Jim Di Bartolo, Illustrator
Lips Touch: Three Times
Arthur A. Levine Books, an
imprint of Scholastic, Inc.
by Willie Perdomo
Willie Perdomo: A life-transforming
kiss is at the heart of Lips Touch. National
Book Award Winner John Cheever once said that “saving
a letter is like trying to save a kiss.” How would
I don’t know the context. Is Cheever suggesting
that saving letters is a futile exercise in hanging
onto something fleeting, like a kiss? Or is he saying
that you save a letter for the same reason you would
a kiss, if you could? To hold precious moments close?
Imagine if we could save kisses
the way we save letters! I could write a story about
that. At estate sales we might find parcels of vintage
kisses tied with string, and when we unwrap them, bygone
kisses would waft out and overtake us. For a moment
it might be 1942, on a station platform. Boisterous
soldiers in new boots smoke Lucky Strikes and hang out
train windows. A girl with bouncy hair stands on tiptoe
to kiss a boy who won’t be coming home. You’d
feel it all, taste and hear it all, then wrap the kiss
back up and tuck it away.
Imagine the obsessive kiss
collectors rummaging through flea markets and estate
sales for forgotten kisses. There would be rivalries,
intrigue. The thought makes me smile.
WP: Your writing has
been described as “lyrical” and “romantic.”
Did you read much love poetry while your wrote Lips
Touch. I don’t write poetry either, but I
pay close attention to the rhythm of my sentences, reading
them aloud over and over until they fall just right.
I love fiddling with language. For me, the writing process
has two equally important components: the storytelling
and the prose-craft, and though I love both, I think
it’s when I’m tinkering with words that
Those are both lovely words, and I’m pleased to
have my writing described that way. There have been
times in my life, off and on, when I’ve read a
lot of poetry, but not while I was writing
I know writers who breeze through
first drafts and hate to revise, but I’m the opposite.
Revising is my candy shop, and I can be a bit ridiculous,
spending hours on a single paragraph, the way I imagine
it is with poets. It’s a slow way to write a book,
but I love it.
WP: There are some
writers who don’t see a difference between fantasy
and non-fantasy (i.e., magic realists). As a writer
of young-adult, fantasy fiction, what would you say
is the biggest difference between fantasy and realistic
fiction, and how is this enhanced by illustrations?
I’m going to go with the obvious here and
say that in fantasy, anything can happen—at least
within believable parameters established by the writer.
To a degree, that’s true of all fiction, but in
fantasy there’s just such vast scope for the imagination.
Not having to adhere to reality is so much fun. I love
world-building. I love folklore and monsters and myths.
Goblin orchards, ambassadors to Hell, shadows reeled
out on kite strings, marionettes that bite, a child
who goes fleetingly invisible every time she sneezes.
I read realistic fiction too,
and have loved many a non-fantasy book, but when it
comes to writing I can’t help myself. My people
sprout wings—and even occasionally forked tails
they keep tucked down a trouser leg (the left).
As for illustrations, while
they may not be necessary in a novel, they add an extra
dimension and enrich the reading experience. Lips Touch
is illustrated by my husband and collaborator, Jim Di
Bartolo, and we’ve been wanting to do illustrated
novels ever since we met in art school. There seems
to be a prevailing belief that teens and grown-ups don’t
want art in their books, but I don’t believe it.
I think everybody loves art, and there are so many ways
it can be done. The art can exist simply to make a book
beautiful, and Jim’s illustrations do make Lips
Touch beautiful, but they also add to the narrative,
telling parts of the stories that aren’t in the
I hope we’ll see more
illustrated fiction for teens and adults—including
more from us!
Willie Perdomo is
the author Where a Nickel Costs a Dime and
Smoking Lovely, which received a PEN America
Beyond Margins Award. He has also been published in
The New York Times Magazine, Bomb, CENTRO Journal and
African Voices. His children's book, Visiting
Langston, received a Coretta Scott King Honor.
He has been a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Woolrich Fellow
in Creative Writing at Columbia University and is a
2009 fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for
the Arts. He is co-founder/publisher of Cypher Books.