I am delighted to bring you today’s interview with Laurie Wallmark, author of the beautiful non-fiction story Ada Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. Check out my book review.
1) Writing for children is not your first career. Tell us about your background and how you came to write picture books.
Writing is my third (out of four) careers. After graduating from college with a degree in biochemistry, career #1 was as a scientific programmer in the pharmaceutical industry. While working there, I received a masters degree in Information Systems. For career #2, I left Corporate America and opened a mail order company specializing in books about adoption and infertility. I had a bookstore on the web before Amazon! One day I had an idea for a middle-grade novel, so here came career #3. I didn’t try picture books until several years later, because I knew how hard they were to write. Coming full circle back to computers, I now teach computer science at the college level, both on campus and in prison. I’m also in my last semester in the MFA program, Writing for Children and Young Adults, at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Wow that is impressive that you’ve had such a variety of careers with a continuous connection to science.
2) What was your inspiration for writing about Ada Byron Lovelace?
I’m drawn to writing about strong, underappreciated women in STEM. I feel it’s important for all children, not just girls, to realize the contributions of women in science, technology, engineering, and math. People often ask me how I heard about Ada, since she’s such an unknown (until now) person. My reply is, “Do you remember when you first heard about <insert famous person’s name here>.” I know when I learned about George Washington, because I went to Washington Elementary School, and his picture was in every classroom. But what about all the other familiar names from history? I certainly don’t remember how I heard about them. My guess is I first came across Ada in one of the many books about mathematics and mathematicians I read as a child.
I only learned of Ada Lovelace a few years ago because of a Google Doodle.
3) Can you tell us about your writing process? (research, writing, finding the story)
Writing biographies starts and ends with research, research, and more research. Whenever possible, you want to use primary sources so you don’t receive information filtered through someone else’s impressions. As I do the research, I keep a list of events from the person’s life I think might make a good picture book scene. Then I let the project sit for a while to allow time for my subconscious to come up with an approach to sharing that person’s accomplishments with the world. Even though a biography is nonfiction, it still needs to contain a story arc. It’s up to me as the writer to find that story. Finally, it’s time to sit down and write. And rewrite. And rewrite. And…, well you get the idea.
4) What advice would you give to someone who wants to write nonfiction?
Writing nonfiction is rewarding and a great deal of fun, but only if you enjoy doing the research. Yes, you want a fun and engaging story, but it’s important your facts are correct. After all, your book might be a child’s only source of information about your subject matter. When you do your research, you often find conflicting “facts.” It’s your job to dig deep and discover the truth.
5) What projects are you working on now?
I’m working on a picture book biography about Grace Hopper, another strong woman in STEM. Like Ada, she’s an important person in the history of computing. Grace was the first person to use words in her programs instead of only “1”s and “0”s.
Yeah another STEM book about women in technology!
Some rapid fire questions.
Fact that most people don’t know about you?
I have prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness. My college students have to sit in assigned seats. Otherwise, even at the end of the semester, I still can’t tell them apart. I tell them if they say “hi” to me in the hallway, I’ll always say “hi” back. This is because I’m a polite person, not because I recognize them. This is why any events I help organize always include name tags.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Read children’s books, of course.
Favorite pick me up snack/drink?
I only drink water—about a gallon a day.
Laurie Wallmark writes exclusively for children. She can’t imagine having to restrict herself to only one type of book, so she writes picture books, middle-grade novels, poetry, and nonfiction. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not writing or studying, Laurie teaches computer science at a local community college, both on campus and in prison. The picture book biography, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, October 2015), is Laurie’s first book.
Be sure to checkout other stops on the blog tour:
9/15/2015 – Frog on a Blog (STEM and Trade Picture Books)
9/22/2015 – Writing and Fishing (Interview)
9/28/2015 – My Brain on Books (About Writing Ada)
10/2/2015 – Still a Dreamer (Interview)
10/6/2015 – Robin Newman Books (Writing About Strong Women)
10/9/2015 – Yvonne Ventresca’s Blog (Five Detours on the Road to Publication)
10/13/2015 – Writing and Illustrating (Writing Firsts)
10/15/2015 – Geek Mom (Acrostic Poem)
10/18/2015 – The Children’s Book Review (Interview)
10/20/2015 – Kaleidoscope (Using Ada in the Classroom)
10/26/2015 – Gold from the Dust (Interview)
11/6/2015 – Picture Books Help Kids Soar (Five Favorite STEM Women in History)
11/6/2015 – VCFA Launch Pad (Interview)