Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our spotlight on local author Janet Lawler, a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and one of our guests for the Pet Rock Festival this Sunday. ABSW will have a booth at Becker College in Leicester from 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM, as the festival helps spread the word about adopting pets. Janet Lawler, as well as last week’s spotlight author, Hazel Mitchell, will be signing their books from 1:00 – 3:00.
Three of Janet’s sixteen books have appeared in the Scholastic Book Clubs, and two have been featured selections of the Children’s Book of the Month Club. Her first picture book, If Kisses Were Colors, has been translated into Spanish, Japanese, Hebrew, and Korean. Her most recent picture books include National Geographic’s Rain Forest Colors and Ocean Counting (named an Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2014 by the National Science Teachers’ Association), Love Is Real (HarperCollins, 2014), and The Prehistoric Games (Pelican, 2016).
Thank you very much for joining us, Janet! Can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing? How would you like us to introduce you?
I have been writing fiction and nonfiction for young children for about 15 years. Before that, I was a practicing attorney. (While my career change did not result in greater financial rewards, I am much happier, and I can tell lawyer jokes with impunity!) I love writing in rhyme, although not all my work is written in verse.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from THE PREHISTORIC GAMES?
I write entertaining fiction and non-fiction for preschool and early grade audiences. I love playing with the sounds of words and phrases, which is why I enjoy writing some of my stories in rhyme. Readers of THE PREHISTORIC GAMES can expect to be delighted by dinosaurs competing in Olympic-style events that kick off with a T-Rex lighting a torch in volcanic flames.
What was the inspiration for THE PREHISTORIC GAMES? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
Years ago, my young daughter was playing in the bleachers with plastic dinosaurs during my son’s basketball game. A parent exclaimed, “Ah! We’re in Jurassic Gym!” Those words started the wheels turning about dinosaurs going to a gym to get fit. Through ensuing years and many revisions, the story morphed into THE PREHISTORIC GAMES, as I pondered the humor involved in dinosaurs competing in Olympic events. How funny would it be to see a T. Rex with tiny arms trying to warm up doing push-ups?!
I took many steps to bring this idea to a final book. I first wrote JURASSIC GYM and tried to find a publisher. I then revised that story into an Olympic setting, and hoped to have it accepted and published for the 2012 Olympic season. When that didn’t happen, I started worrying that publishers would find it too hard to identify an illustrator capable of drawing the many dinosaurs in my story. So I did something that isn’t recommended for authors—I found an illustrator and contacted him myself! Martin Davey had some fabulous illustrations of dinosaurs playing games posted on his website, and their colorful, energetic whimsy were the perfect style for my story. So I sent him an e-mail and in the ensuing informal collaboration, he volunteered to do a sample illustration. I submitted that to editors along with my story, and the project was acquired by Pelican Publishing Company with just enough time for the book to be completed before the 2016 Olympic games. Yes, sometimes getting a book published is a task of Olympic proportions!
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Try to stay optimistic. This industry is very unpredictable, and a writer must deal with many rejections, delays, detours, and doubts. But almost every such “set-back” has a positive side. I have re-written stories at the request of editors who ultimately send a rejection. But the story is often stronger and better for my extra effort and that helps me find a home for it elsewhere. I have had editors leave a publisher just before an offer was forthcoming and the acquisition falls through completely. But the departing editor keeps in touch and offers me an opportunity at another publishing house. These are just a couple examples of good things following bad, and so I always try to take a deep breath when I receive bad news and remain hopeful.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I have a cool picture book coming out with Grosset & Dunlap in November called LOOKING FOR A LULLABY. It is based on a UK preschool show set on an imaginary planet deep in space. The narrator of the US version of the show is William Shatner of Star Trek fame. So the “cool” part for a Trekkie like me is that the picture book comes with a CD of the story narrated by William Shatner!
I also have SCARY PLANTS! (a Smithsonian/Grosset & Dunlap Level 4 early reader) releasing next spring. I had nightmares about poisonous plants while doing that research.
What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
I love almost any kind of physical activity, and play a lot of tennis and platform tennis (which is played outdoors, in winter, even in single-digit temps). I also love nature, so I try to spend time outside every day, gardening or walking my dog Patches. I make time for these non-writing passions because they actually fuel my creativity and renew my energy. So my day is comprised of many segments of intense writing and writing-related activity broken up by exercise and outside time.
What does your writing space look like? What do you need to have around you while writing or editing?
My writing space is wherever I am writing! I do have an “office” that also houses my washer and dryer and a 20-gallon tank holding Talon, a uromastyx lizard my son got as a pet in 6th grade (16 yrs ago!). My son is out on his own, but the lizard still listens to me read my stories out loud. I feel fortunate that I can write anywhere, and I often bring my computer onto our screened porch during summer months and work there as birds chirp and chipmunks scurry across the yard.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
My work can be found in most indie and other bookstores. My books are also available from my publishers, Amazon, B&N, and other online bookstores.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
I invite readers, educators, librarians and others to visit my website at www.JanetLawler.com. On my Home Page I regularly update “What’s New” and there is a link to upcoming events on my calendar. I also have links to curriculum guides for many of my books, and for my most recent book, THE PREHISTORIC GAMES, I also have a free library program guide and birthday party planner.