I’m happy to interview my friend Ishta Mercurio for today’s Toronto Tuesdays blog post series. I met Ishta several years back, probably at a TorKidlit event of some sort, and we’ve had some good times together — especially during the wild plannings of two super fun Kidlit Galas in The Before Times. Ishta is passionate and focused and has strong leanings towards justice. She’s way more of an extrovert than I am, and she’s super smart, too, so I always enjoy sitting back and watching her engage in conversations. (hope that doesn’t sound too creepy, Ishta 😂😂)
Thanks for inviting me to be here!
What’s your favourite creative medium? What draws you to expressing yourself this way?
Acting, which I don’t really do anymore, LOL! And dance–performance that doesn’t require singing, basically. I’m an extremely social person, and I love the connection with an audience that happens during live performance. We say often in publishing that art isn’t complete until someone sees it and engages with it, and that’s true of any creative medium. In theatre and dance, the performer gets to be part of that process as it happens. But I write instead, because it’s more doable given my life circumstances. Storytelling is storytelling, after all. And I have always been good with words when I have the time to think them through, which writing affords me.
Why is creating important to you?
I want to make a positive impact on the world, to make it better. “Leave things better than you found them,” right? And we shape each other, and consequently our societies and our world, through story.
What, or who, is your greatest creative influence?
I have to pick ONE?
Okay, seriously, though: Leonardo da Vinci. I know! I KNOW. I learned, as an adult, that he was a terrible person in many ways, and I won’t waste time or space here making excuses or justifications for that. As a child, I admired him because of all the areas in which he pushed us forward. He was someone who made connections, not only between concepts and ideas but between fields of study. And as a child, I identified with that, and my desire to emulate it shaped me from a very early age.
What is your favourite time of day to create?
At night! Which is hard, because I have a kid who has to be at school in the morning, and I have friends and appointments and the whole world basically runs on a daytime schedule that requires being awake early. So I rarely write in the evening, because then my brain gets busy and I can’t get to sleep. But that’s my best time. My second best time is in the morning after breakfast, which is when I usually actually write. (I’m learning a lot about myself in this post–I don’t do my most favourite arty thing, I don’t write at my most favourite time… My life is full of compromise.)
Which of your creations is your personal favourite, and why?
Small World is my magnum opus. I honestly don’t know if I will ever write a picture book that is more technically perfect and also more me at the same time–it encompasses all that I believe about the world and how precious it is, and about how amazing it is, and about our place in the universe. I am so very proud of it, and so honoured that Tamar Brazis (my editor) loved it and that Jen Corace agreed to illustrate it. She did such a perfect job.
How do you deal with creative slumps?
I just let it go. I tell myself that I will probably never write again, and that that’s okay because I’m not a big shot anyway and this isn’t a bills-paying gig for me, and I free myself to focus on something else and that’s when I get inspired to write again.
Who are you beyond your art? Give us three insider facts about you.
This is hard, because which facts do I share? I mean, how deep and insider do we REALLY want to go? Hmmm.
- Okay. I love dogs. Love them. Dogs are so pure and honest about who they are and how they’re feeling, and I love that about them. And they tell you! They’ve been evolving alongside humans for thousands of years and so they make a lot of the same facial expressions, and they’re pack animals which means they are inherently social, so they don’t go off and make facial expressions at the air; they seek out other creatures and communicate directly. And they are deeply empathic. I get that. Dogs and I understand one another. I think I was a dog in another life.
2. I wanted to be a philanthropist as a child, and I am constantly getting ideas for foundations or charities that would do good works if they existed. I actually started a charity in Edinburgh when I lived there, decades ago, for families with autistic children, because there were no resources at the time and parents would just get handed a diagnosis with a shrug and best wishes and they didn’t know what therapies were out there or what research had been done or anything. So we provided that information, and some funding to make whatever treatments they chose possible. (See? Here we are at “Leave the world better than you found it” again.)
3. I also knit. I sometimes sell the things I make, but only the ones made out of chunky yarn because they take an amount of time that people feel okay paying for. The things made with finer yarn take hours and hours, and nobody is going to buy a $180 pair of socks or wrist warmers.
What’s one of the best – or most memorable – questions you’ve ever been asked, and how did you answer it?
This is the kind of question that always makes my mind go perfectly blank. Not only can I not remember any good questions, but I can’t remember any questions at all, apart from “Is that your real hair?”
The answer to that one is yes. Yes, this is my real hair. And the answer to the follow-up question, “Can I touch it?” is no, unless you are a small child or an old lady.
What’s something you’re excited about right now?
I’m working on a few picture book manuscripts that I’m really excited about! One is a biography of a totally badass Filipina, and one is a project with a friend, and those are the two that I’m enjoying the most right now. OH, and there’s also my next book! Which is exciting in a more long-term, slow burn kind of way. It’s called CITY SONG, and it’s being illustrated by Erin K Robinson who is absolutely amazing and wonderful, and it will be published by Beach Lane Books in spring of 2024. (See what I mean about long-term excitement? Publishing is all about drawing it out. They spread that stuff out as thin as they can get it. You think you can stretch ground beef by turning it into meatloaf? Publishing will give you a run for your money in the stretching it out department.)
Can you share some info regarding where people can find you?
To keep up to date on updates about my books, like and follow my facebook page
I’m @ishtamercurio on Instagram, where I mostly talk about what I’m eating and reading and whatever antique I’ve rescued from the curb, and I post book updates on twitter as @IshtaWrites.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Ishta!
Thanks, again, for having me as a guest on your blog!
I just have to add, Small World left me breathless the first time I read it. Such a gorgeous book. I wish I could read it for the first time again.
PS I love knitting, too, and I totally hear you on the selling piece! 🙃