Laurie Wallmark poses an intriguing question in today’s essay. I wonder how other book creators might answer it? While I wouldn’t describe my passion for historical fiction a rut, I’ve had a fabulous time trying my hand at a contemporary middle grade novel this last year or so. As I read Laurie’s essay, I discovered we share something in common: a love for writing on planes. There’s something so freeing about it — and there’s no way to get up to clean the junk drawer or start a load of laundry when your strapped to your aisle seat. And Laurie’s high-altitude daydreaming is precisely what led to her newest picture book, Dino Pajama Party, enthusiastically illustrated by Michael Robertson (Running Kids Press).
After publishing five picture biographies of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), I’ve switched gears and written a fiction picture book, Dino Pajama Party (Running Press Kids). But wait, the differences from my previous titles don’t end with nonfiction versus fiction. This new book is written for preschoolers and younger children instead of elementary age kids. It’s written in rhyme, not prose. It’s 127 words long as opposed to my shortest biography, which is 1,400 words plus back matter. And it doesn’t, as I’ve been asked, contain any STEM content. (No, paleontologists did not find pajama fragments on the bones they excavated.)
So why the switch? There’s a saying—are you in a groove or in a rut? Clearly, I was in a groove. I have three more biographies of women in STEM coming out in the next few years. But I was also getting into a rut. It was time to spread my metaphorical writing wings and fly to some new challenges.
Fiction isn’t new for me. The first books I tried to sell were middle grade novels. One was acquired and scheduled to be published, but the publisher went out of business. Oh, well. That’s this industry for you.
In the meantime, I thought it would be interesting to try writing picture books, so I took a course on doing that. When I found out we’d have to have three finished picture books by the end of the course, I panicked. How could I possibly write three picture books in one semester? Somehow, I managed it.
I loved writing fiction picture books and wrote many of them. Unfortunately, no one wanted to buy any of them. Because of my passion for math, I made several of them math themed. Then I had a lightbulb moment. How about writing a nonfiction book that included math? So, my first switch was from fiction to nonfiction, with my debut book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Running Press Kids). Even with my success with picture book biographies, I continued to write fiction picture books, though. Why? Because I enjoyed it.
So, back to Dino Pajama Party. How did that come about? I was on a plane coming back from visiting my daughter who lived on the west coast at the time. A variation of the first couplet popped into my mind, so I grabbed the cocktail napkin and wrote it down. In that first version, it was babies instead of dinos. I spent the rest of the trip making notes.
Here comes the craft, or lack of it, part. My babies were having a party, but there was no story line. No wonder no one wanted to buy it. Into the drawer (okay computer) it went, never to be seen again, or so I thought. Through the years the idea kept niggling at me.
Finally, I took the manuscript out to give it another try. The babies changed to dinos, but I still needed a story. I had another picture book that ended with a vampire snug in bed. How about if my dinos were tucked in at the end? I found what the story needed. A story.
By that time, I had agents, Liza Fleissig and Ginger Harris of the Liza Royce Agency. Ginger helped me revise my story. Liza and I worked on a submission list and off it went. Nothing. That is, until Julie Matysik of Running Press Kids saw it. She loved it and chose Michael Robertson to illustrate it, knowing his bold pictures would bring my story to life.
So, as you see, even though I’m in a groove with my picture book biographies, I’m not in a rut. In fact, I have another fiction picture book coming out in 2023, Rivka’s Lessons (RH Studio).
I’m so grateful I’m not stuck in a rut and have the opportunity to write different types of books for children.
Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark writes picture book biographies of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) as well as fiction. Her books have earned multiple starred trade reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Best STEM Book, Cook Prize Honor Book, Crystal Kite Award, Mathical Honor Book, and Parents’ Choice Gold Medal. Her titles include ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE, HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE, NUMBERS IN MOTION, CODE BREAKER, SPY HUNTER, and her debut fiction picture book, DINO PAJAMA PARTY. Laurie has an MFA in Writing from VCFA and is a former software engineer and computer science professor. You can find Laurie on the Web at www.lauriewallmark.com and @lauriewallmark.