer. From start to finish, Lily Pond took thirty-eight years to complete.

Q: Why did your parents let you keep Claytown on the dining room table for ten years?

A: My mother was a schoolteacher who wasn’t too finicky in the housekeeping department. She kept us in art supplies, would let unfinished projects sit around until they were done, and wasn’t fazed by some clay in the carpet. My father was a professor of sociology who found our interactions in Claytown professionally interesting. He even applied for and received a grant to study our play and kept a tape recorder by Claytown for awhile with instructions to turn it on when we were there. Family meals were eaten in the kitchen, but nobody complained.

Q: How did you deal with dust in Claytown?

A: We owe my father’s asthma a debt of gratitude in that regard. If he hadn’t installed a state-of-the-art air filtration system in our house to improve his health, Claytown would have deadened and died early under the dust.

Q: Did your parents discourage you from going into art instead of using your psychology degree?

A: My parents weren’t perfect, but they did a number of things right. They never interfered with Claytown or career choices. I knew they trusted me and that there was a net to catch me if I fell.

Q: Why did you stick with the book for so many years?

A: I loved working on the book and never once considered abandoning it. Sculpting takes me to a lovely peaceful place and I really enjoyed creating a little world that was all my own. It made me feel different, in a good way.

Q: How do you get the clay so smooth?

A: I have a special wooden tool I call my “eleventh finger” that’s great for smoothing. Genetics also played a part; my fingerprints are so shallow another sculptor once jokingly accused me of sanding them off.

Q: What inspired you to write LILY POND?

A: I was reading a book one afternoon, shortly before graduating from UCLA with a psychology degree, when I began to wonder what lay ahead for me in life. Setting the book aside, I wrote a poem about a little girl with the same thoughts. That poem became the text for Lily Pond.

Q: Are you working on another book?

A: An idea’s been bouncing around in my head for years, but I don’t know that anything will come of it. Spending time with my family is more important to me than sculpting these days. Maybe once the kids move away I’ll feel that old familiar pull. Who knows?