Constance Lombardo, photo by Chris Chromey PhotographyStacy McAnulty talks to Constance Lombardo

Asheville, NC is one of my favorite destinations. I love the indie bookstores, the restaurants, the landscape, and visiting my writer-pal, Constance Lombardo. We get together a few times a year, and she makes me laugh until my sides hurt. So it's my pleasure to interview Constance about her newest, illustrated middle-grade novel, Mr. Puffball: Escape from Castaway Island.

-- Stacy McAnulty

SM: First, congrats on a fabulous, funny series. My son (age 10) and I have enjoyed reading about Mr. Puffball's pursuit to become a Hollywood movie star. In Mr. Puffball: Escape from Castaway Island, the cats appear on a variety of reality TV shows. Which show would you be on? Think you could win?

CL: Thank you! I'd have to say America's Next Top Model. Like Mr. Puffball, those young women dream big. Yes, I do think I could win (but only in my dreams.)

Mr. PuffballSM: Mr. Puffball is a starry-eyed dreamer. What is your most far-fetched, starry-eyed dream?

CL: I'm accepting an Oscar for Mr. Puffball, the Movie. I share the stage with Benedict Cumberbatch, who is the voice of Benedict Cumbercat. He steps up to the mic, thanks me for being me, turns and gives me a hug. Swoon!

SM: Let's pretend you are hosting a dinner for your literary heroes. Who would you invite? What would you serve?

CL: Definitely dessert first. Scones and clotted cream for Lauren Child and Jane Austen. Yam pie for Cece Bell, chocolate chip cookies for Arnold Lobel. Halloween candy for Emil Ferris. Btw, does anybody have a recipe for clotted cream?

SM: How are illustrations part of your storytelling?

CL: They reveal more than what's in the text. Facial expressions, body language, odor lines, speech bubbles, etc. For example, in Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America, there are monkey scriptwriters at their typewriters – a hoot to draw! I decided to put one of them on the phone (a banana, of course) saying, "You want it WHEN?"

SM: Do you have a favorite illustration?

CL: Probably the one featuring Chester P. Grumpus, an old-time director. The text is, "Chet used to do his own stunts." The illustration is the iconic scene from Harold Lloyd's movie Safety Last, where he's hanging from a giant clock arm, high over a city street. My Sicilian grandmother said that was the first movie she ever saw, and she laughed remembering that scene. She was a storyteller, an angel, and a big influence on my life.

SM: Imagine you're trapped in your local indie bookstore for the day. How would you spend the time?

CL: Fortunately, Asheville has plenty of fabulous indie bookstores to be trapped in, ie, Malaprops, Spellbound, and Firestorm. I'd head straight to the picture books for Patrick McDonnell's Me…Jane, Bob Shea's I'm a Shark!, Beatrice Alemagna's On A Magical Do Nothing Day and those squirrel books by Nancy Rose. Chai latte and muffin break. Then on to graphic novels to see if they have Emil Ferris' My Favorite Thing is Monsters, vol 2.

SM: I love "Easter Eggs" in a book—little hidden treasures. Can you tell us about any in the Mr. Puffball books?

CL: Yes! Brand names are always Acme, whether it's a typewriter, a helicopter, or an accordion, a nod to the Roadrunner cartoons of my childhood. There are repeated cameos from Cupcake, an adorable kitten who has nothing to do with the story. (Kids have told me, "You should write a book about Cupcake.") And the puns of course - Local Mews, Purramount Studios, Jennifer Pawprints. In the Special Features section of the new book, there's a poster for a monkey-made movie called Primates of the Caribbean.

SM: Is this the final outing for Mr. Puffball?

CL: Mr. Puffball: Escape from Castaway Island is the series finale. But there will be more cat adventures (kittens actually) in my picture book Everybody Says Meow (HarperCollins, 2019.)

SM: Will you ever write about dogs? Or are you strictly a cat person when it comes to literature?

CL: I actually love dogs and would have one if I weren't married to an emphatic cat person. Whereas cats are divas, and so make perfect Hollywood celebrities, if I wrote about a dog, she would be kind-hearted and cuddly, but willing to do anything for those she loves. Hmm…

SM: What has been your favorite comment or question from a reader?

CL: Several readers have said, "I don't even like books. But I loved Mr. Puffball!" That is the absolute best – to think that maybe I got some kids excited about reading.

SM: If Mr. Puffball had a tattoo, what would it be?

CL: A big shining star, arching over his belly button. If he had a belly button.  

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Constance Lombardo began drawing when she was 10 years old, inspired in part by the Illustrators Annuals her dad brought home from the ad agency where he worked, and in part by the fact that her sister did a drawing and got lots of attention. She is the proud author/illustrator of the middle grade Mr. Puffball series (HarperCollins.) The books are: Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the StarsMr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America, and Mr. Puffball: Escape from Castaway Island. Currently, she's working on her first picture book,Everybody Says Meow (HarperCollins, 2019.) She lives in Asheville, NC where she's sometimes seen swimming near waterfalls and avoiding snakes. Plus she likes cats.