Lee Wardlaw is the award-winning author of more than two-dozen books for young readers. She grew up in Santa Barbara, CA, and wrote her first book in second grade. She continued to write poems, stories and plays all through elementary school. At age eleven, Lee and three of her friends formed a rock ‘n’ roll band called The Shooting Stars, with Lee playing guitar and writing many of the songs the girls performed. For more info, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
What initially drew you to writing?
The first book I could read all by myself was P.D. Eastman’s Go, Dog, Go. Wow – what a doggone grrrreat feeling it was to read that book over and over again to my little brother, Scott. I was woozy with pride! I couldn’t imagine anything better – except maybe reading a book to him that I had written myself. So, at age seven, I wrote and illustrated a story about a ‘Teena Belle, a girl just like me – skinny, brownish hair, crooked smile – only shorter. (She was one-inch tall.) She ran away from home when her mother put her in charge of diaper-changing her 14 baby brothers and 14 baby sisters. (At the time, I was the Chief Diaper Duty Assistant for my other brother, John.) I don’t remember much about Teena Belle’s adventure other than she got swept out to sea on the last page because I couldn’t think of another way to end the book.
What was your favorite book to write?
All my books have been labors of love and learning, but I do have a few favorites: First Steps (HarperCollins) – a board book about a baby learning to walk – because I wrote it about my son; Won Ton – A Cat Tale Told in Haiku (Holt), because it was furry fun to take on the purrsonality of a shelter cat; and 101 Ways to Bug Your Friends and Enemies (Dial/Puffin, September 2011) because it made me laugh so hard in places I was almost snorting. (Much to the irritation of my cats.) When you’re writing humor, it’s important to be able to crack up at your own jokes. If YOU don’t think you’re funny, probably no one else will, either.
What advice would you give young writers?
1. Read every single day, even if it’s only for ten minutes. 2. Write every single day, even if it’s only for ten minutes. 3. Continue #’s 1. and 2. until you die.
When are you the most productive?
Morning. Early morning. What my dad would call Oh-dark-thirty. Five a.m.-ish till about 11:00 a.m. is ideal. After that, I need lunch and a nap. And chocolate. Then maybe another nap.
Where do you get your ideas?
Mostly from my own life. My young adult novel Corey’s Fire is based on my family’s experiences after our house and neighborhood were destroyed by a firestorm. The idea for Dinosaur Pizza came from my elementary school days when no one wanted to share my bologna-mustard-and-BBQ-ed-potato-chip sandwiches. (Mmmm, zesty!). My brother’s dorky Halloween costume (cowboy hat, boots, holster and underpants) led to my book The Ghoul Brothers. My first spoken word as a baby was ‘kitty’; since then I’ve shared my home with more than two-dozen cats, so it was an easy transition to writing about them in Won Ton.
Tell us about the book you’re working on.
I just finished the final edits on 101 Ways to bug Your Friends and Enemies, which will be published in September. In this novel, the main characters from the other two books in the series (101 Ways to Bug Your Parents and 10 1Ways to Bug Your Teacher) are experiencing first love – with all the wonder and wackiness and heart-wrenches only a first love can cause.
Are your characters completely fictional? Or do you base them on real people?
Both. My characters are often a combination of bits and pieces of people I’ve known (or eavesdropped on). Sometimes they’re based on people I’ve read about. But I also create characters whom I think would be fun or fascinating to meet in real life.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Many of my dearest friends are authors, so I’ll name some of them so that I don’t accidentally offend anyone! Thalia Chaltas, Mary Hershey, Valerie Hobbs, R.L. LaFevers, Ellen Kelley, Sherry Shahan, Wendelin Van Draanen, Dian Curtis Regan…