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  • Writer's pictureMary Boone

Six Questions with Lisl H. Detlefsen

Lisl H. Detlefsen is is the author of a growing number of picture books, including her latest, At the End of the Day (Penguin Random House/Knopf, illust. by Lynnor Bontigao), a free-verse story about how even a day filled with frustration can end with love and the promise of tomorrow. She lives on a family-owned cranberry marsh near Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin with her husband, two sons, and two cats. Visit her on the web at

1. What was your favorite book when you were a child? Why?

I fervently loved E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I related very strongly to the main character, Claudia, a Type A kid who feels the overwhelming desire to break free from the monotony of the every day and find something that makes her feel special. I also loved the thought of living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City! I’ve never been much of a camper, and the idea of hiding out in a museum, surrounded by incredible art and artifacts, really captivated by young imagination.


2. What three things bring you joy?

What a delightful question to consider! Eating freshly baked bread definitely brings me joy, especially if it’s my mom’s. (I have a book about my mom’s pull-apart rolls and the role of them in my family, through good times and bad, coming out this fall called Still There Was Bread, illustrated by David Soman.) Playing board or card games with my family brings me joy: right now, I’ve been playing a lot of cribbage with my husband and Boggle with my youngest son. Going for a walk or a run outside—especially when the weather is cooperative!—definitely brings me joy, too.

3. Do you ever get stuck creatively? If so, how do you get unstuck?

Yes! (And I would guess every creative has been stuck at some time or other. I think it’s simply part of the process.) Just as a an outdoor walk or run brings me joy, it's also often the key for me to get “unstuck.” Being in nature and moving my body seems to help loosen up ideas or organize my thoughts. Weirdly, I also find that acupuncture helps me get “unstuck”—that’s not why I go, but it sure is where I’ve solved a lot of story problems!

4. Where did you get the idea for At the End of the Day? What was your inspiration?

Another favorite book from my childhood was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz. Even as an adult, I have (jokingly) declared during a bad day that it is time move to Australia! I’d often thought I’d like to write a book that acknowledged that sometimes the days of kids can be long and difficult, just like that book. Around that time—during an election year—I also became aware of how often the phrase “at the end of the day” is used, especially by political pundits. It’s such a lovely phrase, really, but hearing it over and over on the news made it seem almost devoid of meaning! So I thought about taking it and turning it into the title and repeating refrain for a story while taking the opportunity to think about what does really matter, at the end of the day.

5. What was the process or timeline for this book, from idea to publishing?

This book was an exercise in hurry up and wait! I wrote the first draft at the very beginning of 2020 and shared an early version with my brilliant agent (Jennifer Mattson of ABLA) in January. I revised it and returned it to her that March, just before everything came to a crashing halt due to COVID-19. After business (sort of!) resumed in the publishing world, we went on submission with it in early June, and I got the exciting news that an offer was forthcoming one week later, which is probably the fastest time from submission to sale that I’ve ever had. However, due to COVID-19 complications and scheduling hiccups, the process to actual publication was a slow one, particularly in terms of finding the right fit for an illustrator. Lynnor Bontigao turned out to be the perfect match for the project, and her artwork has absolutely been well worth the wait.

6. If you could tell readers one secret about this book, what would it be?

While my text is lyrical and descriptive, it doesn’t mention any characters by name, so a lot of storytelling weight fell on illustrator Lynnor. It was her idea to have the mom character be in the military and deployed in the book, something inspired by her own childhood experience. While this visual plot line was a big surprise to me when I first saw her sketches, I loved the extra depth and emotion it brought to my words. The family she’s depicted feels so well-developed and real to me now that I can’t imagine the book any other way.

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