Author Spotlight: Lee Wardlaw
July 29, 2016
This week we are so honored to have the award winning author Lee Wardlaw in the Author Spotlight! Lee is the author of many, many books including WON TON and WON TON AND CHOPSTICK.
Be sure to enter the Rafflecopter at the end of this interview to win a copy of WON TON AND CHOPSTICK!
Please welcome Lee!
Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children.
I started writing in second grade – and never stopped. Some of the things I wrote over the years were…
My first: “The Midnight Ride of Mouse Revere” a ballad about a brave rodent who scampers through town squeaking: “The Cats are coming! The Cats are coming!” (Yes, I love American History!)
I wrote an adaptation of “Rumpelstiltskin” and an original musical called “Girl Meets the Beatles”, which was about how a beautiful girl – ahem, ME – is invited by the Fab Four to join their group because she has such an amazing singing voice. (I didn’t and don’t.) My friends and I designed sets and costumes, and performed the plays for neighbors, family, and friends, charging 10 cents for admission. The play closed after one performance.
In 6th grade I played guitar in a rock ‘n’ roll girl group called The Shooting Stars. We sang mostly tunes by The Monkees. But I wrote the lyrics for one song called “Babe, What’s Wrong with You?” The boy I had a mad crush on wrote the music; he and his band, The Sounds of Time, played it at all their gigs.
I wrote articles, advice columns, and ads, illustrating the stapled pages with pictures cut from other magazines. I called my fashion mag Pride. I had a circulation of one: my best friend, Kristi.
I wrote two – longhand! – at age 11. One was about a couple of teenage sisters who must solve The Mystery of the Green Hand. This giant green hand floats around in the secret tunnels beneath an old mansion where the girls are babysitting. He, er, It, strangles people who venture into the tunnels, then burns their bodies with an oozy green acid. (I got the idea after watching a 1967 episode of Star Trek called “The Devil in the Dark.”) The other novel was an adventure story about a seventh-grade girl who gets shipwrecked. She floats around the Pacific Ocean on a hand-made raft until rescued. I had a thing for floating, I guess.
Way more info than you wanted to know, right? But the point is, I’ve been writing for ‘kids’ ever since I WAS one. And I kept doing that even after I’d grown up. I’ve tried writing stuff for adults, but my voice, my style, just keeps segueing my work into something for young readers.
What projects are you working on now, any sequel to any of your other books, WON TON, perhaps?
I’d loved to write a third book about Won Ton, but at the moment I’m researching info for a middle grade nonfiction book on the history of jokes/humor. (Did you know that the oldest recorded joke dates back to the Sumerians in 1900 BC? And that it’s a FART joke?!)
I’ve also dug into my family’s history, discovering fascinating letters and diaries written during the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars by my g-g-g-g-g-grandfather and g-g-grandfather, respectively. I’m hoping to turn that ancestral gold mine into a novel. And one of these centuries I need to finish writing 101 Ways to Bug Your Brother and Sister, the third book in my mg series. My fans are getting impatient.
What is your typical process for writing?
I always start with brainstorming. Or, since I have ADHD, brain-tornado-ing. I fill notebooks with a whirlwind of scribbled (and practically unreadable) ideas for characters, conflict, plot, theme, beginnings, endings, etc. After that, I consolidate my messy ideas to create extensive charts for each of the characters in the story. I have to know my characters intimately – who they are, what they want, and WHY they want it – before I can finally begin writing.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Hoo-boy. I’m not sure I have anything new to add to the great advice that is already out there. But, I will say that if you are writing picture books, you should definitely take a poetry class or two. Picture books, like poetry, are written to be read aloud. So the distillation and musicality of your words – the rhythm, power, mood, drama, and emotions your picture book language contains and evokes – is crucial.
What is one thing people don't know about you?
Which people are we talking about here? My Mom? My therapist? The population at large? And what is your definition of ‘thing’? Do you mean philosophically, politically, literarily, emotionally, historically, or follicle-ly? I mention the last one because not many people know that I’m 60 years old and do not yet have one single strand of gray hair!
Where can people find you on the internet?
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Lee Wardlaw is an author, teacher, and cat-wrangler, who claims that her first spoken word was 'kitty'. Since then, she's shared her life with 30 felines (not all at the same time!) and published 30 award-winning books for young readers, including WON TON - A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU; RED, WHITE AND BOOM!; and 101 WAYS TO BUG YOUR FRIENDS AND ENEMIES. Her newest book, WON TON AND CHOPSTICK - A CAT AND DOG TALE TOLD IN HAIKU (Holt) is a 2016 NCTE Notable Poetry Book and the recipient of the BookSource Scout Award for Poetry. Lee lives in Santa Barbara, CA with her family and two dog-disdaining cats.