The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Laurie Wallmark
Laurie Wallmark’s full-time job is writing for children, and she loves it. Some previous jobs she’s held are software engineer, owner of a mail order company (she had a bookstore on the Web before Amazon did!), and computer science professor. She writes beautiful nonfiction picture book biographies of women in STEM. She lives in Ringoes NJ with her husband.
She’s the author of Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics (2020), Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor (2019), Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (2017), & Ada Byron Lovelace & the Thinking Machine (2015). She’s also a contributing author to the anthology Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep (2020).
Her debut fiction picture book, Dino Pajama Party: A Bedtime Story, releases October 19th.
Laurie, thank-you so much for stopping by to visit and help me give my readers a sneak peek at your newest book.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
I usually write on my computer or scribble ideas on post-it notes when I’m lying in bed and can’t get to sleep. I started writing about 20 years ago (I’m a late bloomer). Picture books are by far my favorite category of books to write, although I’m presently working on a biography in verse for older children. I usually write books about scientists and mathematicians because I love science and math. Maybe my books will excite children about these fields. And if they learn a little bit about STEM, all the better.
I've really enjoyed your biographies about female scientists and mathematicians. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
People may know that I’m a former computer science professor. What they may not know is that in addition to teaching students on campus, I also taught students in maximum security prisons—both men and women. My course, Computer Literacy, is required to earn an associate’s degree. Having a degree will help my students in prison get jobs when they’re released. Some of them have been incarcerated so long they’ve never used the Internet!
Wow! That would be an interesting place to teach. As your first fiction picture book, what was your inspiration for Dino Pajama Party: A Bedtime Story?
This book came truly out of the blue. I was flying home after visiting my daughter on the West Coast. The first stanza came to me, although it was babies, not dinos at that point. By the time we landed (it was a long flight), I had a first draft. This has never happened to me before or since. Usually, I obsess over an idea for a long time before I decide to write.
Sounds like this one was meant to be! Was it easier or harder to write Dino Pajama Party than your nonfiction women in STEM books? Especially since this one is written in rhyme.
It was both easier and harder. It was easier because I obviously didn’t have to research dinosaurs having a pajama party. It’s not like paleontologists found bits of pjs attached to the dinosaur bones they found. It was harder, mainly because, as you mentioned it’s in rhyme. Although most people know about stressed and unstressed syllables, many don’t realize that some sounds and syllables are longer than others. Therefore, they break up the rhythm if they don’t match, even though it seems the writer did everything right. Then there’s the rhyme. Words are pronounced differently in different parts of the country. You have to make sure the rhyme works for all kids. Also, you need to find rhymes that fit the story and aren’t there just because they rhyme.
Great peek at why writing in rhyme can be so hard. Congrats at succeeding! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
I was a big science fiction fan as a kid, and still am. My favorite books were written by the classic authors in the field at the time: Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke.
How many revisions did Dino Pajama Party take from first draft to publication? How does this compare to the number of revisions that your nonfiction biographies usually take?
That’s hard to say, because unlike with novels, for picture books you do a lot of little revisions here and there in addition to major revisions. That being said, I did many fewer revisions on Dino Pajama Party than my picture book biographies. But it’s also a much shorter book, so it’s hard to compare.
True enough. Is there something you want your readers to know about Dino Pajama Party?
Because I’m known for writing about women in STEM, people ask if there’s STEM content in this book. This answer is no. Dino Pajama Party is a fun bedtime book with amazing illustrations by Michael Robertson.
I think it's cool that you wrote a fiction picture book just because it was fun! Since titles can be tricky; how many tries did it take to arrive at this title?
The original title was Dinos Rock, but the editor wanted to emphasize it was a bedtime book. Coincidentally, my two daughters were visiting when I got that email, so at dinner we brainstormed titles. As soon as someone suggested Dino Pajama Party, we knew that was the winner.
Best title story, yet! When you first got to see Michael Robertson’s illustrations, did anything surprise you? Which is your favorite spread?
Text © Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Image © Michael Robertson, 2021.
I love Michael’s bold illustrations. They really bring the book to life. My biggest surprise, which I think was brilliant, is that one of the dinosaurs on the cover is wearing bunny slippers. My favorite spread is, “No more rocking out today. Sleepy dinos trudge away.” These dinos are so exhausted. One is cleaning up a bit of mess. Another is carrying his teddy bear.
That cover is adorable; I also loved the bunny slippers and the T-rex with his teddy bear! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I have four more books coming out in the next few years. Three of them are #WomenInSTEM books, but they haven’t been announced yet. I also have another fiction picture book. Rivka’s Presents, coming out in 2023. This is an historical fiction book about a girl in 1918 who wants to go to school but can’t because she must take care of her baby sister, so she trades chores for lessons with her neighbors.
That sounds interesting. We'll have to keep our eyes out. What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? Any advice for unpublished authors?
If you want to be a published writer, you have to learn patience. Everything takes longer than you like. But if you keep working on your craft (I’m taking a craft workshop next month), you’ll eventually get there.
How are, or have you been, staying creative during these times? Have you found anything that helps you “prime the well”?
I’ve never believed in writer’s block. I used to be a software engineer, and you could just as easily say there was programmer’s block. No matter the field, you’re not always in the mood or the headset to do the work. To me, the best way to stay creative is to keep writing, no matter what. What you produce won’t always be book-worthy, but it’s still exercising your writing muscles.
Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with right now. Why?
I’m definitely a cat person. At one point we had three, because a cat decided our garage rafters would be a good place to hang out. We couldn’t find its owner, so it joined our menagerie.
Thank you, Laurie for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
Be sure to come back Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Dino Pajama Party.
To find out more about Laurie Wallmark, or get in touch with her:
Laurie's Upcoming events:
October 9, 2021
October 10, 2021
October 16, 2021, 1:00
Storytime and Craft
October 19, 2021, 5:00
*DINO PAJAMA PARTY – BOOK LAUNCH, dino parade, and pajama party