Thursday, March 23, 2017

Conference Faculty Interview: Laurie Thompson

DISCLAIMER: It is impossible for us to write an unbiased profile on Laurie Thompson. We just adore her, just like you probably do, too. Or you will. You may know Laurie from her time as co-regional advisor for our SCBWI chapter, or from her continued volunteer work as the nonfiction coordinator. Maybe you love her picture books, are eagerly anticipating her upcoming middle grade series, or are inspired by her YA. She can do anything. Plus, she will sit by you on airplanes, subways, and at meetings, events, and restaurants, etc.--even if she knows you do embarrassing things and/or are prone to injury. She's a wonder. We are OVER THE MOON that she won our region's SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, AND will be giving a keynote and talk at our sold-out conference. 

What are “two truths and a lie” about your road to publication?

Ha! Let’s see… My first published article appeared in ParentMap magazine in August of 2004. I joined SCBWI in 2005. I was an overnight success!

What are you most excited to be sharing with conference participants?

I want to empower conference participants to write from their hearts and to fully embrace their callings. So often, we don’t write the story we truly want to write, either because we’re afraid or because we feel like it won’t be marketable. It is scary to really open up and allow ourselves to be vulnerable, but that authenticity is exactly what will make our writing great and what readers crave, need, and deserve.  

It seems there are zillions of interesting potential nonfiction stories or topics out there… is there a consistent theme that tends to draw you, or what makes you want to not just nod and say, “interesting,” but actually commit the time and passion to pursuing it?

That’s a great question! Yes, the world is an interesting place, and I run into potential nonfiction stories every single day. Sometimes I write them down right away: I just know they might be pursuing at some point. Many others I pass over for whatever reason. But sometimes the ones that stick in my head and start to grow in my subconscious are ones that I initially passed over. That’s when I know I’ve found a gem--when it’s something that my mind just doesn’t want to let go of for some reason! 

How did the writing and publication of My Dog Is the Best differ from your nonfiction titles? What felt the same and what different?

I wrote My Dog Is the Best as part of an assignment for an online class I was taking about how to write easy readers. So, one big difference was that it was assigned rather than being completely self-directed. It was also extremely freeing to be able to play with language, rhythm, and story--without worrying about getting any facts right! It also required a lot more imagination and visualization than my typical nonfiction work, which was fun. But the process was surprisingly similar in some ways, too. I think one of the most important elements of good nonfiction writing is structure, and there’s definitely a strong structure element to My Dog Is the Best as well. Crafting nonfiction (because of content) and picture books (because of form) feels to me like putting together a tricky jigsaw puzzle. That aspect is what I love most about the writing process.

What’s one helpful book or lecture or class that you wish you’d encountered sooner?
One book that stands out for pointing me in the right direction is Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher. I’ll be talking about that one quite a bit in my breakout session on Saturday afternoon. I think I probably came across that one at just the right time, though. I think my life wouldn’be been very different if I’d encountered Brené Brown’s ideas on vulnerability much sooner than I did. You can watch her TED Talk on it here, or check out her book Daring Greatly.

What book character (in your books or someone else’s) would you most like to be?
Well, I’d like to think I most closely resemble Hermione (who wouldn’t, right?), but I’d rather not be in the middle of a battle for life and death. So, I guess I’d most like to be one of the young people I profiled in Be a Changemaker. I wish I’d had that kind of confidence, courage, and power when I was their age.

What’s your favorite/most helpful/impactful takeaway from an SCBWI conference?

I guess the most important takeaway was from a critique I had with an agent, probably in 2008 or so. She suggested I try writing Emmanuel’s story as a picture book (she had seen it as a chapter in a young-adult nonfiction). I had never thought about writing picture books before, and had no idea how! So, I spent a year reading literally hundreds of picture books to try to figure them out. In the process I fell in love with the picture book format, and I not only came up with the manuscript that became Emmanuel’s Dream but also found a whole new genre to play in!

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on the second book in the upcoming Two Truths and a Lie series. Once that is turned in, I have several picture books  (both fiction and nonfiction) in various states of revision and a whole slew of nonfiction picture books ideas that I want to explore!

Thanks, Laurie! See you at the conference.

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